Petworth Emigration Scheme

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A land deed of 1824 from Upper Canada

The Petworth Emigration Scheme, sponsored by the Earl of Egremont and promoted by Thomas Sockett, anglican Rector of Petworth[1] , sent around 1800 working-class people from the south of England to Upper Canada between 1832 and 1837.[2] The Scheme was part of a larger initiative in Britain during the 1830s, in which churches, charitable organisations and private individuals were active in promoting emigration as a solution to overcrowded urban slums, unemployment and rural poverty in Britain.


In the early nineteenth century malthusian predictions of overpopulation seemed to be true in Europe. The disappearance of bubonic plague after the seventeenth century and the introduction of smallpox vaccine in the later eighteenth century had allowed birth rates to exceed death rates in the young, giving population growth. There was no possibility of importing food from outside of Europe at that time, so food prices had risen, and with the decline in military employment after the Napoleonic wars unemployment and hunger were widespread in the countryside. Shelter and food for the destitute was provided locally by committees of landowners and clerics and varied from one area to another. Funding for this cames from the Rates, a local property tax, which became higher with increasing poverty. In 1830 an outbreak of civil unrest by desperate agricultural workers, the Swing Riots, occurred in southern England, prompting the wealthy to look for a way of losing some of the surplus population, especially the more troublesome members, through emigration. Upper Canada was seen as somewhere with unfarmed land to settle and not too costly to reach, but far enough that people would not easily come back.

The Petworth Emigration Committee[edit]

Thomas Sockett was a moving force behind the scheme. From humble beginnings he had been tutor to the more important of the Earl of Egremont's many children, all illegitimate, and secretary to the earl. Encouraged by the earl he had graduated at Oxford University so that he could be ordained into the anglican church and become Rector of Petworth to give him an independent living. He formed a committee of three, with Thomas Chrippes and William Knight.[3] The earl was willing to pay the £10 per person cost of the voyage for those on his land, while the parish funds gave a further £10 for warm winter clothing, blankets and other supplies and equipment. Sockett used his network of wealthy contacts to recruit potential emigrants from across the southern counties of England, chartered ships and appointed supervisors to maintain discipline on the voyage and see the immigrants settled in Canada. To encourage further migration it was important that the scheme had a good reputation, so only good quality ships were hired. There were problems with the early supervisors and from 1834 to 1837 this task was undertaken by James Marr Brydone, a naval surgeon who had been at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 increasingly interfered with local freedom of action, bringing a harsher regíme, as the Poor Law Commission said that other agencies could transport the emigrants more cheaply, and no more ships were chartered after 1837.

The voyage[edit]

The crossing by sailing ship took about seven weeks to Quebec, with very cramped living conditions, a six foot square berth for three adults or six children. Cooking was done by the passengers using stoves on deck. Ships used included the England, the British Tar and the Diana (1837). The voyage was longer but cheaper than going to the United States because the migrants were providing a return cargo for ships bringing timber to England. Ships would be towed up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal by wood fired steam tugs where the passengers had to transfer to barges known as Durham boats to ascend the St. Lawrence Rapids to Prescott before catching a steamer to Kingston, Ontario and Toronto, then still called York.[4] When the Rideau Canal was open the rapids could be avoided by using the Ottawa River and the canal.

The people[edit]

About 1800 people were sent to Canada by the scheme mostly from 1832 to 1837, although 170 went from 1838 to 1850 on ships of other agents. Young single men often went because employers and relief committees gave priority to married men with families. Arable workers on farms were only employed seasonally and were more likely to go than stockmen. Skilled artisans could look forward to new opportunities in a freer more equal country. Former soldiers often did not settle easily into life back home and had the incentive of being entitled to claim 100 acres (40 hectares) of uncleared land, while other migrants were given five acres (2 hectares).[5]


  1. ^ Sheila Haines and Leigh Lawson, Poor Cottages & Proud Palaces. The life and work of the Reverend Thomas Sockett of Petworth 1777-1859 The Hastings Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-904109-16-7
  2. ^ Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada - "Right of Passage: Debates"
  3. ^ Sheila Haines and Leigh Lawson, Poor Cottages & Proud Palaces. The life and work of the Reverend Thomas Sockett of Petworth 1777-1859 The Hastings Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-904109-16-7 p158
  4. ^ Peter Jerrome, Petworth from 1660 to the present day. The Window Press 2006 p107
  5. ^ Sheila Haines and Leigh Lawson, Poor Cottages & Proud Palaces. The life and work of the Reverend Thomas Sockett of Petworth 1777-1859 The Hastings Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-904109-16-7 p158