49138: Conditions of Emigration from Lewis

Extract of a letter from AC Buchanan, Emigration Department, Quebec, November 26, 1851 to J Fleming, Factor to Colonel Gordon, South Uist. In the summer of 1851 the Barlow and the Marquis of Stafford carried a number of emigrants from Lewis to the Eastern Townships of Quebec, under relatively decent circumstances. The emigrants were the destitute sub-tenants whose passage had been paid by Sir James Matheson. See also his letter on the subject.


….Quebec is practically the only seaport of Canada; and being situated in a country already fully supplied with a population speaking a different language, this city and neighbourhood afford no opening of any extent for the employment of the destitute emigrants who arrive in large numbers and at a particular season of the year. It is in the interior and western portions of the province only that employment for labourers and artizans is to be procured, and these must be reached before the pauper can find any means of support. Therefore, to convey to this port emigrants possessing no resources whatever, and without a provision of some kind for their progress westward, is to subject them to great distress and certain discouragement.

The first and most important object of the creation of the Emigrant fund is the medical assistance of the entire body of emigrants throughout their progress to the most distant districts; and the charges under this head, including the quarantine establishment at Grosse-Isle, absorb a large proportion of this fund. The number of persons whose emigration, voluntary and unaided, takes place in total ignorance of the circumstances in which the change must involve them, together with the large portion whose destination remains to be governed by chance, are always sufficient to exhaust the remaining resources of the department; and in the season of 1852 there will be, owing to a change in the law passed during the late session of the Legislature, a reduction of fully thirty per cent. on the present rates; so that I cannot perceive that it will come within my province to recommend the denial of assistance to the classes here alluded to, with a view to admit the claims of those whose emigration is prompted by the direct interest of their landlord.

If dependence upon the Provincial Government for the maintenance of all emigrants landed at the port of Quebec were permitted to those who are interested in the removal from Great Britain of paupers and other unprofitable portions of the populations, the amount required would shortly prove to be beyond the resources of the country, and exhaustive of its means of employment. The most disastrous reaction must follow, and Canada become at once a burden instead of a relief to the mother country in respect to her redundant population.

There is also another point of view in which I would wish to place this subject before Colonel Gordon. The mere transfer to this port of an indigent tenantry, without an alteration in any respect in their condition, gives no reasonable ground for expecting their subsequent successful progress. The numerous inconveniences which attend emigration are sufficiently trying to every class, and, with the addition of distress and privation, must always induce unfavourable representations by the emigrants to their friends who remain at home. The result is necessarily a disinclination to follow; certainly an indisposition to make any exertions for this purpose. If, on the contrary, the landlord who is interested in the reduction of the population of his estate should extend his assistance so far as to carry forward his emigrants to the occupation of land, or should secure their advance to advantageous employment, the sure result would be, incitement to industry and exertion, and the strongest desire on the part of all to obtain a similar opportunity of benefiting themselves.

I am satisfied that Colonel Gordon, on being informed of the limited extent of the resources of the Provincial Emigrant Department, and the nature of the claims for relief to which it is applicable, will see that to permit the arrival at this port of further parties of his tenantry, in a situation so destitute as that of the South Uist emigrants, will be to risk a result as fatal to the people as it must be unsatisfactory to himself.

I cannot close this letter without referring to the wholly different circumstances under which a party consisting of 986 persons were sent out in the past spring by Sir James Matheson, from the island of Lewis. These emigrants were provided with a passage to this port, food and clothing, and on arrival were supplied with a week’s rations and a free passage to their ultimate destination. They had embarked in the early part of the season, and nearly the whole landed here in July, when an unusual demand for labourers existed in almost every section of the province. About 400 proceeded to Sherbrooke, Eastern Townships, where those able to work obtained employment on the Montreal and Portland Railroad at ample wages. The remainder went forward to Toronto, where they, also, immediately obtained suitable employment.

The number of persons whose emigration has been entirely provided for, either by landlords or poor law unions, has been unusually large this season. They have generally been provided with a sum from 10s. to 20s. sterling on landing here, which has enabled them at once to proceed to join their friends or to reach suitable employment.

Canada generally offers a favourable opening for the reception of a portion of the redundant labour of the United Kingdom; but it is essentially important that emigrants should arrive here early in the season; if possible, in the months of May or June. They should be able-bodied, and prepared for labour in their several vocations, and they should be free from aged or decrepid incumbrances. If then they possess sufficient means to convey themselves without delay to the different sections of the province, according to the openings presented, they cannot fail to secure immediate employment at ample rates of wages….

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