Collections Crossover: Emigration and Immigration
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Collections Crossover: Emigration and Immigration

Our latest Collections Crossover explores the topic of migration from a historical perspective, albeit one with a mostly British bias. Between 1815 and 1914 approximately ten million people left Britain, with the majority going to the United States of America, Canada and Australia. With this in mind, we've concentrated on these three areas, and also people migrating to Britain, the numbers of whom were dwarfed by those emigrating in the same period.

Our images on this subject come from wide-ranging sources: our own archive of prints and photographs, Peter Higginbotham's collection focusing on workhouses, Onslow Auctions Ltd, the Everett Collection, Keystone Pictures through Zuma Press, and the ever-useful Illustrated London News archive, amongst others.

European migration to Australia began with the British convict settlement of Sydney Cove in January 1788. The First Fleet carried 775 petty criminals as well as hundreds of officials and crew. Conditions were appalling and few had skills needed to make a success of settling, but by the end of penal transportation in 1868, roughly 165,000 people had entered the continent as convicts. The Australian gold rush in 1851 led to a population explosion, including large numbers of British and Irish settlers, while assisted migrants in the 19th century were helped by subsidies from the colonial government who needed people to work the land. Post-WW2, there was another big push for Europeans to boost the population of Australia to combat what was seen as the danger of mass Asian immigration. The White Australia Policy, which had been introduced in 1901, was not completely dismantled until 1973.

Although the Industrial Revolution increased overall wealth in late 18th and early 19th century Britain, rapid population growth and high unemployment rates led to tensions that emigration could usefully relieve. The Great Migration from 1815 to 1850 saw at least 800,000 immigrants arrive on Canada's shores, mainly from Britain and Ireland.

Our image collection is strongest documenting the next wave from 1890 to the 1920s. Included in this are many images from the Peter Higginbotham Collection of child migrants sent to Canada by Dr Barnardo's Homes to be indentured farm labourers and domestics. So many were sent that over 10% of the Canadian population today are descendants of these children. Also of note is a letter sent by two Titanic passengers, Esther Hart and her daughter Eva, travelling second class to start a new life in Canada. Esther and Eva were rescued by RMS Carpathia but Eva's father Benjamin died in the disaster.

No other country has as large an immigrant population as the USA, and throughout its history, people from all over the world (including through forced enslavement) have travelled and settled there, the vast numbers - more than 23 million from 1880 to 1930 alone - often threatening the native population.

Our images focus on the 19th and 20th centuries, when immigrants from every corner of Europe flocked to the US in search of a better life or freedom from persecution. The historical collection of German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung contributes some excellent pictures here of German migrants who settled predominantly in the American Midwest. They were processed first through Castle Garden in New York, and then from 1892 through Ellis Island, the busiest inspection and processing station in the US. The inevitable backlash against the large numbers arriving produced satirical anti-immigration cartoons in the 1890s which traded on fears about health and security.

Britain too is a nation of migrants, from the Saxons, Danes and Vikings to the Normans, Huguenots and travellers from all over the globe. Mass migration of people seeking work increased with the growth of factories during the 19th century, whilst international trade encouraged the arrival of people from Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean along shipping routes. Refugees came too, and our collection includes many images recording and commenting (often unfavourably) on the arrival of thousands of Jewish immigrants escaping from pogroms and persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Another area of focus is migration from British Commonwealth countries to the UK, particularly after World War Two when people were encouraged to come to Britain to help rebuild the country in the post-war period. The 75th anniversary of the Empire Windrush docking at Tilbury in June 1948 was celebrated earlier this summer. The ship carried more than 800 passengers from the Caribbean coming to work in the transport system, factories and the newly-created NHS. Photographs by Roger Mayne and Maurice Ambler taken in the 1950s and '60s capture these communities and the adversity they faced integrating into their adopted country.

If you need archive stills, do contact us. We'd be happy to help with research or a quote. Get in touch by email at or by phone on 020 8318 0034.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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