Building the ‘Bridge of Hope’: The Discourse and Practice of Assisted Emigration of the Labouring Poor from East London to Canada, 1857-1913
Between 1857 and 1913 approximately 120,000 of the labouring poor from the East End of London were assisted to emigrate to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and sometimes South Africa in order to transplant surplus urban labour to emerging colonial markets and to provide the poor with a means of personal and financial improvement. These charities described the work they did as building “The Bridge of Hope for East London.” By the end of the nineteenth century, Eastenders had long been plagued by poverty, dependency on the Poor Law, and periods of unemployment. Typecast as morally, socially, economically, and racially degenerate in an emerging slum discourse, Eastenders were rarely considered ideal colonial emigrants. For Canada, these emigrants made poor prospects for the westward-expanding nation intent on recruiting agricultural immigrants. At times over the course of these six decades, the Canadian government grew so concerned about their migrations that it took legal measures to bar their entry. By 1910, Canada effectively banned charitably assisted emigration from East London in an attempt to control its borders and dictate the kinds of immigrants it desired even when they were English. Despite these shortcomings and obstacles, assisted emigrants from East London made new lives for themselves and their families in Canada most often in cities. We know something about their experiences from letters some of them wrote to the emigration charities that sponsored them. As a migrant group, they present a unique type of English settler in Canada. Forever failing, despite their many successes and their integration, to meet the ideal imperial British standard, Eastenders were considered undesirable on both sides of the Atlantic – a blight on British prosperity at home and unsuitable representatives abroad. Eastenders occupied an uneasy “third space” struggling to fit in somewhere between home and empire. This dissertation, employing analytical models and methodologies inspired by the ‘New Imperial History,’ the ‘British World’ model, post-colonial theory, and transnationalism seeks to understand why and under what circumstances Canada restricted charitable emigration from East London by 1910. It examines how British charities, politicians, commentators, and, above all, emigrants developed and experienced an imperial discourse and practice of assisted emigration over the course of six decades under ever-changing economic circumstances at home. Overall, it argues that British emigration charities, under the mounting pressures of poverty at home and spurred on by liberal and imperial reformist attitudes, rarely heeded Canadian warnings about the sending out of poor urban emigrants from East London even though they were English. Instead, these emigrationists developed a system of assisted emigration that largely suited their own objectives of poverty management. East End emigrants experienced this system with varying degrees of success, failure, benefit, and harm. The dissertation explores their experiences in two case studies in addition to three chapters on the evolution of assisted emigration discourses and practices in the East End. In placing assisted emigration of the urban poor from East London at the centre of a discussion of late nineteenth and early twentieth century intra-imperial responses to poverty, the dissertation reveals a complex interplay between social welfare, liberalism, and migration in two disparate but connected parts of the ‘British World,’ home and abroad. In doing so it fosters a deeper understanding of the evolution of colonial immigration policy and complicates the limits of race and class for studies of English emigration.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeWaiser, William; DesBrisay, Gordon; Dyck, Erika; Calder, Robert; Perry, Adele
Copyright DateJuly 2014
New Imperial History