Maritime history: a story of emigration
I was intrigued to read recently that information held by the National Archives in the UK, relating to the millions of people who emigrated from the UK by sailing abroad to a new life, has now been digitised and made available by the website Ancestry UK.
During the period 1890-1960, an astonishing 24 million people left these shores from ports such as Liverpool and Southampton, heading for a new and hopefully better life in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada. New York alone received over 8 million immigrants during these years.
How fascinating that passenger lists from many of these epic voyages – containing the names, occupations and eventual destinations of the passengers have now been made accessible by Ancestry UK. Although the vast majority of the names will have no significance to anyone other than their ‘nearest and dearest’, for some this trip into the unknown opened the door to stardom and fame.
Archibald Leach left Southampton in early 1936 and on the other side of the Atlantic became one of the greatest film stars of all time as Cary Grant. Also to achieve Hollywood fame was David Niven, who was an unknown ex-army lieutenant when he sailed from the Port of Liverpool in 1932. Elizabeth Taylor made the iconic journey past the Statue of Liberty and into New York shortly before World War Two began in 1939.
All this reminds us that maritime history is not simply about the people who have spent their careers working at sea or the goods that have been traded between nations and the commercial dominance that certain countries have had as a result. It is also a story of emigration and immigration and how many nations around the world have evolved and been shaped by this massive movement of people – a particularly fascinating story in the 70 year period which these records cover. This was a time when the British Merchant Navy had no equal and sea travel itself had yet to be fully challenged by air travel.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR