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Life and Death on Grosse Île, 1832-1937

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Educational Resources

Handout 2.3a

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Witness Group Reading Assignment

The British Government

Source No. 1

Note to Students:
The following excerpts were taken from chapter 14 and the epilogue of a diary written by Robert Whyte entitled The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship. A full version of the diary is available at

"All that could be done for those poor people by the great compassion and humanity of the captain and officers, was done but they require much more. The law is bound . . . to see that too many of them are not put on board one ship and that their accommodations are decent . . . to require that there be provided a medical attendant; whereas in these ships there are none… sickness of adults and deaths of children . . . (are the) commonest occurrence. . . ." (Chapter 14)

". . . Emigration has for a long time been considered by British political economists the most effective means of alleviating the grievous ills under which the Irish peasantry labour." (Epilogue)

Source No. 2

Note to Students:
The following excerpt was taken from part 4 of an account by Pádraig Breandán Ó Laighin entitled Summer of Sorrow. A full version of the text is available at

". . . He was claiming that slaves were much better off on British ships than on ships of other nations because of the William Dolbin Act that laid down strict conditions for food and medical attention. He did not mention that the provisions of the Passenger Act under which his own tenants had been sent to North America in 1847 were considerably worse. . . ." (Part 4, paragraph 5)

"He heaped scorn above all on Temple, saying that his tenants had been enticed on board with promises of food and money that had not been kept. He said that his charitable disposition would not permit him to blame Lord Palmerston himself, because it came naturally to those of his class to be caring, and that it could only be the case 'that it was an unauthorized act of worthless and unprincipled hirelings, in whose bosoms every principle of humanity and every germ of mercy had become totally extinct.'" (Part 4, paragraph 1)

Source No. 3

Note to Students:
The following excerpt was taken from an account entitled The Force of Hope: The Legacy of Father McGauran. A full version of the text is available at

"The imposition of England's Poor Law made each landlord responsible for subsidizing tenants who paid less than four pounds in yearly rent. Their land was crowded with poor tenants amassing huge tax debts that they could no longer afford. One solution was "assisted emigration." Landlords evicted the poor from the land, and, to be sure to get rid of them, paid for their passage on one of the emigrant ships bound for Canada, Australia or America." (Paragraph 3)

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