Right of Passage
by Glenn Wright, Library and Archives Canada
Legislation to protect emigrant passengers was first enacted in Britain in 1803 and continued to evolve in the decades prior to Confederation. A revised Act in 1828, for example, marked the first time that the British government took an active interest in emigration matters. Within a few years, regulations were in force to determine the maximum number of passengers that a ship could carry, and to ensure that sufficient food and water be provided for the voyage.
But the legislation was not always enforceable, and unscrupulous
shipowners and shipmasters found ways to circumvent the law. In addition, ships
sailing from non-British ports were not subject to the legislation. As a consequence,
thousands of emigrants experienced a miserable and often dangerous journey. By
1867, regulations were more effective, thus providing people with the promise
of a safe, if not comfortable, voyage.