I came across this wonderful publication on the Ancestry website. The official title was “Emigration Atlas 1852” by W Hughes Esq, and it was published in London for the benefit of British and Irish citizens who were considering emigrating to the faraway civilized lands of the world as established at that time, over 160 years ago. Many present-day nations were yet to be founded with the geographical boundaries we recognize in the 21st century..
The complete atlas book only stretches to a dozen or so pages, but it contains a veritable mine of emigration info of great value to readers of the day, and of course, readers of today from a historical perspective. It includes detailed maps of Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, the Cape Colony and Fort Natal, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. These were the British emigration hot-spots in the 1850’s. The maps show the primary overland travel routes to far-flung cities and new towns offering employment opportunities. The original maps were printed in color with settlements where British subjects would be made welcome shown in red outlines.
Most interesting of all (for me), the atlas contains write-ups for each destination, giving a concise description of the country, the cost of passage, the journey in miles and time, the types of workers needed at each destination, potential wages to be expected, the local cost of living, and other invaluable particulars for the would-be intrepid voyagers.
The timing of the publication means that the “newly-acquired” US territory of California is given suitable prominence. The atlas text tells us that since the recent discovery of gold deposits in CA “a continual stream of emigration has poured towards it, and continues to do so with increasing strength.” Those wishing to join the Gold Rush are offered three travel routes to get to California from the British Isles, as follows:
- By sea to New York and then overland westwards “through a country destitute of roads, and presenting almost insurmountable difficulties to the traveller.” Plucky pioneers were advised that the Trans-American leg alone would take 3 months. Despite the warnings, most of the early Irish settlers in California took Route One; it was the cheapest and the only affordable means of getting to the gold mines.
- By sea voyage to the port of Chagres on the Panamanian Isthmus, either directly or via New York Harbor. Then 50 miles overland to the Pacific Coast of Panama, taking 3 whole days! Finally, another 3,500 miles sea voyage northwards to San Francisco – before buying a mule and heading off into them thar hills, possibly to become rich or to never be heard of again.
- By a direct sea voyage around Cape Horn, disembarking at San Francisco. This excursion was favored by the wealthier, upper-class passengers. In 1852, it took a mere 5 months to complete the 17,000 miles across several fearsome oceans.
The author, Mr Hughes, does point out that plans are well underway to make Route Two more popular by the construction of a railway and canal across the 50 miles of impenetrable Panama forests and mountains. When the canal is completed, seafaring ships can trim 9,000 miles off the Cape Horn route. Mr Hughes was as optimistic as the 19th Century canal engineers. We now know that it took three attempts and sixty more long years to get the Panama Canal finished. This world-famous waterway celebrated it centenary last month in August 2014.