1869 Emigration of Admiralty Dockyard Workers

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Industrial Revolution not only brought about advancement on land but at sea too. French battleship designs used during the Crimean War (1853 - 1855) were unsurpassed, and left Britain trailing. Consequently with naval power being an important factor of the era, it wasn't long before Britain was also building iron clad warships without sails too.

This advancement in ship design meant many dockyard workers' skills were no longer required. On top of this, both Deptford and Woolwich Docks were declining in importance to Chatham and Plymouth, as they were filling up with silt from the river, and had little room to expand to provide room to build bigger ships.

Emigration to Canada

Consequently, many dockyard workers were left without work. With mass unemployment, only the odd charity handout and little or no prospect of another job in Britain, many poverty stricken ex-dockyard workers jumped at the chance in 1869 - 1870 to emigrate to Canada. They were informed that in Canada, "there was an abundance of work of every description." (Hampshire Telegraph 21st April 1869).

Those entitled to free passage were: artisans (mainly mechanics), labourers, and hired men who had worked at the docks for at least a year and had been discharged from the docks for a maximum of 12 months. Another stipulation was that all married men had to take their wives and children.

Approximately 2,000 dockyard workers and their families left for Canada between 1869 and 1870 in search of a better life - 1,000 from Portsmouth alone. They came from docks throughout Britain: Chatham, Deptford, Devonport, Pembroke, Portsmouth, and Woolwich, and were spread across five sailings aboard British Troop ships: 1 on HMS Serapis, 1 on HMS Simoon, 1 on HMS Tamar and 2 on HMS Crocodile;

HMS Crocodile

The first to leave was HMS Crocodile on 20th April 1869, on which 391 people embarked. 175 from Portsmouth, (74 men, 40 women and 61 children) and 216 from Woolwich, (101 men, 52 women and 63 children).

Unfortunately some passenger lists of those who travelled are missing, but many can be found at

Crocodile 1869
Crocodile 1870
and at
Passenger Lists of Crocodile

Other Sources

Admiralty Dockyard workers records can also be found at The National Archives at Kew. These records include information such as: yard musters, pay, pension agreements and discharge details. They can be found in ADM 32, ADM 36, ADM42 and ADM106. There are also photographs of working dockyards 1857 - 1961 in ADM 195.