Methods of Travel
The most important port for the emigration business was no doubt Liverpool. Other British ports were Glasgow, Hull, London, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton and Newcastle to mention a few.
Many Northern and Eastern European emigrants opted for the much cheaper way of crossing the Atlantic by emigrating “indirectly”. This meant taking a feeder ship from one European port in Germany, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark to a British east coast port such as (Kingston upon) Hull, Leith or London, continue by railway to one of Britain’s west coast big emigration ports offering steamship services to the New World such Liverpool, Glasgow or Southampton. From 1836 to 1914 an estimated 4 million emigrants chose this indirect way of emigration.
This way of travelling was quite an ordeal for the emigrants: it usually took two to four days to travel across the Baltic Sea to Hull. The passengers had to stay aboard the vessels for a few days until they could continue their trip by rail. Initially, the male emigrants were allowed to leave the ship and walk around town. In later years this was not permitted anymore in order to prevent a possible outbreak of cholera in Hull. During the early 1870s, the trains usually left Hull on Monday mornings for the seven hour train ride to Liverpool, the most common route of indirect emigration. Once they arrived in Liverpool, the emigrants often had to wait several days for the departure of the transatlantic vessel. They stayed in emigrant hotels and were always exposed to the danger of having their luggage or other possessions stolen. As the emigrants usually carried all their belongings and valuables with them, too often they were an easy target for crooks.
By 1842 more than 200,000 emigrants had already sailed from Liverpool to North America. This was more than half of all emigrants who had left Europe thus far. During the 100 year period from 1830 to 1930 an estimated nine million emigrants sailed from Liverpool bound for the United States, Canada and Australia.
The port was well equipped to handle the steady streams of emigrants particularly from North Western Europe such as Scandinavians, Russians and Poles which would cross the North Sea to Hull and then continue by rail to Liverpool. Irish emigrants would cross to Liverpool by small feeder ships and particularly the Irish famine of 1846-47 caused for an increase of services out of Liverpool. By the mid 1850s it had become the leading emigration port in Europe with five times more passengers sailing to North American than Le Havre on second place.
Until the 1860s, the majority of vessels were sailing ships. The Atlantic crossing from Liverpool to North America took about thirty five days. By 1870, almost all emigrants went by steamship which reduced the travel time to an average of seven to ten days. By sailing ship the trip to Australia could take as long as three to four months.
Liverpool’s position as the number one departure port in Europe ceased when in the late 19th century emigrants increasingly came for southern and eastern European countries. Another factor for this decline in importance was when many ship lines such as Cunard Line moved their main departure port to Southampton in the early 20th century. A small number of emigrants still continued to sail out of Liverpool until 1971.