Migration during the Industrial Revolution

Millions of people moved during the industrial revolution. Some simply moved from a village to a town in the hope of finding work whilst others moved from one country to another in search of a better way of life. Some had no choice, the were transported as a punishment for a crime.
The main reason for moving home during the 19th century was to find work. On one hand this involved migration from the countryside to the growing industrial cities, on the other it involved movement from one country, in this case Britain, to another. Poor working conditions, housing and sanitation led to many people opting to emigrate. The British at the time controlled a massive empire including America, Canada, South Africa and Australia and people soon started to move to these countries in search of a new life.

These people would save money and seek assistance from others to pay for the journey, by boat, to these new lands. Some of the reasons for this desire to move are highlighted in this letter written in 1837:

“we take the liberty of writing to you again upon the subject of emigration to America for we are quite tired of this country… For the thought of being ushered into the workhouse with our wives and children and the miseries of starvation and poverty make us quite tired of our native land. For we know that we cannot be worse off than we already are.”


Other emigrants had a little less choice in the matter, they were ‘transported’. transportation was a punishment. Britain had for a long time sent convicts to her colonies, a practice that had appeared to be in turmoil after the Americans won their independence (The British used the American Colonies as a place to send criminals). The discovery of Australia though led to transportation being reintroduced and the first convicts arrived in Australia on 26th January 1788. By 1868, when transportation ended, over 150,000 criminals had been sent to work in Australia. (Transportation was not only used for serius crimes, for example one lady was sent to Australia for 14 years for the crime of receiving 21 bottles of wine which she new to be stolen).

Migration was not just people moving out of the country, it also involved a lot of people moving into Britain. In the 1840’s Ireland suffered a terrible famine. Faced with a massive cost of feeding the starving population many local landowners paid for labourers to emigrate (it was cheaper than paying them poor relief for a long period of time). About a million of these labourers migrated to Britain, many others moved to North America.

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MigrationInventions and InventorsThe Workhouse
Life in an Industrial TownIndustrialists and PhilanthropistsRailways and Canals
Working ConditionsDisease in the Industrial RevolutionChartists and the Peoples Charter
LudditesSwing RiotsRebecca Riots
Protests, Riots and Conspiracies of the Industrial Age