On this Day 14th May 1849

Emigrants Leave St Ives for Quebec

Margaret James-Korany has estimated that some 42,000 emigrants departed the principal ports of Cornwall – Padstow, Fowey, Truro, Falmouth, St Ives plus Plymouth and Bideford between 1831 and 1860. The voyage of the Ono was just one voyage among many which ultimately came to be know collectively as the Cornish Diaspora.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 18 May 1849 sheds a little more light on the voyage of this particular group of emigrants. There were 95 passengers consisting of 45 adults, 40 children under 14 years and 10 infants, so these were family groups not the single young men as were often seen making the trip to South Africa. The RCG goes on to say that arrangements for the health and convenience of the passengers were “all that could be expected”. At the time of writing no information has yet come to light as to whether all the passengers made it across the North Atlantic, neither has anything has been found on who these emigrants were or where they came from, though the likelihood is that they came from Penwith. These hardy, and possibly desperate, souls were setting out on a voyage of some 2800 nautical miles which would take five to six weeks across an ocean not renowned for calm, even in high summer.

What of the boat they travelled on? The Ono was a St Ives registered schooner of 181 tons, so she was probably not a member of the Welsh Fleet making a diversion from her usual trade. Welsh Fleet vessels were usually, like the Eldred, vessels of around 100 tons. Ono was owned by her skipper and crew, she was 11 years old and Lloyds Register shows her usual trade as being to the Mediterranean. Her skipper, Thomas Brooking Williams, was an experienced St Ives born master mariner of 44. In November 1837 he had married Jane Stevens, the daughter of James Stevens who was also a seamen. In 1851 Captain Williams and his wife and three sons lived in North Terrace in St Ives with one servant, Margaret Renowden.

Lloyds List suggests that Ono was a regular on the run from Cornwall to Canada usually making one voyage a year between May and August. The record of the arrival in Quebec in 1849 has not been located but by 14 August 1849 she was back in St Ives, a round trip of about 5500 nautical miles in three months. The records of her voyages are not complete but Lloyds List 4/9/1847) lists her arriving back in St Ives from Quebec and arriving in Quebec from St Ives on 19 June 1848 (LL 10/7/1848). In 1850 she arrived in Quebec from St Ives on 9 July (LL 29/7/1850) and was back in St Ives on 26 August (LL 29/8/1850).

No information has come to light on Onos's return cargoes or passengers but timber would seem a distnct possibility. Her winter trade seems to have been to the Mediterranean, probably carrying pilchards from the St Ives fishery. On 7 January 1850 she arrived in Leghorn (LL 22/1/1850) then moved on to Naples which she departed on 22 January (LL 14/2/1850) heading for Gallipoli. Her return trip took her past Gibraltar (LL 26/3/1850) and it seems she was bound for Liverpool via Falmouth (LL 30/3/1850). From Liverpool she presumably returned to St Ives and fitted out ready for the Atlantic run to Quebec which would have seen her depart around 14 May.

Further research may uncover the identities of those emigrants who left St Ives aboard Ono on 14 May 1849. Any progress with this research will be reported here but if anyone out there can help fill any of these gaps please get in touch via our Contact page. Meanwhile, I can leave you with the happy thought that, unlike many of his contemporaries, Captain Thomas Brooking Williams survived his days at sea and died in 1881 aged 77 years.


The Diary of John Tregerthen Short

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 18/5/1849

Lloyds Register of Shipping 1840

Lloyds List available via the British Newspaper Archive

The figures from Margaret James-Korany at the beginning of this piece are taken from: Philip Payton, The Cornish Overseas, Cornwall Editions, 2005.

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