John McCullagh June 20, 2006
hugh.jpg

The plight of the poor has always proved a fruitful opportunity for unprincipled entrepreneurs to line their own pockets.

By the mid-nineteenth century records of Shipping Intelligence for British ports (including the Port of Newry) show dominance of imports from British North America –


of coal, timber, slate and heavy general cargo with those ships not loaded with ballast for the return trip exporting farm produce and general cargo. Carrying ballast was clearly unprofitable and successive British governments, determined to colonise their American possessions, encouraged greedy ship-owners to clear encumbered estates in Ireland of their unwanted cottiers and agricultural labourers by converting the rough ships’ holds for ‘steerage’ passengers. 

The ‘Hannah’ was such a converted collier. James Ferguson of Merchant’s Quay, advertising in the 9 March edition of the Newry Commercial Telegraph claimed the ship ‘offered inducement to emigrants rarely to be met with’. Within two months some 50-60 poor people of this area perished in the bitter-cold North Atlantic for believing his promises. The balance of the 175 local passengers suffered untold hardship. This is the story.


The Hannah arrived in Warrenpoint on 16 March 1849 with a cargo of coal from her homeport of Maryport. There was just two weeks to ready her for her passenger role. According to the Illustrated London News this twenty-rear-old vessel had major repairs done in 1846 and the Newry Commercial Telegraph – from which source this tale is gleaned – claimed in its disaster story of 31 May 1849 that the ship had been examined by Her Majesty’s emigration agent at Newry before sailing.

It is perhaps ironic that this tale appeared in the paper alongside the advertisement reproduced here, for another emigrant ship, the Hugh, sailing within three weeks for the same destination. It too, claims to have been recently repaired and officially inspected. Regardless of the flurry of disclaimers, the poor unfortunate paupers who sailed had no restitution.

The Hannah would soon prove to be the most disgraceful episode in the history of shipping out of this area.

More ……………….

 

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