1869 Emigration of Admiralty Dockyard Workers
The 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.
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 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 in search of a better life, between 1869 and 1870. They came from docks throughout Britain: Chatham, Deptford, Devonport, Pembroke, Portsmouth and Woolwich 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.
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).
Lists of those who travelled can be found at
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.