Reason for British Emigration

By Rev. Carey J. Sevell

It may be interesting to place on record some of the reasons for the presence of large numbers of “British-born” people in this State, many of whom are found in the immediate neighborhood.

Benjamin Disraeli, one time prime minister of England, who never took a sympathetic look at the sufferings of those warm hearted and generous Irish people; told the House of Commons that “the reason of the misery and discontentedness of the Irish was the fact that Ireland was surrounded by a melancholy ocean,” which was a libel upon one of the most beautiful spots of the world, and the delight of summer tourists.

Well has it been called “The Emerald Island,” so beautifully green are her pastures, and so fruitful her soil that no butter is so good as the Irish, and no bacon so excellent as that which bears the Hibernian brand. No! It was not “the melancholy ocean,” it was the deep poverty of her people induced by absentee landlords and their local agents too ready to carry out their unreasonable behests.

The disease was “land hunger,” the life and labor spent without hope of ever owning for themselves a bit of “God’s-out-of-doors,” and having to live in dwellings that were a disgrace to civilization Hence their desire to get a better country and their quick response to the friendly invitation of Uncle Sam.

The same difficulties obtain to a serious extent in Scotland. The case of Scotland shows the same longings on the part of farm workers and tenant farmers for better conditions. The eviction, some years back, of the Crofters peasant agriculturalists, who, for many years had lived a quiet, contented life in their small holdings which from father to son they had cultivated for generations, and who were ruthlessly turned adrift and the land suffered to go uncultivated because it was more profitable to create a wilderness for the grouse that wealthy aristocrats of England and America might use these acres for their noble sport, created great indignation.

Scotland was the country where former governments looked for their tallest and finest soldiers; but today, alas! There is a poor supply of those kilted giants, for along the years the United States and Canada have been enriched by the incoming of these the choicest sons of the soil, and they have made a happy exchange of countries.

I received from an old friend, the Rev. Dr. Thomas H. Martin, pastor of the Adelaide-place Baptist Church, Glasgow, a letter in which he says: “I have now been twenty three years in my Glasgow pastorate and have had much blessing in my work, having received no less than 715 members in that time. The church does not increase, always about 550 members, death and emigration taking so many away every year. The latter cause raises a serious question in Scotland now, the population having decreased by 300, 000 in ten years since the census of 1901, in this interesting, but small country.”

But when we come to England we are confronted with laws and customs that for many years have operated against the farm hands and the tenant farmer. Seeing that land that was not cultivated was not taxed, it encouraged the owners of immense tracts of land in letting it remain without cultivation as it would enable them to enjoy to the uttermost their sport in shooting and hunting, and the entertainment of their friends, thus adding to their social and political prestige, regardless of the fact of the fruitfulness of the English soil, and the dependence of the country for it bread upon supplies from other lands.

The condition of the agricultural worker has been a standing evil for many years although it is now not quite so bad as it used to be and yet it is a perplexing problem to thoughtful people how a man can keep wife and family upon four dollars a week.

Can you wonder that when such conditions prevailed and these sons of hopeless toil heard of the land across the Atlantic where with ordinary care and industry they would be able to satisfy the natural craving of their hearts for fair wages and a chance in a few years to possess acres of soil which they could call their own “a good land and a large,” and under a Government that recognized the scripture doctrine that while “The Heavens even the Heaven of Heavens are the Lord’s, yet the earth he hath given to the children of men,” and were doing their best to bring the land and the toiler together, is it any wonder that multitudes would hear that call as they have done to the benefit of themselves and the land of their adoption.

But when we come to England itself, we find a country which with so much in its government that is excellent, yet, has for generations retained upon its statute books laws more adapted to feudal times than to the demands and aspirations of the present age; and also unwritten laws or customs which are in direct opposition to the just requirements of its rural workers and tenant farmers without capital.

So bad and inadequate are the laws relating to the land that the British Government led by Lloyd George the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had promised before the outbreak of the present war, that the next session of Parliament should be devoted to the work of reform of the land laws, and helping of rural workers and tenant farmers, that the former might enjoy an adequate wage and housing, with such a portion of mother earth as would enable him to keep pigs or a cow, and raise his own vegetables, and that the latter, the tenant farmer, might be able to acquire at a fair price, with the assistance of the government, the land on which he works, fixity of tenure, fair treatment under the game laws, and compensation for improvements in the event of his leaving the land which he is renting.

Under favorable conditions the many thousands of acres that remain uncultivated would go into cultivation, and in the home fields might be retained sufficient men of that quality that have shown and are showing in this country what the persistent and intelligent agriculturist can do when he has a fair field and no favor.

It is pleasant to record that something in the right direction has already been effected, and even in Ireland, we are told, that prosperity has begun to appear, and that it is easier today to purchase a piece of land than it is in the country from whence they have been governed, but whose government, under the Home Rule Bill (which will soon be operative) will be much more fair and equitable, so that the best results may be expected.

It is to the credit of the present liberal government that already a sum of money amounting to two million five hundred thousand dollars has been set aside for the eraction of farm workers cottages, as, at the present time many workers are obliged to walk miles before they can get to their day’s work, because of the reluctance of the proprietors of the land to provide suitable homes for the laboring classes, and because, forsooth, it might increase somewhat the amount that they, the owners, might have to pay in taxation!

“Is there not a cause?” was the question that David put when he expressed his purpose to go and meet in battle the philistine giant.

And the same question might be asked in view of the millions of Britain’s inhabitants who have left their native land to find in the “land of the brave and home of the free” the life for which they longed.

Discontented they were at home, and it was a “Divine discontent,” and the welcome they received and the advantages they gained well repaid them for the hardships which they endured, and of them it may be truly said, “they came, they saw, they conquered.” But still they love the land from whence they came; and much they rejoice in the fact that the old conditions which drive them to these hospitable shores are likely to pass away.

“The stars in their courses fought against Sisera,” and the course of events in the old country all tend toward the elimination of those evils under which they suffered and the consummation of that, which they as lovers of civil and religious liberty desire.

England never forgets “Punch’s” comic cartoon which pictured “Mrs. Gamp” trying to sweep back the waves of the Atlantic Ocean with her broom. There comes a time when providence opens up a way through difficulties before deemed insuperable, when to the leading reformers of a nation there comes again the old command, “Speak unto the people that they go Forward.”


Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915.

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