Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater – Further reading 2

Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater Paintings of Famous Ports.

Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater

76 x 121 cm (30″ x 48″), oils, £12,000., Marine painting at it’s best.

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“It is even more beautiful in person than online. I love the texture and the use of light” wrote John J. Hogerty II, of his newly acquired painting, 12.12.2022.

Plymouth, painting a forgotten history to be proud of.

I discovered much information unrecorded about Plymouth Emigration Depot, some gleaned from as far afield as Australia’s distant shores.

All of which adds to the documented authority and fascination of this historically important painting.

Many distinguished people and renowned companies chose Frickers paintings as you can discover by reading my illustrated résumée.

Samuel Plymsoll, the clipper ship.

During the whole of her career under the Aberdeen house-flag, the only mishap Samuel Plimsoll suffered was the carrying away of a fore topmast: and this free from casualties, was the case with most of well maintained Thompson’s green clippers.

There was a time, as celebrated in this meticulously researched painting when Plymothians took great pains and pride to run the best migrant depot in Britain.

Detail from Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater

The ship ‘Samuel Plimsoll’, (detail 1)

About this remarkable ship:

On the occasion of her only mishap a tropical squall carried away the bobstay, and down came the fore-topmast and main topgallant mast.

It happened that a Yankee clipper was in company; this vessel beat up to the dismantled Samuel Plimsoll and sent a boat off with a message that she was bound for Australia and would gladly tranship the passengers and carry them on to their destination. This offer, Captain Simpson, who then commanded the Samuel Plimsoll, declined with thanks, so the American went on her way.

It was all day until the Aberdeen flyer had fresh masts aloft, and then she settled down to make up the lost time.

Nobly the Samuel Plimsoll did so, one week’s work in the Roaring Forties totalling 2300 miles, and she eventually arrived in Melbourne, 82 days out.

Some days later the Yankee arrived and her captain at once went to the Samuel Plimsoll’s agents and reported speaking to her dis-masted in the Atlantic, at the same time he commented on her captain’s foolhardiness in not trans-shipping his passengers.

Is it  the Captain Simpson sitting over there you are referring to?” asked the agent.

Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater,

A painting by Gordon Frickers, in more senses than one, a story of many feet.

Today little evidence remains in Plymouth of the formerly thriving emigrant trade from Plymouth, not even a plaque on the quays.

This detail shows the ‘crack’ clipper (a term then used to describe a fast ship of the first quality) “Samuel Plimsoll” in the final stages of loading emigrants from Plymouth Emigration Depot.

Samuel Plimsoll is shown here about to sail, as her anchor hove short, sails shaken loose tells the knowing eye.

We know the Samuel Plimsoll  sailed from Plymouth regularly for many years.

Available as a signed numbered print, to make an order visit www.frickers.co.uk/artpayment page.

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A Concept Sketch for "Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater"
A Concept Sketch for “Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater”

The Emigration Depot

The Plymouth Emigration Depot has a now largely forgotten history that some of us think deserves commemoration.

As I write, not one plaque records and very little else commemorates the Plymouth citizens strenuous efforts to make the passage to a new life, new world, as easy and painless as possible.

Hence this marine painting, my salute and a job I felt must be done for the descendants of the migrants and to enable future generations of Plymouth people to take pride in their city’s accomplishment.

Meticulously reconstructed here from extensive research which reached as far afield as Australia’s shores and ‘The Sydney Morning Herald, the depot again stands before us as we can see in this painting.

The depot is seen doing what it did best on the Phoenix Wharf site.

Plymouth Emigration Depot
Plymouth Emigration Depot (detail 2)

This location was previously used by the Royal Navy for victualling prior to the Navy moving to a larger more suitable site at the Royal William Yard on the river Tamar.

The site has it’s own story, it was originally a beach upon a rocky shore with foot paths and cart tracks for access.

Children from the growing village of South Ham which became Plymouth would have played and swum there.

Ships may have beached there to be repaired, the site has a story that goes back into the mists of time and legends.

We know for certain by the Elizabethan period the shoreline was fortified with a wall which Mayor Sir Francis Drake campaigned in Parliament to have improved as he and others considered the defences of Plymouth to be ‘inadequate’. 

To ‘fast forward’ to the time of our painting, for almost 100 years The Plymouth Emigration Depot assisted thousands of people from all over the British Isles departing to many parts of the world.
Plymouth was the third busiest point of departure from Great Britain.

Plymouth was much favoured by emigrants having by far the best facilities including banking and medical for people awaiting a ship.

Plymouth emigrants were spared the sometimes long voyage against contrary winds down the English Channel or down the Irish Sea.

Better than that they were met upon arrival, in later years at the station, given immediate health checks and unlike at many other ports, were protected from predatory criminals, given clean dormitories, properly victualled and rarely had to wait more than a few days before embarkation.

The depot facilities were advance for the time, often more sophisticated than the homes the emigrants had left behind, included cold running water, hot water to order, baths, flushing toilets and separate dormitories for males and females.

Conveniently the Plymouth emigration depot was built upon the quay that was literally a few steps from the boats that would ferry the emigrants to the loading, waiting ships.

The clipper ship Samuel Plimsoll
The clipper ship Samuel Plimsoll

In themselves the ships sailed under strict government rules and orders, specially refitted to make the voyage as healthy and bearable as possible for the human cargo.

Very different, much improved from former voyages pioneered by ships like the famous “#Mayflower“.

More on the Mayflower, later.

The extensive notes collected while researching the Plymouth Emigration Depot are a fascinating glimpse into a little known world gone bye and include a complete voyage diary.

Given a volunteer typist we can publish and share here what we have including excepts from diaries, ship’s logs and a very revealing period newspaper articles published in Australia.

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Plymouth Cattewater

(older spelling Cat Water) has seen the start of voyages too numerous to list including many of the most famous names in English history; Drake, the Pilgrim fathers in the Mayflower, Captain James Cook, Admiral Horatio Nelson and more recently flying boats to patrol for U boats and part of the American D Day forces.

The name ‘Cattewater’ derives from water were anchors were ‘a cathead’. 

In old time wooden sailing ships anchors were as vital as they are today.
Anchors were big heavy beasts that if miss handled could serious damage a ship, maim or kill men.

As ship design developed anchors came to be ‘handled’ via a primitive derrick, one each side of a vessel just abaft the bow which some ancient mariner, bit of a wag, pointed out were like two cats whiskers; the name stuck.

Thus you are ahead of me now?
Cattewater was a favoured anchorage, a relatively calm, sheltered stretch of water for handling anchors.

For many centuries this natural asset was important to the growth of the village at Sutton pool that became the town, later city of Plymouth at the mouth of the river Plym.

We know that long before the rise of Rome the Phoenicians and Gauls traded wines and other southern products to Plymouth for precious tin.

It was the old bay of Sutton Pool around which the town of Plym mouth grew from the Saxon Village of South Ham.

Sutton Harbour is named for the early Saxons, derived from South Ham, meaning South village.

By the Tudor period the pool was congested, with ships.

Many a captain chose to have his ship lie to anchor in the Plym mouth  just outside the Sutton Harbour, slower to load but quicker to up anchor and make sail or warp out for Plymouth Sound and hence to the open seas.

The most renowned of the Elizabethan ‘sea dogs’ (some might say ‘pirates’…) knew well the Cattewater; Frobisher, Raleigh, Hawkins and justifiably the most famous of all Francis Drake who later was mayor of Plymouth for many years.

In 1588 you would have seen on the Cattewater the fleet of Queen Elizabeth I,  ‘good queen Bess’ awaiting all summer the arrival of the dread Spanish Armada, a tale with many a twist in it; for another time, maybe.

Most famously of all, the Pilgrim Fathers departed Plymouth Cattewater aboard the sturdy Mayflower, as did James Cook who also changed our perceptions of our home planet. 

Samuel Plimsoll

In this instance meaning an Iron Hulled composite clipper built at Aberdeen.

By great good luck while looking for a suitable ship to enhance this Cattewater marine painting I discovered the famous ‘crack’ clipper ship the Samuel Plimsoll regularly sailed from Plymouth with emigrants.

Mr. Samuel Plimsoll

was a renowned campaigner for sailor’s rights and safety at sea.

It is no exaggeration to say seamen world wide today still benefit from Samuel Plimsoll’s lifelong campaign for sailor’s rights; but that too is another story for another time.

Most ships today world wide carry the Plimsoll load line mark, a great achievement.

There is an excellent award winning book on the subject The Plimsoll Sensation by Nicolette Jones who I’m honoured to report bought a signed numbered print of this picture. We still have a few copies available at the time I’m writing here for you.

I have been able to trace records of many of the voyages, even a couple of diaries have survived to tell tales of the green hulled clipper Samuel Plimsoll .
This ship was launched and named by and for Samuel Plimsoll MP.
The dark green hulled clipper
Samuel Plimsoll was built by W. Hood & Co, Aberdeen in 1873 for the Aberdeen White Star line.

I have much of her career in my file.
Samuel Plimsoll was sailed out bound under British government contract specially fitted to the highest standards of the time for the emigration trade.
Her first voyage took 180 souls from Plymouth on 19 November 1873 arriving at Sydney in the smart time of 68 days.
She made regular departures from Plymouth for Australia returning with wool racing among others the famous 
Cutty Sark.


Page 240


Famous as had been the Aberdeen White Star wooden clippers, the iron ships launched for Thompson in the seventies may almost be said to have eclipsed them.

Not least of these magnificent vessels, either in speed, appearance or sea qualities was their third iron ship, the Samuel Plimsoll, named after a man who at that time was receiving broadside after broadside of abuse in shipping circles, yet who to-day is counted one of the greatest, if not the greatest, benefactors of our merchant seamen.

The Samuel Plimsoll was launched in September 1873, and christened by Mrs. Boaden, wife of Captain Boaden, in the presence of Samuel Plimsoll, Esq. Captain Boaden left the famous Star of Peace in order to take Samuel Plimsoll from the stocks.

She came out as a double topgallant yarder and was specially fitted for emigrants.

On her maiden voyage, she took out 180 emigrants.

Leaving Plymouth on 19th November, she had poor winds and very light trades to the line, which was crossed on 11th December in 29° W.

The meridian of Greenwich was crossed on 2nd January, 1874, and the Cape meridian four days later.

Her best run in the twenty four hours was 240 miles, and between the Leeuwin and the S.W. Cape, Tasmania, she was only four days.

On the 17th January she overhauled and passed the Alexander Duthie, and finally arrived in Port Jackson on 1st February.

Whilst loading for London, she was thus advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald:




100 A1, 1444 tons reg. R. Boaden, late of THE STAR OF PEACE commander.

This magnificent vessel has just completed the passage from Plymouth in 73 days, and having a large of her cargo stowed on board will leave about 7th April.

As this vessel has lofty ’tween decks and large side ports, she offers a good opportunity for intermediate passengers, of which only a limited number will be taken. Carries an experienced surgeon.

For freight or passage, apply to Captain Boaden or to Montefiore, Joseph & Co. Wool received at Talbots.



Page 242

From the very first Samuel Plimsoll proved herself a very fast ship. Her best performance was 68 days to Sydney from 190 miles W.S.W. of the Bishops, when commanded by Captain Henderson who had been chief officer on her first two voyages, and left her to command The Wave of Life, Moravian and the Thermopylae, eventually returning to her as commander in 1884.

Samuel Plimsoll’s logs showed that she revelled in the Roaring Forties.

In 1876, in 41°S., she ran 2502 in eight days, her daily runs being 348, 330,301, 342, 320, 264, 340, 257. In 1883, she averaged 278 miles in 13 consecutive days, her best being 337. In 1895, when homeward bound, she ran from 49° 50’S., 179°05’ W. to 55° 25 S., 79° 59 W. in 15 days, 29th November to 12th December, her daily distances being- 244, 286, 263, 259, 261, 273, 302, 290, 257, 253, 274, 264, 314, 235, 245- equalling 4020 miles.

The Samuel Plimsoll was in the Sydney trade until 1887; she was then transferred to the Melbourne trade.

On her first passage to Melbourne, she left London 2nd March, 1888, dropped her pilot off at the Start on the 5th, but was only 270 miles from the Start on the 15th, owing to westerly gales; she crossed the equator 5th April, in 26° W., and averaged 218 miles a day from Trinidad to 130° E., her best run being 310 miles.

She arrived in Hobson’s Bay on 22nd May, 79 days from the Start.

During the whole of her career under the Aberdeen house-flag, the only mishap was the carrying away of a fore topmast: and this freedom from casualties was the case with most of Thompson’s green clippers.

Writing about the increase of sailing ship insurance rates in 1887, Messrs. Thompson remarked:-

Five of our vessels now in the Australian trade, viz. Aristides, Miltiades, Patriach, Salamis, and Samuel Plimsoll, are over 20 years of age, but they are in as good condition, by careful looking after and upkeep, as they were upon their first voyage: whilst they have a record that no general average homewards has ever been made on underwriters by any one of them since they were launched 21 to 28 years ago. (A remark which applies with equal truth to all our sailing vessels now running).

According to a reliable statement made up by the largest shippers and consignees of wool carried by our sailing ships during the last two years, we find that the claims thereon made on the underwriters, from the inception of risk,( which in many cases began in distant parts of the Colonies before shipment) were £149 1s. 7d., which, on 24,807 bales carried, valued at £12 per bale, came only to 1/- per cent.

These figures clearly show that age does not affect the efficient carrying of cargo by vessels built, such as ours have been, of superior strength and scantlings, carefully kept up and treated in every way with a view to the safe carrying of valuable cargoes to and from Australia.

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Return to Emigration, Plymouth Cattewater.


Marlborough Express, Rōrahi XIX, Putanga 300, 27 Hakihea 1883, Page 2


(special to Press Association)

London, December 20

The inquiries made by Sir Dillon Bell into the statement made by the Oxford and other New Zealand emigrants as to the filthy condition of the Plymouth Depot, and its being unfit for the accommodation of modest and respectable people show that the complaints are unfounded.

Evening Post, Volume XXVI, Issue 149, 22 December 1883, page 2


Until the evidence is made public on which the Agent-General has come to the conclusion that the complaints against the Plymouth Emigration Depot are “unfounded”, it is, of course, impossible to judge how far he is warranted in arriving at such a conclusion. We are very curious, indeed, to see how he disposes of the testimony of the Oxford immigrants and others recorded in our columns at various times. For there is no mistake at all about this – either their statements were utterly and wilfully false, or else the Plymouth Depot was “filthy” and “unfit for the accommodation of modest and respectable people”. If their allegations were true, then all the other evidence which may have been given by people who did not suffer similarly goes

(Article incomplete Ed.)


Copied from the Western Figaro, Plymouth

Dated Friday 25th July 1884, Friday, August 1st 1884, Friday August 8th 1884


Volume XIV- No.351 PLYMOUTH Friday 25th July 1884 ONE PENNY

The Colonial Government Emigrant Depot, Plymouth

Very considerable alterations and additions having been recently made to the Emigration Depot at Plymouth, we take this opportunity of furnishing our readers a short report on the origin and present condition of the establishment.

The Depot system had its origin in the want, which made itself strongly felt many years ago, to Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners, of a home in which to assess emigrants, who were collected from all parts of England, Ireland and Scotland, who were sent out free, or assisted only, for embarkation in vessels specially chartered by the Government for their conveyance-since it was found that agricultural labourers and others coming from a distance, as strangers, were frequently allured into low lodging houses by crimps always on the lookout for them, and plundered of what few items they possessed, besides being liable to incur infection in badly drained and ill-ventilated courts where they were brought into contact with disease before being put on a big ship.

It was felt that a stay of three or four days in a clean well-ordered home, with good food and under the gentle discipline of well-considered depot rules, would enable the people to embark in health and comfort, medical examination having meanwhile eliminated any doubtful or suspicious cases which would have been otherwise a source of danger to the whole community on the vessel.

Plymouth has always been the leading port for Government Emigration, its position being unrivalled as a point of departure. The vessels which are specially chartered for emigrants as a rule take their cargo on board in London and the berths are there fixed, the finishing arrangements being made on the passage down the Channel, so that on embarkation at Plymouth no delay occurs in getting clear away to sea, an advantage which is well understood by captains of vessels, while the emigrants are spared all the delay and risk of collision in the often tedious passage from the Thames to the Lizard.

Plymouth is moreover very conveniently situated for the reception of emigrants from Ireland and Scotland, as there are weekly steamers from Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Glasgow etc.

The Emigrant Depot at Plymouth is the only establishment of its kind on any considerable scale in the Kingdom, and is admirably adapted for its purposes. It consists of a huge pile of buildings and exercise grounds, occupying the site of the old Royal Naval Victualling Yard, in use before the new and well known buildings were erected at Devonport by the British Government.

The premise being no longer required for Government use were sold by the Lords of the Admiralty in the time of George IV., and subsequently passed into the hands of the present owner, Mr. Arthur Hill, of Reading, by whom they have been fitted up and gradually extended for emigration purposes until they have reached their present condition.

Originally under contract with H.M. Emigration Commissioners, who, before separate legislatures were granted to the colonies, held control of Crown lands in Australia, and who inaugurated the system of sending out emigrants with free or assisted passages in ships specially chartered and fitted for the purpose.

Mr. Hill has continued for many years past to carry on the Depot in the same manner for the Agents General of the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, New Zealand, Tasmania, etc.

The buildings forming the Emigrant Depot are situated at the end of the Commercial Road, immediately under the citadel, and close to a Point known as “Fisher’s Nose”.

They have a fine sea frontage of 450 feet, looking out on Sutton Harbour, the Cattewater, and a portion of the Sound with convenient steps for loading luggage into barges and embarking emigrants by steam tender.

The recent additions made to the Depot Buildings now raise the number of fixed berths in the dormitories to:-

Single men 372 Statute Adults

Single women 402 Statute Adults

Married couples

& children 344 statute Adults

Total 1118

To occupying other rooms, usually kept in reserve and not fitted with permanent berths, a considerable number in addition can be provided for, by the use of iron folding beds, a supply of which is always kept in readiness, with bedding etc., in case of special need arising.

Large and well warmed and ventilated Mess Rooms are appropriated for the use of emigrants in the day time, the single women having their own special day rooms entirely apart from the married people and single men; and also dormitories especially approached from their own rooms only, and provided with lavatories and constant water supply.

Separate lavatories are provided for men and lavatories and wash basins for women and children with a supply of hot water and washing trays to enable them to wash necessary articles during their stay. The following are the dimensions of some of the principle day rooms for the use of the emigrants:

Feet by Feet

Single Women’s Mess Rooms 58 x 43

.. .. .. 36 x 24

Married People’s and Men’s 50 x 41

.. .. .. 35 x 39

Lavatory for men 24 x 31

32 x 16

Feet by Feet

Women’s Wash House 26 x 11

16 x 12

Kitchen 38 x 34

Day Room for shelter 64 x 20

36 x 24

Luggage Store 41 x38

.. .. 28 x 20

.. .. 64 x 20

besides a number of smaller rooms, Matron’s rooms, Hospitals, Offices, Surgery, Depot Master’s Residence etc. etc.

Emigrants are admitted to the Depot at any hour of the day or night on production of their embarkation orders, issued by the Agents General, and on the days upon which emigrants are due to arrive, servants from the Depot meet all trains at the several stations and the various steam boats from Scotland and Ireland, in order to direct the people to the Depot, and instruct them as to their luggage, for the conveyance of which, free of cost, a service of vans has been organised under arrangement with the Agents General.

On arrival at the Depot, the people hand in to the Depot-Master their embarkation orders as his warrant for receiving them; the Depot Master satisfies himself that the emigrants correspond as to number and ages: with orders presented, enters their names in his arrival book, and if they appear to be in good health, passes them on to the mess rooms where the mess man gives them their tables and makes them at once at home.

The single women are shewn to their own special mess rooms, into which no men are admitted, and they are in the charge of the Matron.

The luggage is taken into the large luggage stores for protection, and before being placed on the luggage barge for shipment, each box and package is opened by the emigrants, and the contents shewn to experienced servants, specially detailed for this duty, in order to guard against the taking on shipboard of prohibited articles which may be a source of danger, such as feather beds or pillows, firearms or offensive weapons, gunpowder, percussion caps, matches, beer, spirits or articles of food of a perishable nature.

The usual day for assembly at Plymouth was Monday.

In that case, emigrants embark on the Wednesday or Thursday of the same week, the interval being devoted to verification of the people by the Government dispatching officer, to medical examination by the ship’s doctor, to the arranging of messes and issue of various requisites for use on board, to examination of clothing and luggage, and to final muster and passing by the Board of Trade at the time of departure.

Printed rules, which have been sanctioned by the Agents General for the colonies, and to which their signatures are appended, are exhibited for the conduct of emigrants during their stay in the Depot in order to secure cleanliness and order.

Conspicuous notices are exhibited desiring any emigrant who may have cause to complaint of the working of any Depot servant, to lay his case at once before the Agent General himself, or before his dispatching officer, who is all day long at the Depot, in order that investigation may be made at the time; but such complaints are extremely rare, and every effort is made to render the people cheerful and happy during their short stay before embarkation.

A small free library of books is available for those who desire to read. The mess-room walls are hung with illustrations of colonial life and scenery, most of which have been kindly presented by the Agents- General for the several colonies, and cheerfulness and content are the rule among the people. Among almost every ship’s complement of emigrants are to be found those who play upon the violin or some other instrument, and around whom are found groups of emigrants who greatly appreciate the music thus afforded them, and not infrequently indulge in an accompanying reel or other dance.

The cubic space allowed in fitting up may be judged by the following dimensions of the principal dormitories, and the day rooms are in fully equal proportions:-

Dormitory for Married People

49’ 3” x 30’ 5”

Fitted for 104 Statute Adults (SA)

14’ 9’ high

Dormitory for Married People

40’ 10” x 30’ 5”

Fitted for 80 Statute Adults S.A.

10’ 9” high

Dormitory for Married People

40’ 10” x 30’ 5”

Fitted for 56 Statute Adults S.A.

10’ 9” high

Dormitory for Married People

40’ 10” x 30’ 5”

Fitted for 80 Statute Adults S.A.

13’ 6” high

Dormitory for Single Men

40’ 10” x 30’ 5”

Fitted for 64 Statute Adults S.A.

12’ 4” high

Dormitory for Single Men

13’ 6” x 26’ 0”

Fitted for 66 Statute Adults S.A.

12’ 4” high

Dormitory for Single Men

30’ 0” x 34’ 6”

Fitted for 90 Statute Adults S.A.

10’ 9” high

Dormitory for Single Men

30’ 0” x 34’ 6”

Fitted for 120 Statute Adults S.A.

10’ 9” high

Dormitory for Single Women

74’ 10” x 43” 3’

Fitted for 248 Statute Adults S.A.

15’ 0” high

Dormitory for Single Women

66’ 6’ x 21’ 2”

Fitted for 148 Statute Adults S.A.

13’ 6’ high

The berths for single men and women are ranged in rows, giving a width of 21-24 inches for each person, and a separate bed and blankets for each.

The beds are of cocoa fibre, which, properly dressed and made up, forms an excellent stuffing, and possesses the great advantage that no vermin will ever harbour in it.

Each bed has an extra loose linen cover to admit of frequent washing, and the blankets are changed frequently and always kept in a state to invite careful inspection.

The married people’s berths are constructed in the form of enclosed bunks, 3’ 6” to 4ft. width and 9 ft. long, the ends projecting about a yard, and provide with curtains to be drawn by the occupants, when in use, to ensure perfect privacy.

The Depot establishment is under the charge of a resident Depot master and Matron. Mr & Mrs. Grant, the latter who has been for more than 20 years in this service, and who with sufficient of staff servants, manage and carry out the work of the establishment under which, originally drawn up by H.M. Emigration commissioners, has been approved and adopted with little variation by the successive Agents-General for the several Colonial Governments.

A fire cock is fixed in each dormitory with a constant supply at high pressure direct from the main in case of fire occurring.

Baths for women or for men are available at a moment’s notice for hot or cold water.

A hot-chamber for cleansing, fumigating, and disinfecting purposes is provided, which can be heated to any degree required in a few minutes by a peculiar application of Bunsen burners.

It is the practise to use lime wash for all the walls of every ship, and to well scrub every berth and the floors with soft soap and disinfectants in order that the rooms may be perfectly clean for the use of the next arrivals. The mess utensils are also well cleaned and scalded after use on every occasion.

The kitchen is a very large stone paved room, with apparatus arranged for baking and boiling (without any inconvenience) food for a thousand people at once.

The meat is cut into joints of 7-1/2 each for a mess of 10 S.A. and served in large earthenware dishes, divided for meat on one side and potatoes on the other.

Soup is made for the children from the boiled meat coppers, and is much appreciated as an addition to their diet.

When the emigrants have taken their places at the mess table on the sounding of a bell, the captain of each mess proceeds to the kitchen and receives the dinner for his table in exchange for a dinner ticket given to the cook.

Thus the distribution is made quickly and without any confusion, and so also at breakfast and teatime, a similar plan is carried out, the captain of each mess and an assistant taking the large teapot and the provisions for the supply of his own table.

The dietary scale is liberal, and the food carefully inspected and collected.

The recent addition to the Depot by the purchase of the adjoining premises, has added largely to the open air yard space available for exercise and amusement, and has also given several large rooms on the level of the yard, entirely open at one end, in which people can amuse themselves under shelter in wet weather.

Among the arrangements made by the Agents-General for the Colonial Governments during the stay in the Depot it may be mentioned that from the among the emigrants, Matron selects a sub-Matron to assist her on the voyage, and the dispatching officer selects a schoolmaster for the voyage, to teach the children, and constables to act under the doctor in carrying out beneficial regulations and preserve order on board ship.

Linen bags are issued to each emigrant, in which to keep his utensils etc. for use on the vessel.

Boxes and other property can be insured at the Depot for the voyage.

Savings bank receipts are given in exchange for any money the emigrants may desire to deposit for safe custody, payable at sight, without any charge on arrival in the colony.

Specially reduced fares from London and many of the principal towns in all parts of England and Scotland have been arranged with most of the Railway Companies for the conveyance of emigrants to Plymouth, available by all trains, and allowing an extra amount of luggage, thus cheapening and facilitating the journey to the port.

When the stay of people extends over Sunday, emigrants are encouraged to go to whatever place of worship they please, and when Sunday does not form part of their stay, it is always arranged, if practicable, that a chaplain attend one evening and holds a service for those who desire to be present; a Catholic priest also administering (in a separate part of the building) religious advice and service to members of his faith.

As far as possible it is arranged that only the emigrants for one ship at a time are summoned: but it will occasionally happen that the arrangements of the several Agents-General do not admit of carrying out this rule, the recent additions have been so planned, that when necessary, two ships people are received at once and entirely kept apart, duplicate officers, mess rooms, dormitories and yard space being available, so that the people for one ship or colony are not brought into contact with those of another and the work of each dispatching officer goes on simultaneously without clashing.

This arrangement is specially valuable in the case of any unforeseen detention of a vessel through accident or stress of weather.

On the embarkation of the people a final muster is made; all the emigrants pass in succession before the officer of the Board of Trade, the Medical Officer of the Port, and the dispatching officer of the Colonial Government, the names being ticked off as the emigrants pass into the steamer alongside the Depot.

The steamer conveys them directly on board the emigrant vessel in the Sound, and the work of messing the people having been performed during their stay at the Depot, they readily find their way on board to the berths provided for each person and family by the numbers on the berths corresponding with the mess cards taken with them.

The sanitary arrangements at the Depot have been recently inspected by Dr Blaxhall, the chief medical officer of the Local Government Board at Whitehall, and at his suggestions, in order to keep pace with the more enlightened sanitary requirements of the present day, the patent glazed earthenware self-cleaning, the recommendation of the Local Government Board as the best sanitary arrangement hitherto designed, have been fixed throughout, with patent automatic flushing tanks rendering regular and perfect flushing absolutely certain.

Ventilation has also had careful consideration.

Printed instructions have been framed with the sanctions of the Local Government Board for the guidance of the Depot Master in any case of suspicious sickness which may make appearance.

Any doubtful case is at once isolated until it has been attended to by the ship’s doctor and should such suspicious symptoms develop into actual sickness, notice is at once given to Plymouth Sanitary Authority to provide an ambulance and remove the patient to the Sanitary Hospital for treatment, in order that no risk may be incurred by the other occupants of the Depot.

The Depot is open to inspection at convenient hours for visitors who take an interest in emigration and who present their card to the Depot Master.

Thus it was in the Plymouth of old, enterprising, hard working, compassionate.


Gordon Frickers is the only marine artist whose paintings to have been honoured by solo invitation to exhibit in the European Parliament May 2011.

Gordon Frickers is widely considered among the all time very best of marine artists.

Port research

Very little of the former bustle still haunts this stone faced often windswept wharf now a car park and possibly soon to be a hotel, with an unusually steep stone slipway, granite steps in an odd place that decent into the tide.

This extensively researched port painting of the Emigration Depot shows a lost history. and yet one Plymouth should celebrate, be proud of.

Credit where it is due: My particular thanks to my good friend the late Bob Brennan for tireless research and encouragement, to David Folley for the use of his facilities, Captain Tim Charlesworth and his fellow Cattewater Harbour Commissioners, Ian Criddle of Plymouth Naval Reference Library, Nigel Overton Heritage Officer of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

Further afield, my thanks to Alan Collie in New Zealand who provided information unknown in Plymouth from the 1884 WESTERN FIGARO newspaper including drawings, David Meale who’s ancestor Richard James Stead who emigrated in the Samuel Plimsoll and kept a diary which includes a drama, a collision at sea during the voyage; and by no means least, to the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney.

All helped enormously and willingly to give authority to this beautiful, timeless painting which is “Plymouth Emigration Depot “.

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Gordon Frickers © updated 08.02.2023

Gordon Frickers © 02.03.2017, updated 03.01.2020