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The Emigration Depot at Plymouth.

From ‘The Sydney Mail’- 17th January 1885

Plymouth has always been the leading port for Government emigration, the 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 fitted, the finishing arrangements being made during the passage down the channel, so that on the 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 emigration 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 premises, 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 purpose 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 the 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 the point known as “Fisher’s Nose.” They have a fine sea frontage of 450 feet, looking out on Sutton Harbour, the Catwater, 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 and children, 344 statute adults; total, 1118. And by 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., 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 specially approached from their own rooms only, and provided with lavatories and constant water supply.

Separate lavatories are provided for men, lavatories and washhouses for women and children, with a supply of hot water and washing trays to enable them to wash the necessary articles during their stay.

The following are the dimensions of some of the principal day rooms for the use of emigrants :- Single woman’s mess-room, 58 x 43 feet and 36 x 24 feet; married people and men’s ditto, 50 x 41 feet, 35 x 39 feet, and 48 x 30 feet; lavatory for men, 24 x 31 feet and 32 x 16 feet; women’s washhouse, 26 x 11 feet and 16 x 12 feet; kitchen, 38 x 34 feet; day room for shelter, 64 x 24 feet and 36 x24 feet; luggage store, 41 x 38 feet, 28 x 20 feet, and 64 x 20 feet; 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 day on which emigrants are due to arrive servants from the depot meet all trains at the several stations and the various steamboats from Scotland and Ireland, in order to direct the people to the depot, and to instruct them as to their luggage, for the conveyance of which, free of cost, a service of vans has been organised under arrangements 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 shown to their own special mess-rooms, into which no men are admitted, and where they are in charge of the matron.

As far as possible it is arranged that only the emigrants for one ship at a time are summoned; but as 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 ship’s people are received at once and entirely kept apart, duplicate offices, mess rooms, dormitories, and yard space being available, so that people for one ship or colony are not brought into contact with those for another, and the work of each despatching 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.

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