Posted by Kristen Hyde on May 25, 2017 in Collections

Our latest Irish collection, Ireland, Poor Law Union Removals From England, 1859-1860, gives us a window in to what life was like as an Irish pauper living in the UK in the late 1850’s. Irish paupers were often looked upon negatively, as an unwanted expense on the local communities in which they resided across England, Scotland and Wales.

Back then, there was a regional ecclesiastical approach to social welfare, as we deem it in today’s terminology, and the Poor Law System was structured in such a way that local parishes were responsible for the paupers who resided in the area. Land taxes were used to raise money to support the destitute.

A way of deflecting such responsibility was to establish the parish of origin of such a pauper, and to send them back to their birth parish. A one way ticket ‘home’ cost the parish a lot less than ongoing maintenance.

But was it really possible for the residing parish to just ship the person out of there? Well, yes, that was what the law allowed for. At the time of the documents being recorded in 1859/1860, a pauper would have had to have been living in the new parish for 5 years or more in order to be classified as ‘irremovable’ and therefore have the right to stay in their new home and receive relief.

This notion of removal and settlements was a one way system. Returning poor Irish back to Ireland was legal and compulsory, but British Poor residing in Ireland could not legally be returned to mainland Britain. Instead, they were to be given support in their Irish parish in which they lived.

The removals of Irish back to their birth parish were often carried out in the most arbitrary way. The focus was to get them out of the parish as soon as possible. They were sent on board a steamer ship to what was supposed to be there nearest port in Ireland to their place of birth. However, as these documents show that was not always the case.

On the 22nd of March 1860 Mary Moore from county Galway was shipped from Liverpool to Dublin Port with her four children. She was fortunate enough to receive £0 3s 6d monies alongside her passage, but then again the ship to Dublin was only half the battle. Once docked, the Irish paupers would be left to fend for themselves. On going passage within Ireland was often not arranged. Herself and her four young children would have had to embark on a 44 hour, 130 mile walk to get from Dublin Port to Galway City.

The question in my mind is whether the children would have been able to survive such a journey in this poor state. But it is sad to see that perhaps these children were amongst the lucky ones. They had their mum and some money to get by. Another example shows two young children, under the age of 16, assumed siblings, and traveling alone. Elizabeth and Thomas Hunt were living in York in October 1859 when they were removed and sent to Ireland. Their removal was granted despite them being too young to know their parish of origin but they were boarded on to a ship regardless and sent packing.

Having looked at some typical case studies, it is no wonder that the ports of Ireland were often overrun with families either trying to escape poverty, or being dumped at the docks as a result of poverty.

Having explored the collection, there are some nuances to be aware of. As mentioned, the parish of settlement was generally the parish of birth, however a married women and their children would be returned to her husband’s parish of birth.

The location which the destitute are said to have been born varies between country level information and town information depending on what was recorded. For example, many listed County Cork as the place of birth, while others could name specific areas such as Celbridge, Kinlough, Arklow, Drogheda.

To see what you can find, you can try searching using information such as:

• First Name, Surname,
• Irish birth place
• UK residence place
• Date of warrant for removal

The people in this document are arguably not captured in many other records sets of the time.

Ireland, Poor Law Union Removals From England, 1859-1860

Other similar collections of this kind are the Vagrant Passes which also include examples of Irish people being sent from the UK to Ireland, albeit from an earlier time period.

 Lancashire, England, Vagrant Passes, 1801-1835

Dorset, England, Vagrant Passes, 1739-1791 

This post was written by Rhona Murray, Content Acquisition Manager for


  1. Ambrose Smith

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  2. The laws on the poor should be fully taken into account from the beginning of the next session. He might mention that in one part of Norfolk he was connected with, another man and himself would, if that law were read, have the power to expel all the poor from the parish and thus cause great tribulation.

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