Why we should be thankful for the Merchant Shipping Act 1906

January 17, 2007

BT27 records details of many types of traveller: emigrant, businessman, tourist, diplomat and so on. A significant proportion of the emigrants within these passenger lists did not begin their journey in the British Isles, however. These emigrants are known as trans-migrants or, in the charming terminology of the time, alien trans-migrants. Typical of these are the men, women and children who had embarked from ports in Scandinavia and the lands bordering the Baltic Sea for a British sea port, typically Hull, Leith, London or West Hartlepool. From their port of entry into Britain they would cross the country to a west coast port: for instance, travel by train from Hull to Liverpool, or from Leith to Glasgow. From Glasgow or Liverpool these trans-migrants would then board the great ocean liners bound for Canada and USA.

As the numbers of these migrants increased during the 1890s and 1900s, the British authorities reacted. In 1906 Lloyd George, the then President of the Board of Trade, passed a Merchant Shipping Act which, while largely focused on improving conditions for merchant seamen, required shipping lines to record basic details of the first leg of such trans-migrants’ journeys. This is good news for researchers, in that it provides evidence of the Baltic or North Sea route taken by Nordic emigrants. For example, a passenger list may indicate that a Finnish emigrant arrived at Hull on a Good & Co ship, or a Norwegian landed at Hull on board a Wilson Line boat.

For more on Norwegian emigration, visit Børge Solem’s excellent www.norwayheritage.com. You do not need to be blessed with Norwegian forebears to find Norway Heritage interesting, as the articles (which are written in impeccable English) are of value to anyone interested in transatlantic emigration.

Click on the link below for an image taken from a 1910 passenger list, which shows Danes, Norwegians and Finns bound for St John NB in Canada.