GOING TO AMERICA by Terry Coleman


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Those going, in Coleman's vividly documented case study of the emigrant, are chiefly the Irish famine refugees of 1846-55. Coleman, chief feature writer for the Guardian, follows their bedraggled fortunes from the time when ""shovelling landlords"" kicked them off their land to the arrival in America where shysters waited to relieve them of their last sovereigns while the Know Nothings put up signs reading ""No Irish Need Apply."" En route: the teeming, diseased cellars and boarding houses of Liverpool, the chattel-like crossing on the packet ship which took about six weeks, cholera and typhus, disasters at sea, the systematic fleecing by those who organized mid-century emigre traffic into a lucrative big business. Coleman scores the British government's do-nothing policies (epitomized by the utterly unenforceable Passenger Acts), attributing the general callousness to prevailing Malthusian strictures on the poor -- an explanation which doesn't take sufficient account of the sudden and staggedng dimensions of the exodus which caught authorities on both sides of the Atlantic quite unprepared. Though Coleman modestly disclaims any intent to write a definitive history of emigration his lavish use of contemporary sources -- including the emigrants' own pathetic letters, pamphlets such as The Emigrant's Penny Magazine, listings of foodstuffs rationed aboard ship, and observations of public officials (among them Nathaniel Hawthorne who was the American consul in Liverpool during the early '50's) -- conveys the turbulent immediacy of the passage and the helplessness of the travelervictims. Cecil Woodham-Smith took a brief look at this wretched human cargo in The Great Hunger; Coleman amplifies and personalizes the story more memorably.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1972
Publisher: Pantheon