Victorian emigration

Many people emigrated from Liverpool to start a new life abroad during the Victorian era and this interactive role-play session will give pupils a greater understanding and empathy for those involved.  Using costume and props, groups will imagine themselves in Liverpool back in 1854 and will be guided through their emigration experience by a museum roleplayer.

This workshop is available at 10.15am, 11.30am and 1.15pm, 11-14 October 2022 and 7-9 February 2023. A booking link will be available soon.

Workshop details

Using the very popular Emigrants to a New World gallery at the Maritime Museum, this workshop takes groups back in time to Liverpool in 1854. Led by one of the museum’s roleplayers (not necessarily the one pictured), students are introduced to the concept of emigration and how key Liverpool was to this mass movement of peoples around the world.

Using role play techniques, costume and props, groups are taken on a guided trip along our recreated dockside street – they will learn about which countries many Victorian emigrants came from, where they had to stay on arrival in Liverpool, how much the voyage would have cost and they will also be presented with the many dangers and problems to be faced.  Will the decisions that they make turn out to be the correct ones?

The action then moves into a recreation of a Liverpool emigrant sailing ship, the Shackamaxon, which made the voyage to New York. This perfectly captures the environment in which steerage passengers made their journey - students will gain a real understanding of how cramped, dirty and dangerous these ships could be.  

Finally, what happened upon arrival at your destination? Medical examinations, possible separation from friends and loved ones and perhaps the discovery that your new life is not what you imagined it to be.

Placing the students in the position of emigrants, and learning about their hardships, will encourage empathy with people from the past and help to understand the varied reasons behind their decision to begin a new life abroad. Also, they will begin to see how Liverpool was affected by this mass migration - many different nationalities are still to be found in the city today!

This session also fits in perfectly with teaching Fundamental British Values within SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development). As well as broaching topics as diverse as free will and individual liberty, the ideas inherent in developing a greater understanding of mass movements of people in the past still has a direct bearing on contemporary issues of migration.

Image © Paula Parker

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 - History

  • know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day: how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world
  • a local history study
  • a study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066

Key Stage 2 - English Spoken Language

  • listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers
  • ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge
  • articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions
  • participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates

Key Stage 3 and 4 – History

  • know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day: how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world
  • ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901
  • a local history study

All Key Stages - SMSC Fundamental British Values

  • Democracy - pupils are given the opportunity to vote about what decisions they think should be taken at different stages of their 'emigration journey'
  • Individual Liberty - exploring the concept of emigration and mass movement of peoples, free will to be able to make life changing decisions to try to secure a happier future
  • Mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith - understanding that emigrants from many differing backgrounds were thrown together during the migration experience and how this came to create our multicultural and vibrant cities like Liverpool

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Pupils will:

  • understand the reasons behind the mass migration of peoples in the Victorian era
  • gain a greater knowledge of the history of the local area
  • know where many emigrants originally came from and where they chose to go    


Pupils will:

  • increase their confidence in speaking and expressing ideas within a group context
  • improve their listening skills when taking on board others’ ideas and opinions


Pupils will:

  • grasp how this movement of peoples has affected the populations and cultures of many countries and cities, especially Liverpool


Pupils will:

  • appreciate the harshness and difficulties experienced by some people in the past and gain empathy
  • appreciate that the Maritime Museum is an enjoyable place to visit