Destination Liverpool

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I think Liverpudlians sometimes overlook the special relationship many people from around the world feel they have with our city – even if they’ve never visited us.

The port is historically a romantic place in the widest sense of the word – a point of departure and loss because people set off for new lives from its docks and quaysides. Our music is also known virtually everywhere, adding to the potent emotional mix.

Liverpool has a place in the family histories of countless millions of people scattered across the globe. Many feel that this spot saw the beginning of new lives.  

Their ancestors set out into the unknown on ships that plied between Liverpool and countries that welcomed emigrants – mainly in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Liverpool was probably the biggest emigrant port in world history when around nine million people set out for new lives in the period 1830 to 1930. They were not just British and Irish emigrants but those who came from many parts of northern Europe including Scandinavia and Russia.

extremely old ticket

Guion Line ticket from about 1894, on display in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s emigrants’ gallery. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

As a major world port with established shipping companies and trading links, Liverpool was at the heart of the emigration trade.

The port was well-placed to receive the many emigrants from Europe who crossed the North Sea to Hull and then travelled to Liverpool by train. As emigration grew, new shipping companies were set up and competition increased.

They advertised their services in Europe and it was often cheaper to travel to Liverpool to emigrate rather than leave from ports nearer to home. People might travel hundreds of miles just to get from their home towns to Liverpool – for some their first ride on a train.

On display in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Emigration gallery is a Guion Line ticket from about 1894 (pictured). In Swedish and English it gives the Guion Line address as 21 Water Street, Liverpool, and begins: “Gentlemen, please give safe passage to New York and Third Class railroad from New York …. to passengers named below.”

There are spaces provided for destinations and names, including ages. The first stage of the journey was from Gothenburg in Sweden to Hull.

The majority of emigrants arrived at their destinations safely but sea travel was always fraught with danger. Once out of port, vessels were at the mercy of the elements and storms were a great threat but as navigation skills and technology improved there were less ship losses.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).