Emigrant boom

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Large ship model in a display case on a gallery

Model of the SS Gallia. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

One of my older relatives used to joke that you should not bathe too often because hot water removes the skin’s natural oils. I’m all for keeping clean but some people overdo it and this can be very wasteful in a world that needs water.

However, I would not like to go on a long journey without having the opportunity to bathe but this was hardly the situation on most passenger ships in Victorian times, for example.

Competition to capture business during the emigration boom through Liverpool spurred shipping companies to create better facilities for travellers.

The arrival of large steam liners meant that services could keep to publicised timetables and schedules. This was a huge improvement on sailing ships which were at the mercy of wind and weather.

Cunard’s transatlantic passenger liner Gallia of 1879 was a beautiful ship built during the transitory period when steam was still supplemented by sail.

There is a superb builder’s-style model of the Gallia in the new emigrants’ gallery in Merseyside Maritime Museum (pictured).

The 430-foot long Gallia was one of the steamships that brought new standards of safety and comfort to the North Atlantic emigrant trade. She spent most of her career on the Liverpool to New York and Boston run.

Gallia could carry 300 first class passengers in luxurious (for the time) two-berth cabins plus 1,200 steerage (third class) passengers along with 2,000 tons of cargo.

She had both engines and sails and her captain used sail whenever possible. Two new features were an improved main saloon which took up the full 42 feet of the ship’s width along with steam-powered steering.

Despite all these luxuries and improvements, Gallia was fitted with only two baths for the entire ship. You can read more on SS Gallia on our main site.

About nine million people emigrated through Liverpool in the period 1830 to 1930 making it probably the biggest emigration port in world history.

Few of these emigrants, who came from many parts of northern Europe including Russia, recorded their experiences in Liverpool.

Dirk van den Bergh and his large family emigrated from Holland, via Liverpool, to Canada in 1906. He wrote a diary about his journey - audio extracts are available for museum visitors to listen to, or you can listen to some here.

Dirk writes: “We went into the centre of Liverpool – what a busy place and what traffic! If you could imagine Liverpool without fog and smoke it would be really impressive city. It streams with many emigrants.”

There is more on the emigrant experience in our Leaving From Liverpool online feature.

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 (£1.50 p&p UK).