One of the most significant features of the emigration is that many of the North Devon migrants departed not from the Atlantic ports of Plymouth and Bristol but from Appledore and Bideford (counted as a single port for customs purposes) and that they did so as paying passengers rather than assisted emigrants..
The North Devon Exodus Begins in 1830 Thomas Burnard Chanter advertised in the North Devon Journal that his ships Collina, Calypso, Sappho and Euphemia had been “conveniently fitted up for Families and will take out passengers on moderate terms to Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” In the following year the North Devon Journal described some 5000 people lining the Quay and Long Bridge at Bideford to wave farewell to the Apollo, Calypso and Bacchus, bound for New York, St. Andrews (Newfoundland) and Montreal
The Bideford ships made the round trip about two or three times during the summer season which began when the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence broke up. In 1838 the Bravo from Bideford sailed too early and was nearly broken to pieces by the ice, limping into Cascumpeque, P.E.I., on May 2nd badly damaged with two anchors missing. The average sailing time to Quebec lasted about 42 days. The return journey, when the ships had the prevailing south-westerly winds behind them, was always much quicker. Thomas Chanter's brig Sappho made the easterly crossing from Nova Scotia to Bideford in 1833 in an astonishing 12 days. The length of these sea journeys was nothing like that which faced emigrants to Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century and was much less expensive. David Norton writing in The Devon Family Historian in August 2008 provides the examples of John and Elizabeth Talbot who boarded the Accrington on 18th June 1863 at Plymouth and arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, on the 23rd September 1863, or John and Sarah Uplowman who sailed from London in the Zealandia in January 1862 but, almost unbelievably, did not arrive at Lyttelton until the 24th May. It may well be that the prospect of a relatively short and cheaper sea crossing, along routes which were known to North Devon sailors since the sixteenth century, was one of the reasons why so many from North Devon chose to go to Canada rather than the antipodes.
The dynamic behind the emigrant trade of Bideford and Appledore was provided by the interacting needs of timber importing and ship-building. Without ship-building and timber importing the emigrant trade of North Devon might never have developed. Each of the 3 different economic activities could not have thrived without the other two.
North Devon had, of course, long established maritime connections with North America to which the Newfoundland Inn on Bideford Quay bore witness. They began in the sixteenth century with the Newfoundland cod fisheries and a regular seasonal migration of fishermen to the Island. As late as 1758 Bideford was still petitioning parliament about its declining cod fisheries. (14) At the same time a growing trade in tobacco was developing between Barnstaple, Bideford and Appledore and Maryland and Virginia. By the beginning of the nineteenth century that trade was dead, following the end of the American War of Independence, but a completely new trade began with Canada based on the longstanding ship-building tradition of the Torridge estuary.(15) Between 1800 and 1809 alone no less than 107 merchant ships and 7 warships were built along the banks of the Torridge.
Ships built in Prince Edward Island by North Devon shipwrights sailed to Appledore and Bideford with their holds filled with Canadian timber. The holds were emptied, final fitting out was done in the Bideford and Appledore shipyards and the ships then returned to Canada with the same holds filled with emigrants, who were landed in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and sometimes, New York. Without the emigrants the return journey would have been problematic since the colonies rapidly achieved self-sufficiency and did not require continuous supply. In any case most imported goods could be obtained more cheaply from the U.S.A. The necessity to fill the holds with emigrants for the return journey had the further effect of keeping fares low. For about a generation these activities were the backbone of the economies of both Bideford and Appledore.
Between 1818 and 1855 no less than 106 known sailings of ships from Bideford to Canada took place. In 57 cases emigrants are known to have been carried, based largely upon evidence collected in Prince Edward Island by a group of local historians. Much of this evidence is drawn from shipping reports in the press which, as emigration became more commonplace, became less and less informative as to numbers of emigrants arriving in the Island. It is highly unlikely that only 57 of these ships carried North Devon emigrants. A list of known sailings and an estimate of the numbers of emigrants involved may be found on the www.genuki.org.uk website. Look for Bideford in the Devon section and then under Maritime.
The names of three local merchants are particularly associated with this trade, William Yeo (1813-1872) of Appledore, whose lifetime more or less coincides with the heyday of the trade, Thomas Burnard Chanter (1797-1874) who was the nephew of Thomas Burnard, and Richard Heard of Bideford. William Yeo's father, James (1789-1868), had settled in Prince Edward Island where he had a shipyard at Richmond Bay and where his son, James junior, built a mansion called Green Park at Campbell Creek. William Yeo's mansion in Appledore (Richmond House) built in 1850, was named after Richmond Bay, as was Richmond Dock (1856) his shipyard in Appledore. When he died in 1872 his timber and ship-building enterprises died with him. Chanter owned a fleet of sailing vessels, some of which were built for him in Prince Edward Island and erected a signal tower at Appledore from which to obtain advance notice of his vessels crossing Bideford Bar. From this he could signal to Bideford as well as Appledore for labour to unload his vessels. This tower, visible from Bideford and later known in its derelict state as Chanter's Folly, was built in 1841 and demolished in 1952. He lived at Glenburnie, Orchard Hill, just inside the parish of Northam.
North Devon's emigrant trade with North America died as the timber and ship-building industry died. Even without the death of William Yeo, without a male heir, in 1872, which was disastrous for Appledore, the factors making for decline were already in operation. When Britain turned away from the Baltic to North America for its timber supplies the bankers and financiers investing their capital in the new trade needed to know that in the future their investment would be protected. The government responded by erecting tariff barriers protecting the new trade from any future Baltic competition. But these tariffs were slowly removed and finally abolished in 1860 so that Baltic timber became competitive once again. In any case, by 1870 the age of wooden sailing ships was rapidly coming to an end, to be replaced by iron, steam-driven ships.
The arrival of the railway at Bideford (East-the-Water) in 1855 signalled the era of cheap rail transport and made it easier for would-be emigrants to leave via Bristol or Plymouth.
A fleet of 17th century Bideford Newfoundlanders running home in heavy weather
The topsail schooner Geisha (built in Appledore in 1906) approaching St John's
The brigantine Clio (Appledore-built in 1894) fighting her way to the westward on the Newfoundland run
Newfoundland is a large Canadian island off the east coast of the North American mainland
The North Devon Maritime Museum brings life to this story through two floors of fascinating exhibits, with dioramas, paintings, documents and models. These describe the lives of the North Devon sailors and shipbuilders and their families and tell the histories of the ships they built and sailed
Local ships which traded in salt cod with Newfoundland