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*Migration Histories > Irish > Journeys
* Tragedy at Sea - the Story of the Packet Steamer Londonderry  
 
At 8am on Friday 1 December 1848, the steamer Londonderry left Sligo for Liverpool with a cargo of passengers and cattle. Her passengers were later described by the Liverpool Mercury as

chiefly... the wretched and destitute class who are pouring into England and in such multitudes and who are landed daily in our streets without a penny of money, and with scarcely rags enough to cover them.
Two days later, she arrived at Londonderry with 72 of her 174 passengers dead. Mary McNulty, aged about 14, of Ballina, in Mayo, gave evidence to the inquest that her mother and four sisters had died in steerage, where, people had said, robbers were attacking the passengers.

Michael Branan of Sligo had been on deck during the storm until 'one of the crew called him an Irish - and made him go down' below, where 'the place was so thronged that, while those at the sides were forced to sit down, there was no sitting room for those in the centre, and they were moved to and fro with every motion of the vessel'.

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This Home Office file shows how, at first, the local authorities reacted to the deaths aboard the Londonderry as a simple case of the rowdy Irish rioting among themselves.
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This Home Office file shows how, at first, the local authorities reacted to the deaths aboard the Londonderry as a simple case of the rowdy Irish rioting among themselves.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) HO 45/2428
Passengers who tried to keep the hatchway open because of the heat were beaten back by the sailors, who blocked the way with tarpaulin and ropes. Catherine Brady, of Tonagh, Sligo, gave evidence that the *bullocks 'got loose every time the water came down'.

Another witness said that one of the sailors had remarked that 'they were only Irishmen fighting among themselves'. The mate gave evidence that it had been the worst storm he had seen in 11 years, and that the captain had ordered the hatchway to be covered by a tarpaulin. The ship's carpenter said that each passenger 'would have two square feet for standing'.

Dr Miller, having examined the bodies, gave his opinion that

those persons had come by their death through many persons having been in too small a place, and having an imperfect supply of air...the steerage accommodation being more cramped than the Black Hole of Calcutta.
The inquest jury found that the passengers had died of suffocation and charged the Captain, Alexander Johnson, as well as the first and second mates, with manslaughter, calling for better conditions for steerage passengers.

This newspaper cutting reveals the full horror of the tragedy and how the passengers had been treated worse than cattle.

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Creators: Aidan Lawes

 
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