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19th Century Emigration to the North Americas

Vere Foster

Image of Vere Henry Louis Foster.
Vere Henry Louis Foster was one of the greatest Irishmen ever. He was born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819, while his father, a member of the Irish aristocracy whose family seat was at Glyde Court, Ardee, County Louth, was serving as British Minister to Denmark. Vere was educated at Eton and Oxford and after graduation, entered the Foreign Office where his promising career as a diplomat was put aside once he returned to Ireland, in 1847. The rest of his life was dedicated to helping his countrymen.

Subscription list issued by Vere Foster.
Subscription list issued by Vere Foster which sets out his aims and invites contributions of 'at least one penny'. As well as the subscribers names, together with the amount subscribed, there is a note in Vere Foster's hand - 'I sent 105 persons with the proceeds of a similar fund ...'

See transcript of subscription list issued by Vere Foster (17KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.
He devoted himself unselfishly to bettering the conditions of the poorer classes of Ireland. He believed that the only immediate remedy to Ireland's problems was emigration. Therefore he provided sound and accurate advice on work and wages in America and Canada; paid the passages of aspiring emigrants out of his own pocket and, when his own money ran out, borrowed from his brother. He opened subscription lists, encouraging all and sundry to contribute to his Irish Female Emigration Scheme, while his first-hand account of the conditions which emigrants endured as they travelled to the new world led to changes in the law.

Leaflet issued by Vere Foster, August 1857, giving information about the 140 emigrants who sailed with him to New York on board the City of Mobile.
Leaflet issued by Vere Foster, August 1857, giving information about the 140 emigrants who sailed with him to New York on board the City of Mobile
There was some controversy concerning the behaviour of both the crew and the females under Mr Foster's care, and it was later reported that many of those 'ladies' from the City of Mobile became common prostitutes, a situation which gave rise to some very purple prose in the newspapers.

Letter from a clergyman to Vere Foster, Sept. 1881.
A letter from a clergyman to Vere Foster, Sept. 1881: 'I am glad to inform you that most of the girls assisted by you to emigrate.. have been fairly successful in America'.

In the long-term, Foster considered education to be the way forward. He contributed towards building school houses in rural Ireland; devised cheap but very effective school books; and tried to better the lot of the poorly paid Irish school teachers. He was amongst the original promoters of the Belfast School of Art where, in addition to his annual donations, he guaranteed the headmaster's salary for a number of years. Several young students were put through college at his expense. The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast was another institution which benefited from his generosity.

Letter from B. F. Psaultrune, Mackinaw City, to Vere Foster, December, 1882.
Letter from B. F. Psaultrune, Mackinaw City, to Vere Foster, December 1882, asking his help in finding a replacement wife.

See transcript of a letter from B. F. Psaultrune, Mackinaw City, to Vere Foster, December, 1882 (13KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.
For over forty years Vere Foster gave freely of his own money (and other peoples!) until his death in 1900. During his life he assisted (mostly at his own expense) c.25,000 people to start a new life in the Americas and it is believed he spent approximately 100,000 pounds sterling on other charitable endeavours while he himself lived on the equivalent of 100 pounds a year. He died, on December 21, 1900, in a cheap lodging house in Belfast.

Letter to Vere Foster from the Princess of Wales' secretary, Marlborough House, Pall Mall, May 19th [c.1880s].
Letter to Vere Foster from the Princess of Wales' secretary, Marlborough House, Pall Mall, May 19th [c.1880s]

See transcript of a letter to Vere Foster from the Princess of Wales' secretary, Marlborough House, Pall Mall, May 19th [c.1880s] (13KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.

'Experiment of assistance by loan' leaflet issued by Vere Foster, May. 1884.
Experiment of assistance by loan. Leaflet issued by Vere Foster, May 1884. Up to this date, Vere Foster had given assistance to intending emigrants without any stipulation that the money given should be paid back. Foster himself was not in favour of loans.

See transcript of 'Experiment of assistance by loan' leaflet issued by Vere Foster, May.1884 (18KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.

Public letter from Vere Foster to Charles Stuart Parnell.
Public letter from Vere Foster to Charles Stuart Parnell, the Irish politican, asking him to support emigration as a short term solution to Ireland's problems. Parnell did not endorse Foster's views.

See transcript of public letter from Vere Foster to Charles Stuart Parnell (22KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.
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