Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 June 2001
The career of the third Viscount Palmerston as foreign secretary and prime minister has been thoroughly studied, but few are aware that he was one of the first Irish landlords to finance the emigration of starving tenants during the great Irish famine. Although the first boatloads of emigrants were well outfitted, by the end of 1847 Palmerston stood accused of cruelly mistreating his departing tenants. One Canadian official compared conditions on the vessels he chartered to those of the slave trade. Given the tremendous detail with which historians have scrutinized Palmerston's long career, it is surprising that no thorough account of either the management of his Irish estate or of his emigration scheme has ever been written. An examination of the programme under which 2,000 residents of Palmerston's Sligo estate fled to America in 1847 adds significantly to our understanding of the career of one of Britain's most important nineteenth-century statesmen, the complicated motives driving landlords to ‘shovel out’ their impoverished tenants, and an often-forgotten means by which thousands of the most destitute famine-era immigrants made their way to America.