European settlement in this area is documented as having officially began in the year 1825 (although some found themselves settling here earlier). Emigrants left harsh conditions in Ireland for a better life in Canada. In total, nine ships were used to transport 2,024 people across the Atlantic. However, the conditions in steerage – the hold of the ship where temporary berths (beds) were created – were almost as bad as those conditions they left behind. At the time, the required dimensions of the steerage would have been a height of 5 feet, 6 inches. A berth held two adults or several children; those under 14 years of age were considered half an adult, and those under seven were considered a third of an adult, while children under one year old were not counted at all. The ships left Cork, Ireland on May 13, 1825 and would arrive in Quebec 30–40 days later.
While on board the ships, many precautions were made to help prevent the spread of disease and sickness. Children were vaccinated against smallpox in the weeks leading up to the departure. Passengers were required to be out of the berths and on the main deck by 8:00 AM each morning – regardless of their condition. Fresh air would be circulated through the berths by hanging a piece of cloth, known as windsail, in front of the hatches. The windsail caught the breeze and sent it below to freshen the berths.
Passengers were required to keep themselves, and the ship, as clean as possible. The decks and berths were scraped, scrubbed, and sprinkled with hot vinegar each day. Women washed clothes and hung them on the line to dry. The passengers took turns cleaning the water closet (bathroom) after being threatened to have it locked up if it were not kept clean.
The Irish families would then travel approximately another 550 kilometres from Montreal, through Kingston, across Lake Ontario to Cobourg, and then North across Rice Lake and up the Otonabee River where they would eventually settle in the various townships around Peterborough. Upon arrival in the beginning of autumn 1825, work would have continued to clear the land for farming and to build temporary housing to get through the harsh winter months.
Peterborough Museum and Archives, 300 Hunter St. E., Peterborough, 705-743-5180 www.peterboroughmuseumandarchives.ca.