Annan – gateway to a new life in Canada

In an era before railways, moving around Scotland and England was not easy and in general was prohibitively expensive for many. When times were tough and agricultural labourers were finding it hard to feed their families, their thoughts turned to making a new start by emigrating to the New World. In some cases, financial help with the cost of the passage to the New World was available through emigration societies or local landowners.  But this help rarely extended to the cost of surface transport to the port of departure. Consequently, it made sense to depart from a port as close to home as possible.

Annan Waterfoot as painted by W.H.Nutter in 1868

It was for that reason that Annan Waterfoot became important for emigration from the Borders in the early years of the 19th century.  At Waterfoot, about a mile downstream of the town at the mouth of the River Annan, there was sufficient draft to allow reasonably sized sea-going vessels to berth at the piers there. Sailing ships of 200-300 tons departed regularly for ports like St Johns and Quebec in Canada with perhaps 150 souls on board seeking a new life.

An 1832 report in the Carlisle Patriot newspaper describes emigrants departing from Annan to join an emigrant ship at Maryport, a port on the other side of the Solway Firth.   ‘Emigrants for Canada to sail by the Donegal of Maryport have, during the first 2 days of this week, arrived at Annan, principally  from Roxburghshire and the neighbourhood of Hawick and Jedburgh. They were of all ages, from infants hanging at the breast, to old men and women of apparently 70 and 80 years of age; and many of them seemingly opulent farmers and their families. On Tuesday nearly 30 carts heavily laden with luggage passed through this place. The whole sailed this morning in four vessels previously engaged to convey them. The numbers are computed at 150 or 160; and it is also said that squad is only the advance guard of the body preparing to follow them.’

Undoubtedly, many of those who emigrated to Canada from Dumfriesshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire around the 1820s would have joined their ship at Annan for the 6 week journey to Canada.

By the middle of the 1830s, larger steamships up to 500 tons were introduced to provide a twice-weekly passenger service to Liverpool. I became aware of this when a family history client came to me to discover more about the links between Annan and Liverpool in his own family.  Family members from Annan travelled back and forth regularly in the 1830s and 1840s operating as ‘travelling drapers’.  With the coming of the railways by the end of the 1840s, steamships became uncompetitive and the service ceased operation although cargo ships continued to run from Annan to Liverpool for many years to follow.

There was an attempt to revive a passenger service in 1899 but it failed to receive the backing it needed. Annan remained as a fishing port but it’s importance as a trading port declined significantly thereafter.

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