Petworth Emigration Project: Project looks into the families who left Sussex for Canada

The Petworth Emigration Project began as a collaborative case study between Canada and England.

It looked at the social history and genealogy of 19th century emigration to Upper Canada.

Leigh Lawson said: “Dr. Sheila Haines and I were the researchers in the UK for historian Wendy Cameron in Toronto who was writing a history of the Petworth Emigration Scheme.”

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The Petworth Emigration Scheme began in 1832 when the Petworth Emigration Commitee chartered ships each year from 1832 until 1837

Mark Mann emigrated from Wisborough Green in 1836 and married Sophia Rapley in 1841 in Canada. This photo shows their Golden Wedding celebration of Mark and his wife Sophia with their family in 1891. Courtesy Margaret Parsons

Reasearch for the project goes back to the 1970s but Leigh says it did not begin in earnest until 1990.

Leigh said: “For many years, Father Edward Jackman had been researching his ancestors, William and Sarah Jackman, who had emigrated to Upper Canada with five of their children from Goring, West Sussex in April 1836 assisted by the Petworth Emigration.”

In the mid 1980s Father Jackman visited England and went to West Sussex Record Office where he met archivist Alison McCann. She showed him a copy of a letter, written by William and Sarah Jackman to their eldest son in England, which was published in the Brighton Guardian in December 1836.

Father Jackman became interested in the lives of all the other emigrants and asked Wendy Cameron to write a history of the emigration scheme.

Photograph left to right, Alison McCann, Father Edward Jackman, Leigh Lawson.

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Leigh said: “There were no official passenger lists, so in addition to Canadian sources, various sources in the UK such as Poor Law records, vestry minutes, parish registers, newspapers and letters written home by the emigrants themselves were used to identify over 1,500 of the 1,800 poor people who were assisted to emigrate by the Petworth Emigration Committee.”

80 per cent of the emigrants came from Sussex, with the poor from parishes in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Surrey and Cambridgeshire making up the remainder.

Emigration was largely seen as the answer to unemployment among the agricultural workers.

Leigh explained: “From the inception of the project, the research and subsequent publication of two books, Assisting Emigration to Upper Canada, the Petworth Project 1832-1837 and English Immigrant Voices, Labourer’s Letters from Upper Canada in the 1830s was funded by the late Father Edward Jackman and the Jackman Foundation of Toronto. The books were published in Canada in 2000.”

Due to publicity in the early 1990s in Canada the team were contacted by ancestors living over there who were able to provide additional information from family sources.

Leigh said: “We welcome new information on the emigrants themselves and on the second-generation. This can be emailed to us for possible inclusion on our website or group members can post on the Facebook group.

Leigh is the administrator of a Facebook group ‘Petworth Emigrants’ and managed the ‘Petworth Emigration Project’ page. She is the contact if anyone wishes to get in touch with the project team.

For more information visit over the years they have added lists and indexes such as ‘Sending Parishes’ and ‘Ontario Burial Places’. They also share relevant new information sent by descendants on the ‘Shared Petworth Families’ section.