Emigration From Cork Ireland to Upper Canada, 1823

The First Peter Robinson Settlers
Roberta M. O'Brien
Updated July 11, 2001


Disturbances in North Cork, 1822

In 1822, the northern part of County Cork was on the verge of an agrarian revolt. The secret Whiteboy society was revived and began to terrorize landowners, magistrates and tithe collectors. This outbreak of violence had several causes. The post-Napoleonic-war depression and several years of a poor potato crop had resulted in much poverty and evictions of tenant farmers. The "last straw" was the introduction of the Composition Act, 1823 which required the payment of tithes in cash rather than in kind. The tithes were a form of tax which supported the Church of Ireland (Anglican) clergy and were collected from everyone including poor, mostly Catholic, tenant farmers.

The local officials reacted to the situation in a typically harsh fashion and many young men were arrested and transported to Australia, in some cases, for the simple crime of being out at night after the curfew. The British government thought that sending surplus evicted farmers and other people in poor circumstances to the colonies might ease the situation and prevent an all-out rebellion.

Emigration to Upper Canada

The government decided to give poor people from north Cork free land grants in Upper Canada (now Ontario) to encourage them to leave Ireland and lead a settled and peaceful farm life in the Canadian backwoods. This emigration scheme had the added benefit of filling up the "empty" land in the colony of Upper Canada. Settlers from Britain (including Ireland) were especially welcomed to boost the population and form the backbone of a loyal militia which could defend the land against the Americans in case they should invade Canada again.

The British government asked officials in Upper Canada to send someone to Ireland to conduct an experiment in moving poor people to Upper Canada. The person sent out was named Peter Robinson, an ex-soldier from the War of 1812, an M.P. and brother of the Attorney General of Upper Canada. (He also happened to be in England at the time.) He was directed to superintend an experimental emigration of two shiploads of poor farmers from north Cork to be settled in the Bathurst District of Upper Canada (around present day Almonte) Peter Robinson's report includes a description of his discussions with the local magistrates and clergy, how the settlers were selected, their voyage and building of new homes. The ships lists of the "Stakesby" and "Hebe" name all the emigrants and their former residence in Ireland.

After the successful 1823 experiment, Robinson was sent back to Cork in 1825 to bring back a much larger group to the Newcastle district (around present day Peterborough) These two groups of emigrants from the north Cork area are now referred to as the Peter Robinson settlers. The city of Peterborough was named after Peter Robinson and the 1825 settlers.

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