Archiver > IRL-WICKLOW > 2000-03 > 0952278366

From: "Shelley Hilton" <>
Date: Sun, 5 Mar 2000 09:46:06 -0800

There is an article in "The Beaver" magazine (on Canadian History) from
Oct/Nov 1998 called "The Surplus People" with a very interesting and
detailed overview of the clearances from the Coolattin Estate, but focussing
particularly on one boatload that went to work on the railroad in New
Brunswick. (The Beaver magazine is carried in many public libraries, but I
was able to obtain a back issue online for $6 Cdn.) The article was
written by Jim Rees, an Irish Historian, whose 5th book is coming out this
spring and will be called "The Surplus People", a detailed account of the
Coolattin/Fitzwilliam Estate. (I know that I am looking forward to its

I'm definitely NOT an expert on the Coolattin/Fitzwilliam Estate in Wicklow
County, but since no one else has, I will pass on what I have learned.

The Coolattin Estate was 85,000 acres covering one-fifth of the county of
Wicklow and home to 20,000 tenants. It was inherited by the Fitzwilliam
family in the 1780s from the Marquis of Rockingham. Lord Fitzwilliam was
an absentee landlord, but took an interest in the estate and was considered
a liberal landlord, paying higher wages, charging lower rents, tolerating
Catholicism and financially supporting education. Day to day running of the
estate was done, under his supervision, by Robert Chaloner, who kept
meticulous records.

By 1844 (a year before the potato famine), general economic conditions in
Ireland had deteriorated to the point that the poverty of the Irish living
under the British "tenant system" was deplorable and 28 percent of families
in Wicklow
county lived in one room mud or stone huts with thatch roofs and uncovered
mud floors. To have a fireplace or chimney meant that a home was liable for
the "Hearth Money Roll" tax, but most of these people were so poor that they
simply lit a fire in the middle of their cabin and the smoke escaped through
the thatch or open door. The staple diet of most of the rural Irish was
potatoes and buttermilk.

In 1845, the potato blight had hit many areas. By 1846, the entire potato
crop was destroyed and the economy collapsed. The big landlords, like Lord
Fitzwilliam, were hit hard and large scale evictions, known as "clearances"
of "uneconomic" tenants began to take place from these estates to reduce
costs and avoid bankruptcy. The vast majority of landlords simply turned
out the tenants to fend for themselves. Fitzwilliam instead offered
"assisted emigration" to almost 6000 of the "surplus" tenants that he wished
to be rid of. In 1847, Robert Chaloner recorded the names of every member
of every family prepared to leave for British North America. The clearance
ran from 1847 to 1856 and in that time, 5,995 surplus people sailed to

In the early 1970s, the Fitzwilliam family sold the little that remained of
the estate and donated the estate papers to the National Library in Dublin.
They consist of thousands of documents and are considered a valuable
historical resource, especially since so many others were lost to war and
fire. Unfortunately though, I don't know how one would gain access to these
records except to hire a researcher in Ireland. Perhaps someone else will

There is also a website with an very sobering account of Gerald Keegan's
of his crossing and landing in Grosse Isle in 1847 (the same summer that my
Bowes family arrived). It is called "Black '47: A Summer of Sorrow" and can
be found at: I find it
incredible that our families not only survived, but continued on and

Hope this is of help to someone!

Shelley (Bowes) Hilton
British Columbia

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