History of Emigration and Immigration in Britain.

The Emigration and Immigration historic theme, concerns the migration of people to and from and to the British Isles, over thousands of years. Migration has created the Britain of today and spread British culture globally .Use our timeline at the bottom of the page to explore your connection to these Isles.


  A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted

Thomas Malthus

The British people are a nation built upon the foundations of emigration and immigration. The movement of people from one region on the planet to another is as ancient as man himself. In our recent history we have been invaded by Romans, who settled here for hundreds of years, the Danes and Saxons and Normans who never left.

Emigration and immigration

Pioneer Statue Old Portsmouth Hampshire

People have emigrated from these islands to escape persecution and starvation. There were periods when people took flight to explore and make a better life for themselves such as the Jamestown settlers. There were those who were forcibly removed on great hulks of ships to Australia and New Zealand. Canada and America became a refuge for those escaping terrible conditions at home. When the industrial revolution took jobs away from artisan workers they left Britain, taking their skills elsewhere. It caused such a problem that the government restricted migration, only to have to retract the laws at a later date.

Emigration agents vigorously promoted new opportunities which were opening up in the 'virgin' territories of North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Along with our people the British heritage and culture also traveled the world and became modified and changed as these new migrants became absorbed into their new lands.

At the time when Britain had a colonial empire, workers were migrated from one country to another

Many visitors to Intriguing History are from the United States and Canada, we have a shared history and try to write about that in series of connected posts. Please tell us what you think via our contact form, we will be thrilled to hear from you.



43 - 410The Roman invasion consisted of maybe 20,000 troops and the equivalent number of supporters. The effect was quite devastating for the native Celts in the south. They were driven north and west. The Romans integrated the remaining Britons into supporting the Roman legionaries.
400 - 600The Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Franks and Frisians arrived, coming from an area of ethnic and cultural elements coming from as far apart as the Lower Rhine and the tip of the Jutish peninsula. They were a mixed bunch of raiders arriving on all shores and settling their own kingdoms. It was an unsettled time each seeking supremacy.
789 - 1104The Danes and Norweigans (Vikings) arrive. They are aggressive and violent bringing terror to the Anglo Saxons. They set about destroying the fragile Christian culture that had emerged. The Viking attacking parties numbered hundreds of men at most but they were ruthless in their attacks. Despite being defeated many times they kept returning. Methods of appeasment were used, Danegeld but it took the Norman invasion to bring a halt to Viking attacks.
1066The Normans invaded with a force of less than 10,000 and most returned to France leaving a small ruling elite in a British population of over a million people
1066 - 1290Jewish migration into Britain begins after the Norman invasion. Numbers of migrants vary from 5,000 - 15,000. They established themselves as money lenders and provided an important role in establishing trade in Britain. In 1290 King Edward I expelled the Jews from Britain, this had a massive impact on British trade and many cities such as Winchester fell into a state of decline after their expulsion.
1250 - 1598Lombard and Hansa migration consisted of merchants from Lombardyand the Hanseatic league which was a collaboration between German and Baltic traders. The Lombards filled a 'banking' niche left by the expulsion of the Jews. The number of migrants was small.
1337 - 1550Flemish and Walloons came from "The Low Counties" into East Anglia in the 13th and 14th century spurred by warfare, civil strife and good wool. They came in the 16th century escaping religious persecution.
1555 - 1833Small numbers of Africans settled in Britain as a result of the British slave trade
1560 - 1720The Huguenots were members of the French Protestant Church, many of whom, before the French Revolution of 1789, left their homes in France to escape persecution. More than 50,000 of these refugees came to the British Isles
1607First permanent English settlement in the US to be established in Jamestown, Virginia
1620Mayflower arrived in US with 102 English Puritans who had lived in Holland prior to their emigration. They settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1628A group of Puritans, led by Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop persuaded Charles I to grant them an area of land between the Massachusetts Bay and Charles River in North America. That year the group sent John Endecott to begin a plantation in Salem.
1660Navigation Act The number of seamen from the East Indies employed on English ships was so great that the English tried to restrict their numbers by the Navigation Act of 1660, which restricted the employment of overseas sailors to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships.
1688William of Orange embarked upon a policy of encouraging wealthy Dutch Jews, who were also financing his operations, to settle in Britain.
1693 - 1709Palatines from the German Palitinate were largely unskilled and destitute. Their lands in Germany had been repeatedly attacked and they were close to starvation. They were based initially in Southwark.
1753Jews had migrated to Britain and the number now stood at close to 8,000
1620 - 1776The new colonies in New England were the first penal colonies so that during the 17th and 18th centuries many thousand prisoners in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were sentenced to transportation to the colonies
1788Establishment of New South Wales as the first penal colony
1815End of the Napoleonic War. In the years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, European emigration developed apace.
1815Britain encouraged Jewish settlement there were now between 20,000 and 30,000 jews in England
1840New Zealand migration. Treaty of Waitangi was signed. This established British authority in European eyes, and gave British immigrants legal rights as citizens. The treaty helped ensure that for the next century and beyond, most immigrants to New Zealand would come from the United Kingdom. It was also in 1840 that the first immigrants assisted by the New Zealand Company arrived.
1815 - 1880Cornish Migration. Large-scale emigration from Cornwall. The rapid development of the international mining frontier after 1815 occurred in which highly skilled Cornish miners were much in demand. The potato famine hit Cornwall in the 1840s, a further impetus to emigration from both the mining and agricultural communities.Cornish copper in 1866 and the faltering of Cornish tin in the 1870s created a large body of miners and their families anxious to emigrate. Added to this was the radical Methodist mood of nineteenth-century Cornwall, where emigration was regarded as a means of self-improvement.
1840 - 1850Lead deposits found in Wisconsin and copper in Michigan causing migration from Britain to these parts
1840 - 1860Copper deposits found in Australia
1870South African diamond rush
1882The begining of the arrival of East European Ashkenazi Jews in large numbers, 120,000 by 1911
1815 191422.6m people emigrated from Britain. About 60% of these went to the United States, but of the reminder a good majority migrated to the Empire.
1846 - 1852Irish and Scottish potato blight causing mass migration
1849A very high number of people migrate from the UK. Principally through the ports of London and Liverpool out of the total number of 299,498 emigrants, more than one-half, or 153,902 left from the port of Liverpool.
1914 - 1945As a result of the wars POW's who opted to stay in Britain numbered between 5,000 and 10,000. After WW2, the Attlee work permit schemes recruited about 300,000 Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, Austrians and Poles, about a third remained.
1922Australia Empire Settlement Act assisted thousands of migrants from England.
1930 - 1970Child migration programmes had been in place for a long while. It is estimated in this apprxoimate period that child migration programmes were responsible for the removal of over 130,000 children from the United Kingdom to Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Australia.

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