How they travelled
Steerage and cabin class
Ships often had three classes of passenger accommodation -
First, Second and Third Class - of descending quality. Passengers
had access to different dining facilities, and cheaper tickets may
mean no access a swimming pool, when there was one. Emigrants were
sometimes given accommodation below Third Class quality, called
steerage, and some emigrant ships were designed for carrying large
numbers of poor people as cheaply as possible. Later developments
saw these class choices lessen, with Cabin Class a better-sounding
alternative for those emigrants who couldn`t afford First
Even in steam ships, the emigrant`s voyage was no luxury cruise.
If they could not afford a cabin, they had to travel steerage. This
was in a large space, rather like a dormitory, called steerage
because it was in the stern of the ship, near the steering gear.
Conditions were cramped, food was poor and the atmosphere often
bad, especially during rough weather when access to the upper deck
was restricted. The only consolation was that steam ships were
faster and safer than sailing ships. There was less time spent
feeling seasick, and much less chance of a shipwreck.
Millions crossed the Atlantic from Britain and the rest of
Europe this way. Indeed, British companies such as Cunard and White
Star had such a good reputation that emigrants would choose to
travel from Eastern Europe to Great Britain to sail on one of these
For the more recent emigrants, conditions at sea have been far
superior to those during the days of sail. Steam and later motor
ships made the voyage shorter and more predictable. Refrigerators
meant food in good condition could be served throughout the voyage.
Sea water could be treated so that it became fresh and
To carry the growing number of emigrants, several wartime
troopships were converted. In some, such as the Captain
Cook, there were still large dormitories for the men and for
the women who were travelling alone. However, families were
allocated cabins. New ships were built with better and better
accommodation for emigrants. For instance,
P&O`s Canberra of 1961 was designed to carry a
number of emigrants amongst its complement of over 2,200
passengers. She was almost the last emigrant ship, as emigration
was soon switched to the airlines.