- Victorian Christianity and Emigrant Voyages to British Colonies, c.1840–1914 by Rowan Strong
This study fills an overlooked gap in current research on emigration. Rowan Strong’s Victorian Christianity and Emigrant Voyages to British Colonies, c.1840–1914, examines in detail the active role of religious societies in nineteenth-century emigration movements. While there has been a valuable outpouring in recent years of studies on migration in the global nineteenth century, the functions and, in particular, the intricacies of religion [End Page 693] have tended to be sidestepped. At best, religion is addressed in passing, or religiously motivated societies such as the SPG (the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) or the SPCK (the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) are referenced in the context of various pro-emigration institutes without the necessary dissection of how Victorian Christianity informed different practices as well as ideologies. Strong’s book proves that such critical attention adds valuable insight to both nineteenth-century emigration studies and Church history. It is indeed an impressive, meticulous, and carefully nuanced account that will be of interest to scholars working in the interconnected fields of history and literary and cultural studies, particularly in reference to the global nineteenth century, imperialism, the colonial history of Britain’s antipodal colonies (Australia and New Zealand), and popular culture.
In exploring shipboard diaries and the work of the Anglican emigrants’ chaplaincy as hitherto-unused “grass-roots sources,” Strong contributes invaluable material to the study of popular cultural productions more generally as well as for emigration studies and research more specifically focused on Anglican Church history (19). Strong considers the Anglican emigrant chaplaincy as “a major religious structural response to British mass emigration in the Victorian period” that generated a global network for the maintenance of the emigrants’ well-being, and this included providing the religious practices they were familiar with (3). The connection to imperialist jingoism was complicated and it significantly changed over the course of the century. Generally, an imported religion was considered a major ingredient of social capital for colonial settlers, but Strong stresses that the Anglican emigrant ministry was genuinely concerned with emigrants’ religious needs rather than with imperialist expansion or colonial strategies. Their efforts “were not always invariably some sort of cover for other political or cultural values” (108). Thus, Strong provides a critical analysis of the competing religious constructions of emigration at the time, distinguishing between the concept of “ecclesiastical social capital for the Church” and imperial social capital and, further, the imperialist jingoism of the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century (97). Not all Anglican engagement with the British Empire “saw the empire through a rosy prism as a totally good thing” (107); instead, the chaplaincy network “contained a more predominant dimension of pastoral response to emigrant need,” which could include practical assistance across denominations (110).
One of the most important aspects of the study is the way in which emigrant ships as floating villages facilitated encounters across religious boundaries. The emigrant journey, Strong argues, “catalysed religious interactions, which could result in both continuities and changes for emigrants” (110). The result was what Strong terms “interdenominational involvement” (4) and “inter-religious encounters” (18). Although Strong offers several close readings of incidents that provide evidence of an undeniable, ongoing sectarianism, a strength of his study is that it also highlights the breadth of religious persuasions among emigrants. In particular, Strong offers detailed analyses of Catholics, Protestant Irish, Baptists, and Methodists, as well as “The Freethinking and the Indifferent” (161) in nineteenth-century accounts of the voyage, although unfortunately there is only a brief paragraph on “Non-Christians” (165). The problem here, Strong shows, is the lack of sources. Only one shipboard diary even mentions non-Christians other than freethinkers, doing so in only a brief note. Earlier in the study, Strong [End Page 694] references the activities of the Salvation Army and the Mormons and briefly describes encounters between Jews and Anglican chaplains, yet it is...