Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Gateway to a New Life

The 48th in a series on my Family Tree

Prompt: Overlooked


For this piece my attention was drawn to an historic place which, it appears, is mostly overlooked. Frankly, it only came to my awareness this week as I stumbled upon a ship’s passenger list that included my third great grandfather, George Sparling (1822-1884), his wife Catherine (Dolmege) Sparling (1826-1886), and a number of other members of the Sparling family. The ship upon which they sailed to New York in 1851 was the Star of the West, and when I dug a little deeper I discovered that its voyage originated in Liverpool.

Source: Publication: Passenger Lists of vessels arriving at New York, 1820-1897Ship: Star of the West

I thought nothing more of it until this morning when I received a weekly email newsletter to which I subscribe from The focus of this week’s message was Clarence Dock in Liverpool where more than a million Irish immigrants landed from Dublin between the years 1830 and 1928 before making their journey to foreign parts (Canada, U.S. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa), or starting a new life in England.

The writer, Michael Collins, recounted a visit recently taken to Liverpool. Quoting from his messsage:

“Arriving in Liverpool the Irish emigrants landed at Clarence Dock. Clarence Dock, which was built in 1830, was located a distance away from other docks in Liverpool. It was built especially to handle the new steamships just coming into service at that time. There was a lot of suspicion of this new steamship technology (perhaps warranted in the early days) and Clarence Dock was isolated to make sure that no fires spread to the many surrounding wooden sailing ships.

One of our first “ports” of call on our own visit to Liverpool was to Clarence Dock. We were curious to see the dock gates that tens of thousands of Irish walked through each and every week for many decades during the middle part of the 1800s. When we eventually located it, we were shocked to discover that the entrance gates to Clarence Dock were quickly fading from memory and sinking back into an industrial wasteland. They were difficult to find and marked only by a simple plaque, high up on one of the pillars.

It is amazing to think that this twenty foot span between these two, tall, stone pillars saw hundreds of thousands of Irish squeeze through each month. Today, these gates stand chained, silent, unused and mostly forgotten. The vast majority of Irish who walked through this gateway were hungry, confused and many more did not even speak English.”

Source: Your Irish Heritage newsletter, Michael Collins, December 4, 2022

This important piece of Irish immigration history isn’t in danger of being overlooked, it is overlooked. “Do you think any of your Irish ancestors passed through Liverpool when leaving Ireland? Did they stay in England or head on to a life in the “new world?” Collins asks, “Would you like to walk through those same gates that your Irish ancestor passed through? Well, that is impossible at the moment, but maybe people like you and me can someday petition the authorities in Liverpool to make the gates of Clarence Dock accessible once again. What do you think?”

My Sparling ancestors, and perhaps even the Beltons, McDonalds, Jacksons, and others, likely crossed the threshold of those gates as they abandoned an old life to embrace an uncertain future across the oceans. It would be nice to think that something more could be done to mark this important gateway than the lone, simple plaque that scratches the surface of history. To walk where my Irish ancestors had walked as they boldly opened a new chapter of their lives would be pretty special, at least I think so.

The Final Word

After Clarence Dock was closed in 1929 the land was used for a power station. In the 1990s the power station was decommissioned and now the land is mostly unused. I think I read somewhere that consideration was being given to building a sports stadium or similar. Still, while life goes on the history that helped to bring our ancestors from point A to point B needs to be remembered and honoured. Or like so many seemingly disposable monuments their stories will be overlooked and lost to the ethers of time. ❦


©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Further Reading:

Clarence Dock

One thought on “Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Gateway to a New Life

  1. I agree with you that such a historic site should not just crumble away from neglect. I’d say it may be because it is located in England, but the people it is most relevant to are in America.

    On another note, I have to wonder if this Star of the West is the same one that began plying the route between New York and Aspinwall (Colon, Panama) during the gold rush. If so, my ancestor sailed on it and some of his friends did, too, on a separate trip.

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