The countries at which passengers embarked were Trinidad, Jamaica, Bermuda and Mexico. Children travelled as part of the family unit of which they numbered 86 ranging from infant to aged 12 years old. Some passengers made prior arrangements others did not, many were skilled, others were not recognised as skilled workers on arrival. Researching the family history of ancestors that sailed on the SS Windrush and other ships is one of the research tools available that will enable the recognition of those that existed.  

The article will cover an overview of research tools on our ancestors that have sailed to United Kingdom. One major significance of mass migration to Britain from the West Indies in 1948 was the creation of the British Nationality Act 1948 that was introduced in part to a response to tackle the labour shortage of unskilled labour in Great Britain. Despite the sounding out of warnings that life in Britain will be challenging, migrants were keen to travel to seek work and to improve life in Britain. Some individuals planned to stay for a short time then return “home”. Most self-funded the trip which according to an article in The Daily Gleaner (Jamaica) 14th July 1948 to the cost of £28.  

During the voyage to Britain those that travelled from Jamaica were arranged into three groups: 

  • Migrants with friends and prospect of a job and prior arrangement of residence in Britain. This group was issued travel warrant and 10 shillings against future insurance contributions. This group numbered 204 people 
  • 52 Ex-Service men who wished to re-join the army or the Air Force. This group was taken to the Colonial Office in Wimpole Street, London 
  • Migrants with have neither friends, nor prospects of a job and arrangement of residence. this group was taken directly to Clapham South in London where the Colonial Office supported 236 “friendless and jobless” individuals 

The internet and both local and national repositories such as the National Archives based in Kew, Surrey have provided useful resources in tracing ancestors that have migrated to United Kingdom.  

Select sources of information 

Passenger ship`s list 

      Source information (The National Archive collection number, piece, and item numbers) 

Passenger ships list have existed since the 18th century. Before 1878, information recorded were patchy. For incoming passengers records since 1878 original records were created by the Board of Trade. The series for incoming passengers is Board of Trade (BT 26) collection series. It covers the period 1878 – 1888, 1890 – 1960. Many ships manifest were destroyed by the Board of Trade in 1900.  

  Each entry contains the following:  

  • Name of passenger
  • Birth date or age
  • Occupation
  • Arrival date
  • Port of departure
  • Port of arrival
  • Ports of voyage, if recorded • Vessel name • Shipping line, if recorded • Official number, if recorded • Source information (The National Archive collection number, piece, and item numbers)

The occupations recorded on the SS Empire Windrush passenger ship`s manifest were varied include, musicians, dental surgeon, lawyer, clerks, mason, accountants, band leaders, artists, painters, shoemakers, carpenter, farmer, butcher, agriculturalist, bookkeeper, plumber, cabinet maker, projectionist, electrician, welder, chemist, chauffeur, radio engineer and boxer. 

The country of last permanent address recorded were mainly from British Guiana (Guyana), Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, England, Scotland, Burma and Bermuda 

Electoral register 

A register of individuals eligible to vote that is compiled at the local level. Introduced in 1832 in England. 

The register would contain name, place of abode, the ward / constituency, the county or borough. 

Migrants that were taken to the Deep Shelter in Clapham, London were recorded to be eligible to vote in Clapham North ward. About two-thirds were located on the electoral register. 

Case study – Mr Ansel Mclaren 

Mr Ansel Mclaren travelled from Jamaica a self-declared musician who intended to further his studies in piano and the organ. He was one of few musicians recorded that was of great renown. He declared on the ship`s manifest “the proposed address” on arrival in Britain to be Blythe Road, London.  

Mr Mclaren was located as a resident listed on the London Electoral Register (online courtesy of Ancestry)at the Deep Shelter in Clapham South, London. This indicates that he did not arrive at the address originally declared on the ships manifest. This likely to have occurred for a variety of reasons. 

Three Jamaican immigrants (left to right) John Hazel, a 21-year-old boxer, Harold Wilmot, 32, and John Richards, a 22-year-old carpenter, arriving at Tilbury on board the ex-troopship ‘Empire Windrush’, smartly dressed in zoot suits and trilby hats. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Getty Images)

Case study – Jamaican Boxers 

Several Jamaican boxers – John Hazel (far left of the image – in black zoot suit), Vernon Sollas, Calvin Reid and Ansel Everal qualified to travel to Britain on the SS Empire Windrush on 21st June 1948 to train and compete in boxing competitions. They travelled to Ireland, Scotland and Europe to compete over the years. John Hazel`s occupation was registered as a boxer 

They arrived at the training camp which was a house in Bridge Street, Birkenhead, Cheshire now an industrial estate.  



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