'When they persecute you in one state, flee ye to another'
Introduced and edited by Oliver Marshall


The petition

Addressed to Pope Pius the Ninth, the petition reproduced below was published in The Rev. G. Montgomery's Register on 19 October 1867 (Vol. 1, No. 6). [2] In his introduction, Montgomery explained that only men whose 'upright and unblemished character' he felt able to vouch for personally and with confidence did he permit to sign the petition. Clearly written by Montgomery, the priest claimed that he read the entire text to all who were invited to sign the petition, explaining the contents to every individual until he was certain that it was fully understood (most of those committing their names to the petition would have been illiterate). All told, the ninety-six signatories - 'all heads of families' - would have represented several hundred potential emigrants, although it is unknown how many in fact proceeded to Brazil.

The petition vividly describes the poverty, insecurity, religious and ethnic strife prevalent in Wednesbury, conditions that offered a fertile recruitment ground for agents seeking emigrants for distant parts of the world that were invariably portrayed as a mirror image of the place being left behind. Montgomery imagined that he would be assisting tens of thousand of people to emigrate to Brazil and, with the blessing of the Bishop of Birmingham, organised the first party of 339 men, women and children who set off from Wednesbury on 3 February 1868. Although most members of the party arrived safely in Rio de Janeiro on 22 April 1868 and were soon transferred to agricultural colonies in the south of the country (mainly Príncipe Dom Pedro in Santa Catarina, but also to Cananéia in São Paulo), the scheme rapidly collapsed, along with the health of Montgomery, who died on 7 March 1871, unable to realise his own dream of travelling to Brazil (Marshall 2005: 63-87).


[2] The petition was first reproduced as Appendix 1 in Oliver Marshall, English, Irish and Irish-American Pioneer Settlers in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (Centre for Brazilian Studies, University of Oxford, 2005).


The Humble Memorial & Petition of Certain Irish Catholics who Sojourn in England, to Our Apostolic Lord, His Holiness Pope Pius the Ninth.

We are fathers, heads of families, natives of Ireland; who, pressed by poverty, have left the land of our birth, and sojourn in England. We support ourselves by manual labour, for most part of the rudest sort, and depend for employment chiefly on the great manufacturing industry of this country. When the trade of England languishes, there is little or no need of our services, and we are frequently altogether deprived of employment for many weeks together. In short, our temporal condition is entirely at the disposal of persons who have no relation to us but that of employers, who, so far as we are concerned, using their money only to make more money, hire us to work, or dismiss us to idleness, as their interests require.

When we are dismissed or suspended from employment, we must leave our families, and wander about “looking for work”; or live in a half-naked, half-famished state, getting miserably in debt; or, breaking up such homes as we have, we must seek shelter in Poorhouses.

If we travel about looking for work, we are in danger of departing far from our neighbourhood of priest and altar, and thus of seeming, like Cain, “to go out from the face of the Lord, and dwell as fugitives on the earth.” If we enter the poor-houses , we go to imprisonment, to forceful companionship with persons not Catholics, who may be hateful to us; we must submit to the yoke of rules which are oppressive, because they were not framed with our consent; and too often are not administered with kindness, but are, in some instances, repugnant to the laws of the Catholic Church; and are, at best, but regulations for the orderly dispensing of relief, grudgingly and of necessity given to the poor. How dreadful the thought that we might die in these places, or that our young children may be immured to them to grow up listless, faithless parish paupers, having in after-life to struggle for a place in the lowest  grade of the social scale, though we had hoped to rear our children to be in all respects better off in this life than we ourselves have been!

We are told by some persons that we are improvident, and that in prosperous seasons we might lay up something for the time of distress. Some of us do indeed strive to provide for periods of want, by reserving a portion of our earning as contributions to a fund out of which we may receive some aid when sickness or any bodily accident befalls us. But we cannot do this and provide for the times when we are out of work; and many of us have helpless children to support, and aged parents, and other necessitous relatives, whom we must aid. It is but seldom that we commit any wasteful excess; and if we are not duly economical, perhaps it is because we have not had the good fortune to be taught how to be so. Do our best, we suffer that extreme and compulsory poverty against which we are taught by the Holy Scriptures to pray.

To the evil of our extreme poverty there is added this other, - that we are strangers in the land, disliked by the people amongst whom we live, because of our nationality, because of our religion, and because we are in competition with them for employment. During the hours of our work, we have to associate with persons who assail us with blasphemy against the most sacred doctrines of the Catholic religion, with defamation of the clergy and female religious persons, and with obscene discourse. We know also that those around us attribute our poverty, our faults, our follies, and our crimes to the influence of the Catholic faith. This terrible storm of persecution, of calumny, is sufficient to overwhelm persons more steadfast than we are; and we tremble when we think of the effect which it has on our children. At all times this tempest is felt by the poor Irish in England, but just now - excited by the fraud and malice of certain fanatics and apostates - it rages with fury against us. So we, who are sociably inclined, are forced to keep aloof as much as possible from the people of the land, lest we be terrified or seduced from our attachment to the faith.

We must complain, too, that the conditions under which we live, as mere labourers in the places where we get employment, and only as a minority of the general population, prevent us from separating ourselves and our children from the neighbourhood and companionship of certain Catholics - our countrymen too - who openly and constantly violate divine and human laws; persons who neglect  all religious duties, and abandon themselves to drunkenness, and the squalor and shameful habits consequent upon irreligion and intemperance. In the places where most of us reside, there are many such Catholics; but there is not one Catholic employer, nor one who occupies high social position, - not one to afford us patronage.       

Another evil in the natural order which afflicts us is, that our children, who are born and grow up in England, must grow up without patriotism; for we cannot teach them to love a country which has departed from the Church and is hostile to it, and which used its power for many ages to oppress our native land, and to extinguish in it the light of faith. We continually hear our fellow-Catholics - the English - proclaiming their love of their country, and their great loyalty to its Government, though that Government is alien to the Church, and treats the Vicar of God with contempt; and account it hard that we should be called on and expect to think and speak like English Catholics. The mere fact that we came to this country to labour for a living, and that poverty compels us to remain in it, is not sufficient to make us love it, nor cause us to teach our children to love it.

We do not complain that the cost to us of the maintenance of our religion is, in proportion to our means, very considerable; but we complain that, except in our churches, - which we cannot frequent daily, - we scarcely see or hear anything to remind us that that the Catholic religion exists; and we complain that we, an illiterate people, have not the moral and religious support which, in the conversation and usages of every-day life, is afforded in other lands of similar social conditions to our own. By continual contradictions and blasphemies and ridicule directed against Catholic doctrines and practices, we are indeed reminded of the religion we profess. But if these things do not detach us, natives of Ireland, from the Church, they tend not a little to cause the crowning evil of our present state; that is, a too well-grounded fear that our children, or our children’s children, will apostatise. We have seen many children, born in England of Irish-Catholic parents, make shipwreck of faith and morality; and some of our clergy confidently assert that the children of Irish in Great Britain who fall away from the faith far exceed in number the natives of the land who are converted to the Catholic Church.

We are painfully conscious of the evils which afflict us; we groan and look up to God; we groan as a people persecuted, - persecuted by the pressure of poverty, which has made us exiles, which keeps us always strangers, and often wanderers, in a land where we are degraded, insulted, calumniated, importunately tempted to vice and heresy, plunged in tribulation, “pressed out of measure above our strength, so that we are weary even of life.”

What shall we do? Some of our friends tell us to be pious, to be patient, and hope for better times in this land.  But our sense of the evils which encompass us is too keen to allow us to be tranquil. Speaking with others similarly placed as ourselves, we say,  - doubtless the prelates and pastors and missionary clergy of the Church in England do for us what they can, labouring for us zealously, patiently, and with tender compassion. But we cannot help hearing that these, our loved an honoured friends, say, or hint, that we cannot remain in the land, and refuse to become English; that we are a wayward and troublesome people; that the number and greatness of our necessities far exceed their means to relieve them adequately; and that we seem to be a doomed race, that rapidly tends to extinction. We cannot help hearing that these things are said of us by our friends, and we hang our heads in shame and sorrow; but we despair not. We refuse to be absorbed in the English nation; we shrink from the prospect of the extinction of our race; we shudder with horror at the idea of our children becoming apostates, and deriding the faith and the birth-place of their fathers; and we look with dread and dismay upon the land in which an enormous proportion of our people, old and young, are numbered as paupers and criminals.

We confess that all that has come upon us has happened by the permission and the just judgement of God. We hear our divine Saviour saying, “When they persecute you in one state, flee ye to another,” and we look whither we may flee to obey this precept, follow this counsel, or avail ourselves of this permission - whichever it may be in our regard. To the United States of America many of our kindred and friends have recently gone, and there they are, in comparison with us, in temporal prosperity, and religiously they are better circumstanced than we are. We look wistfully after them. We cannot follow them; we contemplate our misery sojourning here, but we despair not of ourselves. We have cried to the divine Jesus for mercy, to our Lady for help, to the Vicar of God for his blessing; and the brightness of hope has illuminated our path. Our hope is that we may be received into the empire of Brazil, where such persons as we are, are wanted and would be welcomed; there to find a home - a dwelling-place whence we cannot be expelled at the mere will of others - and means to be on our own lands constantly employed, and no longer the sport of the fluctuations of trade; there to find a people the vast majority of whom are Catholics - a sovereign who recognises the divine Jesus in the Sacrament of the altar, and who bows before mysteries which are here made the butt of the unbelieving of scoff and ridicule; there to find a Government Catholic by law.



Thomas MacGeoghegan, John Shannahan, William Farrell, Miles Kirby, John Kirby, John Connolly, John Gallagher, Patrick Kavanah, Martin Morrin, Patrick Swift, Edward Baxter, Mathew Burns, John Hopkins, Michael Lee, Thomas Walsh, Timothy Holahan, William Fitzgerald, John A. Slater, Patrick Madican, Stephen Collins, John Brennan, Patrick Lyndon, Peter Costello, John Grady, Patrick Biggins, Patrick Joyce, Martin M’Tighe, Michael Jordon, Patrick Lynch, Thomas Clark, John Driscoll, Michael Mylott, Patrick Butler, Michael Walsh, Hugh Brady, David Harris, John Joyce, Martin Cohen, John Brannigan, Patick O’Brien, John Byrne, Patrick Cuningham, Thomas Connell, John Walsh, Patrick Connelly, Patrick Kenny, Michael Corless, John M’Donald, Martin Flaherty, John Carroll, John Cavanah, Timothy Kelly, Patrick Hegarty, James Craddock, James O’Neal, Thomas Cavanah, Jerimiah Monghan, Roger Loyden, Martin Moran, John M’Grath, Patrick Shereden, Patrick Grelly, Patrick Hopkins, Patrick Joyce, Anthony Nolan, Michael M’Farlin, Thomas Walsh, Michael Colleran, Thomas Morrin, Patrick Walsh, Michael Gilmore, Patrick M’Farlin, Patrick Cregan, Patrick Geraghty, John Flaherty, Patrick Jennings, John Cuningham, John Naughton, Michael Varley, Martin Tracy, John M’Donough, John Flynn, John Brannigan, John Burns, James Grimes, John Cavanagh, Thomas Ronan, John Halloran, Luke Joyce, William Feehan, Patrick Jennings, Martin Collins, James Shannahan, Patrick Kelly, Charles Connor.


1 - 2


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Marshall, Oliver (ed.),
Petition to Pope Pius the Ninth' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 4:3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information