1900s–1920s: An Assisted Journey

1920s Emigration poster
1920s Emigration poster: 'The 'Southern Cross': The stars which shine over Australia the land of opportunity'.
Source: Reproduced by permission of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs

By the turn of the twentieth century, the journey to Australia for passengers was shorter and far more comfortable than it had been in the 1850s-1870s.

By 1914, six major companies, the Aberdeen Line, Blue Funnel Line, Orient Line, P & O Line, P & O Branch Line and White Star Line dominated the regular England-Australia run.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, gave ships from Europe an alternative route to Australia. By the early 1900s, steamships had become the established method of transport. No longer dependent on the strong winds encountered on the 'Great Circle' route, many shipping lines now travelled via the Suez Canal, reducing the length of the journey to Australia to 35 or 40 days. Travel by steamer also led to reliable travelling times, and with larger iron hulls replacing the traditional wooden ones, provided increased room below deck for the passengers. The new steamers offered greater passenger comforts, including grand saloons for first-class passengers and small cabins, instead of sleeping berths in steerage class.

Following World War I, passenger shipping was further transformed by the introduction of steam turbines, cleaner oil-fired boilers and, later, the first diesel-powered motor vessels. However, many passenger ships in this era also carried cargo to remain profitable, leading to compromises in passenger comfort, particularly in third class.

Most of those making the journey to Australia in the early twentieth century were British migrants seeking a healthy and prosperous life in another part of the Empire. After World War I, it was recognised that a larger population was needed to protect the Australian nation in the event of another war. The Australian government looked to Great Britain as a source of immigrants, and encouraged those willing to consider resettlement in Australia by offering them assisted passage. British immigrants were also eligible to receive land grants, or encouraged to take labouring positions in rural areas.

Assisted passage schemes were important throughout this period. The Empire Scheme, established in 1922, assisted over 200,000 British immigrants to come to Australia during the following decade, while the Big Brother Movement, founded in 1925, was responsible for sending 12,264 young boys and men to Australia.

There were a lot of young men like myself, assisted passengers, married couples and children, and a lot of younger boys going to Australia under the Big Brother Movement; people in Australia guaranteeing to look after them.
– Young man, 20, migrated from England in 1923


  • Search the Internet for information about one of the following shipping lines: Aberdeen Line, Blue Funnel Line, Orient Line, P & O Line, P & O Branch Line and White Star Line.

    Try to find some examples of the advertising posters produced by these shipping lines in the early 1900s.

    Design your own poster advertising voyages to Australia. Use lettering and images appropriate to the era.

  • Find out more about the history of the Big Brother Scheme:
    (The homepage of this website contains information about two recent books by Alan Gill on youth migration to Australia: Orphans of the Empire and Likely Lads and Lasses.)

  • Search for photographs of child migrants under 'Child Migration' in the National Archives Photographic Collection:

Image Gallery

Advertisement for British emigrants c. 1920