John Marshall
Shipowner, Lloyd's reformer and emigration agent


Immigration was as controversial in the nineteenth century as it is today. Australia has a long history of migration and is considered one of the world’s great immigration success stories, but this process has not been without cost. This book tells the story of the most active emigration agent of the nineteenth-century: John Marshall. His influence can be read in the naming of the town Marshall, outside Geelong, Victoria, and in the lives of the descendants of the thousands of people he assisted to migrate to the British colonies of New Zealand, Canada and North America, Cape Town and most importantly, Australia.

Marshall’s work also impacts the world today through Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. A brilliant strategist, Marshall instigated a review of the classification of ships and the merger of the red and green registers used by Lloyd’s shipowners and underwriters, and later established Britain’s first emigration depot at Plymouth.

Enterprise was much-admired in the early to mid-nineteenth century and Marshall was one of the most active entrepreneurs of the period. He was a merchant-adventurer and superb logistician who read the marketplace and was prepared to move to a new start-up each time his finances dictated a fresh start: brokerage, trade, shipping, emigration, coal. Marshall had both the vision and analytical skills to achieve great things, but he lacked business acumen or the personality to successfully carry through any of his undertakings. This book links the various facets of Marshall’s life from his humble beginnings to his impoverished end. It explains how an unknown insurance broker from the provinces could rise to be a key player in London’s ship owning and merchant world of the early nineteenth century.

About the Author

Dr Liz Rushen is a Melbourne-based historian who has written extensively on nineteenth-century migration to Australia.

See What Other Say

Barbara Jones, Curator of Maritime History & Heritage, Lloyd’s Register Foundation

This is a significant and detailed study of John Marshall, a colourful historical figure who has relevance to studies on safety at sea, philanthropy, agitation for reform, shipowning, shipbroking, trading and emigration. Dr Rushen has a great way of portraying a vast and sometimes complex array of information in an enjoyable and accessible way that makes you want to read on.

History Victoria News – Book Review August 2020

Descent – Book Notes June 2020

Extract from Melbourne launch

Emeritus Profession Graeme Davison, Melbourne, 18 February 2020

In telling Marshall’s story, Liz takes us into the mind of a maritime entrepreneur in the great age of sail. With its long trade routes, far-flung dependencies, inevitable and incalculable hazards and delays, it was a world shaped by the ever-present consciousness of risk: economic risk, in the form of high potential profits and losses; human risk in the form of shipboard disease and shipwreck; and political risk in the form of decisions taken thousands of miles and many months away from the places where they were implemented.

Biography is valuable antidote to the narrative historian’s tendency to over-simplify human motivation. Liz does not gloss over John Marshall’s flaws and failures but she resists the tendency of his contemporaries and some later historians to regard his professed devotion to public good as no more than camouflage for his commercial ambition. One of the most notorious risks, to shipowners, insurers and passengers, was the lack of trustworthy data on the seaworthiness of ships. By creating a single standardised and reliable database on which the entire industry could rely, he not only improved its efficiency but may also have saved many thousands of lives. He applied a similar calculus to the management of his emigrant ships: by ensuring that his ships were seaworthy, and that his passengers were given adequate clean space and plenty of nourishing food, he not only promoted their welfare but guaranteed their safe arrival.

The John Marshall who emerges from the pages of this book is a tragic, as well as heroic, figure. He was, Liz persuasively argues, more an entrepreneur – a strategic thinker. By placing Marshall’s most famous public role, as an architect of colonial emigration, in the context of his whole life, looking into his mind and conscience as well as his outward actions, Liz has provided us with a richer, more complex, and ultimately more satisfying understanding of the man and his time.

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ISBN 9780648061663 Category