More adventurous spirits, mostly young men, who had heard about the voyage and simply fancied coming to see England, ‘the mother country’, doubled their numbers.
An important landmark in the history of modern Britain June 22nd 1948, the day that the Windrush discharged its passengers at Tilbury, has become an important landmark in the history of modern Britain; and the image of the Caribbeans filing off its gangplank has come to symbolise many of the changes which have taken place here. Caribbean migrants have become a vital part of British society and, in the process, transformed important aspects of British life.
In 1948, Britain was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war. Housing was a huge problem and stayed that way for the next two decades. There was plenty of work, but the Caribbeans first clashed with the natives over the issue of accommodation. But alongside the conflicts and the discrimination, another process was taking place.
Excluded from much of the social and economic life around them, they began to adjust the institutions they brought with them – the churches, and a co-operative method of saving called the ‘pardner’ system. At the same time, Caribbeans began to participate in institutions to which they did have access: trade unions, local councils, and professional and staff associations.
The ship docked at the Port of Tilbury on 21 June 1948 and discharged its passengers the next day. At the time, news reports in the media reported that the number of West Indian immigrants on board was 492, however the ship’s records, which are held at the UK National Archives, show that Windrush was carrying 1,027 passengers (including two stowaways) and amongst those travelling from the Caribbean for work there were also Polish nationals displaced by World War II, members of the RAF and people from Britain, Mexico, Gibraltar, and Burma. According to the ship’s passenger lists 802 of the officially listed passengers onboard gave their last country of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean – over half of these (539) were Jamaican residents.
As most eyewitness accounts testify, the majority of people on board the ship were men. There were 684 males over the age of 12, compared to 257 females over the age of 12. 86 of the passengers were children aged 12 and under.