A New Lease on Life is a study of two sets of individuals - landlords and tenants - whose aspirations, opportunities, and destinies spanned the Atlantic. In this richly detailed history of migration and adaptation in the nineteenth century, Catharine Wilson focuses on the landlord-tenant relationship and shows how it changed in the Irish and North American context.
In Part 1 Wilson reconstructs the family circumstances and estate management of two landlords, Stephen Moore, third earl of Mount Cashell, and Major Robert Perceval Maxwell. Each owned several estates in Ireland and the estate known as Amherst Island in Ontario. She examines how the management of these estates changed over time and highlights the differences between management in the north and south of Ireland, particularly in Counties Down, Antrim, and Cork. She looks at the form the landlord-tenant relationship took in the New World to determine whether tenancy arrangements in the New World offered landlords an opportunity to start afresh or, instead, were influenced by the traditions and financial circumstances of their Irish estates.
The second part of the study follows more than one hundred tenant families who, between 1820 and 1860, migrated from the Ards Peninsula in County Down to Amherst Island, where they rented land from Mount Cashell and, later, from Maxwell. Wilson reveals what life was like in the United Parish of St Andrews, why families emigrated and rented on Amherst Island, and what it meant socially and economically to be a tenant in the New World, where most farmers were freeholders.
Wilson sets her study firmly in the framework of British, Irish, and American writing on land tenure, and in this comparative context opens the discussion of tenancy among Canadians more widely than anyone has done heretofore. She concludes that both landlords and tenants were more successful in the New World. Wealth and land ownership might be slow in materializing, but the opportunity, the choices, and the attainment of security were all greater than they had been in Ireland.