When failed emigrants returned, when returnees struggled, often in vain, to fit back in at home, in the imperial centre, or conversely, when those born elsewhere found that they could no longer consider the mother country their home at all, these failures threatened to undermine Victorian ideologies of domesticity as well as of imperialism. In popular fiction of the time, emigration nonetheless continued to offer an easy way out, frequently at the end of a novel. Sending troublesome characters overseas could serve as a temptingly convenient solution, although by mid-century, writers of sensation fiction also tended to use returnees as a plot catalyst. These intruders upset homes instead of helping to restore crumbling estates with imported riches, as their relatives ‘back home’ might have expected. What is more, when failure to succeed elsewhere featured at some length in narratives, it often operated as an extended metaphor for feelings of unsettlement. Narratives of such failure expressed social and cultural anxieties in an increasingly mobile society, while on a more literal level cautioning against badly planned moves overseas. But fiction writers also targeted specific agendas, such as the strategies of rival missionary or emigration societies, or they might demythologize ‘the bush’ of adventure tales. This myth-making, for example, defined nineteenth-century Australian and New Zealand settler identity, but precisely because it marginalized women, it prompted female authors to expose the harsh realities of daily life in remote settlements. Some of the most revealing accounts of how emigration could go wrong thus occurred in the writing of authors who, it seems, should be the most invested in the representation of the empire's successful spread. Narratives of failed emigration lay bare not just how Victorian discourses on emigration, colonialism, and domesticity intersected, but also how these concepts changed and were differently represented in an expanding settler world and its literature.