American Notes for General Circulation, the travelogue that describes Dickens's first reading tour in North America in 1842, contains an often cited description of steerage accommodation on emigrant ships. What is rarely mentioned is that Dickens is here describing back-migrants: failed emigrants. He takes the opportunity to criticize the management – if not the entire system – of organized emigration and specifically indicts ruthless promoters. Chapter 16, entitled ‘The Passage Home’, lists the disappointments that have driven the emigrants back:

The history of every family we had on board was pretty much the same. After hoarding up, and borrowing, and begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had gone out to New York, expecting to find its streets paved with gold; and had found them paved with very hard and very real stones. Enterprise was dull; labourers were not wanted; jobs of work were to be got, but the payment was not. They were coming back, even poorer than they went. 1