DEPARTURE OF EMIGRANT VESSELS THE STOW-AWAYS
The Living Age. Volume
26, Issue 330, September 14, 1850
From the special correspondent of the Morning
Passenger Act of the 12th and 13th Victoria, besides specifying
the berth-room, general accommodation, and stock of provisions
for each passenger, regulates in a variety of ways the observances
to be adopted for the health and comfort of emigrants prior and
subsequent to sailing. No passenger ship is allowed to proceed
to sea until a medical practitioner, approved by the emigration
officer of the port, shall have inspected the medicine chest and
passengers, and certified that the medicines, &c., are sufficient,
and that the emigrants are free from all contagious disease. For
this service the medical practitioner receives a fee of a guinea
per 100 passengers. The first business, therefore, that the intending
emigrant has to perform, after paying his passage-money, is to
present himself at the medical inspector's office. Having done
this, and been passed as free from disease, his ticket is stamped
to show that he has undergone inspection.
Three lists of all the passengers are made out;
one for the government emigration agent, one for the customhouse,
and one for the ship. But the inspection alluded to is not the
only medical examination the emigrant has to undergo. The city
and state of New York, as well as Boston, Philadelphia, and, other
parts, have become very particular as to the kind of emigrants
they will permit to land. They were so much alarmed by the appearance
of the myriads of wretched creatures whom the potato-rot and the
cholera drove from Ireland across the Atlantic, that they issued
stringent regulations, not only against the admission of persons
suffering from contagious diseases, but against cripples and deformed
people. Although the State of New York does not positively prohibit
the immigration of the helpless, disabled, and deformed, it renders
the captain, of every emigrant vessel which brings them over,
liable to a penalty of $75 for every such immigrant, and holds
him responsible for the sustenance of every such person, for three
years clear, without burdening the charities, public or private,
of the city of New York. The only exception made is in the case
of deformed or helpless immigrants, who belong to families already
settled in America, and who will undertake the charge of them.
A poll tax, or commutation money, of a dollar and
a half per passenger, is also levied upon all immigrants, the
proceeds of which are devoted to the support of the hospitals
of New York. The captain of every emigrant ship had formerly to
sign a bond for the support, without charge on the public charity,
for three full years, of every steerage passenger whom he brought
over; but the obligation was never enforced, and became, in fact,
a dead letter. The regulation has since been abolished, and the
commutation money has been raised from one dollar, its former
amount, to one dollar and .a half, at which it is now fixed. In
consequence of these regulations a supplementary inspection of
the emigrants by the medical officer of the ship takes place as
soon after the ship has left the docks as the list of the passengers
can be called over.
It sometimes happens
that a ship cannot sail on the advertised day, either because
she has not taken in her cargo, or because she has room for additional
emigrants, or because the weather may be adverse. In this case,
should the passengers themselves be ready to embark, they are
entitled to recover from the owner, charterer, or master of the
ship, "subsistence money," at the rate of one shilling
a day each. Should the detention be solely caused by wind and
weather, and the passengers be maintained on board with the same
provisions and water as if they were at sea, the subsistence money
is the Liverpool Dock Trust, which prohibits the use of fire and
light on board of ships in the docks, these detentions, as stated
in a previous letter of this series, are often the cause of considerable
hardship to the poor people.
Embarking at Liverpool
Waterloo Dock is the principal station of the American liners
in the port of Liverpool. A description of the departure of one
or two of these vessels, and of the scenes on board, both in the
Dock and in the Mersey, as well as an account, of conversations
held at various times with all classes of emigrants, may serve
to convey an idea of that busy and interesting scene, the departure
of a large emigrant ship with a full complement of passengers.
was a beautiful morning when I proceeded to witness the departure
of the Star of the West, Captain Lowber commander, a fine
new ship, then on her first voyage, and registering 1,200 tons.
The scene in the dock at half-past eight in the morning was busy
and animated in the extreme. All the cargo was on board, consisting
principally of iron rails, the exportation of which to America
is very largely on the increase.
Photo: SS Star of the West
The greater part of the passengers was also on board;
but every minute until half-past nine there was a fresh arrival
of emigrants and their luggage. In consequence of the regulations,
both of the British and American governments, it was to be presumed
that the living freight of the Star of the West was in
good condition, and duly certified to be unlikely to become chargeable
to our Transatlantic brethren of New York. It must be confessed,
however, that they did not present a very favorable specimen of
the genus man. Destitution and suffering, long-continued, possibly
for generations, had done their work upon the greater number of
them. It was not alone their personal uncleanliness and their
wretched attire, but the haggard, sallow, and prematurely aged
expression of their faces, that conveyed the idea of degradation
and deterioration. The retreating foreheadthe small, sunken
nosethe projected jawsthe protruding teethand
the listless, vacant look, were common amongst both old and young,
and forcibly recalled the description of the Irish of the southern
and western districts, made by Mr. Gavan Duffy, himself an Irishman,
and not disposed, it may be presumed, to exaggerate a description
to the disadvantage of his countrymen. "I saw," said
he, "in, the streets of Galway, crowds of creatures more
debased than the Yahoos of Swift; creatures having only a distant
and hideous resemblance to human beings; gray-headed old men,
whose faces had hardened in to a settled leer of mendicancy, simeous
and semi-human; and women filthier and more frightful than the
harpies." There were many such Irish people as these on board
the Star of the West, on the morning of her departure;
and the general appearance of the majority to whom such a description
would not apply, was weakly and care-worn, bespeaking extreme
poverty, neglect and apathy.
There was one family of Germans on boarda
father and mother, amid four grown-up and two younger childrenwhose
appearance was in striking contrast with that of the Irish. The
man was from Bavaria, a tall, well-formed, strapping "kerl,"
full fed and ruddy, and looking as if he could do no ordinary
duty in felling the primeval forests of the far west, and converting
the wilderness into a garden. There were also two or three English
families on boardthe men easily recognizable by the smock-frock
of the English peasantry, and the women by their superior neatness
of attire. With these few exceptions the passengers were all Irish.
The whole number of passengers was 385, of whom about 360 were
As the hour of departure drew nigh, the scene in
the dock, on the quay, and on board, became more and more animated.
The morning sun shone brightlythe sky was without a clouda
forest of masts from all the surrounding docks pointed their delicate
traceries against the deep blue of the heavens, and the star-spangled
banner flapped to the fresh breeze.
Another emigrant ship, in the same dock, whose turn
to be towed out was before ours, began to move slowly from her
berth. This vessel was the Queen of the West. Like our
own, she was filled as full as she could hold with Irish immigrants.
It was an interesting scene, as she moved slowly past us, to observe
her decks crammed with passengers, her flags streaming to the
wind, and to hear the sailors raising their peculiar and joyous
chant as they trod in a circle at the windlass.
As soon as she passed through the lock-gates it
was our turn to move, but all our passengers were not on board.
Until the very last moment, they kept arriving by twos and threes,
with their luggage on their backs. Here might be seen a strong
fellow carrying a chest, or a barrel, and a whole assemblage of
tin cans and cooking utensils; and there a woman with a child
in one arm and her goods and chattels in the other. When the planks
and gangways were removed, at least fifty of our emigrants had
not arrived, and many of them had to toss their luggage on board
from the quay, and to clamber on to the ship by the rigging, as
she passed through the dock-gates.
The men contrived to jump on board with comparative
ease; but by the belated women, of whom there were nearly a score,
the feat was not accomplished without much screaming and hesitation.
One valiant fellow, who had been drinking overmuch with his friends
on shore, made an attempt to leap aboard as the vessel was clearing
the dock-gates, but, miscalculating the distance, he fell into
the water. There was a general rush of people to the side of the
ship, and a screaming among the women, but fortunately there was
a boat alongside which rescued the man in less than a minute,
and placed him on deck dripping wet, and considerably more sober
than when he fell into the water.
had not quite cleared the dock when another incident occurred.
The cook had failed to keep his promise to be on board before
the ship's departure, and the captain was informed that he had
expressed his determination to remain in Liverpool. This was an
annoying circumstance to occur at the last moment. The steward,
it also appeared, had made a similar determination; he was a colored
man, and had come on board to tender to the captain the wages
he had received in advance, and to state that he was too unwell
to undertake a voyage across the Atlantic.
Hearing some altercation on the quarter-deck, the
passengers turned their eyes in that direction, where the steward
was seen tendering the money, and declaring loudly that he would
not go back to America. "You cannot hang me for it,"
he said to the captain, "and I will not go." The captain,
who displayed much equanimity, insisted, that as the steward was
on board he would keep him there, and take him out to America,
whether he liked it or not.
The steward, who certainly looked ill, was of another
mind; and, springing to the side of the vessel, jumped overboard
into the dock before a hand could be raised to prevent him. He
swam like a fish, and reached in safety another vessel at the
distance of about fifty yards. This was provoking, but there was
no redress, unless the captain chose to delay his voyage until
he could arrest the man in Liverpool, and bring the case before
the stipendiary magistrate. In the mean time the steward was out
of reach, and the captain had no other resource than to leave
his ship in the Mersey and return to Liverpool for another cook
and steward, to be picked up at an hour's notice.
The Steerage Compartment
We were towed towards
New Brighton by a steam-tug for the distance of three or four
miles, during which the scene in the steerage below was as animated,
though scarcely so cheerful, as the scene on deck. The steerage
was somewhat dark, but in the uncertain light a picture presented
itself full of strange "effects." The floor was strewed
with luggage, rendering it a matter of difficulty to walkbundles,
trunks, cases, chests, barrels, loaves of bread, sides of bacon,
and tin cooking utensils, seemed to be piled together in hopeless
and inextricable confusion, while amidst them all scrambled or
crawled a perfect multitude of young children.
All the berths were occupied. Some of the passengers
seemed as if they had resolved to go to sleep even at that early
period of the voyage. Some were eating their breakfasts in their
berths, and some were making use of barrelheads and trunks for
tables and chairs, and regaling themselves with bread and coffee.
Here and there a man might be seen shaving himself in the dim
and uncertain light; while, at other parts of the ample steerage,
families were busily looking after their worldly goods, and establishing
a demarcation between their own property and that of their neighbors.
In some of the berths women were sitting up conversing; and in
others, children were singing, hallooing, and shouting, as if
the excitement of the scene were to them a joy indeed.
There was a constant rushing to and fro, a frequent
stumbling over chests and barrels, and a perfect Babel of tongues.
All was life, bustle, and confusion; but, what seemed most singular,
there was nothing like sorrow or regret at leaving England. There
was not a wet eye on boardthere had been no fond leave-takings,
no farewells to England, no pangs of parting. Possibly there was
no necessity for any. To ninety-nine out of every hundred of these
emigrants the old country had been in all probability an unkind
mother, a country of sorrow and distress, associated only with
remembrances of poverty and suffering.
I must confess that I expected to see something
like the expression of a regret that the shores of old England
would soon fade from their view foreversomething like melancholy
at the thought that never more were they to revisit the shores
of Europe; but nothing of the kind occurred. All was noise, hurry,
and animation. They had made up their minds for a long journey;
hope was before them, and nothing was behind them but the remembrance
of misery. It was possible, also, that the leave-takings had taken
place in Ireland, and that whatever sorrow they felt had been
shown before their arrival in England.
As soon as the steam-tug had drawn us about five
miles up the Mersey, we dropped anchor, and disembarrassed ourselves
of what the mate called the whole "fraternity" of orange
girls, and other merchants of small wares, who had until that
time accompanied us, to ply their trade among the emigrants. What
with orange girls, cap merchants, and dealers in Everton-toffy,
ribbons, laces, pocket mirrors, gingerbread nuts, sweetmeats,
&c., there must have been nearly forty interlopers to be sent
back to Liverpool. The steam-tug took charge of them all, as well
as of the captain, who had to return in search of a cook and stewardand
the Star of the West was left to the crew and passengers,
and about half-a-dozen visitors.
The Search for Stow-Aways
steam-tug had no sooner taken her departure than all the passengers
were summoned on deck, that their names might be read over, their
tickets produced, and a search made in the steerage, and in every
hole and corner of the ship, for "stow-aways." The practice
of stowing away has, it appears, very much increased of late years;
and although the strictest search is invariably made before the
emigrant ships leave the Mersey, a voyage is seldom completed
without the discovery, when out in the Atlantic, of two or three
of these unfortunates. In one voyage the captain of the Star
of the West, then commanding the Montezuma, was favored
with the company of no less than ten stow-aways, of both sexes,
who had secreted themselves about the ship, until it was far out
at sea, and had then presented themselves before him, without
money or luggage.
The manner in which the stow-aways contrive to elude
the vigilance of the crew is surprising. They sometimes have accomplices
among the steerage passengers, and sometimes have no other reliance
than their own patience and impudence. In the first case, they
are brought on board in barrels or in large chests, with air-holes
bored in them, and placed among the luggage until the dreaded
ceremony of the roll-call and production of the tickets is over,
when they emerge from their hiding-places, and are fed during
the voyage by the charity of those who are in their secret. In
the instances where they have no friend on board they hide themselves
in the hold, or about the steerage, in every unlikely corner they
can find, and when starved, into the necessity of avowing what
they have done, boldly show themselves and claim their food.
It is a puzzling matter how to deal with them.
A captain can neither return with them nor throw them overboard,
nor can he starve them to death by refusing them as much meal
and water as will keep them alive till they reach New York; and
if he punish them by imprisonment they reconcile themselves to
it, well knowing that after all they must be landed in America,
and that the object they had in view will be accomplished.
So great is their misery at home, and so exalted
are their hopes of doing better in America, that they are contented
to run all possible risks of the punishment or hardship that may
be inflicted upon them on board. The practice, however, has other
dangers than these, and cases have occurred in which the unhappy
"stow-aways" have been suffocated in the chests or barrels,
in which they have been concealed. But such extreme cases are
comparatively rare, and the worst fate that usually befalls the
stow-away is the degradation of being compelled to perform all
the dirty work of the ship. Sometimes a miserable wight is compelled
to walk the deck in the bitter cold for a certain number of hours,
without any protection from the weather: but it is seldom that
a captain resorts to such useless and vindictive cruelty.
One captain, however,
was so annoyed by the constant appearance of stow-aways in his
vessel, in spite of all the precautions he adopted, that he resolved
to tar and feather, in American backwood or "Lynch "
fashion, the first he found. He was as good as his word, and sent
a wretched stow-away back in a steam-tug to Liverpool in this
painful plight. The man complained to Mr. Rushton, the magistrate,
and the captain, aware that he had broken the law, and was liable
to punishment for it, has not since returned to Liverpool.
But, notwithstanding all the severity that is sometimes
shown, and the fatal accidents that occur to the unhappy people
who stow themselves away, the practice continues. A stow-away
was lately discovered, almost dead, in a barrel of salt. A woman
was taken out of a chest, after the vessel had been twenty-four
hours at sea, with her limbs so cramped and benumbed, and so weak
and exhausted as to be unable to stand up for a fortnight.
On one occasion, when a large cask was being hoisted
over the side of an emigrant-vessel, the, top of the cask gave
way, and a man fell out, head-foremost, into the dock, whence
he was rescued with some difficulty. When a captain or any of
the crew suspects a box or barrel to contain a stow-away, and
he does not like to break it open, he resorts to the expedient
of placing it on end, so that the stowaway, if one be concealed,
must be made to stand on his head. This discipline, after a few
minutes, seldom fails to make the wretched prisoner disclose himself,
and call for mercy.
It is generally extreme poverty that causes men,
women, and children, to subject themselves to this danger; but
cases have occurred in which the stow-away had money. A few weeks
before the departure of the Star of the West, a stow-away
was detected before the ship left the Mersey, and sent ashore.
He stated before the magistrate that he had paid a sovereign to
a man-catcher for concealing him and taking him on board in a
trunk. The statement was ascertained to be correct, and a warrant
issued for the apprehension of the man-catcher. A remarkably stout
man, six feet high, who had stowed himself away in a chest, was
pointed out to me in the streets. The vessel in which he was concealed,
the John R. Skiddy, was wrecked on the coast of Ireland, and he
made his way back to Liverpool with the other passengers. How
so bulky an individual could have crammed himself into a chest
was difficult to imagine.
was some time before the whole of our 385 passengers could
be got together on the quarter deck; but as soon as the matter
was accomplished, and a rope drawn across, and men stationed at
the gangways to prevent any access to the lower parts of the vessel,
the search for stow-aways was commenced. The officer appointed
by the agents and owners for the purpose, accompanied by the mate
and a certain number of the crew, and by a few visitors, proceeded
to the steerage, carrying lights, and armed with long sticks to
poke under the berths, and to sound the depths of obscure and
difficult corners, and with hammers to thump the bedding in the
Not a cranny in the Star of the West was
left unsearched on this occasion; beds were unrolled, and mattresses
hammered and shaken, lest men and women should be hidden amongst
them. The long sticks (which some captains use with prongs at
the end) were thrust under every berth and into every nook of
the vessel; suspicions-looking barrels were shaken rolled about,
or turned upside down; all trunks large enough to contain man,
woman, or child, were subjected the most jealous and persevering
scrutiny, and turned upon end, back again, upside down, and in
every way to make a human being if inside, manifest his presence
by his shouts for release. No corner or hole was considered too
small or unlikely to be searched; but this time the search was
made in vain.
No stow-aways were discovered, and we discontinued
the scrutiny, not without a remark from one of the sailorsthat,
not withstanding all the vigilance that had been exercised, some
of the " creatures" would show themselves as soon as
the ship was out at sea.
ceremony over, the next ceremony, equally importantwhich
was that of the "roll-call" was commenced. Taking
his stand upon the rail of the quarterdeck, that he might overlook
the crowd, the clerk of the agents produced a list of the passengers,
and began to call over their names.
The first upon the list were Patrick Hoolaghan,
his wife, Bridget Hoolaghan, and a family of seven children. The
Hoolaghans, after some little difficulty, were all found; and,
room being made for them, they passed to the gangway, produced
their tickets, and were then ushered to the steerage, free to
their berths and all the privileges of the passage.
The next was Bernard M'Dermott and a family of six.
Not making his appearance with proper speed, the man on the rail
raised a loud shout for "Barney," arid made a touching
appeal to his justice not to keep the ship waiting. Barney turned
up in due time, and proved to be an utter Irishmanin face,
voice, gesture, and attire and skipped triumphantly down
the gang-way with his ticket in his hand, followed by the whole
of the younger generation of the M'Dermotts.
The next were Phillip Smith, his wife and eight
childrena congregation of Smiths whose name and numbers
excited a shout of laughter among the passengers. A request was
made by some one in the crowd that if there were any more Smiths
on the list their names might be called out at once, so that the
whole tribe might be done with. The man on the rail was condescending
enough to comply, and five other families of Smiths were duly
called and as duly made their appearance amid the laughter and
jeers of the assemblage.
Patrick Boyle was next in order. Patrick, it appeared,
was rather deaf, and did not answer to his name
Come here awhile,"
shouted the man on the rail. The rhyme had no effect,
and it was begun to be surmised that Paddy was not on board, when
he was led forward by the collar by a fellow-passenger, as if
he had been a culprit who had been caught in the act of picking
a pocket. He looked nothing abashed or angry at the treatment,
and, after fumbling in his breast, in his coat, and in his waistcoat
pocket, produced a proper receipt for his passage money; and was
every side that were far from complimentary to his beauty or his
"Joseph Brown" was told to "come
down." "William Jones" was asked to "show
his bones," and various other rhymes were perpetrated upon
the names of the laggards, to the great amusement of all the people
The whole ceremony lasted for upwards of an hour
and a half, and offered nothing remarkable but the discovery of
an attempted fraud on the part of a very old couple of Irish people.
In procuring their ticket they had represented their son, who
was to accompany them, as under twelve years of age, and had only
paid half price for him. The boy of twelve years of age, on being
compelled to show himself, turned out to be a strapping young
man of eighteen or nineteen. "You must pay the full price,"
said the man at the rail, " or I shall be under the necessity
of taking' this little boy ashore with me, and of allowing you
to go to New York without him."
The old woman burst into tears, and expressed her
determination not to be parted from her child. The old man thrust
his hands into his pockets and said nothing. "Come, pay the
money," said the agent. "I have not a penny in the world,
nor so much as a farthing," replied the old man, "so
you must just put us all ashore." "Get up their luggage
and send them ashore," was the order givenbut the old
man said they need not trouble themselves, they had no luggage,
nothing but the clothes they stood up in, and tin cans for their
day's allowance of water. The old woman, all this time, was weeping
bitterly, and clinging fast hold to her son, whose breast heaved
violently, although he neither shed a tear nor spoke a word.
It afterwards appeared, from the old man's statement,
that he had a son in a situation in New York, and some of the
passengers came forward and offered to be security that the son
in New York would pay the amount of his defalcation. After considerable
discussion, it was agreed that if they would pay l0s down, the
lad should be permitted to cross the Atlantic, and the sum was
speedily raised by subscription among the passengers. This ended
Return of the Steward
This ceremony had
scarcely concluded when a small boat from the town came alongside.
It contained the colored steward, who had jumped over-board in
the Waterloo Dock. He still wore his wet boots and trowsers, but
had obtained a dry shirt and jacket; he shook as if be had the
ague, and his teeth chattered audibly. The two boatmen had him
prisoner, and entreated very earnestly that the mate, who leaned
over the side of the vessel to see what was the matter, would
relieve them of their charge. They said the captain had met him
in the town, and put him in their boat, with orders to take him
out to the ship. They had been obliged to hold him forcibly down
all the way for fear of his jumping overboard and being drowned.
The mate remonstrated with the steward on his folly,
and asked him to come on board peaceably, without making "such
an ass of himself." The steward peremptorily declined. "If
you force me on board, you will murder me," he said, "
for I swear, by heaven, I will jump overboard at the first opportunity."
"Nonsense," said the mate, "I must do my duty.
Lift him up." "Take care, I beg of you," said the
steward, crying like a child, "I am a ruined man. I am ruptured
already, and I ought to go to the hospital. Do not commit murder
by forcing me on board. I know you are only doing your duty; but
don't, don't, don't murder me." He made a desperate attempt
to break from the two boatmen, who held him by the arms, and to
leap overboard, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he
could be retained in his seat.
The mate descended into the boat, amid the earnest
entreaties of all the passengers that he would let the poor man
return to Liverpool. It soon became evident to the mate that the
steward was in earnest, and that there was no possibility of getting
him into the ship, unless by tying his arms and legs, and lifting
him up like a bale of goods, and that the, determination and desperation
of the man were such that, even if on board, it would be necessary
to place him under restraint, to prevent his laying violent hands
upon himself. It was clear that such a steward would be of no
use on board.
After a long parley, during which the moans and
prayers of the steward that they would not be guilty of taking
his life by forcing him on board were painful to hear, the mate
gave up the contest as hopeless, and the boat returned towards
Liverpool. There was now no necessity for holding him down, and
the sick man stood up in the boat, and waved his cap to bid farewell
to the ship, and to his late companions.
The visitors shortly
afterwards quitted the Star of the West, with the clerk
of the agents, and returned to Liverpool in a small boat. The
vessel remained at anchor awaiting the return of her captain,
with a new cook and steward. On the following morning, when I
walked along the noble esplanade of the Prince's Dock, and looked
towards the place where I left her, she was not to be seen. She
had proceeded out to sea with a favorable wind.
Other Ships Departing from Waterloo Dock
The ceremonies of
the search for" stow-aways" and the roll-call occupied
too much of my attention in my visit to the Star of the West
to permit me to make inquiries among the emigrants themselves
as to their ideas of the New World, their prospects in it, and
their reasons for preferring the United States to the British
colonies. But in subsequent visits to other vessels that sailed
within the succeeding five or six weeks, more especially the West
Point, Captain Allen, the New World, Captain Knight,
the Isaac Webb, Captain Cropper, and the Yorkshire,
Captain Shearman, I took occasion to enter more fully into this
part of the subject.
The West Point sailed with nearly 400 emigrants,
of whom about 60 were Welsh and English, and the remainder Irish,
of the same class as those which sailed in the Star of the
West. The Isaac Webb, a splendid new vessel, with a
double steerage, took out no less than 780 souls, of whom, as
usual, the large majority were Irish. The second-class cabins
on board of this ship were exclusively occupied by English emigrants;
the price of a berth varying from £6 to £7, while
the price paid by the Irish in the steerage ranged at about £4.
The New World took out about 450 emigrants, as nearly as
I could ascertain, more than three fourths of whom were Irish.
The Yorkshire left the Waterloo Dock with nearly 400, but
as she had room for many more, she lay in the Mersey for four-and-twenty
hours, and ultimately sailed with a full complement.
The second-class passengers, as indeed was the case
in all the vessels that I visited, were English farm laborers,
small farmers, and respectable mechanics, while the steerage was
invariably occupied by the Irish. Occasionally a few English,
Welsh, and Scotch were to be found among the steerage passengers;
but, generally speaking, the Irish had the steerage to themselves.
Entertainment in Steerage
On going down into
the steerage of the Isaac Webb, on the day originally fixed
for her departure, a characteristic scene presented itself. Just
under the hatchway, though not within view of the people on deck,
two young men were seated, each upon a barrel, vehemently engaged
in fiddling for the amusement of a crowd of about seventy emigrants,
composed of men and women of all ages, and of attentive and delighted
children who had gathered around them. These young men were emigrants,
and not straggling fiddlers, picking up a livelihood in this manner.
They were dressed in the ordinary garb of the Irish peasantry,
patched and ragged enough, and were fiddling to the people for
love, not money.
After a time a space was cleared between decksthe
emigrants, young and old, sat down upon their boxes or barrels,
or upon the edges of their berths, while the children formed a
ring at a little distance. An Irish reel was then got up. A ruddy-cheeked
young woman, with all the beauty peculiar to the people of the
south of Ireland in their youth, but which privation and suffering
do not suffer to adorn them until the prime of their womanhood,
accepted the hand of an Irish gallant, of about forty years of
age, in a very ragged long-tailed coat; while another damsel,
not so good looking, but brisk and cheerful, granted a similar
favor to an Irish lad about her own age; and the reel began.
What the exhibition wanted in elegance, it made
up for in vigorous joyousness. The four danced as if dancing were,
a business to be gone into with all the mind, with all the soul,
and with all the strength, and kept at it till mortal limbs could
endure it no longer without a reviving period of repose. As soon
as they were thoroughly exhausted, another party of four, including
an old dame who looked nearly sixty, stepped into their vacant
places, the whole assemblage at this time amounting to upwards
of a hundred spectators, looking on with delighted gravity. The
children were in ecstasies, and many of them kept time with their
feet and hands to the music of the fiddlers.
When this party, like the previous one, was tired
out with the exertion, a very decently-dressed middle-aged man,
with a good black coat and trowsers, and a clean neck-cloth, stepped
forward and claimed the privilege of dancing a jig with a comely-looking
woman who was nursing her child. No sooner said than done. His
fair partner handed the child to a woman who sat next to her,
and was up and ready in an instant. The man danced with a vigor
that I never saw surpassed; and as I admired his evident satisfaction
with the exercise, a young lad standing beside me volunteered
the information that the dancer had originally been the manager
of a large mill in the North of Ireland, and a person very well
to do in the world. He danced until his partner could dance no
longer, and kept up the jig by himself for fully ten minutes after
she had slid back to her seat to resume possession of her child.
A loud burst of applause greeted him when he sat down, and the
fiddlers took a rest and refreshed themselves with cakes and oranges.
After an interval of ten minutes, or a quarter of
an hour, the dance was recommenced, and I left the group in the
full enjoyment of their pastime. I was afterwards assured by the
captain that such scenes were of common occurrence; and that very
often the bagpipes, instead of the violin, was the instrument
that set the feet of his passengers in motion. The ex-manager
of the mill, who seemed a person of considerable education and
experience, although so much reduced as to be compelled by hard
fortune to emigrate in the steerage with the poorest classes of
his countrymen, said he had brought a flute with him to make music
for his fellow-travelers on their voyage, and thought that between
him and the two violinists they might manage to amuse the people
pretty well, and make the time pass agreeably on the Atlantic.
The scene when the
Isaac Webbcrowded with passengers both above and belowpassed
through the dock gates was lively and peculiar. As usual, although
the vessel was two days beyond the time of sailing, a great number
of her passengers had delayed coming on board until the last moment.
A considerable portion of those who had already placed their luggage
on board, and who preferred to stroll about the town, or sit drinking
in the beer shops, to lingering in the dark steerage, were also
among the absenteesand their sole chance of getting on board
was at the dock gates, where the passage was not many inches wider
than the deck of the vessel.
At the critical moment, donkey-carts laden with
luggage drove upand the rush of those belated to get on
board with their goods and chattels, was tremendous. Thick as
flies upon a honey pot, they might be seen clambering over the
side of the vessel, threading their difficult way among ropes
and cordage. Here and there a woman becoming entangled, with her
drapery sadly discomposed, and her legs still more sadly exposed
to the loiterers on shore, might be heard imploring aid from the
sailors or passengers above. Men might be seen, impeded with luggage,
and hurling small casks and boxes on to the deck, and climbing
after them with hot haste. Many a package, containing property
of value to these poor people, missed its mark and fell into the
dock, whence it was rescued, and handed up by a man in a small
boat, who followed in the wake of the mighty ship.
Ultimately the whole of the passengers got safely
on boardalthough it is difficult to say how they managed
it amid the uproar, turmoil, confusion, and pressing of one over
another, that occurred within the few minutes that the ship lay
between the walls of the dock-gate. It was as difficult to get
out of her as to get in, but several visitors took this opportunity
of leaving her, and I among the number. When, at last, the ship
cleared the gate, and floated right out into the Mersey, her full
proportions became disentangled from the maze of shipping in which
she had been formerly involved, and she seemed indeed to be a
Leviathan. The spectators on shore took off their hats and cheered
lustily, and the cheer was repeated by the whole body of emigrants
on deck, who raised a shout that I supposed must have been heard
at the distance of a mile even in the noisy and busy thoroughfares
Final Destinations in America
departures of the West Point, the New World, and
the Yorkshire, were equally characteristic. The wind and
weather being highly favorable on the day appointed for the sailing
of the West Point, I proceeded twenty miles to sea in that vessel.
We were nominally towed out by a "tug," but as soon
as the broad sails of the West Point were spread to the propitious
wind, the sailing vessel outstripped the steamboat and we tugged
In conversation with the passengers during
the short but agreeable sail of twenty miles, I found that very
many of them were going out to join friends and relatives in the
United States who had preceded them years before, and who had,
forwarded them money to pay their passage. Some few were going
to remain in the state of New York; but by far the greater proportion
were bound for Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Very few
of them seemed to know whether Canada was, or was not, a British
possession; and not one of the Irish to whom I put the question
had ever heard of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, or New Brunswick.
One respectable looking lad, of about
twenty, said he had five pounds in his pocket. He knew no person
in America, but as he had heard of the state of Ohio, and that
land was cheap, and labor well paid, he was going thither to try
his fortune. He was not, he said, afraid of hard work, and had
no fear but that he should get on.
The English emigrants in the second class
cabins knew all about Canada and the British North American possessions,
but thought the United States preferable to either of them. "Besides,"
said one sturdy man from Lincolnshire, "we don't know what
's to happen in Canada. It won't always belong to England, and
there may be a 'rumpus.' It's all right in the States, and
that's the place for my money."
This man and his family were bound for Wisconsin.
In conversation with him upon the generally respectable appearance
of the English, the squalid appearance of the Irish emigrants,
and the probability that a few years' residence in the New World
would much improve the latter, both physically and morally, he
showed me a passage in a cheap tract, just published, entitled,
"Nine Years in America. By Thomas Mooney; in a Series of
Letters to his Cousin, Patrick Mooney, a farmer in Ireland,"
which bore upon the subject of our discourse. I reproduce the
passage. "I have seen a thousand times," says Mr. Mooney,
"the two growths of children from the same Irish parentage
present a remarkable difference. Those born in America were brave,
beautiful, and intellectual-looking high foreheads, bright
eyes, quick and intelligent. Those of the same parents, born before
they left Ireland, wearing still the stamp of sorrow on their
brow, and the stoop of suffering in their gait."