Rhinos and rainbows

Unknown.jpegLast night I went to see Rhinoceros at the Bader Centre for the Arts.  I knew several friends who were in it but had no idea what it was about.   I was a bit disoriented at first, not sure where it all was heading or why.  Tied together by the notion that there were a few rhinoceroses seen about town and they presented both curiosity and perhaps even threat, the rest of the night was a series of vignettes – monologues and poems and dance and music – that were largely written and performed by local people.

As the evening wore on I could better understand the thread.  Basically it was a comment on diversity in our community and on our streets and, in the long run, we are all unique and in some way a rhinoceros to others.   We need to be tolerant and open in seeing new people or people that differ from us in whatever way.

Now this sounds a bit preachy but that was not how it came across. It was a bit of a grab bag and some of the performances were a bit awkward but all were heartfelt. I was not bored for a minute.  There were so many ideas and thoughts coming at me that at times I felt I needed a bit more time to reflect on what I had just heard.

My friend and I talked about it for an hour after the show and today I ruminated on the theme several times.   This is a great credit to the production.  Theatre can both entertain and cause reflection.  This one did both.

Dave and rhinos 2.jpgAs the actors called out that they had spotted a rhinoceros on the street,  I was reminded of a trip to Uganda in 2013 with my friend, Dave Kay.  We went to a rhino sanctuary where we were out with a guide looking for a few of the (huge) rhinos that lived in the forest there.  We came across a few.  Dave was more brave than I was to get a look at them.  I hung back with my camera – if the rhino charged it would get Dave first.  And our instructions were, if the animal charged to climb a tree.   Can you imagine me scrambling up an acacia with a rhino snorting down on me?  The guide said that when they charged it was usually a false charge and they would stop short.  Usually was the operative word in that sentence for me.   We survived.

Pride 3And to fit the diversity theme, this happens to be Pride weekend in Kingston. Today there was a parade down Princess Street with lots of colour and gaiety in the old sense of the word.

I remembered the first summer I lived in Kingston, there was an article in the Whig Standard with a photo of a same sex kiss-in on the steps of City Hall.  This was seen to be provocative and somewhat astounding.

One report of this incident reads: “Although the ceremony itself lasted only fifteen minutes, it attracted over 400 onlookers and was described as “a kiss that reverberated throughout Kingston.” The public’s responses to the kiss ran the gamut from curiosity to outrage. Most of the crowd applauded, but some showed their disapproval by booing.”

Today there were hundreds of brightly clothed celebrants of diversity in the parade down our main street.  Kids, families, soldiers, church groups, members of parliament.

The rainbow seems to have replaced the rhinoceros.

Pride one

 

 

 

A Manic Monday

After waving good day to the grandkids as they headed off to school, I walked  to the nearby conservation area in Whitby, just east of Toronto and spent an hour with nature. Just me and the birds and bunnies and butterflies  and wildflowers.  I felt like Snow White.  I saw no humanoids for at least an hour but did encounter some wild turkeys, two deer, lots of curious chipmunks and a big turtle.  I had my 12,000 steps in by 10 am.

By 12:30 I was in the heart of Toronto. Incredible, really, to go from solitude to the vibrant centre of Canada’s biggest City in what seemed like a heartbeat.

I will be working in Toronto all week.  I always find the core of the city invigorating.

I lucked out when I checked into my hotel to find that I was upgraded to a “club room” with lounge access and a full breakfast.  I headed over to Church Street for a long overdue haircut, figuring that the Gay Village are might be my best bet to get a good haircut from a new barber.  I was right!

And tonight I met a colleague,  Gail Gray,  for dinner.  Gail and I worked in tandem in Bosnia for 10 years.  My friends in BiH will be delighted to know that we get together annually and reminisce.

Here is a Toronto selfie I took today. Can you find me?

The high seas continued…in 2017

Just as I have trouble imagining conditions of the trip my great grandfather took across the North Atlantic 162 years ago, he would not have believed the experience I had this past week on the Volemdam cruise ship where the biggest hardship seemed to be prohibitively expensive satellite WiFi.

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Our room on the Volendam.

The Volendam is a 785 foot long, 63,000 ton Holland America Lines ship that cruised to Alaska along the inner passage and in the North Pacific.

With 1400 passengers and 620 crew, this ship offered a relaxing week with tons (literally) of food, a casino, pool that sometimes had waves in it as the ship waved from side to side, several dining rooms and bars, a 500 seat theatre with nightly entertainment and a deck boardwalk that allowed me to walk my 10,000 steps every day.  In fact, over the past seven days I have, according to my phone pedometer, walked over 75 km and climbed 125 flights of stairs.  IMG_1399.JPG

We stopped at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and spent one full day cruising around Glacier Bay.  Photos of those excursions will follow. But for today, the photos will be of the boat itself.

Grandfather Porterfield, who likely ate salted meat, beans and rice for five weeks would have been astounded by our ships kitchen and the incredible selection of tasty food available to us.

All in all this was a very pleasant week of relaxation and decadence and I can only say good things about the Holland America Lines ship, crew and holiday experience.

I wonder how my great grandchildren will travel?  A space station vacation, perhaps?

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The elevator mats always reminded you of what day it was.  Otherwise it was hard to tell!

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Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 7 – Montreal!

May 20 Sunday

Sails up today.  Some very pretty places on the riverside.  We passed close by a town called Three Rivers, its name drawn from the three rivers that join into one and empty into the St Lawrence close to it.  

We have been sailing through St Peters Lake this forenoon.  At the head of this lake we came to a curious place, actually sailing among plantations…thickets of weed, the water running through the thickets which gave it a wild looking appearance.  About 9 o’clock we came in sight of our destination haven, Montreal.*  The lights of the town were to be seen. It was too late to anchor in the harbour.   This is my fifth Sabbath now on the “Home”.  I have been indeed highly favoured as I can say I have been amongst the healthiest and the ship all our voyage. And now that we are near prospect of being landed in a strange country, may our ever Kind Father in Heaven be with and guide us all times by his Counsel and afterwards receive us into glory there to meet to part no more forever.

May 21

We took up anchor between 6 and 7  and were immediately towed into the harbour.  It was this morning five weeks ago that I left Marnoch for America.  This morning at 10 I went ashore act montreal and set my feet for the first time on the often heard of and famed land of America.  I went through the town with a letter I had to a Mr Kingston, St Paul’s Street. , the gentleman who had charge of me.  I was 34441_std.jpgnearly struck with the horses running about, they were so nimble , little creatures, their cards or what they have for them consist of 2 wheels and an axle with two long sticks, something like a ladder laid on the centre of the axle with stuck out behind for a piece and 2 spring shafts.  They appear always to be running at a trot, sometimes at a gallop.


This afternoon mot of the passengers got their luggage off the ship to go on board a steamer to sail early in the morning.  We were all sorry to part with each other as we have been very agreeable and neighbourly all along the voyage. It is not likely we will all meet again in this world. Oh, t
hat we may all be fitted for spending never ending eternity with each other there to part no more forever.

May 22

Went aboard the steamer “Fashion” ** which sailed at 1 o’clock for Port St Lewis.  We met a good number of rafts in the canals and stopped at a number of ports to stop at and get off and take on luggage etc.  I got a fine view of Montreal.  I saw two parks thickly set with apple trees all in rows, near the town. 

May 23

Arrived at Port Lewis 5 am, this morning, got my trunk o the wagon which runs daily to Huntingdon.  Our road was none of the finest, a great part of it being laid with planks of wood as the ground appeared vert be very soft in some places.  The wagon went past Mr Reid’s and I was, owing to this lucky chance, landed at the very house about 10 o’clock in the forenoon, tired enough of the first drive I got in an American stage wagon.

Thus I am landed safely here, 5 weeks and 2 days from the time I left my own dear home.  There is a great cause for thankfulness on my part for the great blessing of good health all along this voyage.  I can likewise commend Captain Poole being very careful of us all along, and of missing no opportunity of forcing on the way as fast as he could.  The men were kind to us in their own way but mind at times with oaths and bad language, a habit to be regretted and so prevalent especially among these sailers who are exposed to dangers night and day and not knowing how soon they may be ushered into an eternal world where “he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.”

And now, may that god who is the same yesterday, today and forever be with me at all times and guide me with his counsel in a foreign land. May he enable me to discharge the duties now before me with all faithfulness, keep me from every evil, may and at last to bring me into His Own Kingdom in glory, there so spend with him a never ending Eternity.

*Montreal had a population of about 60,000 in the early 1850’s and was a busy port, receiving many immigrants to Canada from Ireland and Scotland.

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**The Fashion, was a sidewheel steamer like the one below,  built in 1847 in Michigan – 160 ft long and 25 ft wide. It suffered a number of accidents and repairs and in November 1856 was drawn ashore and abandoned in Bayfield, Ontario.

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A letter to Peter Porterfield from Huntley, Scotland – sent in 1862.  You may remember that Peter set out from Marnoch, Scotland and when he arrived in Huron County, Ontario he named the hamlet where he lived Marnoch.  

Peter and Mary (Stevenson) Porterfield 2a.jpgThis is a portrait of an older Peter Portefield and his wife Mary Stevenson, my great grandparents.  They were married on January 25, 1863 in Belgrave, Ontario and Peter died on December 5, 1907 at the age of 73. He is buried in Brandon Cemetery, Belgrave, Ontario. 

And finally, this old clock sits in my living room still keeping good time. It was purchased in 1880 by Peter Porterfield and had a 2 year warranty. 

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Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 6 – Gulf of St Lawrence

 

May 14

There is the same range of land to be seen when it is clear southwest from us. There are a great number of houses along the seacoast occupied by fishermen, I believe, but there also appears to be some land improved.  This is now part of Lower Canada.

May 15.

We are not advancing much.  There is land on every side of us today. Sometimes we are not very far from the shore.  I saw a whale again this morning sporting about the ship.   We have been all engaged in helping the sailors today by pulling ropes etc when turning the ship about.  

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A change of weather again, rain falling heavily around us.  There were two vessels ahead of us and one turned out to be our late companion the Rose from Plymouth.  She had a great number of passengers, 330 in all, who were all taking a look over the ship’s side. Some of them looked to be rum looking characters.  We are all very thankful that we were not among such a mass.  She has now been six weeks at sea when we have only been four. There is to be a doctor on board the ship tomorrow for inspecting us before we land. 

I saw a number of large white fishes in the forenoon of the whale type. I believe the name for them is Porpoise.  A large number of them swam along the ship’s side.  Another ship named the India from Kinach Ireland passed us about 6 o’clock with a great number of passengers on her.

May 17

Lying at anchor this morning… I never saw so many houses together all spread up and down the river side as far as we can see always before us.  They are white and have good appearance when the sun shines.  I believe thy extend on this way all the way to Quebec.  Not many large houses among them.  About 3 o’clock we passed McPherson’s Island. by 6 we were lying at Quarantine Bay, waiting for the doctor to inspect us. He merely looked at us and went away again!

May 18. 

The scenery is very beautiful today, a great many houses on the north side of their the river with their land all laid off in long narrow steps from the shore.  Between 2 and 3 o’clock a steamer named the “North America” came down the refer and our Captain engaged her to tow us to Montreal.  We expect to be at our journey’s end tomorrow night. We are now at a place called Point Levi, with harbour and some shipping.  In sight of Quebec. 

Point Levi, on the south side is  a pretty place and has a large crunch with a beautiful spire and a seminary.  We are not in the harbour but lying out on the river.  We are all getting impatient at so many trifling forms we have to go through. 

There appears to be a good deal of traffic here on the river, steamers going between here and Point Levi every hour of the day.  At 8 o’clock a gun or cannon, I am not sure which, is fired off every evening and at 12 o’clock noon.  We hard it fired off tonight from the fort on a high cliff at the river side. 

May 19

The Captain and a few passengers went ashore this forenoon. At about 2 o’clock about 20 pound of shot was fired off from the fort, the echo one every shot was like thunder, the day was so calm. It reminded me of the siege of Sebastopol.  I heard a rumour that it was because Sebastopol was taken of the truth I can not tell*.

About half past three we lifted anchor and “set sail”,  our steamer towing us on the way… we got a fine view of a Montreal steamer that passed us,  longer than any I ever saw before. This has been the warmest day we have had yet.

 

The progress up the St Lawrence seems to have been a bit slower since the ship requires wind to propel it and the river is more protected than the open ocean.  Eventually the ship will have to be towed by “steamers”, paddle wheel boats,  that must have been busy as tugs for the several sailing ships of immigrants and goods landing in Canada.

"Look_out"_(Transport_Steamer)_on_Tennessee_River_-_NARA_-_5289791_restored.jpg*Sebastopol was under siege throughout 1855 as part of the Crimean War against Russia.  That chapter of the war did not end until late 1855 so Peter was wrong about it being taken.  I wonder how news spread in those days or what the delay would be.  No internet or news channels and as we have seen it takes a few weeks to get across the Atlantic by ship to bring mail or journals.  The image below is of the battle of Sebastopol in 1855.

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Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 5 – Land!

May 10

I was awakened by 4 in the morning by the Captain calling to us to rise and see “land, land!”  The land to the North West of us was covered with snow and extending along the sea for considerable distance – high, rugged cliffs that put in mind the Crags of Gaurie in appearance. We have been only about 18 days without seeing land.  I am told where we are sailing today this same vessel, the “Home” was ice bound for a month last year.  There were eight Glasgow ships tied up with the ice for nearly two months last year not very far from the place we are sailing today.  

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There was more land made its appearance to the south of us called St Paul’s Island*.  We are out of the Atlantic today and in the Gulph of St Lawrence.   It is three weeks since we left Glasgow.  How short to look back to it, time files on, how needful to improve it to advantage so that we may not have to look back upon it when we come to leave this “passing show” with sorrow and anguish of heart.

*St Paul Island is off the northern tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  Foggy conditions and rocky cliffs have, over the years, claimed about 350 ships, earning the island the nickname “Graveyard of the Gulf”.  One year after Peter Porterfield passed this spot, 82 people lost their lives in a shipwreck on the rocks of St Paul Island as described in this NY Times article published in June 1856.wreckonrocks.jpg

May 11

Toward afternoon a ship came down to us before we were aware as we could not see very far because of mist.  She was a passenger ship named the ‘Rose of Plymouth” bound for Quebec. Her Captain and our one spoke to each other from a distance of 20-30 yards.  He told us he saw land this morning but had turned back as he thought he was taking the wrong woad.  Our captain though we were right, on the other hand.  About 4 o’clock the mist cleared off and we saw, not at a great distance, a long range of rocky cliffs extending along the sea coast and a great deal of woods back from that all covered with snow. I can now say that I have seen part of North America but, dear me, what I have seen appears to be very cold!

About 7 in the evening a Wherry boat with a number of pilots on her came along side of us and one of them came on board our ship and will, in the course of a day or two, take command of our vessel until we get to Quebec.  He is a French Canadian and has wintered at a place called Green Island.  He told us that he had spoken to a vessel which sailed 15 days before us from Glasgow and she was not 3 hours ahead of us hwhich shows we have been favoured with a good passage as yet.

May 12

“Tacking” today – that is going awhile as far as we can safely and then turning the ship about and got for a while in the other direction but al the while e making for our desired haven as fast as we can.   The Captain again spoke to “The Rose” from Plymouth. The had been 5 weeks at sea already and is just lacking bout like ourselves.  This afternoon is very calm, hardly a breath of wind, the water like a sheet of glass with the sun shining brightly.  I don’t think I ever saw anything more beautiful than the scene around us tonight. Everything is so quiet and the water so smooth.  About 4 o’clock two large whales were seen near the ship.

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May 13  Sunday

A most beautiful morning, not a cloud in the firmament to be seen. We are now in the St Lawrence and expect to make the harbour of Quebec in the course of 2 or 3 days.  About 9 o’clock we came in sight of a lighthouse to the northeast of us.  It was quite dark and the light had a good appearance. Shortly after that a vessel, a brig, was observed bearing down on us to the windward. In a short time she was almost along side of us and as the wind was still very high, our captain was afraid that she would come in contact with our vessel.  After sailing along side of us for awhile she got clear of us, being a lighter vessel.

This is my fourth, and to all appearances, my last Sabbath for sometime at see if we get on as we expect to do. We can not be too thankful for being so highly favoured with a quiet passage.  Last spring, I believe the average number of days for each emigrant ship that sailed for Quebec was 49 days.  I have seen a great deal of strange sights since I left Marnoch and well may I say with the Psalmist, David  “O, Lord, how manifold are thy  works, in wisdom has thou made them all, the earth is full of thy riches so is this great and wide sea, etc. Psalm 104, verses 24 etc.*

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*The bible in these photographs belonged to Maud Code Porterfield (1879-1976) –  Peter’s daughter-in-law.   My brother and I knew her as a dear little old lady with a shaky voice who lived with her sister in Wingham, Ontario.  Her sister, Sadie, was Alice Munro’s grandmother.  I have a clock belonging to Aunt Maud and my middle name, Alex, is after her husband, Alex Porterfield, a favourite uncle of my Dad’s.

Alice Munro, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, describes Aunt Maud and Uncle Alex to a tee in her somewhat autobiographical book, The View from Castle Rock, calling them Aunt Charlie and Uncle Cyril.  Aunt Maud and Aunt Sadie appear in many other Alice Munro short stories as well.  

In the 1920 photo below, Alex is on the left, Aunt Maud on the step looking sideways,  my grandparents, Ernest and Mary,  are the thin man next to Alex and the woman standing by the older woman and the old lady in the rocking chair is Mary Stevenson Porterfield,  Peter’s wife.   I think the man in the middle is William Porterfield,  a brother visiting from Calgary. And in a Where’s Waldo moment, my Dad, Stewart Porterfield Geddes is in a pram on the porch to the left of Aunt Maud!marnoch1

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 4 – The banks of Newfoundland

May 7

brig-sketch.jpgVery cold, snow falling heavily all forenoon.  A large iceberg at a great distance on the horizon and a Newfoundland schooner prosecuting  the seal fishing passed us and about 9 o’clock a French boat passed us, likewise for fishing.  I have plenty of clothes on me but for all that have been shivering all day, every other body apparently in the same condition. 

One of the passengers named Lillian Allan has two children, the oldest a girl of 4 years of age is newly out of the measles.  The other, a boy about 8 months has taken them.  His body is all over with the rash and he is likewise getting teeth right now.  The parents are hardly getting any rest at night just now with the boy and have plenty to attend to during the day.  We have not a great crowd of passengers on this ship but from what I have seen here would advise nobody to attempt a voyage of 5 to 6 weeks to America or anywhere else with a lot of young children as they are terrible care and handful.*

May 8

There was a ship along side of us this morning. Her name was the Non-Such of Liverpool, bound for Quebec.  She is a larger vessel than ours. There was a pretty good wind at the time and we, being so near to her, got a splendid view of her in full sail.   I think there is nothing looks so grand as a ship in full sail at sea, getting up and then down again among the waters.

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Screenshot 2017-04-11 14.05.07.pngWe have been sailing for a number of days back on what they call the banks of Newfoundland.  We have not seen land of yet.

One of the passengers, a young lad, went upon deck with a lot of dishes to get them washed in the forenoon.  Got that done and was just at the top of the stairs coming down again when suddenly the ship gave a lurch and thee whole lot are tumbling down to the bottom of the stairs – plates, bowls, cups and saucers etc,. a lot of them broken and of no further use.

The wind has been somewhat unfavourable for the last 24 hours or so and we have changed our course several times of late. I could not but admire the quickness of the sailors when turning the chip about, every man at his place, some orders given and then a final yell from the Captain and then the pulling on the ropes and “halloing” commences and in the course of 2 or 3 minutes sails and ships are turned.

May 9

Snow falling heavily with some mist, very little wind…We have been on the lookout for land all day but have seen none yet.  The Captain says we will see land by 4 o’clock tomorrow morning.

I am still amazed that this lot is blowing around in the cold and snow in the Atlantic with only sail for power and a sextant and maybe a nautical clock to find their bearings.   I am curious how that actually works!

* And we think that traveling for 4 hours with kids in the back of a car with an iPad and earphones is a challenge!

 

 

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 3 – Icebergs!

May 3

Iceberg2.jpgThe air is cold which shows our near approach to ice.  At 5 o’clock this afternoon I was looking over the ship’s bulwark and was the fist to notice a large irregular lump of ice* right ahead of us on the horizon.  I immediately gave the alarm and in a few minutes everybody was on deck to get a sight of it.  We were going very fast at the time and in about half an hour we passed it at no great distance.  It was pure white and had a splendid appearance.  It was supposed to be about 60 feet below the water and 30 above.  There were 3 smaller pieces floating not far from it.

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About 6 o’clock a signal was given that there was a ship right ahead.  They hoisted a flag and we returned the compliment by hoisting another in return.  The Captain and first mate were busy with glasses to see who she was.  She turned out to be one of the Black Ball line of Clippers, Liverpool** returning from America.   We were glad to see her as we have seen nothing of the kind for a fortnight.  She was making for our Native homeland. 

 

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May 4

Complete hurricane of wind last night with some rain…waves dashing oil over the deck with fearful violence betimes.  I was greatly amused band could not refrain from laughing at some of the water cans that got loose about midnight and tumbled about on the floor just as though some “Chiel”*** had been amusing himself with beating on the bottom of an old white iron pail. 

We were enveloped this morning in a close mist and the sea very rough also.  One of the sailors is doing nothing but lowing a tin horn in case of coming in contact with any ship in the mist. Our bell likewise ringing every 15 minutes…The ship has been heaving terrible all day long.  Some of us have been getting terrible tumbles, everybody laughing heartily at their neighbours. Sometimes very dangerous but nobody hurt very seriously as yet.

May 6  Sunday

Quiet night.  Two whales were seen near the ship in the forenoon making the water spout a great height into the air…This is my third Sabbath on the Mighty Deep.  I indeed feel very thankful to our ever merciful Father in Heaven for his kindness toward us in this voyage.  Truly he “holds the winds in his fists and the water in the hollow of his hands.”  He indeed “walketh on the wings of the wind”

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*Icebergs still pose a risk to vessels in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and every year there are hundreds of them that pass in what is called Iceberg Alley.  This spring, 2017, has seen a much higher number of icebergs and ships are having to alter their course to avoid them.  It was in April 1912 that the famous Titanic disaster happened in the north Atlantic.   You can see where icebergs are  currently along the Newfoundland coast with a real-time map at this iceberg finder website.

**The Black Ball ship line made passages from New York and Boston to Liverpool and also from Liverpool to Australia during the 1850’s.  The ship’s flag was a Black Ball on a red background and there was also a big black ball on one of the main sails.  I tried to locate what ship might be crossing from America to Britain in May 1855 but have not found it…yet.8fc0b8a0f5909be917d9be9498ac38a8.jpg

*** “Chiel” is an old Scottish variant of child.

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 2 – Out to sea.

Excerpts from my great grandfather’s diary as he immigrated to Canada on a sailing ship in the spring of 1855 – continued.  If you missed the start of this voyage it commences here.

April 23

We are going at the rate of seven miles an hour.  The Captain says we are not about 500 miles from Glasgow.  I am about 700 miles from Ardmeallie.  Our “Home” is dancing beautifully across the waters sometimes mounting on a high wave and then down again till i sometimes think she will be engulfed in the might deep. It is now about 7 o’clock , the rest all bedded a while ago and I am the only sound one amongst the steerage passengers.  The only company we have now is a few seagulls.

April 24

Wind still very high…sea was very rough betimes throughout the night, a terrible swing on the ship which makes some of our gear tumble about. We have great difficulty in keeping on our feet above or below. Toward sunset the wind still increased and the spray was splashing in over upon the deck terrible betimes.

April 25

Wind very high throughout the night, it has shifted a point farther west, now right ahead of us. We are coming very little speed today, about 4 miles an hour.  The sailors tell me that it matters little whether we go or stand today as the wind is driving us too far North we are going the wrong way.

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Going the wrong way!

So there they are, a week at sea, God knows where in the North Atlantic,  the wind blowing against them and driving them north  off their course. Nothing but sea around them.  How did they navigate?  Nothing but the stars to guide them on the open ocean.

Water sloshing over the deck and “the ship rocking fearfully betimes.” Trouble staying on their feet.  Gear being bounced around in the hold. No other ships in sight.  “We are very lonely.”  I wonder what the passengers were thinking. 

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It blew a complete hurricane throughout the night, making our water cans tumble about and making a terrible noise, the water dashing in over the deck sometimes with a fearful noise in the silence of the night, driving sleep away from the most of us…This morning I got an awful tumble, the deck being wet and slippery,  but did not hurt myself…much. 

April 29

I was told by one of the sailors that if I had been up half an hour earlier I would have seen a whale.  I have spent this day in reading my Bible and other religious books when not engaged in works of necessity. We are now nearly half way across the Atlantic and have been blessed with a beautiful Sabbath, a foretaste, I hope of that eternal rest which remaineth for those who love and serve God in this world below.  Truly God has been mindful of us all aboard this ship, we are blessed with good health, all of us.”Oh that men would praise the lord for his goodness and for his wonderful words to the Children of Men”  Psalm 107.

Peter does seem to like Psalm 107!

May 1

The captain says if we continue all day (24 hours) we will make 160 miles or thereby. We are going at the rate of 6 1/2 miles per hour.  I heard the first mate say today that we have had a very quick passage so far, but the most difficult part of our passage is yet before us especially when we come to the River of St Lawrence.

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Although Peter does mention water in barrels rolling around in the hold, there is no mention of food at any point in this diary.  He does say that most of the people were ill during the first part of the journey.  What did it smell like below deck?  Don’t dwell too long on that thought.

They would have to bring along enough food and fresh water for 150 people for 6 weeks with no place to replenish supplies.  Can you imaging making those plans, in a time without refrigeration or power?    

I have read that most of the time the passengers had to bring along their own food.  Here is a list I found of what might be necessary to bring for one adult on a ten week sailing trip in 1870.  The meat would have to be salted or dried or pickled somehow.   And what about fresh water?  It was likely rationed.  They had to presume that they would be at least six weeks crossing the Atlantic and Peter has mentioned that there were 96 passengers on board.  I am not sure if this included the crew.

The following is a list of provisions printed by Det Norske Udvandringsselskap in Christiania (later Oslo) in the 1870s. These provisions were intended to be adequate for an adult for up to ten weeks:

– 70 pounds hard bread (or the equivalent in soft bread or flatbread)
– 8 pounds butter
– 24 pounds meat
– 10 pounds sidepork
– 1 small keg of herring
– 8/3 Td. potatoes
– 20 pounds rye and barley flour
– ½ bushel dried peas
– ½ bushel pearl barley
– 3 pounds coffee
– 3 pounds sugar
– 2½ pounds syrup
– Quantities of salt, pepper, vinegar and onions
Of course, each passenger may take along the type of provisions desired as long as they are adequate for 10 weeks. [Pound = 454 grams, Td. = tønne = keg]

 

Here is a notation made by Ole Ellingsen Strand,  a Norwegian lad of 11 when he crossed the Atlantic from Drammen, Norway to New York in 1851 on a ship similar to the “Home” 

“The first week out their appetites did not require much of any cooking, and the lunch baskets that people brought with them from home lasted several days. But they finally had to get on with it. Then every morning at a certain hour one from each family had to go down into the bottom room or hold of the vessel where the food and water was dealt out to each family for the day. The wood had to be split very fine before they could use it to any advantage, and the water had to be put into jugs or something similar to prevent it from spilling.

And now for the kitchen. Early in the morning you could see the women coming up from below with a little bundle of fine split wood in one hand and a little kettle of some kind or a coffee pot in the other, heading for the kitchen, eager to find a vacant place somewhere on this bed of sand large enough to set their kettle on and build a fire under it. But it would not be very late in the day, if the weather was favorable, till every place in the kitchen was occupied, and there would be a large crowd outside waiting for vacant places, which were generally engaged already. And if you sat outside watching the kitchen door you could in 18 minutes time see perhaps half dozen women come out with their aprons over their faces, wiping tears, coughing and almost strangled with smoke. They would stay outside long enough to get their lungs filled with fresh air and the tears wiped out of their eyes, then they would crowd themselves back in again. Perhaps to find the fire and wood removed from their kettle under somebody else’s. Then, of course, broad hints and sharp words would be exchanged, and the loser would have to watch the opportunity when her next neighbor would have to go outside for fresh air to get her wood and fire back again. And these were not the only adversities and troubles in the kitchen because it was hardly ever so stormy but that somebody tried to cook something, and if it was too stormy for the women to be on deck the men would generally volunteer to steep tea, cook coffee, or even make a kettle of soup. They would start their fire, put their kettles on, and in a little while the cook shanty would be chock full of men. Some would be on their knees, some sitting flat on the floor while others would be standing outside peering in. Then imagine an oncoming big wave striking the vessel and almost setting it on end, and in a wink of an eye every kettle, coffee pot, and teapot is upset and spilled in the fire and hot ashes. This of course made them scramble for the door and you could see that coming out like swirling bees from a beehive. Some would swear, some could laugh, while others would say they might have known better than to try to cook anything this stormy day, but in less than an hour the shanty would be full again and perhaps going through the whole performance. This was how we came to America in an early day. And thus we worried and suffered for nearly 8 weeks until we finally arrived in the City of New York about the 11th of July and everybody soon forgot the troubles and trials they had on the voyage by seeing the beautiful green fields being thawed out by the warm rays of the sun after they had been a constant target for the cold and raw winds of the Atlantic.”

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 1 – leaving home.

One hundred and sixty two years ago today,  my great grandfather, Peter Porterfield set out from Scotland to come to Canada.   I am trying to imagine this trip, made across the North Atlantic in a clipper ship.  The voyage took five weeks.  Today we do it in a plane in 6 hours.

Fortunately,  20 year-old Peter wrote a diary along the way and it is still in the family.  I plan to follow him along over the next five weeks to reflect on this ancestral voyage and hope you will join me.  I will copy some of Peter’s notes (italics)  as these weeks unfolded for him. I will mainly let him speak for himself.  I will post a few daily journal entries every few days until Peter arrives back on dry land in May 21. Come along on this journey with us.

April 16, 1855

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I bade farewell to Ardmellie*, Parish of Marnoch, this day about 11 o’clock.  Was in Huntley about two o’clock and took the 3 o’clock train and was in Aberdeen about half past 5.

April 17

Left Aberdeen this morning on the 6 o’clock train for Glasgow.  Arrived there about 20 minutes past 3 in the afternoon, got my trunk on board the “Home”** which was to sail next day if things could get ready.

April 18

Went on board the “Home” about 2 in the afternoon.   Slept on her that night for the first time.

April 19

Gloomy…we set sail about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, being pulled down the Clyde by two steam tugs….There are about 96 passengers on board, likewise 3 dogs and more poultry.  Mr Jas. Poole, commander.

April 20

Fine morning…we were lying before Greenock this morning. Must wait until the wind goes around… A chaplain came from Greenock in the forenoon in a boat and distributed books among us, wishing us good passage. The wind still continuing contrary we were again obliged to get a steam tug with came to our assistance about have past 3, led us down the channel a good distance and left us about half past 5.   Between 7 and 8 o’clock the first mate found a bottle of whiskey about some of the sailor’s hammocks.  He gave the owner a good scolding and then threw it overboard into the sea and bade him to get it now if he could.

April 21

Fine morning…now paling between Scotland and Ireland and the land fast disappearing from our view.  Good-Bye Bonnie Scotland –It may never to be seen any more by some of us. In the morning, some of us began to get sick for the fist time and by 9 o’clock we were, with the exception of a few, al on the sick list…There was a strong wind and the ship was heaving a good deal…The sea was very rough throughout the night making the ship tumble about like a cradle, the water betimes coming across the deck. The only land in sight before going to bed was the north west coast of Ireland.

Now, imagine being on this sailing ship with about 100 other people, most of them sick and watching the land disappear into the distance,  heading out to sea for the next few weeks.  What kind of navigation would they use? They had no power but sail.   It was spring in the North Atlantic.

April 22

Sunday.  Slept sound last night.  No land in sight.  Sea very rough.  Our only element now is water, water in whatever direction we turned our eyes.  I have this day seen something of the Mighty Deep like what is described in the 107th Psalm, verses 23-28.

107  23 to 28.jpg 

Most of the passengers are very sick today. I have as yet not been very sick myself.  i have been able to step about today and read a little betimes, though debarred from attending the House of Prayer.  I have been won’t to do in times bast from my infancy till now. Yet I hop my Meditation this day on the Mighty ocean will be blest to me for good.

*Ardmeallie is in Northern Scotland near the Marnoch Bridge over the Deveron River.  The only reference I can find to it now is Ardmeallie House, a privately-owned estate with a lovely walled garden.  The house was built around 1750.  I found a Google maps image of the house (below) and its location relative to the river.  Peter must have lived very near there but his father farmed 42 acres, not the lord of the manor.Ardmellie House, Marnoch.png

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It intrigued me, as well, that train trains were so efficient in 1855.  Peter was able to travel from Aberdeen to Glasgow by train in a few hours.  The railways in this district were relatively new, most being completed in the 1840’s.  It must have been remarkable to get from one city to another so conveniently and quickly.

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**The “Home” was a bark ship – one with three large masts and under wind/sail power only.  Imagine setting out from Glasgow to Canada across the north Atlantic in April on a boat that had no other power but sail.