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