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.

Wrong way.jpg

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. 

Lonely.jpgApril 28

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.

3035.jpg

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.”

3 thoughts on “Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 2 – Out to sea.

  1. John, in reading the first paragraph it struck me how similar your writing styles are!
    Fascinating account – thanks for sharing,
    Susan

    • Thanks for pointing that out, Susan. I will reflect on that. I have become very interested in my family DNA connections through Ancestry and am so much aware of how we are made up of fragments of our ancestors, even many generations back. Cool to think of this.

      • I wonder what Peter’s photographs would have been like, had he had the technology we have today!
        Susan

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