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.