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.


**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.



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. 


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.  

St L lighthouse.jpgMay 16

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.


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.  


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.

Two whales.jpg

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.*

Psalm 104

*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.


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.


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. 


black ball line.jpg

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”

Screenshot 2017-04-11 13.50.43.png

*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.

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.


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

Peter P.jpg

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.



**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.



And the winner is…

It is 7 pm on Sunday and I have sacral ulcers.  The Kingston Canadian Film Festival is drawing to a close after presenting a wonderful collection of Canadian films – or at least films made by Canadians – over the past four days.  I have attended  8 films since Thursday night (and also worked in a train trip to Toronto yesterday to see Book of Mormon) and although I would like to see the one remaining film tonight, my bottom can’t take it.

Here are some of the offerings that I saw – there were many more – and how I felt about them.

The River of My Dreams – a biopic outlining the career and personal life of Canadian TV and Film star, Gordon Pinsent.  Pinsent is a great story teller and I imagine over the years the stories have become somewhat embellished.  It was interesting to see his journey through CBC to Hollywood and back to Canadian films.  I was a bit thown off and suspicious when he consistently avoided breaking the fourth wall.  His eyes were always glazed away front the camera.  Now, this is imperative when you are acting in a film but it stops any form of connection in an interview.  Made me think that I was watching yet another performance.

The Stairs is a really interesting documentary-style film that follows a few Toronto people who have had trouble with cocaine addiction and gives a glimpse into their daily lives.  The people interviewed had a great sense of humour and unlink Pinsent, talked to us, looking at the camera from time to time.  Much more personal.  It was a disturbing look at addiction and struggle right on our own streets.

Jerusalem, We Are Here was not really a film but a multimedia presentation that explored neighbouthoods in Jerusalem where the houses had been owned by Palestinians prior to 1948.  It was a bit of a guided tour through the neighbourhoods with written text, audio and video clips of  families who had owned (and technically still own) some of the homes.   It was not really a film and this put me off a bit.  And interesting project but really something for the film festival?


Dr Dan Orland in The Twisted Tale of Emma Surely.

Epic Shorts.  I went to this collection of eight short (15 minute limit) films because I had a role in one of them.  It was a bit of an anxious time since I had not seen the film since we shot it in November and had absolutely no idea how it would look.  More on that experience another time, perhaps.  I survived the crisis.  Two other short films that stood out to me were The Voice of the Violin, a looks at an Armenian violin-maker in Toronto. It was a wonderful piece, showing step-by-step how he makes the violin and with lovely music to accompany it.   The other short film I liked was Ty Conn: My Brother the Outlaw.   This one focused on an interview with a fellow whose half brother was a bank robber incarcerated in Kingston Penitentary, his relationship with this fellow and the story of his escape from KP in 1999. No spoilers as to how this daring escape ends.

Boneyard.  Horror is not my genre but the writer, director, producers and most of the cast of this movie ar my friends so I hustled back on the train from Toronto to see it.   Although I came away totally confused, I thought the principal actors did a good job of consistently presenting their characters (and Gene, your were bang on as the photographer, too).   There was lots of creepy music and sound effects and suspenseful moments like the feeling i bet you have had when you go down into your basement or up in your attic and the lights are off… and you hear a noise.   I kind of got lost half way through and there was more blood and graphic violence for my liking.  There were a lot of well done technical things about the film but it was just not my bag.

bitter_c0-73-800-539_s885x516Bitter Harvest also had a lot of blood and violence.  The setting was in the Ukraine in the 1930’s when Russia basically restricted food and caused a major famine, killing millions.  Some of the photography was breathtakingly beautiful, landscapes and horses and forests.  It was also interesting to learn of this horrible genocide and the struggles now in the same part of the world made it particularly pertinent.

Both showings of Live in Kingston at the festival were sold out and I understand why.  I sat beside a young woman who had seen it on Friday night and came back to see it again.  Maybe we were all biased because it is a very Kingston film but I thought it was absolutely  fantastic.  It has a good story, lots of humour, fantastic views of Kingston sites, both inside and out.  The actors, fronted by Anna Sudan, absolutely nailed it.  And there were full song performances with great full sound by several Kingston musician groups and individuals ranging from Sarah Harmer to Forty Seven Teeth and in venues like Musiikki, the Mansion and the roof of the Delta Hotel.   I really enjoyed this film and if you get a chance to see it somewhere, please do. If you don’t live here you will want to move. If you moved away you will want to come back.  I hope they release the sound track.

All Goverments Lie was also a popular and sold out film.  It is a troubling look at both the spin and lies the governments promote and how the various large news agencies are complicit in spreading this “fake news” because, lets face it, it makes money.  As a result of this film I am going to seek out some independent news agencies to read like TYT Network or Democracy Now.

I am wondering why I pay big bucks to go to TIFF each year when I can experience this wide variety of Canadian films right here at home.  If they were selling passes for the 2018 festival I would buy mine now. Kingstonians,  we are lucky to have this festival – embrace it because it will only get bigger and better.

I never thought I would be writing this.

I have been in East Africa for the past couple of weeks and quite out of touch with the news.  This weekend am back at a hotel near the city (Seeta, Uganda) and it has been raining so I have watched some news reports on the TV in my room. Seen from  the perspective of this part of the world, the news from the U.S.A.  leaves me feeling incredulous.  Yesterday one member of a panel discussing the exclusion of people from some Muslim nations to the U.S. and he talked about how he felt unsafe for himself and his children in South Carolina and that the President, using Christian values was concerned only about the safety and security of Americans.  No mention of  gun violence because of their gun laws or lack of them, but happy that only Christian refugees from Syria would be considered to come to the U.S. and that extreme terrorists from other countries would be kept out.  He then went on to say that the United States was a “gold standard” for a society in the world.  I almost threw my shoe through the television at him.  But then I realized that there must be many Americans who think this way or the current president, congress and senate would not have been elected.

The world population is 7 billion and the population of the USA is 330 million – less than 5 percent.
Americans now have fairly elected a Republican president, congress, and senate that want to make their country “great” by acting only in self-serving ways, excluding the rest of the world if it is not in their interest. Full of self-importance and egocentricity.
I know there are many Americans who do not think this way but the reality is that the country had a legitimate election and the current administration won the contest. I was encouraged to see the Women’s marches across the country (and around the world) but it feels a bit like the horse is already out of the barn.  Peaceful protest around the world can express opposition but it is only Americans – and I think more specifically sensible Republicans, if there are any – that can deal with this distressing regime. How did it get this far and just how far can it go?  The current government reflects the choice of the people. The United States of America will have to live with it, but why does the rest of the world?
What would happen if the other six and a half billion, the rest of us, just let the USA build its walls and live in a cocoon? Ignore them. Leave them to themselves. Let them do what they want within their walled existence. It wouldn’t have to be a political alliance just a cooperative effort.  Stop buying American goods. Stop selling them oil and water. Stop buying their weapons of war. Stop vacationing in Las Vegas or Florida or New York City. Watch Aljazeera instead of CNN. Go to internationally made movies. Form our own trade agreements excluding the USA. Make it “us” and the U.S.   Be friendly but just let them live in their restricted little egocentric American bubble. If they really want to interact meaningfully and inclusively with the rest of the world they will have to prove it. If not…good luck.

Walls and fences can keep people out but they also serve to keep people in. Let them build their walls and keep people out. Leave them alone. Let’s see how “great” they can be without the rest of the world supporting them as they bully their way into the position of privilege they think they deserve.

The behavior of the new U.S. administration is distressing.  I fear that the U.S.A., a badly (bigly?) divided nation is in for a rough ride.

I’m gonna make it up for all of The Sunday Times

I’m gonna make it up for all of the nursery rhymes

They never really seem to want to tell the truth

I’m so tired of you, America.

Making my own way home

Ain’t gonna be alone

I’ve got a life to lead, America

I’ve got a life to lead

Tell me, do you really think you go to hell for having loved?

Tell me, enough of thinking everything that you’ve done is good

I really need to know, after soaking the body of Jesus Christ in blood

I’m so tired of America.

Rufus Wainwright – Going To A Town