Voyage in an Emigrant Ship
By a Resident of Ops 1910
Good-bye, Good-bye, So long mate. Well, Jack, I wish I was going with you. Don’t forget to send a line when you get across. My but I wish I was going with you.
Such were the chorus of partings which were heard on all sides as the big liner Kensington, bound for that land of promise, Canada, cast off her moorings and swung out into mid stream to begin her voyage across the mighty Atlantic.
She had on board some 1500 passengers, men, women and children, and a motley crowd they were, as all gathered together amid piles of trunks, boxes and bundles. They followed the rapidly receding shore with straining, anxious, and in most cases, tearful eyes. Amongst the crowd of passengers was the author of this narrative (myself) and I will now give to the best of my ability a plain account of the voyage across.
To begin with, my brother and myself, like our fellow passengers, got the notion that we could make better headway in the struggle for existence by emigrating to England’s great colony across the sea, and after considerable thought and numerous trips down to the shipping agent’s office, we finally decided to try our luck. Anyhow, I need not go into detail regarding the excitement at home when the decision was made, neither will I dwell upon the parting from parents, home and friends; enough that we entered the waiting cab and together with our baggage were conveyed down to the station.
We had to travel from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Liverpool, from which port the ship sailed, and as she was timed to leave early the next day we had to travel all night. I have often taken long railway journeys, but I really think I never enjoyed a journey less than that one. To begin with, it was in the winter time, the beginning of March, and fairly cold traveling, and again the thought of going to a strange land, among strange people, and of separating ourselves from all who were dear to us, did not tend to make the journey cheerful.
From time to time some of the more cheerful among us started up a tune, but at the best it was a half hearted effort and in a very short time the singing ceased, and while some tried to keep some sort of a conversation going, the others found relief from their thoughts of what they had left, and from what the future had in store for them in sleep.
However, the longest journey has an end, and in due time we entered Liverpool station, in the early morning, and stepping out of the carriage found ourselves confronted by a uniformed official, who enquired how many of us were going by the steamer Kensington. After getting our baggage checked, and satisfying the porter who undertook to personally attend to the various boxes, etc., we followed the official out into the street and down to the shipping company’s office, where our ocean tickets were examined, and where we also took advantage of changing some of our money into the Canadian coinage. I may here state that the Canadian money is issued in bills of from one dollar up to twenty dollars, together with loose money of from 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 1 quarter or 25 cents and 50 cents. Generally the 5 cent piece is called a nickel and the 10 cents a dime.
Having got our money changed, we then made enquiries as to the time to go aboard our ship, and be satisfied as to that, and the next part of our programme was to satisfy the inner man. Therefore we cruised about the town in search of a refreshment house, and were fortunate in finding one close to where the ship lay. We ordered a good substantial meal, as it was to be the last one we would have in dear old England, and after doing full justice to it we made our way down to the dock, and soon found ourselves amongst the crowds of emigrants who were all waiting to get aboard.
I will now describe to a certain extent the steamer Kensington as she lay alongside the dock awaiting her human cargo. She was a vessel of over 8,000 tons register, fitted with twin screws, and was as commonly called a four master. She was one of the older class of passenger ships, and had been formerly employed trading to foreign ports, but owing to the rush at the opening of the emigrant season, the owners placed her on the Liverpool-Canada route, and for some considerable time she had been regularly sailing from Liverpool to Halifax, N.S., and after landing her passengers at the latter port, sailed for Portland (Maine) where she took cargo for home. Her owners were the well-known Dominion Line Co., whose headquarters are in Liverpool.
As we stood waiting to go aboard the mails began to arrive and as there were some 12 van loads of them, they took some time getting aboard, and we meanwhile had to wait in a drenching rain till they were all stowed away, before being allowed to go aboard. When the last bag had disappeared, a gangway was placed from the ship to the shore, and then the procession started. At the top stood the doctor, whose duty it was to inspect every passenger as they passed along. As each one of us passed him we had to take our hats off for an instant, and the examination was over.
Finally, we all got aboard, and then the fun began. To begin with, all our boxes and trunks were piled in a heap of the deck, and each of us had to pick out our relative belongings. Meanwhile, the sailors were busy at the steam hauling up more baggage, and what with the shouts of the bos’n as he warned some passengers who were in the way of the swinging boxes, etc., the struggles of the emigrants as they tumbled over each other in their efforts to secure their belongings, and the ceaseless crying of the children, mingled with the occasional hoarse shrieks of the steamer’s screw made on yearn for a quiet spot in which to slink into, but which was an impossibility just then.
I had been fortunate in securing my trunk, and after seeing it stowed away in the little cabin, which was reserved for my brother and myself returned on deck and stood reviewing the turbulent scene. Here in one corner, was a respectable looking woman trying in vain to comfort two little children, who, unable to realize their strange surroundings, were crying bitterly and clinging to their mother, as she with anxious and tearful eyes was trying to comfort them in every way possible. Close by her was a stalwart looking young fellow with his arm linked through an elderly lady’s, evidently his mother. Being quite close to him, I was able to overhear part of their conversation, from which I gathered that he was on his way to British Columbia, where he had friends. His mother was bravely trying to keep his spirits up, but it was evident that it was only with a great effort that she was able to keep from breaking down. I witnessed several such scenes as the time drew nearer, when the great bell clanged and the partings commenced.
It was now about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and all the passengers had got aboard, and were hunting up their berths and the last of the baggage had been stowed away, when suddenly the bell rang out and instantly all was commotion. Goodbyes were tearfully said, and as the ship slowly began to leave the dock side, someone on board struck up Auld Lang Syne which I am bound to say went rather tame, as most of us were felling just a little blue as we saw Liverpool receding from our sight. As I stood leaning against the bulwark and gazing with, I must confess, dim eyes, at the shore, I had the feeling that I may never see our native land again, and at any rate we were bound to have some strange experiences before we again set foot upon England’s shore. It was now nearly dark, and besides a drizzling rain falling, a dense fog enveloped us, so that it was next to impossible to distinguish objects except at close quarters.
As things were anything but pleasant on deck, we made our way below to the little cabin, which was to be our abode for the next week or so. My brother and I had a place to ourselves, a compartment containing two berths, one above the other, and provided with blankets and pillows.
Under each pillow was a life jacket, placed there in case of an emergency and fully capable of supporting a person for any length of time. Each cabin was lighted by electricity, as also was the saloons, etc. After taking a survey of our quarters we made our way to the saloon, where tea was served.
As soon as that was over we went on deck again and found that it was still foggy, although the rain had ceased. The ship was going less than half speed and from time to time the whistle of some approaching steamer would be heard out of the gloom ahead, and then a dark form would loom up, and glide silently past us. Away up our ship’s foremast, the lookout man in the crow’s nest was keeping his eyes skinned for what was ahead of us. On the forecastle was placed two seamen, who also kept their dreary watch, while high up on the bridge the captain with the first and second mates paced to and fro, stopping from time to time to strain their eyes in a vain endeavour to pierce the gloom ahead. In the break of the forecastle was placed the ship’s big bell and at intervals of from five to ten minutes a seaman struck it several times and the deep tones rang through the still hazy atmosphere and echoed around in a weird manner. Although it was still early in the evening, the decks were nearly deserted, as most of the passengers preferred to be in their bunks or in the saloon, to walking the cold, wet deck.
As I leaned against one of the starboard lifeboats, and tried to make out some of the objects which were silently passing, I thought of the great responsibility resting upon the captain’s shoulders - of the great crowd of human beings under his care, - besides the ship which he commands, and his officers and crew, who looked to him for their orders day by day, and who worked the great liner upon her course across the ocean. It seemed to me, as I looked at the silent figures on the bridge, a triumph of mankind that a great ship should be absolutely under the control of a human being, and as I felt the dull throbbing of the engines below and the thud of the propeller, a feeling of pride came over me that should be the work of man. And yet, when we had left all land far astern, and found ourselves alone on the mighty Atlantic, I thought what a speck we were upon that mighty expanse of water.
So, as I dwelled upon those matters, 8 bells was struck (meaning the change of watch at 8 o’clock) and from out of the forecastle came some of the seamen, who were to be on duty till 12 o’clock, midnight. They were carrying pails and mops, also holy stones.
For the benefit of the reader, I will explain what the holy stone is. It is a large, flat sandstone attached to a long shaft. As the water is swirled over the deck, a seaman draws the stone back and forward till every part of the deck has been gone over. When it dries, the planks have a decided white appearance. It is a very important part of the ship’s work, and is very necessary as regards all passenger ships, where cleanliness in all parts is of the utmost importance.
To continue, the washing process was just about to commence, so after another look around at the weather, I went below and sought my berth. For a long time I lay awake, and listened to the tramping of the men overhead; and the constant swishing of the water over the decks, while every little while the hoarse shriek from the steamer’s whistle was heard all around. To crown all, everybody had the feeling that this was only the first night of the voyage and the thought of what would happen before port was reached.
I must have been asleep for quite a long spell, as when I woke, the early moonlight was glittering in the porthole above my head. The time by my watch was 5:30, and as I jumped out of the bunk I found that the ship had a rather lively motion, which to the average landsman is kind of unpleasant, both as regards walking, and affecting the appetite.
Putting on my boots, I got a towel, and made my was on deck, where the nipping cold air made me feel invigorated and spry, as they say, and also gave me a keen appetite for breakfast, which would be served in the saloon at 6:30, I stood looking out over the broad expanse of waters, that seemed so cold and wintry looking in the early morning light, and noticed that the wind which had so far been blowing lightly upon our quarter, had veered around, till it was practically dead ahead. It was dipping the tops off the surges as we plunged into them, and I felt sure that if they continued to increase, as it certainly was doing, we would have a pretty squally time of it before the day was out. I learned from the boatswain that it had sprung up shortly after midnight, and had blown the fog away, since when, the sea had begun to rise, and even as I turned to go to the deck house where was situated the general washing apartment, the steamer buried her stern into a big swell, and immediately we had to scatter for shelter, as a foamy mass of water swept by with a hiss and a roar. The fun is about to commence, I thought, as after washing I made my way below again, and finished dressing.
Just then the bell was rung for breakfast, and there was a rush for the saloon. I found quite a number of passengers seated at the table, and they all apparently eager for the meal to commence. I made my way to a vacant seat, just as the stewards brought in the various dishes. The keen morning air had somewhat sharpened our appetites, and for some time full justice was done to the good things laid on the table. But unfortunately that dreaded malady, seasickness, made itself felt amongst the diners, and I noticed quite a number of persons turn a washed out appearance about the face. Some made a hurried departure from the saloon, while others contented themselves with abstaining from any more breakfast, and sat looking the very picture of misery, till the meal was ended.
As soon as we had finished I went on deck again and making my way along the deck to the alleyway, which was situated amidships, I found a sheltered spot where I could watch the foaming swells as they rushed past us with an ever-increasing roar. There is, I always think, a great solemnity in the appearance of a storm at sea. You are as it were, alone with the elements, and in the midst of them and as the huge masses of water rear themselves in awful grandeur
all around you, and seem as if they would overwhelm anything, you realize the wonderful works of the Creator, who holds the sea in the hollow of his hand.
No one who has not witnessed the sight has any idea of what it is to be on the ocean when the storm is raging. One moment our ship would bury her bows in a heavy wall of water, and which caused her to shudder from stem to stern, and the next moment a volume of water swept over the forecastle and tore along the fore deck with a terrific roar, before emptying itself over the side in a veritable cascade. Then again we would rise on the top of another billow and down would go the stern into a chasm of water, as the swirling waters seemed as if to overwhelm our gallant ship. But no, she rose again, and seemed to shake herself, as if to be freed from the surges. Then on she rushed, again on her course, with the incessant thud of the propeller, which drove us further and further away, from Old England, and nearer and yet nearer to the new land.
Far away on the horizon was a large tramp steamer, loaded down, and making heavy weather, as she laboured in the seas, which every now and then hid her completely from our view. Excepting for that solitary vessel we were absolutely alone, a veritable colony of people, three parts of whom were by now prostrated by sickness, and too miserable to care what happened to either the vessel or themselves. Where now, were the noisy crowd of human beings, who a few hours ago were singing and making merry and all making their plans for their entrance into the new country? Here they were lying about in all directions, dead to everything but the miserable malady from which they suffered. Some were in their berths, but the majority preferred to lie where they could at least get some fresh air. I doubt if they had even the strength to descend the companion ladder to their cabins, if they had wanted to. As I looked at them, I was inwardly thankful that I had spent some time upon the sea and that I was comparatively at home upon it. All the same the sight of so many of your fellow creatures having such a miserable time of it, did not tend to make you feel the enjoyment of the voyage.
Suddenly the bell rang for dinner and together with a few of the passengers who had some appetite for dinner, we descended into the saloon, and found as we expected, barely a handful of people seated at the table.
After making as decent a meal as we could under the circumstances, we went up on deck again, and had barely reached it when we heard a signal, made by the lookout man stationed up at the foremast. The officer on watch immediately levelled his glass towards the horizon, and we saw the masts and funnels of a large steamer, coming our way, and evidently bound in for Liverpool. As may be expected, the appearance of a ship upon that waste of waters caused the utmost excitement, and all of us crowded to the bulwarks to get a glimpse of her. Even some of the sick ones roused themselves to get a look at the welcome sight. As she came rushing along with the foam seething at her bow, and the sunlight glittering on her portholes she made a beautiful sight, as she rose and fell in the surges, and used as I was to the sight, I could not help admiring her as she sped away on her course.
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