Caution to Emigrants

Update.  Apologies, I haven’t published anything in recent weeks. September is never easy. There are still some emails that I have not got caught up with as yet.   

Thanks for the comments.  They make it all worthwhile. I was so inspired by Bernie McCarthy’s comment, and the new names, that I had a go at colourising the old photo at Ballymacpeake farmers.

There is a lot of work in progress, yet to be published. It’s merely a case of getting final articles over-the-line, sotospeak.

Thanks for all the kind emails re Tiger.  I got two new kittens in mid July, one very tiny, and the other several months older (see the video below).  They are a delight.

OK, back to the post at hand. 

By the mid 1800s onwards, nearly all the local villages had agents that advertised passage, via ship, to the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Their services were advertised in the weekly newspapers.

My local area had agents in Portglenone and Kilrea.  We will be covering one local family, the Wilkinsons, in a forthcoming article, who left Portglenone, for Iowa, in the 1860s.

But any emigrant booking such a passage, was taking a big step into the unknown.  Occasionally one would see warnings in local media concerning what to expect – not only in terms of where they were going to, but also the ships themselves.   Below is such an article, which appeared in the Ballymena Observer in October 1863. I cleaned up an old drawing to augment the article.

emigrant ship chaos

Persons who intend emigrating to America would do well to make careful inquiry respecting the class and character of the ships in which they engage for passages.

In some cases emigrants have been subjected to outrageous treatment, as will appear by the following extract from the New York Tribune, recently to hand.

It seems that the passengers by a certain vessel named in the report, held a meeting on board ship before landing at New York, during which they gave free expression to their complaints, and resolved on making a public statement of the facts of the case for the special benefit of those who may be disposed to emigrate, and to set forth the breach of contract of the ship-owners towards the steerage passengers.

Hungry Despite the Highly Priced Ticket

The editor says “Their principal complaint is in regard to the quality and quantity of the food served them during the voyage, several men complaining that some days they had scarcely enough to eat.”

One of our reporters yesterday visited Castle Garden, and had an interview with about twenty-five or thirty of the passengers, whom he found to be men apparently above the ordinary standard of immigrants. Their contract tickets had printed thereon a substantial bill fare.

Should We Bring Extra Provisions?

Several passengers, before leaving, asked the agent if they had better take any extra provisions with them, but were answered in the negative, and told that ample provision would made for all board.

But from the very day of starting, however, they found that they had been deceived, and that there was a general scarcity of provisions and water. With one exception, they had nothing like a decent dinner. The coffee and tea were no better than slops, and were not drank by many; and the soup and rice were not fit to eat, the latter apparently having been cooked in salt water.

One Cook to Feed 815 Souls

No day passed, excepting Sunday, that large numbers were not left without their rations. The Galley was small, and only one cook employed to furnish food for 815 people.

On one occasion several of the passengers went to the Chief Steward and asked him what they should do for dinner?  His reply was “fight for it – you’re big enough to take care of yourselves.”  

One of the number remarked that he “never did that yet, and thanked God that he always had enough in his pocket to buy it when he was near a cook shop.”

On the day of their arrival they had nothing to eat, and were told that nothing would be served.

Gross Indecency and Immorality

Complaint is also made that the grossest indecency and immorality was allowed by the officers during the voyage, and that no restraint whatever was put upon the young men and young women. Frequent complaints were made to the officers by the respectable portion of the passengers, but they remained unheeded.

A few shillings extra fare should of no consideration to a passenger who desires to have safe and speedy passage, comfortable accommodation, good food, and courteous treatment.

Emigrants should observe great caution in their selection of ships.

Ballymena Observer
Saturday 24th October 1863


"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

8 thoughts on “Caution to Emigrants

    1. Thanks Karen. They are a real handful. Still getting used to house training.

      I have the curtains tied up, to minimise the destruction.

  1. I know that reasoning. Pleased to get your posting as i was wondering how you were getting on. With all the Covid it makes you worry when you dont hear from Friends.
    Keep on keeping on,

    1. True Karen. I know the feeling. I called someone on Friday evening, who had been seriously ill, not having not heard from them in 3 weeks.

      Thanks for thinking about me.


      Senor Trudger

  2. Thank you. I really enjoy your blogs. It gives me an insight as to what my family had to overcome in their lives to be where we are today. Love your little kittens.

    1. Thanks Gwyneth for the lovely words.

      Yes, our forefathers suffered really hard times. I cannot begin to imagine, setting out for a strange unknown world, that takes weeks (and a fortune) to get there…..and the devastation of saying goodbyes to family, friends and neighbours, knowing that in all likelihood, you would never see them again.

      All my best to you and your loved ones.

  3. Good to hear of your new additions! Thanks for the article. My great grandfather emigrated in 1875 by himself. Imagine how dangerous travel was for some of those with children.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Ken. Delighted that you enjoyed the article.

    Yes, we can only imagine the hardships they faced, in making the passage abroad.

    Local rural Irish folk, landing in a big city like New York, would be prime targets for pickpockets and tricksters.

    All my best.

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