'An tOcras Mór' The Great Hunger.

Subtitle

Forums

Post Reply
Forum Home > History Of The Irish "The Great Hunger" > Coffin Ships

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 


 

During the Holocaust  period, an estimated half-million Irish were evicted from their cottages. Unscrupulous landlords used two methods to remove their penniless tenants. The first involved applying for a legal judgment against the male head of a family owing back-rent. After the local barrister pronounced judgment, the man would be thrown in jail and his wife and children dumped out on the streets. A 'notice to appear' was usually enough to cause most pauper families to flee and they were handed out by the hundreds.

 

The second method was for the landlord to simply pay to send pauper families overseas to British North America. Landlords would first make phony promises of money, food and clothing, then pack the half-naked people in overcrowded British sailing ships, poorly built and often unseaworthy, that became known as coffin ships.

 

The first coffin ships headed for Quebec, Canada. The three thousand mile journey, depending on winds and the captain's skill, could take from 40 days to three months. Upon arrival in the Saint Lawrence River, the ships were supposed to be inspected for disease and any sick passengers removed to quarantine facilities on Grosse Isle, a small island thirty miles downstream from Quebec City.

 

But in the spring of 1847, shipload after shipload of fevered Irish arrived, quickly overwhelming the small medical inspection facility, which only had 150 beds. By June, 40 vessels containing 14,000 Irish immigrants waited in a line extending two miles down the St. Lawrence. It took up to five days to see a doctor, many of whom were becoming ill from contact with the typhus-infected passengers. By the summer, the line of ships had grown several miles long. A fifteen-day general quarantine was then imposed for all of the waiting ships. Many healthy Irish thus succumbed to typhus as they were forced to remain in their lice-infested holds. With so many dead on board the waiting ships, hundreds of bodies were simply dumped overboard into the St. Lawrence.


April 9, 2010 at 7:39 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Others, half-alive, were placed in small boats and then deposited on the beach at Grosse Isle, left to crawl to the hospital on their hands and knees if they could manage. Thousands of Irish, ill with typhus and dysentery, eventually wound up in hastily constructed wooden fever sheds. These makeshift hospitals, badly understaffed and unsanitary, simply became places to die, with corpses piled "like cordwood" in nearby mass graves. Those who couldn't get into the hospital died along the roadsides. In one case, an orphaned Irish boy walking along the road with other boys sat down for a moment under a tree to rest and promptly died on the spot.

 

The quarantine efforts were soon abandoned and the Irish were sent on to their next destination without any medical inspection or treatment. From Grosse Isle, the Irish were given free passage up the St. Lawrence to Montreal and cities such as Kingston and Toronto. The crowded open-aired river barges used to transport them exposed the fair-skinned Irish to all-day-long summer sun causing many bad sunburns. At night, they laid down close to each other to ward off the chilly air, spreading more lice and fever.

 

Many pauper families had been told by their landlords that once they arrived in Canada, an agent would meet them and pay out between two and five pounds depending on the size of the family. But no agents were ever found. Promises of money, food and clothing had been utterly false. Landlords knew that once the paupers arrived in Canada there was virtually no way for them to ever return to Ireland and make a claim. Thus they had promised them anything just to get them out of the country.

 

Montreal received the biggest influx of Irish during this time. Many of those arriving were quite ill from typhus and long-term malnutrition. Montreal's limited medical facilities at Point St. Charles were quickly overwhelmed. Homeless Irish wandered the countryside begging for help as temperatures dropped and the frosty Canadian winter set in. But they were shunned everywhere by Canadians afraid of contracting fever.

 

Of the 100,000 Irish that sailed to British North America in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition, including over five thousand at Grosse Isle.

 

Up to half of the men that survived the journey to Canada walked across the border to begin their new lives in America. They had no desire to live under the Union Jack flag in sparsely populated British North America. They viewed the United States with its anti-British tradition and its bustling young cities as the true land of opportunity. Many left their families behind in Canada until they had a chance to establish themselves in the U.S.

 

Americans, unfortunately, not only had an anti-British tradition dating back to the Revolutionary era, but also had an anti-Catholic tradition dating back to the Puritan era. America in the 1840s was a nation of about 23 million inhabitants, mainly Protestant. Many of the Puritan descendants now viewed the growing influx of Roman Catholic Irish with increasing dismay.

 

One way to limit immigration was to make it more expensive to get to America. Ports along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. required a bond to be posted by the captain of a ship guaranteeing that his passengers would not become wards of the city. Passenger fares to the U.S. in 1847 were up to three times higher than fares to Canada. The British government intentionally kept fares to Quebec low to encourage the Irish to populate Canada and also to discourage them from emigrating to England.

 

 


April 9, 2010 at 7:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Passenger Acts

 

American ships were held to higher standards than British ships by the U.S. Passenger Acts, a set of laws passed by Congress regulating the number of passengers ships coming to America could carry as well as their minimal accommodations. Congress reacted to the surge of Irish immigration by tightening the laws, reducing the number of passengers allowed per ship, thereby increasing fares. America, congressmen had complained, was becoming Europe's "poor house."

 

British shipping laws, by contrast, were lax. Ships of every shape and size sailed from Liverpool and other ports crammed full of people up to double each ship's capacity. In one case, an unseaworthy ship full of Irish sailed out of port then sank within sight of those on land who had just said farewell to the emigrants.

 

During the trans-Atlantic voyage, British ships were only required to supply 7 lbs. of food per week per passenger. Most passengers, it was assumed, would bring along their own food for the journey. But most of the poor Irish boarded ships with no food, depending entirely on the pound-a-day handout which amounted to starvation rations. Food on board was also haphazardly cooked in makeshift brick fireplaces and was often undercooked, causing upset stomachs and diarrhea.

 

Many of the passengers were already ill with typhus as they boarded the ships. Before boarding, they had been given the once-over by doctors on shore who usually rejected no one for the trip, even those seemingly on the verge of death. British ships were not required to carry doctors. Anyone that died during the sea voyage was simply dumped overboard, without any religious rites.

 

Belowdecks, hundreds of men, women and children huddled together in the dark on bare wooden floors with no ventilation, breathing a stench of vomit and the effects of diarrhea amid no sanitary facilities. On ships that actually had sleeping berths, there were no mattresses and the berths were never cleaned. Many sick persons remained in bare wooden bunks lying in their own filth for the entire voyage, too ill to get up.

 

Another big problem was the lack of good drinking water. Sometimes the water was stored in leaky old wooden casks, or in casks that previously stored wine, vinegar or chemicals which contaminated the water and caused dysentery. Many ships ran out of water long before reaching North America, making life especially miserable for fevered passengers suffering from burning thirsts. Some unscrupulous captains profited by selling large amounts of alcohol to the passengers, resulting in "totally depraved and corrupted" behavior among them.


April 9, 2010 at 7:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Refuge in Britain

 

The poorest of the poor never made it to North America. They fled Irish estates out of fear of imprisonment then begged all the way to Dublin or other seaports on the East Coast of Ireland. Once there, they boarded steamers and crossed the Irish Sea to Liverpool, Glasgow, and South Wales. It was a short trip, just two or three hours and cost only a few shillings. Pauper families sometimes traveled for free as human ballast on empty coal ships. Others were given fare money by landlords hoping to get rid of them cheaply. Relief funds intended for the purchase of food were sometimes diverted to pay for the fares.

 

For many Irishmen, crossing the sea to England was a familiar journey since they regularly worked in the harvest fields of England as seasonal laborers. But for their wives and children, it was a jarring experience. Crewmen scorned and herded them like animals onto crammed decks until the boat was dangerously overloaded. In one case, a crowded steamer heading for Liverpool arrived with 72 dead aboard. The captain had ordered the hatches battened down during a storm at sea and they had all suffocated.

 

Despite the dangers, the Irish knew that once they landed on Britain's shores they would not starve to death. Unlike Ireland, food handouts were freely available throughout the country. The quality of the food was also superior to the meager rations handed out in Ireland's soup kitchens and workhouses.

 

The Irish first headed for Liverpool, a city with a pre-famine population of about 250,000, many of whom were unskilled laborers. During the first wave of famine emigration, from January to June of 1847, an estimated 300,000 destitute Irish arrived in Liverpool, overwhelming the city. The financial burden of feeding the Irish every day soon brought the city to the brink of ruin. Sections of the city featuring cheap lodging houses became jammed. Overflow crowds moved into musty cellars, condemned and abandoned buildings, or anywhere they could just lie down. Amid these densely packed, unsanitary conditions, typhus once again reared its ugly head and an epidemic followed, accompanied by an outbreak of dysentery.

 

The cheap lodging houses were also used by scores of Irish waiting to embark on ships heading for North America. Three out of four Irish sailing for North America departed from the seaport at Liverpool. Normally they had to sleep over for a night or two until their ship was ready to sail. Many of these emigrants contracted typhus in the rundown, lice-infested lodging houses, then boarded ships, only to spend weeks suffering from burning fever out at sea.

 

On June 21, 1847, the British government, intending to aid besieged Liverpool, passed a tough new law allowing local authorities to deport homeless Irish back to Ireland. Within days, the first boatloads of paupers were being returned to Dublin and Cork, then abandoned on the docks. Orders for removal were issued by the hundreds. About 15,000 Irish were dragged out of filthy cellars and lodging houses and sent home even if they were ill with fever.

 

By the fall of 1847, the numbers of Irish entering Liverpool had slowed considerably and the housing crisis abated. Glasgow, the second major port of entry, also resorted to deporting the Irish due to similar overcrowding and fever outbreaks. The Irish then headed into the Lowlands and Edinburgh where yet another fever outbreak occurred. Everyone feared fever and thus shunned the Irish no matter how much they pleaded for help. Working men also viewed them as rivals for unskilled jobs.

 

To avoid deportation, the Irish moved further into the interior of England, Scotland and Wales. But wherever they went they were unwelcome. For the unfortunate Irish deported back home, the worst was yet to come.


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:

* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór

PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850


April 9, 2010 at 7:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Name of ship Departure port Number of Passengers Death Sick

Bark Ellen Simpson

Limerick

184

4

-

Brig Anna Maria

Limerick

119

1

1

Bark Amy

Bremen

289

-

-

Brig Watchful

Hamburg

145

-

-

Ship Ganges

Liverpool

393

45

80

Bark Corea

Liverpool

501

18

7

Bark Larch

Sligo

440

108

150

Bark Naparima

Dublin

226

7

17

Bark Britannia

Greenock

386

4

25

Bark Trinity

Limerick

86

-

-

Bark Lilias

Dublin

219

5

6

Bark Brothers

Dublin

318

6

-


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:

* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór

PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850


April 20, 2010 at 11:02 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Statistics

 

Between 1846 and 1851, more than a million famine victims sailed to America. Simultaneously, the terror of the potato famine claimed a million lives. (Laxton 2) The emigration is a story of the bravery and determination of courageous Irish who crossed the Atlantic in leaky and dangerously overcrowded sailing ships. The Irish emigrant tale is one of strength and passion, of love and loss, of hope and despair.

 

By 1850, 26% of New York's residents were of Irish descent. It's believed that approximately seven million left Ireland in quest for America over the last three centuries. Currently, more than 40 million American citizens claim Irish blood. (Laxton 3) The ways in which these large numbers of Irish-influenced people have in turn influenced their various cultures and locations is incredible.

 

Since the sea was the single link to other worlds and opportunities, nearly five thousand ships ventured across the Atlantic with Irish emigrants during the six years of emigration during the famine. (Laxton 37) While in Dublin, we were able to see the Jeannie Johnston, which is supposedly the only ship during the famine emigration time period that did not lose a SINGLE person on board. The horrors of the time at sea are especially difficult to fathom.

 

Today's journey from Ireland to New York would take a mere 12 hours, so it's difficult for us to imagine the horrid conditions endured on famine ships, which sailed for at least 4 weeks and very often 6 or 8. It's shown in US immigration files that nearly 651,931 arrived on 2,743 voyages during the Famine period. However, only 325 ships made more than a single voyage. (Laxton 18) Many were destroyed in bad weather by means of capsizing from leaks or storms, and yet other crews simply gave up after the hardship of one journey. It took immense courage to pack up belongings and leave a beloved homeland for unknown destinations.

 

Those who arrived on America's eastern shore mostly settled in areas near to the port, especially in New York. There was a shocking average of 300 arriving each day for those 6 years. (Laxton 6)

 

Death toll is difficult to calculate. Lean estimates show that about 30,000 were struck with typhus. Only a third of passengers survived, but there were at least 20,000 deaths, and of these over 5,000 happened at sea. (Laxton 38) The role of clergy in both Ireland and on foreign shores was incalculable during this time, also.

 

Loss to Ireland

 

As a result of famine and ensuing emigration, there was a great loss not only to Ireland's population but to their entire culture as well.

The young men and women who emigrated would have been parents of a new Irish generation, thus an entire chunk of population was missed. Families were split. Granted, the voided generation grew up in other parts of the world and obviously have Irish blood wherever they live, but the country lacks their presence and their patriotism. Patriotism also greatly fades when millions of citizens leave. They take with them a great amount of energy and fervor while those they leave behind are stuck in the hardship and depression of the time. Religion is both lost and found; the Irish concept of religion was either forgotten by the emigrants once they left their homeland or it was transplanted in their chosen land and spread among those they met. But Ireland lost a great deal of religious profession in the priests, brothers, and nuns who did their best to preserve faith there. However, good faith was shown in the hope that these religious people passed on their knowledge and love of religion. In the quest for bigger cities and more countries and in desertion of country life and bleak lifestyle, Irish emigrants left their country as a haphazard, deserted, and cold place. The beauty and rich culture it was known for was dashed for a time as it was left by millions and forced to re-develop and prosper.

 

Oliver Goldsmith's poem "Deserted Village" says it well; Far, far away thy children leave the land,

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

where wealth accumulates and men decay (emigrate),

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them as a breath has made;

But bold peasantry their country's pride,

When once destroyed can never be supplied. (Brown 4)



July 5, 2010 at 1:44 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Ship Conditions

 

Small groups of passenger, in clear weather only, would be allowed to be on deck to breathe fresh air, wash their worn clothes and dirty bodies, and prepare rations that were still fit to eat. At all other times, the shipmates were forced to remain in the belly of the ship in absolute darkness. Obviously, storms brought waves and in turn seasickness, causing utter pain and horrible discomfort for all. The bunks, despite their smallness, were found to be more comfortable than the deck. Most time was spent on them. (Laxton 12-13)

 

There was variation in fares depending on season and comfort level. Cabin passengers paid 12 to 14 Euros or about 65 dollars but cabins weren't common even on the largest vessels. (Laxton 13) The voyage wasn't meant to be comfortable, rather it was meant to be efficient. The logistics of the emigration from Ireland must have been almost impossible to conceive. Officials wanted as many to survive as was possible, but there was only so much planning they could do to ensure health and safety on each voyage. They did their utmost to provide food and water for each passenger, but with millions of Irish to attempt to protect, the planning eventually becomes lacking.

 

A typical ticket for the voyage, from Londonderry to Philadelphia, purchased from either ship owner’s office, would state: (Laxton 28-29)

We engage that the parties herein named… will be provided with a steerage passage with not less than 10 cubic feet for luggage for each adult, for the sum of 4 Euros, including head money, if any, at the place of landing and every other charge. Water and provision according to the annexed scale will be supplied by the ship as required by law, and also fires and suitable hearths for cooking. Bedding and utensils for eating and drinking must be provided by the passenger.

 

Fog and wind were two of the most hazardous weather conditions for ships. Even extra look-outs were of little use in such dense mist and air. Fog was most dangerous when a ship was close to port or upon entrance of shipping lanes where crashes were a constant. Trying to steer when close to port and land was difficult since there was a lack of breeze to push the ship in. (Laxton 157)

 

In the first year of the Famine sailings, each week the ships were instructed to provide each passenger with 6 pounds of a combination of flour, bread, oatmeal, biscuit, rice, or potatoes. Anything else the passengers needed was to be provided themselves; one pound a day was only a tiny bit of protection against starvation. The acts were amended in 1849, three years after the first set of rules was decreed. The acts stated that twice a week, such things as molasses, tea, and sugar were to be rationed. Also, ship owners were required to provide more space for each passenger and the new rules said that beds should be 6 feet long and 2 feet wide, much improved from being a mere 20 inches wide

 

A Future in America

 

Most likely, Irish emigrants as well as all other emigrants perceived America as a land of plenty of work and money and food, a place where people had much purpose and didn't struggle day to day. This was the widespread belief of most. In truth, life in America was still a difficult, bitter struggle for the newcomers. There were cultural barriers such as language differences, climate adaptation, morality, laws and regulations, and more.

 

"The words of Stephen de Vere, a landowner in Limerick and a champion of the people, have been recorded many times. He sailed in steerage among emigrants to Quebec in April 1847. Later that year his evidence of suffering of Irish emigrants at sea was received in Parliament. “Hundreds of poor people, men, women, and children of all ages from the driveling idiot of 90 to the babe just born, huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart… living without food or medicine except as administered by the hand of casual charity, dying without the voice of spiritual consolation and buried in the deep without the rites of the church." (Laxton 59) In reality, the future of Irish emigrants was bleak even though they left a much more despairing country. Coffin ships were rightly named. Many a heart was depressed during the voyage, which led to psychological and emotion damage as much as physical deprivation. Theories concerning the mind's control over the body are worthwhile, especially in consideration of the torrid atmosphere that coffin ships beheld.

 

The President of Ireland, Dr. Mary Robinson, visited London in 1995 to remind their politicians that one and one half centuries had passed without any expression of remorse for the Famine. “It was the darkest moment in Irish history”, she said, “The Famine commemoration will also be important… that it does not simply open old wounds. Instead, if it were to foster a sense of historical reconciliation, a willingness to shoulder appropriate responsibility on both sides of the Irish Sea, and a capacity to express genuine regret for what was done or left undone, then the commemoration of the Great Famine would be a significant moral act of deep relevance to our bilateral relations.” Before she left, President Robinson added, “Even now, it is not too late to say sorry. That would mean so much.” (Laxton 38)

 

* Application to Tom Murphy's Famine

The great numbers of people wishing to emigrate during the famine proved to be extraordinary. There were more than one million Irish citizens who left their country in search of a healthier and more prosperous life. However, Tom Murphy's characters (Justice of the Peace, Parish Priest, a landlord, and a merchant) dictate their idea of sending a measly two to three thousand Irish famine victims overseas. Do they actually think that only that many are so needy of transplanting? Or are they hoping that by shipping the most starving and lacking, they will strengthen those left behind?

 

* Quote from Irish Emigrant Ballads and Songs, edited by Robert L. Wright. Bowling Green University, 1975



--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:

* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór

PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850


July 5, 2010 at 1:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Coffin ships: historical context

 

Not all the ships that transported Irish emigrants from their homeland to Canada and America were coffin ships. The term 'coffin ship' is reserved for those that set sail during the Famine of the 1840s, often unseaworthy and uncrowded and nearly always with inadequate provisions of drinking water, food and sanitation.

 

This is not to say that those vessels which carried their human cargo across the Atlantic prior to the Famine would have been comfortable, hygienic or safe. After all, the history of transatlantic passage weighs heavy with disasters of all kinds, from shipwrecks in storms to starvation and dehydration in becalmed conditions. Let's face it. The Ocean has always been a dangerous place.

But at the time of the Famine, when desperate and malnourished people were trying to flee poverty and starvation, the coffin ships represented the depths to which some people could stoop – whether through cynical disregard for life, pure greed or uncaring ignorance.

 

In 1845, potato blight seriously affected the potato harvest. For the majority of Irish people, this was catastrophic for the potato was their main, if not only, food. But their hunger was not to be alleviated any time soon.

In 1846, the potato crop was completely ruined and it was clear that the Government needed to act. Rather than provide food aid, Parliament introduced new taxes (which landowners would have to pay) to raise money for 'public works relief'. The latter was a two-pronged scheme. It created work for labourers so that they earn enough to feed their families with food other than potatoes. And it provided for workhouses to be built to house the absolutely destitute.

 

The gentry were more than a little alarmed since they could see this taxation level, which they considered onerous, continuing for years. Some decided to bring a conclusion to their local problems by removing the burden altogether: by shipping their tenants to North America. They calculated that the cost of transporting each individual was considerably less than supporting that person in the workhouse for a year.

 

And so the first ships were commissioned and set sail, loaded with human cargo, for British North America (Canada). Many of these vessels were overloaded. Each held an average of 300 persons, some two or three times the number that would have been allowed by a port in the USA, and some were not seaworthy.


September 29, 2010 at 8:23 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

 

Coffin ships: Setting sail in 1846/7

Up to the middle 1840s, ships from Northern Europe sailed only in spring and summer to ensure they avoided ice and bad weather on their transatlantic voyage.

 

But in 1846, the most severe winter in living memory, immigration ships continued to sail from Ireland. Most headed southwest, to US ports. Alarmed at the level of destitution and illness arriving with these vessels, the US Congress quickly passed two new Passenger Acts in order to make the voyage even more expensive. That following March, the minimum fare to New York rose to £7, an amount way beyond the majority of families facing starvation in Ireland. Even so, all tickets had been sold by the middle of April

That year, some 85,000 sailed directly from Ireland's ports in the south and west. Another 11,000 departed from Sligo while 9,000 left from Dublin and 4,000 crossed the Irish Sea to catch a ship from the English port of Liverpool. Who knows how many also sailed from Baltimore, Ballina, Westport, Tralee, Killala and other tiny fishing harbours, where the passenger acts were not enforced.

 

In time, these boats became known as 'coffin ships' because, as the Irish Times described, their passengers "were only flying from one form of death." While they may have left starvation behind, many of these passengers were already in extremely bad health after a year or more of inadequate nutrition and exposure to illness. With their physical state already desperate, the last thing they needed was to be crammed into overcrowded, insanitary conditions with hundreds of others.

 

Just one case of typhus, which was rampant among the poor at this time, could spread like wildfire in the conditions on the coffin ships, and many were to die before, or shortly after, reaching the other side of the Atlantic. Others drowned when their ships were overwhelmed by ocean storms or fell upon rocks.

 

The ships that survived the Atlantic crossing arrived at the quarantine station of Grosse Isle, the Canadian immigration point and depot set up in the Gulf of St Lawrence (Ontario) in 1832, to contain diseased immigrants to British North America. Statistics for just one month - July 1847 - indicate the horrors that were being indured. Ten vessels arrived that month; of the 4,427 Irish immigrants that had started their journeys (all had departed from either Cork or Liverpool), 804 had died on the passage while 847 were sick on arrival.

 

By the end of 1847, the awful toll could be calculated from the 200 immigrations ships that had made the crossing. Of 98,105 passengers (of whom 60,000 were Irish), 5293 died at sea, 8072 died at Grosse Isle and Quebec, 7,000 in and above Montreal. In total, then, at least 20,365 people perished (the numbers of those that died further along in their journey from illnesses contracted on the coffin ships cannot be ascertained) – one-third of each vessel's passenger list



September 29, 2010 at 8:25 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

The Ocean Plague - A diary of a coffin ship voyage

 

This book, subtitled 'A voyage to Quebec on an Irish Emigrant vessel', was written by Robert Whyte who sailed from Liverpool on 30 May 1847 as a cabin (ie first class) passenger. It delivers a graphic and uncomfortable account of the hardships endured by over 100 Irish passengers, most of them from County Meath and travelling at the expense of their landlord.

 

The book is highly recommended to those who wish to truly understand what their Irish ancestors endured when they left Ireland on one of the coffin ships during the famine. The full text is available free on Google Books. Here are two extracts:

 

Whyte describes the symptoms of what the emigrants called 'ship fever':"The first [symptom] is usually a reeling in the head, followed by a swelling pain, as if the head were going to burst. Next came excruciating pains in the bones, and then a swelling of the limbs, commencing withthe feet, in some cases ascending the body and again descending before it reached the head, stopping at the throat. The period of each stage varied in different patients, some of whom were covered with yellow, watery pimples, and other with red and purple spots, that turned to putrid sores."

Whyte recalls a passenger bewailing the folly that had tempted him to take his family on the voyage: "We thought we couldn't be worse off than we war; but now to our sorrow we knowt he differ; for sure supposin we were dyin of starvation, or if the sickness overtuk us. We had a chance of a doctor, and if he could do no good for our bodies, sure the priest could for our souls; and then we'd be buried wid our own people; in the ould churchyard, with the green sod over us; instead of dying like rotten sheep thrown into a pit, and the minit the breath is out of our bodies, flung into the sea to be eaten up by them horrid sharks."


 

Montreal's mass graves

 

The quarantine station at Grosse Isle, Newfoundland, Canada, was soon overwhelmed with the numbers of sick passengers crawling or carried off the coffin ships. It couldn't treat those that were ill, let alone provide for those that were not. So those that appeared healthy remained onboard their immigration ships and were simply waved on to Montreal. Unfortunately, many had already caught typhus – the fever that ran rampant on their overcrowded and dirty vessels – and they were to become ill further upriver. Soon, it was Montreal that was overwhelmed with the dead and dying.

 

Ten years after the year of the coffin ships, workers building the city's Victoria Bridge unearthed a mass grave containing the remains of about 6000 Irish immigrants. A 27-tonne granite boulder marks the spot beside the bridge's entrance where an annual ceremony remembers those who died escaping poverty and hunger.


September 29, 2010 at 8:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Coffin ships: legal standards, fares and conditions onboard

 

In the early 1800s,

Passenger Acts were continuously being introduced by the British Government, then relaxed, then reintroduced. They set the minimum standards that passengers could expect, and laid down penalties for ship-owners who did not comply.

 

The Passenger Act of 1842 was the one under which the Irish potato famine exodus took place. It stipulated that the height between decks, where emigrants lived and slept during their voyage, had to be at least 4 feet (120cm). No passenger deck was allowed beneath the water line and lifeboats were compulsory. In addition, a stock of medicines (but no doctor) had to be carried and minimum provisions per passenger were set at 7lbs of food weekly, plus 3 quarts of water per day.

 

Although this Act improved conditions in British ships, they were still inferior to the mimimum legal specifications in ships from the USA. But the object of the low standards was to keep the price of voyages to Canada down, and this was achieved. Crossing the Atlantic in an American ship to a US port was more expensive because their rules were stricter and passenger density was much lighter.

 

Conditions aboard the coffin ships were awful. The story of the Elizabeth & Sarah, which left Killala in May 1847, gives an idea of just how awful. The ship was 83 years old, having been built in 1763 for a legal maximum passenger load of 165 but it set sail with 276 who had to share just 36 berths. No food was given to the passengers on the voyage. They had to survive on what little (if anything) they had brought onboard. Their sole provision from the shipowners was a maximum of just two pints of water a day.

 

After a journey of 41 days, the vessel arrived in Quebec. All the water onboard was unfit to drink, and all the surviving passengers were starving. The ship's master plus 17 of his passengers had died on the crossing.

 

On some ships the death rate was 30% and more.

 

In response to the dreadful toll of the coffin ships, a new Passenger Act was introduced in the summer of 1847. Under this act, conditions were slightly improved, but still horrific.

 

The only space steerage passengers could call their own was a bunk which was to measure no less than 6ft x 18 inches that was to be home for the duration of the voyage which could last from 5 to 10 weeks. To keep costs down, these bunks were sized 6` x 6' and were shared by 4 people, often total strangers. The bunks were tiered. With little more than a few wooden slats and a thin layer of straw between the bunks, vomit and other fluid and matter could fall on those lying on the lower bunk.

 

In stormy weather sickness and dysentery was common so passengers often lay in their neighbours aa well as thier own vomit and excrement. Those on the lower tier also had to suffer the drippings from the bunk above.


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:

* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór

PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850


September 29, 2010 at 8:28 AM Flag Quote & Reply

You must login to post.