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1847 Famine Ship Diary. The journey of an Irish coffin ship

by Robert Whyte



Pagina 12 - 29 December 2018
Many and deep are the wounds that the sensitive heart inflicts upon its possessor, as he journeys through life's pilgrimage but on few occasions are they so acutely felt as when one is about to part from those who formed a portion of his existence


Pagina 13 - 29 December 2018
It was a charming morning on which I left dead old Ireland.


Pagina 20 - 29 December 2018
They were chiefly from the County Meath, and sent out at the expense of their landlord without any knowledge of the country to which they were going, or means of livelihood except the labour of the father of each family.


Pagina 29 - 29 December 2018
I was surprised how famished men could so patiently bear with their own and their starved children's sufferings


Pagina 31 - 29 December 2018
our helpless human cargo


Pagina 32 - 30 December 2018
One of the women was every moment expected to breathe her last and her friends - an aunt and cousins - were inconsolable about her as they had persuaded her to leave her father and mother and come with them.


Pagina 34 - 30 December 2018
It seemed miraculous to me that such subjects could struggle with so violent a disease without any effective aid.


Pagina 35 - 30 December 2018
Although a well informed and intelligent man, he was very superstitious. But it is not uncommon for sailors to be so.


Pagina 38 - 30 December 2018
The sails were again set to the breeze and we were once more gliding through the water, the momentary commotion soon settling down into the usual insanity.


Pagina 39 - 30 December 2018
The phosphorescent appearance of the ocean at night was very beautiful. We seemed to be gliding through a sea of liquid fire.


Pagina 40 - 30 December 2018
Some entire families, being prostrated, were dependent on the charity of their neighbours, many of whom were very kind, but others seemed to be possessed of no feeling.


Pagina 48 - 30 December 2018
An unbroken stillness reigned around as if nature were at rest after the storm of the previous day and our brig lay almost motionless upon the water.


Pagina 52 - 31 December 2018
These are miracles, which men,
Cag'd in the bounds of Europe's pigmy plan,
Can scarcely dream of; which his eye must see,
To know how beautiful this world can be.
- Moore


Pagina 65 - 31 December 2018
the account they gave of the horrid condition of many of the ships in quarantine was frightful. In the holds of some of them they said that they were up to their ankles in filth. The wretched emigrants crowded together like cattle and corpses remaining long unburied - the sailors being ill and the passengers unwilling to touch them.


Pagina 68 - 31 December 2018
As from the wing no scar the sky retains,
The parted wave no farrow from the keel,
So dies in human hearts the thought of death.
E'en with the tears which nature punished
O'er those we love, we drop it in their graves.
- Young


Pagina 69 - 31 December 2018
O God! May I never witness such a scene as that which followed: the husband, the only support of an emaciated wife and helpless family, torn away forcibly from them in a strange land; the mother dragged from her orphan children that clung to her until she was lifted over the bulwarks, rending the air with their shrieks; children snatched from their bereaved parents who were perhaps ever to remain ignorant of their recovery, or death. The screams pierced my brain and the excessive agony so rent my heart that I was obliged to retire to the cabin where the mistress sat weeping bitterly.


Pagina 71 - 31 December 2018
one of the sailors who was with the boat told me that after the grave was filled up he took the shovels and placing them crosswise upon it, calling heaven to witness said, 'By that cross, Mary, I swear to revenge your death - as soon as I earn the price of my passage home, I'll go back and shoot the man that murdered you and that's the landlord.'


Pagina 72 - 31 December 2018
It was indeed a busy scene of life and death.


Pagina 73 - 31 December 2018
O the tender ties,
Close twisted with the fibres of the heart,
Which broken break them, and drain off the soul
Of human joy; and make it pain to live.
- Young


Pagina 74 - 31 December 2018
In the early part of the voyage I observed the unfilial conduct of a boy who frequently abused and even cursed her mother, following the example set by his wretched father. On one occasion his hand was raised to strike her when his arm was arrested by a bystander, but the poor woman begged of the man not to punish him and wept for the depravity of her son. It was she who was now being carried to the boat while the boy who cursed and would have stricken her, clung to her, crying and imploring her blessing and forgiveness but she was unable to utter a word and, by an effort, raised her arm feebly and looked sadly upon the afflicted boy who seized her hand and bathed it with his tears until he was torn away and she dropped into the boat which, a moment after, rowed off. I felt much for the poor fellow who was conscious that he should never again see his mother for there was no hope of her recovery and I little thought that any one could be so heartless as to aggravate his sufferings as did two or three women who surrounded him, one of them saying, 'Ha! You villain there's the mother you abused and cursed, you rascal! You may now take your last look at her.' He followed the boat with his eyes until it reached the shore when he beheld the inanimate figure borne to the hospital. It was evident from the poignancy of this sorrow that his heart was not depraved but that his conduct arose from education.


Pagina 75 - 31 December 2018
The mistress was quite overcome by the expressions of the poor creatures' gratitude for her unceasing and otherwise unrequited attention and benevolence.


Pagina 75 - 31 December 2018
I had become so habituated to misery, disease and death that the happiness that now surrounded me was quite discordant with my feelings.


Pagina 77 - 31 December 2018
Sail on, sail on, thou fearless bark,
Wherever blows the welcome wind;
It cannot lead to scenes more dark,
More sad than those we leave behind.
- Moore


Pagina 78 - 31 December 2018
It is surprising that there is no regular communication between the island and the city during the summer season, but in winter it is easy of access over the frozen river when the inhabitants convey their produce to market.


Pagina 85 - 31 December 2018
One of the Quebec physicians says that mortality among the physicians during the past season has been greater than it was during the Cholera.


Pagina 86 - 31 December 2018
he read a list of the names of several persons (emigrants) who were separated from their families and who took this method of endeavouring to find them out. The Rev. gentleman also acknowledged having received several sums of money remitted from parties in Ireland to friends in ┬░Canada, amongst which he said were some without signatures, and one of these was directed 'To my Aunt Biddy', upon which his Reverence remarked that people should be more particular where money was concerned.


Pagina 87 - 31 December 2018
several families have caught the infection from having admitted emigrants into their houses.


Pagina 88 - 31 December 2018
These wretched people were flying from known misery into unknown and tenfold aggravated misfortune.


Pagina 88 - 31 December 2018
The unwarrantable inducements were held out to many I am aware, causing some to leave their homes who would not otherwise have done so. They were given to understand that they would be abundantly provided for during the voyage and that they were certain of finding immediate employment upon their arrival at a dollar per day.


Pagina 89 - 1 January 2019
I would not be supposed to think that the medical officers situated there [at Grosse Isle] did not exercise the greatest humanity in administering their disagreeable duties which consisted not in relieving the distress of the emigrants but in protecting their country from contamination.


Pagina 91 - 1 January 2019
There is no means of learning how many of the survivors of so many ordeals were cut off by the inclemency of a Canadian winter so that the grand total of the human sacrifice will never be known but by 'Him who knoweth all things'.


Pagina 95 - 1 January 2019
It required but little argument to induce the prostrated people to accede to their landlors' proposal by quitting their poverty-stricken country for 'a land flowing with milk and honey' - poor creatures, they thought that any change would be for the better. They had nothing to risk, everything to gain. 'Ah, Sir!,' said a fellow passenger to me after bewailing the folly that attempted him to plunge his family into aggravated misfortune, 'we thought we couldn't be worse off than we war but now to our sorrow we know the differ for sure supposin' we were dyin' of starvation or if 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 along 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.'


Pagina 96 - 1 January 2019
My heart sickens when I think upon the fatal scenes of the awfully tragic drama enacted upon the side stage of the Atlantic Ocean in the floating lazar houses that were wafted upon its bosom during the never-to-be-forgotten year 1847.


Pagina 98 - 1 January 2019
fighting for months of unutterable wretchedness against the elements without and pestilence within


Pagina 99 - 1 January 2019
The black hole of Calcutta was a mercy compared to the holds of these vessels.


Pagina 99 - 1 January 2019
Yet simultaneously, as if in reproof of those on whom the blame of all this wretchedness must fall, foreigners - Germans from Hamburg and Bremen - are daily arriving, healthy, robust and cheerful.


Pagina 99 - 1 January 2019
The vast unmanageable tide of population thus thrown upon Montreal, like the fugitives from the bloody defeat or devastated country, has been greatly augmented by the prudent and we must add, most necessary precautions adopted in time by the United States, where most stringent sanitary regulations, enforced by severe penalties, have been adopted to save the ports of the Union from those very horrors which a paternal government has suffered to fall upon Montreal. Many of these pest ships have been obliged to alter their destination even while at sea, for the St Lawrence.


Pagina 99 - 1 January 2019
Historians and politicians will some day sift and weigh the conflicting narratives and documents of this lamentable year and pronounce with or without affectation, how much is due to the inclemency of heaven and how much to the cruelty, heartlessness or improvidence of man.


Pagina 100 - 1 January 2019
resulted in the immediate sacrifice of upwards of 25,000 souls, four-fifths of whom fell upon their way to Canada.


Pagina 100 - 1 January 2019
it may be thought that the immolation of so many wretched starvelings was rather a benefit than a loss to the world. It may be so. Yet, untutored, degraded, famished and plague-stricken, as they were I assert that there was more true heroism, more faith, more forgiveness to their enemies and submission to the Divine Will exemplified in these victims, than could be found in ten times the number of their oppressors.


Pagina 104 - 1 January 2019
This claim that impersonal economic forces, not British colonialism, lay behind the suffering and death is untrue. [From Appendix I]


Pagina 105 - 1 January 2019
The greatest tragedy of the 1847 famine was that it never should have happened. [From Appendix I]


Pagina 105 - 1 January 2019
They were starving from an artificially created famine [From Appendix I]


Pagina 105 - 1 January 2019
This was an immigration of mass expulsion, not of free choice. [From Appendix I]


Pagina 105 - 1 January 2019
The ships [...] having unloaded their cargo of wood, they reloaded with a cargo of humanity [From Appendix I]


Pagina 105 - 1 January 2019
There are no accurate accounts of the numbers buried at sea but it is commonly accepted that from Ireland to Grosse Ile, in the ocean graveyard, bodies could form a continuous chain of burial crosses. [From Appendix I]


Pagina 107 - 1 January 2019
Those who were criminally responsible for this human holocaust teach us that there is no limit to human depravity when man is motivated by greed, wealth, power and prestige. [From Appendix I]


Pagina 112 - 1 January 2019
He [Montreal's most distinguished citizen, Mayor John Easton Mills] was at the sheds every day, sometimes for hours on end and was often seen at the bedside of a dying emigrant administering the greatest of all possible relief - human comfort. [From Appendix II]


Pagina 112 - 1 January 2019
Silent thousands, non-Catholics as well as Catholics, were on the sidewalks to pay their tribute to the memory of a man whom they revered as a saint, a scholar, a friend and an outstanding citizen of their community. [From Appendix II]


Pagina 116 - 1 January 2019
We found these unfortunate people in the most deplorable condition for want of necessary nurses and hospital attendants; their friends who had partially recovered being in too many instances unable and in most, unwilling, to render them any assistance, common sympathies being apparently annihilated by the mental and bodily depression produced by famine and disease. [From Appendix III]


Pagina 117 - 1 January 2019
Frs Moylan and O'Really saw the emigrants in the sheds lying on the bare boards and ground for whole nights and days without either bed or bedding. Two, and sometimes three, were in a berth. No distinction was made as to sex, age, or nature of illness. Food was insufficient and the bread not baked. Patients were supplied three times a day with tea, gruel or broth. How any of them ever recovered is a wonder. [From Appendix III]


Pagina 117 - 1 January 2019
Fr O'Really visited two ships, the Avon and the Triton. The former lost 136 passengers on the voyage and the latter 93. All these were thrown overboard and buried in the Atlantic. [From Appendix III]


Pagina 122 - 1 January 2019
thousands of immigrants, the Irish particularly, who died on the doorstep of their new homeland. [From Appendix IV]


Pagina 124 - 1 January 2019
Typhus, also known as 'ship fever' [From Appendix IV]