Friday, March 23, 2012

The Terrible Turmoil Upon the Seas

Revisiting that newspaper article that had Agnes Tully Stevens so concerned about what became of her grandfather, I feel the need to pause and contemplate just what insanity must have possessed our immigrant ancestors. To choose to face what seems like near-insurmountable perils in their chosen journey reminds me that the cost of remaining behind must have seemed magnitudes worse.

Consider this: the ship that Agnes’ grandfather, Stephen Malloy, traveled on was a packet ship launched barely a year prior to his voyage from Liverpool to Boston in February, 1849.  That sailing vessel, the Anglo-Americano, measured a mere one hundred fifty feet in length. It was one of five packet ships built by the shipyard of Donald McKay for the White Diamond Line, Enoch Train’s Liverpool-to-Boston route marketed primarily to immigrants.

Perhaps it was of no consolation to Agnes to know that the Anglo-Americano was not the one of the five—the Ocean Monarch—that was doomed to sink, aflame, off the shores of Wales, taking down nearly half of those on board in its demise. Nor was it any encouragement to know that another of those five of McKay’s packet ships—the Washington Irving—became the one that transported Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather to this nation’s only Irish Catholic president, to his new homeland in Boston. The bottom line for me: the Anglo-Americano, itself, was not immune from problems. Not more than 18 months after Stephen Malloy set sail from Liverpool, trouble aboard the Anglo-Americano due to a sudden shift in wind carried away the main top-mast, causing the drowning of six of the crew.

To get a grasp on the size of these packet ships, just knowing the numbers describing the dimensions does not do service to my mind’s eye. Seeing a visual representation helps me get a better idea of what I call the insanity of such journeys. Thanks to Iggy, one of this blog’s readers and a research contributor, in addition to providing many of the links included in today's post, two artists' conceptions of what the Anglo-Americano actually looked like can be found here and here.

Quite plainly, they are of a size that I might not mind boarding for a trip across a small lake. An ocean—even such a lesser one as the Atlantic—would be out of the question. If it were left to me, I’d be back in Ireland, starving.

Above: Samuel Walters, oil on canvas, 1850, Burning of the Ocean Monarch, which occurred August 24, 1848; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. All our ancestors were incredibly bold. That so many were so young when they embarked on their journey is perhaps one explanation why they dared--young people aren't truly aware of consequences. For many, it worked out wonderfully. For others--disaster. But many felt they had no choice. Lucky for us, they did it. Thanks for the nice comment on my blog post about the interview!

  2. I was reading about 2-3-4 month voyages, where people didn't bathe, change clothes, had a bucket (or over the side) for waste, and how many of the youngest didn't make it, succumming to illnesses and they too, went over the side, since they couldn't be buried.

    Our ancesters were a very hardy lot - we've gotten so spoiled.

  3. I suspect many had parents encouraging them to set forth, even if they would have preferred to stay home. Few parents want to watch their children starve, and they would have had a clear understanding of the future at home.


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