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The voyage of the Sirius - 1866

February, 2005 - Valdres Samband -

The following accounts from the voyage of the Sirius from Bergen to Quenbec in 1866 are reprinted with the kind permission of Valdres Samband. They were first published in "Budstikken", December 1980, and "Budstikken" December 1981. There were were references to the voyage in the "Valdres Samband 1899-1974", drawn from an earlier record in 1914 in the magazine "Samband". The accounts were made available by Mrs. Harold J. Thompson of Brainerd, Minnesota. The second mate, Axel Smith's account was provided by the Norwegian Shipping museum in Oslo (Norsk Sj°fartsmuseum).

The Sirius was a three-masted vessel with square sails on the two foreward masts [a bark], built in 1865 at Brevik near Skien. The owner was P.L. Lund, a prominent merchant and ship owner in Arendal. The Sirius was owned by Johan Kloker of Arendal in 1896 when she was wrecked at Three Island (Russian Lappland) on a voyage from Hull, England to Archangel on the White Sea of Russia.

Captain E.O. Knutsen was master of the Sirius from 1865 to 1869, according to Baard Koltveit, curator of the Norwegian shipping museum. In sending the second mate's story to Mrs. Thompson, the curator commented, "It is a rather unique account, as few seamen have given such eye-witness stories from emigrant trade."

Report of the voyage by second mate, Axel Smith:

When we were ready at Portsmouth (England) we sailed for Cadiz with a load of freight and then took a load of salt to Bergen.

There we loaded some freight and made ready to take emigrants to Quebec. The middle deck [between deck] was altered to take care of this. A Floor was installed, bunks were built fore and aft, each to accommodate three people. On each side of the ship a private toilet with room for one was provided, a wooden board trough emptied from this into the ocean. A compartment was constructed of boards and equipped with three small stoves for cooking. A large water tank was built in an under deck, a considerable amount of stove wood and some coal was taken on ship.

Between deck

Whether passengers or the ship underwrote this cost I never learned but I did understand a passenger paid only 15 speciedollar (one spd equaled a little more than an American dollar) for passage. We normally had three boats (life), a large boat and a pram in case of bad luck. On this occasion an extra boat was obtained, but had we been forced to leave ship there was not enough room for all.

The ship had nothing to do with provisions, each passenger or family provided their own which were individually prepared when needed. Three pieces of wood and three small pots of water were issued each day per passenger and I remember a large cask of water stood on deck for drinking, this was rationed and I was responsible for this.

Provisions carried by the passengers consisted of flatbread, dried and smoke beef, cheese of various kinds, coffee and some had large pans of milk that became quite sour as the trip progressed.

I do not remember the number of emigrants (there were 235 souls on board) but all the bunks were filled. Most of these people came from Hallingdal or Valdres. They boarded the evening before Easter and we were schedule to sail the next morning.

When morning came many of the ship's crew were missing and the captain went to the Bergen police and demanded his men be arrested and brought aboard. The police chief decided it would be poor policy to arrest anyone on a holy day, and advised him to send out the mate in search, so when the captain returned, I was ordered to go out and bring the men aboard as quickly as possible.

I walked the streets in hopes of seeing them with no luck. There was a dance hall named "Westindien" near the ship. I found the establishment and after pounding on the door for some time it opened and a lady carrying a broom appeared with a demand to know what warranted this noise and fuss on the morning of a holy day. I told her of hunting members of the ship's crew and described them as best I could. "We do not hold house for drunken sailors," she said, "our guests are from better people, officials, preachers and such. If you are looking for sailors you will likely find them in the knotbetangen (my dictionary of Norwegian translates this to mean a fine-speaking house of ill fame)" and she slammed the door.

I had heard of this place but had no idea as to location and kept wandering around until I met a policeman to whom the predicament was explained. It made me happy to learn that he had seen the men within the last hour, that they were slightly inebriated but were heading for the ship. On my return there was another unhappy situation aboard ship. Several of the emigrants had brandy with them and during the wait had begun drinking. Some had more than they could handle, were staggering around deck offering drinks.

The captain took quick effective action regarding this. All brandy was confiscated and placed in a sail compartment from where it was dished out frugally. The owner could have one dram a day, except in event of illness. There was not a great deal of brandy amongst the passengers and the captain took the position, that the sooner it was consumed the sooner the trouble would end. Stomach ache was considerable those first few days but seemed to end when the brandy was gone.

We prepared to sail. Passengers' belongings were placed under the middle deck except what was needed in daily living.

About two days out at sea we sailed into a heavy storm. It became necessary to cut sail, we reduced to two and made fast. Prior to going aloft, the ports to the middle deck were covered and as preparations for the storm took some time the situation below deck had changed. Passengers were for the most part very sea-sick, vomit was everywhere, several bunks had torn loose and together with passengers' belongings were rolling from side to side as the ship leaned. There was crying and complaint from the ill people. The crew cleaned the deck somewhat and after a few days the emigrants became acclimated to the sea.

There were a good group, were of considerable help when needed, and several of the men wished permission to go aloft.

When the weather permitted there was dancing on the deck each evening. No one had an instrument but there was singing and clapping of hands. A most popular melody was "Flikkorna skal himma vaera, vi skal ud og brandvagt gaa." A couple more lines and the girls were given a powerful swing.

We were about half way across when a 70-year-old passed away. He had sailed with the intentions of living with a son who had emigrated earlier, but the radical change in living had proven too great.

Preparations were made for burial, the body was sewn in an old sail, a stone from the ballast room was attached and all was ready. All passengers were ordered on deck and arrangements made for singing the hymn, "Who knows when comes my end." The captain appeared dressed in his Sunday best, with a black kerchief wrapped around his neck and carrying the ritual book under his arm.

All sang, the captain read the ritual and prayer, a second verse of the hymn and the old Valdres man's body was delivered to the sea. During the evening came my turn at watch and I entered the conversation with several emigrants. An elderly lady was quite concerned that no earth was used during the burial. I explained the captain had forgotten this provision at Bergen, and she appeared satisfied.

A short time later a young mother gave birth on ship. There were may other women aboard, many volunteered to help, and all went well. A few days later mother and child were on deck in the sunshine, accepting good wishes from all, and what few delicacies on hand there were added to the little party.

After about six weeks of sailing, the ship reached the quarantine station outside of Quebec. All were in good health, with a birth offsetting the death, the same number of persons report as aboard.

The captain was not a popular man. I remember he never said a kind word to either the crew or myself and had several uncomfortable moments with the former. He had little time for emigrants, would not permit the crew to aid any cleaning. This he said was the passengers' responsibility, a duty for which they had no equipment. Consequently the middle deck was not as it should be.

The doctor came aboard and gave a good examination to all. Emigrants received a two days' quarantine with instructions to the captain that unless a general clean-up took place the ship would be held in quarantine. We cleaned all decks and received permission to proceed.

On coming to Quebec we found the "Feniers" in full activity. Large groups of patriotic Irishmen from the states were arriving, all intent on stirring their country brethren in Canada to a fever pitch. As most of our passengers were destined for Minnesota and other mid-western states and railroads were filled with soldiers heading for critical points, we were obliged to hold the emigrants for two days more.

During this time they received permission to go ashore and a small steam boat was provided for transportation, ashore in the morning and back at evening. In the city the emigrants met others who had crossed on other ships.

Alcohol had been consumed and several had bad manners on their return. First they had a clamour with part of the crew, then several came aft for a talk with Captain Knudsen. He had locked his door and retired so it became my duty to pacify these people and with small success. The clamour became louder and several fights erupted.

Near us at the time was an English battleship at anchor. Our captain finally came out and called to the English ship, and asked for help.

The following day an agent for the railroad came aboard with news that the train was ready. Tickets were issued and in the afternoon we said goodbye to our passengers. Our small differences were forgotten and we parted friends. The crew gave them a loud "Hurrah" which was answered and they were on their way.

There had been some differences between us and our passengers, the greater part of which was not their fault. They were right in expressing their feelings as things could have been handled better.

As a class the Hallingdalers and Valders folk were fine people. All over Norway they had what schooling was provided plus ground learning of the Lutheran church. All could read and write, and most knew enough geography to know where they were going.


Budstikken December 1981:

Through the courtesy of Tess Lundby, Moorhead, Minnesota, Budstikken is able to expand on the story of the voyage of the ship "Sirius (Budstikken December 1980). Previously, Mrs. Harold J. Thompson, Brainerd, Minnesota submitted the ship's passenger list and the diary of the ship's mate. The book "Valdres Samband 1899-1974" also had several quotes from passengers.

Mrs. Lundby's information comes from the diary of an ancestor, Store Ola (Big Ole) Nilsen, born Gudmundsrud. In the ship's passenger list he is called Sergeant O. Nielsen, the first name on the lists. He was accompanied by his wife Anne and son Niels. According to Store Ola's story the said sailed from Arendal April 27, 1866, anchoring at Quebec June 9. The ship's captain was C.O. Knudsen, the passenger list numbered 235. The mate's diary listed the captain as E.O. Knudsen, the port of departure as Bergen. A story by a passenger Siri Lee, quoted in "Valdres Samband 1899-1974" says that two passengers died on the journey and one was born. Store Ola's diary notes: "May 6. During the night a woman from Valdres gave birth to a girl child. Both are doing well." May 13. At 4 p.m. Mrs. Olaug Raspergaarden died and was buried at sea. A stone was tied to her feet and she was cast overboard. Lord receive her spirit!" "May 31. About 8 p.m. Knud Markegaard died, about 70 years old. Yesterday he seemed to be well. He lay in the bunk below us so it was an uncomfortable experience for us. But he died quietly so we can hope that God was merciful to his spirit. His body was cast overboard the same evening." The mate's diary mentions a 70-year-old Valdres dying when half way across but the passenger list gives Olaug's address as Gol, Knud as Hemsedal.

Store Ola confirms encountering storms on the sea. On May 1 he notes that the ship "Martha", which left port at the same time, was sailing with the "Sirius." By May 10 they had sailed 250 nautical miles and were at 56th latitude; on the 13th they had sailed 350 nautical miles and were at the 53rd latitude.

Store Ola seems very religious and mentions there was no entertainment aboard. On the other hand, the mate mentions, "When weather permitted there was dancing on deck each evening."" A passenger related, "By Syttende Mai we were half way across the sea, and a dance was demanded." Store Ola says, "There was NO celebration of Norway's Independence Day. We are now half way across the Atlantic.

Caps Are Blown Away

His diary mentions sighting whales and other vessels. On May 15 he lost his cap. Three days later he states, "The 17th cap went today" - an indication of the continuing winds. Some of the winds were severe too, and on May 19 part of a mast was observed, floating on the waters. On May 22 he saw an immigrant ship, "Possibly the "Fido", which sailed from Bergen two days before the 'Sirius'."

About noon June 3 they saw the mainland of America and it was about time, "for many passengers are beginning to run out of food." It was a week later, June 9, "at 2:30 p.m. we cast anchor at the quarantine place three miles before Quebec. At 8 p.m. a doctor came on board with the result that Ola Rodningen and family and Ole Toreson and family were required to go ashore for medical treatment of their children." Ole Toreson must be the Ole Toreson Hus in the passenger list. Both families were from Aal.

It was June 18th that a steamboat took the emigrants ashore at 3 p.m. and that evening they boarded a train which brought them to Montreal the next morning. But all was not well with the company; the child of Ole Rodningen died and was buried at Kingston on June 20.

The group arrived at Toronto the morning of June 21. "At the next stopping place we stayed twelve hours because of derailment. Nobody injured. We nearly lost Ole Underaasen twice - first he fell from the train and was close to being crushed between railroad cars and then he landed in a river but was able to get himself out. I saw it happen and finally got the train stopped so Ole caught up with us again. We were told that one Norwegian was crushed by the train the previous week", wrote Store Ola.

"On June 22, about 12 noon we arrived at Sarnia at the end of Lake Huron, and there boarded a big steamboat. More than 300 passengers crowded between trunks and wood piles. But we felt quite secure because the train had been an old shaking thing giving us a terrible experience."

At 3 p.m. June 23 they arrived at Mackinac and the following evening at Milwaukee where they "slept on the ground." June 25 they saw the town, "bought clothes for five specie dollars from a Jew. Saw our first Indians - six of them begging. There were not particularly nice looking. At 4 p.m. we boarded a train and the interpreter left us having been with us since Quebec."

Reach the Mississippi

At 8 p.m. June 26 they arrived at Prairie du Chien. This was the western terminal of the railroad for here was the Mississippi river. Store Ola related that many left to go by steamboat to Lansing and to Missouri. He and others went by steamboat over to McGregor, on the west side of the river, and later on, proceeded up to Winneshiek county, Iowa.

In addition to the diary of his trip Store Ola's writings included a letter to his parents, written on board the ship at Bergen April 22, several days before sailing. Many of the passengers were aboard a week before sailing and were already seasick before departure. At the time the letter was written they were awaiting the ship, "Abraham Lincoln" to load 182 Valdres and Hallings who were to come from Laerdal in a large Danish ship. Although Store Ola Nielsen mentions many companions by name they are invariable his Halling compatriots and not the Valdres. Yet they all shared the same experiences.

His letters home to Hallingdal are full of optimism and promise as he obtains land. He builds up his herd of cattle ands fathers a large number of children. But adversity strikes as grasshoppers consume his crops, children become ill and die, land he had counted on doesn't become his. He moves from Iowa Luverne, Minnesota and in the end lives at Bemidji, Minnesota form which his last letter was written in 1910.

The Sirius passenger list 1866

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