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FREE PASSAGE TO NORTH-AMERICA - On the S/S Manchester Shipper in 1902

March 2005 - by Trond Austheim and Børge Solem -

"There was cheering and shouting like on no earlier emigrant ship departure"

In 1902 several thousand people were witness to the departure of one of the most spectacular crowds of emigrants ever to have left the port of Kristiania. This happened when almost 500 young Norwegians boarded the "Manchester Shipper" at Vippetangen for a free passage to Canada.

The background for the event was a growing dissatisfaction with the social conditions in Norway. The times were not good, and it was a growing problem with unemployment. On the other side of the Atlantic times were much better, and there was a great demand for laborers. Circumstances like that led to an increase in the numbers of emigrants, as many wanted to look for better conditions and a more prosperous future in North America. A ticket from Norway to New York could be purchased for just over 100 Norwegian Kroner, while an average annual income for a male servant in the cities was about 300 Kroner, and in the rural districts about 220 Kroner. To put aside money for the ticket could be hard for an ordinary laborer, but almost impossible for an unemployed person, and they were often dependent on sponsors or others to help them with loans to pay for the passage.

"Congressman Eddy, of Minnesota, is Very Busy Over in Norway Just Now"

In 1894 the American industrialist, Frances Clergue, expanded his business with investments in the Sault Ste. Marie area in Ontario, Canada. In 1898 rich iron ore was discovered in the area. A railroad was needed to transport the iron from the mines (Helen Mine) to the harbor at Sault Ste. Marie, (where a steel mill was also planned). With the economic aid of the Canadian government, Clergue constructed "The Algoma Central Railway Company" in 1899. The Algoma area reaches from Nipissing's western border to the eastern border of Thunder Bay. The Canadian Pacific Railway's main line passed through the area, see the map below.

Ontario with Algoma - Fronm "Atlas over Western Canada, Utgivet paa foranstaltning af Hon. Clifford Stifton, Indreminister, Ottawa, Canada," Norwegian edition (ca. 1904)

The area was not heavily populated, and it was a problem for the Algoma Company to get enough laborers for all of their activities. It was necessary to recruit labor from other places, and that was quite a challenge, as times were good in America and there was a great demand for workers.

There was an anticipation that Scandinavian emigrants would be better fitted to cope with the tough climate in the area, than would most other nationalities, and the management of the Algoma Central decided to inhabit the areas along the railroad from Algoma to Sault Ste. Marie with Scandinavian immigrants. The intention was to start by establishing a settlement at Goulais Valley. In a newspaper article, the Algoma Central management was commended for their wisdom in importing Norwegians and Scandinavians for settlement along their line: "A new country that can induce such people as these to take up homesteads for themselves on its vacant lands will be the richer for it in after years. They come of a sturdy stock and being of good moral character and industrious, they make the best of citizens."

The goal was to get about 2000 workers for the Algoma project. It has not been clarified if the Canadian government was taking part in financing the recruitment and transportation of the new immigrants, but it is suggested.

The company then engaged Frank Eddy to help recruit the Scandinavians. Mr. Eddy was a representative for the State of Minnesota in the Congress from 1895 till 1903, and the adventure with Clergue was to create quite some problems for him later.

In the spring of 1902 the Norwegian-American, Eilert Kofoed, arrived in Kristiania as the company's agent. He had previously been the Register of Deeds in Pope County from 1887 till 1896, and from 1897 till 1898 he was the private secretary for Congressman Frank Eddy. He had also worked as a postmaster at Glenwood, Minnesota. According to Ulvestad, he probably arrived to America from Norway with his family from Kristiansund in 1880. As a part of his work to recruit the workers he printed ads in the Kristiania newspapers. The announcement below was printed in the "Social-Demokraten" on March 5:

"Free Passage to North America and guarantied good paid work is now offered to men who can and will work. As only a limited number is required, those who wants to take advantage of this offer, should immediately address the Algoma Commercial Company's representative "E. Koefod", who will soon be at "Raadhusgaden No. 14, II", where more information will be provided."

On March 6 a crowd of people gathered at the office at Raadhusgaden No. 14, II to learn more about the free passage and the conditions. It soon became clear that those who wanted to take advantage of the offer had to sign contracts to work for the company, and this created some commotion. According to the law about conveyance of emigrants "lov om befordring av emigranter til fremmede verdensdeler" from 1869, it was illegal to offer such contracts.

Paragraph 6 in the "Law concerning control of conveying emigrants to foreign destinations":

    The agent is to produce a written contract for each emigrant that includes specific and detailed information concerning predetermined conditions about the manner and to which destination the emigrant and his clothing shall be transported, whether the, and the extent to which the shipping line is obligated to maintain the emigrant if the ship, because of misfortune, should have to remain in port, or his further transportation in case of shipwreck or if, for health reasons, he be unable to complete the journey, as well as what compensation of the emigrant is paid or shall be paid. Any other conditions, that for practical reasons should be given further clarification, shall be left up to the King to determine. Any agreement that the journey be paid for in total or in part by the performance of labor following arrival at the foreign destination is null and void, and will result in a fine for the agent in accordance with paragraph 10. The contract shall be presented to the Chief of Police and must bear his signature, the document then being handed over to the emigrant who, if possible, should personally be present to receive it.

On March 14 the newspaper "Social-Demokraten" wrote an article about the conditions: "The Canada offer - Conditions. "The contract which the workers who accepts the Algoma Commercial Company's offer, are invited to sign, would be illegal in the United States from the beginning to the end. Thus is the company's representative the chairman in the Committee on Mines and Mining in the United States Congress.

According to the newspaper the contract terms and the working conditions were so bad, and the daily payment so low, that there would be no worker in Canada or in the USA that would sign on. The working hours each day was set to 12 hours, and the workers would be obliged to go where ever the company demanded, to the factories, mines, woods or any other place to work. The company could also decide if the work should take place during the day or night.

Another condition was related to the purchase of land from the company, it stated that if a man purchased woodland from the company, it should buy the lumber at fixed prices, and according to the newspaper they were not very good. The company claimed that a man with two half-grown sons could make 1000 dollars a year on lumbering, but payment for a cord of wood was only $1.25, and critics doubted if that was possible. The most peculiar condition was the company claimed the right to hire workers out to other companies outside the Algoma company area. The newspaper wondered if it would not be tempting for the company to hire workers out to corporations in Michigan, and by doing that displace expensive American workers.

Eddy's agents ran into trouble and sent a telegram to Eddy, saying that he had to come over to Norway. The trouble was probably related to the conflict between the law and the contracts offered. According to C. J. Hambro, the Norwegian government was "in on the project", and it is tempting to think that the American Congressman had something to do with that. On March 26 Kofoed was authorized by the Kristiania police to convey emigrants. A bail of 20 000 NOK was placed as a security in the "Centralbanken". The authorization was by "Franco - Canadian Steam Navigation Comp", valid for 6 months for conveyance of passengers from any part of Norway to Quebec or Halifax, and from there to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada.


In the following days some 512 young men signed up for the company. The average age was only 24 years, and even though more then 200 was listed only as "laborers", all kinds of professions were represented. You had all what you needed to start a small community, except the women. A Kristiania newspaper wrote:

"Without exemptions they are all men in their best age. The huge "million dollar company" in Canada has taken advantage of the bad economy here. They have been spreading adverts, and 500 unemployed, but strong men have accepted the terms, despite of knowing that they are entering a new and very hard life. But the temptation of a free voyage across the ocean was too much and they accepted the offer and signed their contracts for 1 year. We have spoken to several of these Canadian emigrants. One must not think that they are tramps or a bunch of bad people. The emigrants we talked to said that they would rather be slaves in the mines for one year than going round being unemployed here. It will be a hard year for them, as they are well aware of, but when the year is over they expect to have earned 50 - 60 dollar, and they will be free to go the United States."

Large amounts of people was patiently waiting for the Manchester Shipper to arrive on Saturday the 6th of April, but had to give up and return to their homes. The next day, at 5 o'clock in the morning the ship finally arrived and docked at the new pier at Vippetangen, a few days delayed. The ship arrived from Antwerp with about 300 Italian laborers aboard. These had been admitted space in the forepart of the ship. The newspaper wrote "It sets our minds to the ancient huge amphitheater, just that the scene was the ships deck and the audience, at a number of about 12.000 was crowded together on the pier, on the logs tacks and the hills of crushed stones all over Vippetangen and on the ramparts. As one should expect when 500 men in their twenties are leaving, the girlfriends were strongly represented among the farewell-taking crowd, and one should be tempted to believe what one jokingly said, that the 500 men must have at least 5 girlfriends each, according to the large number of young girls on the pier". The Italians had been sitting around on the lifeboats playing cards, and entertained the spectators by throwing biscuits and orange peal on them. Then one of them got the not so good idea of throwing a rotten orange as a weapon which hit one of the people on shore in the middle of the face so the rotten juice sprayed around. This gave the signal to an attack from the boys on the pier. The Italians were bombarded with snowballs and ice. They managed to throw on shore a case of rotten oranges before they went out of ammunition, and they had to take cover down under deck.

Italian emigrants Two of the Italian emigrants on the manchester Shipper, caricature by the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang in 1902

The Kristiania health commission inspected the room where the Norwegians were supposed to be accommodated. Due to this the departure was delayed.

The next day new crowds of spectators went down to see the ship depart. They were disappointed as the departure was delayed again. The Italians did all what they could to entertain the crowd. They were all badly dressed in their tattered clothing, and their looks in general did not give a good impression. None of the passengers were permitted to go ashore they all stayed on the foredeck. Most of them had taken their blankets up on deck and wrapped them around their bodies in spite of the warm spring sun. The people on shore were throwing tobacco and other small gifts up on deck, and the Italians fought as animals over these things.

The Norwegians had been told to meet at the pier at 10 AM, and the examination and registration of men and luggage started. By 2 PM the registration was over, and the boarding started. As they boarded the ship they were inspected by the state physician, who stopped every one of them and to their surprise ordered them to open their mouths wide and stick their tongue way out. The faces many of them presented as a result of this order were entertaining, but the physician removed their fear that something bad should happen with his warm smile. "So this is the way a medical inspection on an emigrant ship is conducted - the meat control" one of the guys jokingly called it. Just behind the state physician a representative from the bible association was standing, he was giving out an example of the Gospel according to Luke, and one prayer-book, which some of the emigrants thought was an example of the Canadian Constitution, to each of the emigrants. By 4 PM the boarding was finished.

After coming aboard they spread with their belongings, some went down to their departments and stayed there, but the majority, who had been drinking alcohol before boarding, gathered by the railing or entered up in the rig. Then started the singing, yelling and shouting, to an extent so no one could hear his own voice. Most of the emigrants were ordinary laborers from Kristiania. There were also some that in the last minute were hindered from going. A young wife ran aboard in a furious state and demanded the police to help her search for her husband, who she claimed was hiding on the ship with the intention to abandon "his country and beloved friend". By the help of the police she succeeded in finding her husband hiding in a hole down in the ship, and with a triumphant smile to her face she dragged her husband ashore. Before the Norwegians came on board the 300 Italians had the entire ship to them selves, they did actually not represent a very pretty sight, but they were a lively crowd. But from then they became silent. They gave up their choir and became listeners.

That the boarding of so many persons could happen without some kind of problem was not to be expected. It was not permitted to bring booze on to the ship, but despite of that there was plenty, and the effects of this did not fail to come. After a while fighting broke out and knives were used. An Italian passenger was badly beaten and had to be treated by the ship's physician, while a Norwegian was so seriously injured that he was brought ashore for treatment at the Piperviken police station,. He had from what an eyewitness reported two deep and quite serious stabs in his lumbar regions and 5 less serious wounds. The police physician was fetched and the man treated and brought to his home in Kristiania. He probably did not travel to Canada.

Manchester Shipper
S/S Manchester Shipper at the Vippetangen pier in 1902

At 7.45 PM the Manchester Shipper set out from the pier. During the 15 minutes it took the tug to get the ship out from the pier the air was filled with a newer ending stream of hoorays and chanting from those on board, while among the crowd on shore the mood was rather depressed. The Manchester Shipper blew her sirens and fired 6 rockets as she slowly glided out on the harbor. But the crowd on shore remained silent. Out on the bay the Manchester Shipper anchored, and in the beautiful spring like evening, a lot of small boats surrounded the vessel, as many wanted to greet their friends a last farewell. Then several of the Norwegian emigrants started to climb down to the small boats, the police on the ship could not do much and one after another the small boats came to the pier full of emigrants. Some jumped on to the tug, and came ashore again. According to the newspaper about 50 of the Norwegian emigrants managed to get back on shore. Some of them flew, other went to the police station and demanded better security as they did not feel safe on the ship. Captain Goldsworth on the Manchester Shipper announced that he would sail as planned, even if the passengers had not returned to the ship again. However, the departure was delayed for some time.

The Manchester Shipper was quite a new ship, launched in November 1899 by Irvine Shipbuilding Company in West Hartlepool for the Manchester Liners. The ship was chartered to the Franco-Canadian Steam Navigation Co., in 1901 for three transatlantic voyages; the one from Kristiania was the second. The ship had a gross tonnage of 4,038, a length of 113 meters and a beam 15 meters. It was not an impressively big ship compared to the transatlantic liners of the Cunard Line, like Saxonia and Ivernia, both more than 14,000 gross ton and length of 177 meters, and the White Star Line's S/S Celtic which had a tonnage of 21,035 gross, and length of over 207 meters. The crossing on the Manchester Shipper was not much of a pleasure according to letters from the passengers with more than 750 passengers, it was quite crowded. The passage took 2 weeks from Kristiania to Quebec, the Manchester Shipper doing a maximum speed of 12 knots. The conditions on board did not look too bad according to the newspaper. There were compartments for 8 persons with two berths in height. Every passenger was given one mattress of straw and one wool blanket. The rest they had to provide for themselves.

The food was as on most emigrant ships consisting of 3 meals a day. Breakfast of coffee and bread, butter and sugar, dinner: salted or preserved meat, soup, vegetables and bread. One of the passengers who wrote back home said the weather had been nice, but the food was not edible. The menu did not fall in taste to the Norwegians. For breakfast at 8.00 AM they received a small slice of bread without butter, and a cup of cafe. For dinner at 12.00 PM they had pea porridge and a piece of pork at the size of a finger, some timed with potatoes. For supper at at 6.00 PM they had some "grayish water" which was called tea and biscuits and a microscopic lump of butter. The red wine that had been promised they did not see any of, but those who had money could buy wine for 1 Norwegian Krone a liter. In the afternoon you could also buy pie for 1 NOK a plate. It was also told that there were hordes of lice on the ship. Supplies were not taken aboard in Kristiania as ship had already bunkered. Among the supplies were; 1600 kilogram salted meat, 1000 kilograms of flesh, 200 kilograms preserved and canned meat, 100 barrels of biscuits, 600 barrels of flour, 60 sacks of potatoes and so on. It also had 5200 liters of red wine, 240 bottles of Geneva (strong liquor), 960 bottles of beer and cigars.


In Canada the company's immigration agent, Mr. T. S. Atikins, was waiting for the Scandinavian settlers in Halifax with great expectations. It is must have been quite a disappointment to him when he met the rough crowd. The Norwegians had created a great deal of trouble on the ship. Two days before the ship arrived at Halifax, the Norwegians had demanded the captain to turn the ship back to Kristiania. However, in the morning of March 21 the ship docked at Halifax. The 384 Italians were immediately brought ashore and conveyed inland to their destinations in Western Canada and Sydney. The ship landed about three hundred tons of cargo in Halifax, principally glass.

The Norwegians and Swedes were to forward to Saint John by the ship. The Halifax Immigrant agent had nothing whatsoever to do with them and they were supposed to remain on board until the ship was ready to proceed to Saint John. They all came ashore however, and made things lively about the street during the afternoon and evening. Many of them didn't know the full strength of the whiskey sold in Halifax, and as a result got outside of more of the stuff than was good for them. Under its influence they made things exceedingly lively on Upper Water Street and several of them found their way to the Police Station with the assistance of "some of the finest". One fellow, who exercised his muscle on the glass in an Upper Water Street saloon, was gathered in about 10 o'clock. They were one of the roughest crowds ever brought to Halifax and the Captain of the steamer was not over anxious to take them any further.

On Tuesday, April 22, an extra train departed from Halifax with the Scandinavians for Sault Ste. Marie. The train departed at 01.30 AM, carrying a total of 467 passengers. The voyage to Sault Ste. Marie took 3 days and the passengers had all they needed with good food and nice treatment. According to one of the passengers it must have been a way of making up for the bad conditions they had on the transatlantic crossing. When they arrived at Sault St. Marie most of the immigrants boarded a big steamboat which belonged to the Algoma Company. There were served coffee and nice sandwiches. For dinner they were served sausages, beef and dessert. According to a letter sent from Helen Mines by one of the Norwegians, several 100 men had stayed behind in Sault St. Marie, and about 80 were working on the railway about one hour from Helen Mines.

In a letter sent back by one of the emigrants he tells about the work: "I have already been out working for a few hours, but then we had to cut, as it was snowing too much to work. I already have 3 large blisters inside my hands after the pickaxe and spade; I'm in the mine lifting [ore] on a trolley with 3 others. There were only 20 of us who came up here, but there were about 100 men here before, French, Italians, Swedes and a couple of Danes, but they only speak English. We get 2 dollars a day as the others, but we have to buy our own food which is 4 dollars and 50 cents a week. The foreman says the contract is not valid here and that we are free to leave whenever we want. The lodging is good, we are 4 men in each room, and there is a blanket for each bed, so we are not cold. The company has a great store here, and we can buy all kinds of things on a credit, yesterday evening I bought a blue jeans ands a jacket for 1 dollar and 75 cents. We don't get more for a dollar here, then for 1 Krone at home. There is not any liquor or beer to get here.

The newspaper in Sault Ste. Marie, the Sault Star, also made a notice about the arrival of the Norwegians, and on May 1 they wrote:

"I hope that these Scandinavians will as far as possible replace the Italian labour, employed on construction work here. The former aspire to become citizens in the land of their adoption, while the latter only calculate upon remaining here until such time as they have sufficient money saved up to make them a little competency at home. In this respect they are about at evens with the "heathen" Chinee, for they live upon a mere pittance, and remit to their relatives in 'Sunny' Italy all that they are able to salt out of their wages. Comparing the relative capacity for work between the two races, railway contractors and other employers of labour agree that two Northmen are worth at least three Italians. The Dago may be willing to do his best, but he is not possessed of nearly the same physical stamina. His forebears were not meat eaters, and for generations perhaps they had lived almost as beggars, content if they had sufficient to keep mere soul and body together."

However, the Norwegians did not turn out to be a very stable labor. Three months after the arrival there were only about 50 workers left. According to C. J Hambro, the wages were $1.50 per day, and the ticket was 125,- NOK, and was to be paid little by little during and agreed period of time. According to the Norwegian newspapers most of the Norwegians went across the border to the USA, partly because of the bad conditions, and partly because they were not paid. The Algoma Company said they would not recruit any more workers of the same type as the ones from Kristiania, as they had not at all behaved well.


In March 1902 the Algoma Company, which was part of a larger consolidated company, had financial problems. In December they had to refinance by taking up a loan of $3,500,000. The loan helped to keep things going for a while longer. By September 1903 the company could not pay the workers wages. The company's financial situation was out of control, with too many expensive projects at one time. Most of the activities of the company had to be stopped, and the workers were rioting because they did not get their payment. On September 27, in the morning, several mobs of angry workers from the surrounding districts enter the city center of Sault St. Marie, and gathered outside the general offices of the company in Huron Street. Laborers from the factories joined the lumber and railway workers and attacked the building by throwing stones and other objects. The local police, aided by the companies own police force and armed citizens could not stop the riot. The number of angry workers grew by the hour. When the authorities learned about the riots they decided to send 362 soldiers from Toronto to help the police to stop the riots. Fortunately, when the soldiers arrived the next day, most of the workers had left the town, and all was calm.

Frank Eddy, Congressman The Algoma Company agent, Congressman Frank Eddy, caricature by the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang in 1902


Frank Eddy was born in Pleasant Grove, Olmsted County, Minnesota April 1, 1856. In 1863 he moved with his family to Iowa, but they later returned to Olmsted County. After Eddy had finished his education in 1878, he worked as a teacher in Filmore, Renville and Pope County. In those places there were many Scandinavian settlers, and it was probably how he became familiar with the Scandinavian language. This was probably a great help for his political career later in his life. In 1883 he started working as a land examiner for the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and in 1884 he entered into politics. In 1894 he was elected to the congress for the first time as a representative for Minnesota.

The involvement in the Algoma project seems to have created some trouble for Eddy. The newspaper "Social-Demokraten" writes an article about "Kanadafarernes chef, Mr. Eddy." on May 10. 1902:

"Departed without permission from the Congress to lure Norwegians to America". The "Decorah-Posten" reports: "The Congress representative for Minnesota's 7th district, Frank M. Eddy has been absent for some time. In the house he has not been seen, and not on the streets of Washington. Where has he been? The answer to that question was just clear this other day. Two officials from the Indian Department went to his house in Washington to find out, so they asked for him in connection to the case concerning the opening of the Chippewa Indians reservation in Minnesota. When they came into the house they met Eddy's little son. "Where is your dad?" they asked. "Oh, he is over in Norway", the boy replied, "we just had a telegram from him". In that way the cat was let out of the bag - Oh those kids!, yes those kids! It is now informed that Congressman Eddy lasts summer made an agreement with a land company to bring Norwegian and Swedish families, or singles, over to America. They are to receive 160 acres each in the northern Minnesota on certain conditions. Mr. Eddy sent two agents over to Norway, whereof one is Mr. Koefod, who was earlier his private secretary, but is now the postmaster of Glenwood. The agents ran into trouble and sent a telegram asking Eddy to come over to Norway. He was not very keen on leaving Washington; but there was no other solution. In secrecy he applied for a 30 days leave. When the Morris case was up they telegraphed him in Kristiania to get his approval."

Eddy, who was the chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining in Congress, declined a re-nomination for Congress in 1902. He worked as editor and was the owner of the "Sauk Centre Herald", after he left Congress. From 1907 until 1914 he was a member of the "Minnesota Immigration Bureau". He was active in the Minnesota politics until his death in 1929.


What happened to the Norwegians from the Manchester Shipper voyage? Where did they go? The St. Alban's Lists show that they crossed over to the USA one by one, most of them with only a few cent in their pockets. And what was the truth about Mr. Eddy's involvement - was there a second agenda with a land company in North Minnesota? Who had the greatest loss - the Canadian Government or Clergue? Do you know the destiny of any of those young men? if you do, we would be interested in knowing about it. See the passenger list for the Manchester Shipper in 1902 (only the passengers from Kristiania)

- Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten - April 7, 1902
- Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten - April 8, 1902
- Sault Star - May 1, 1902
- Sault Star - April 3, 1902
- Sault Star - April 17, 1902
- Sault Star - May 1, 1902
- Halifax Herald - Tuesday April 22, 1902
- Halifax Morning Chronicle - Tuesday April 22, 1902
- Halifax MORNING CHRONICLE - April23, 1902
- Norwegian newspaper, Social-Demokraten March 3, 1902
- Norwegian newspaper, Social-Demokraten March 14, 1902
- Norwegian newspaper, Social-Demokraten May 7, 1902
- Norwegian newspaper, Social-Demokraten May 10, 1902
- Christiania politikammer; Forvaltning - reisekontroll, journal over emigrasjonsagenter I 18.05.1867-03.01-1919
- Lov om kontroll med befordring av utvandrere til fremmede verdensdeler (May 22, 1869)
- Atlas over Western Canada, Utgivet paa foranstaltning af Hon. Clifford Stifton, Indreminister, Ottawa, Canada, Norwegian edition (ca. 1904)
- Nordmændene i Amerika, Martin Ulvestad
- Amerikaferd - av emigrationens historie, C. J. Hambro 1935
- North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P.Bonsor, vol.3,p.1262
- Digitalarkivet: Emigranter over Kristiania 1871-1930
- U.S. Congressional Delegations from Minnesota -From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: web page (
- Minnesota Progressive Men published 1897 by The Minneapolis Journal
- The Collapse of the Clergue Industrial Empire: web page (

Thanks to Sue Swiggum and Marian Smith for doing research and working with us on the subject in 1999

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