This is the first of 5 reports dealing with the conditions of Scandinavian emigrants traveling from
Scandinavian ports on the Wilson Line ships, to the Port of Hull. This first report is written by
Charles P Wilson, Principal Officer at the Marine Department, Board of Trade in England. It is
a report after he made a voyage on the S/S Angelo from Christiania to Hull in 1881 to observe the
arrangements made for the conveyance of the emigrants. The reports was provided by Debbie Beavis
- No. 1. -
The Principal Officer, London, to the Board of Trade.
Board of Trade Surveyor's Office
St Katherine Dock House
Tower Hill, London, E., 28 September 1881
I have to report, for the information of the Board, that in accordance with your instructions I
proceeded to Christiania, and on the 24th instant left that port in the S.S. "Angelo," with the
view of observing the arrangements made for the conveyance of emigrants from Norway to America,
via Hull, on the Wilson line of steamers.
On board the above-named vessel the emigrants were berthed in two different compartments, one
forward, the other aft. The after compartment formed a portion of a long poop, and was at the
extreme end of the vessel abaft the engine room. It is 47 feet long and 28 feet in mean breadth,
and is, after making legal deductions, capable of carrying, according to the scale for space in
the Passengers Act, 83 statute adults. The sleeping accommodation consists of two shelves on
each side of the vessel running the entire length of the compartment; these shelves have no
sub-divisions of any kind denoting the berthing space of each emigrant; they are f ft. 8 in.
wide, and have a substantial board eight inches high at the outer edge, and a similar board
against the iron frames of the ship's side, the vessel not being fitted with the usual cargo
battens. The shelves are supported on thoroughly substantial iron stanchions with cross pieces
between them and the ship's side, carrying the boards forming the shelf. The lower shelf is 15
inches above the deck; the interval between the shelves is 32 inches, and the upper shelf is 42
inches from the deck overhead.
The deck of this compartment was of iron, and the height between it and the deck overhead was 7
ft. 6 in. The compartment was well ventilated by the hatchway, 8 feet square, and by two cowl
ventilators, one in the fore part and the other at the after extremity; it was also amply
lighted by six scuttles on each side. There were two ladders, which came down the hatchway
abreast of each other at an easy angle. They were good and substantial, and were fitted with
hand rails and protected by large booby hatches on the weather deck; the ladders, however, were
not lined at the back. Although the compartment was a large, cheerful, well lighted and
ventilated space, the principal exception to be taken against it being the iron deck.
The compartment forward was a large 'tween deck, a portion of it, 60 feet long, or about
one-half, being occupied by the emigrants. The fittings were substantially the same as those
described above, but this compartment had a wooden deck.
The emigrants came on board at Christiania attended by the agent of the Atlantic line, by which
they would subsequently cross to America.
These agents look out that their respective parties have ample space, and apparently group them
on board the ship as much as possible together, the leading idea being to keep the families
together. In all there were men, women, and children on board equal to 167 adult emigrants, and
I may say at once that there was ample space for this number. They began to arrive between 2 and
3 p.m., and the vessel sailed at five. The police authorities were in attendance at the
gangways, and only allowed those on board who had tickets. Half an hour after the ship sailed
the emigrants had their first meal, consisting of coffee, bread, biscuit and butter, and as
darkness came on they went below and settled down for the night.
At midnight I went round the decks with the captain; they were well lit, and everything was
quite quiet. The first thing that struck me was the quantity of unoccupied space on the sleeping
The emigrants appeared to huddle together very much, and there was no attempt whatever at
undressing; in fact no effort was made to remove such articles as boots, and I noticed several
sleeping in their hats, caps and other head covering. One man had even a mackintosh on. I also
noticed that several of them laid at a slight angle, and not exactly across the shelf, but this
was doubtless due to the width of the shelf being insufficient for them to stretch their legs
out to their full length.
From the foregoing it will be gathered that there was no attempt at the subdivision of the
sexes, or even of individual berths, nor any curtain to screen the sleeping arrangements from
the central portion of the deck.
Breakfast was served out at 7.30 a.m., and consisted of bread and butter and coffee, with milk
and sugar for those who liked it, but some of the emigrants preferred salt; the quantity was
unlimited. The emigrants had the alternative of having biscuit instead of bread if they wished
it, with a raw salt herring if desired. Herrings in this shape are a national article of diet.
Dinner, which was served out at 11.30 a.m., consisted of soup, pea, or mixed vegetable thickened
with pearl barley and flour, a half pound of beef or mutton boiled in the soup, with a portion
in excess, in case it was wanted, potatoes, and bread or biscuit, in addition; also, a herring
Supper at 5 p.m. was the same as breakfast.
The food was well cooked, and good in quality. I tasted it on several occasions, and thought it
quite equal to the food supplied for emigrants on Atlantic lines. There was an ample supply of
water, and the emigrants could help themselves to as much as they required.
The privy arrangements of this vessel I consider to be the weakest point about her. They were
small, cramped, dark spaces, without water, those for men and women being close together, the
entrance in no way protected from the weather, and altogether more evil-smelling unsatisfactory
places it is difficult to imagine.
I certainly consider the closets for men and women should at least be on opposite sides of the
ship, and, where it can be managed, the entrance to the women's closet should be from below, so
that they should not be subject to exposure to the weather when visiting these places. It is
also most essential that all closets should be water-closets, with a constant supply of water
passing through them.
When the ship is carrying her full number of emigrants I doubt if there are privies enough
supplied, but on this point if there were four for the first hundred, and one for every fifty in
addition, it would be sufficient to meet the requirements of any number.
Lights and Night Inspections
At dusk the emigrant decks were lighted by an ample supply of lanthorns; the watchman went round
at the end of every hour to see that they were all burning properly, the officer of the watch
inspected the decks at the end of each watch, and the captain went round also at intermediate
and uncertain intervals.
The decks were sprinkled with carbolic acid, dusted with saw-dust. I should be disposed to
suggest the free use of sawdust with a little disinfecting powder mixed with it, and that all
emigrant decks should be swept out at least every morning. Sawdust is easy enough to get in
Norway and Sweden, and has a nice wholesome smell; that alone would go a long way towards making
the emigrants' decks more comfortable and cleanly in every respect; it also prevents messes that
are accidentally upset on the deck from adhering to it, and facilitates their being swept up and
disinfected by one process.
In the "Angelo" there was no attempt made to subdivide the sexes, but when at Hull I was taken
on board the "Orlando", another vessel of the same line that had just arrived from Gothenburg
with Swedish emigrants, in which case the single women were in a compartment by themselves aft.
I understand this arrangement is quite recent, and it remains to be seen how it will act, but I
should have supposed the separation of the sexes required by the Passengers Act would have been
preferable, viz: where the single men are separated and the single women left under the
protection of the married couples.
I now propose to show briefly on what points the practice of the trade falls short of the
requirements of the Passengers Acts.
1st. More passengers are carried than would be allowed by the Passengers Acts.
2nd. There are no berths in the sense contemplated by the Passengers Acts. The sleeping-shelves
are not up to the required length of six feet, and there is no sub-division of berths between
3rd. The water-closet arrangements fall far short of the requirements of the Passengers Acts.
4th. The iron decks are not sheathed.
5th. The single men are not separated from the rest of the emigrants.
6th. There are no hospitals, doctor, or other arrangements that would come under this head as
required by the Passengers Acts.
There are four suggestions I deem it necessary to make as essentially necessary for the comfort
and decency of the emigrants.
1st. All iron decks should be sheathed with wood.
2nd. All closets should be water-closets, with a constant supply of running water
The closets for men and women should be on opposite sides of the vessel, and the women's closets
should be under the deck or entered from below. The floors of the closets should not be covered
with gratings, but should be cemented, with grooves cut in the cement for carrying off any wet,
3rd. The backs of all ladders to be used by females should be lined with thick wood.
4th. The sexes should be sub-divided, to the extent of separating the single men.
In conclusion I may observe the voyage is so short that the requirements of the Passengers Acts
are scarcely applicable, much less the still more advanced practice of the Atlantic trade; the
emigrants being all of one nationality are not strangers to each other in language, or in
manners and customs, and they appear to settle down, and to help each other, far more than is
seen in the mixed crowds that cross the Atlantic.
At the same time it must not be overlooked that this passage was made at the slack season of
the year, when the comparatively few number of emigrants on board did not give me a really
satisfactory opportunity of judging whether they were overcrowded, a charge which has been made
so frequently as to be almost considered one of the characteristics of the line. I would,
therefore, suggest that the voyage should be repeated in the first week of May next year, as
that, I am informed, is the most busy emigrant season, and also that the next trip should be to
Gothenburg, from which place the largest number of emigrants embark.
I would suggest that a copy of this report should be sent to the owners, so that it may be seen
to what extent the suggestions made above, if approved by the Board, have been adopted; and,
finally, I am of opinion that if these suggestions are carried out in full, they cover almost
all that can reasonably be expected, taking into consideration the whole of the circumstances of
I have, &c
(signed) Charles P Wilson,
The Assistant Secretary,
Marine Department, Board of Trade
MERCHANT SHIPPING (SCANDINAVIAN EMIGRANTS)
RETURN to an Order of the Honourable The House of Commons dated 14 July 1882;- for,
COPY "of REPORTS received by the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board relating to the
Transit of SCANDINAVIAN EMIGRANTS through the Port of Hull, and to the arrangements for Feeding
and Lodging them while there".