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The Michel Rentz account of the 1868 Hannah Parr crossing

Translation and notes copyrighted 2000 - Clair O. Haugen. All rights reserved.

From a version published in "En emigrants reise," Gausdals-minne (vol.2, 1987) Translation and notes copyrighted 2000 Clair O. Haugen. All rights reserved.

Michel Rentz This is how Michael Rentz looked at about the age when he wrote the voyage account. It hangs over the dining room door in the house he built in Wisconsin. The original photo was retouched with chalk and charcoal.

Michel Rentz and his brother Christian were passengers on the Hannah Parr when it sailed to America. Michel Rentz was 22.

On the 8th of April, 1868, Easter Sunday [1], at four o'clock in the morning the anchor was raised and sails hoisted in Christiania harbor and with a ringing hurrah the fateful ship Hannah Parr glided out through the beautiful Christiania fjord. We had unusually clear sailing until the 28th of April and were in mid-Atlantic. There a terrible hurricane hit us which lasted over 24 hours. At night we lost the foremast and the top of the main mast with a frightful crash, and the steering gear was so damaged that it flopped about loose. At that time we were completely at the mercy of Fate. The next day the vastness subsided so that those who could peek out through what lay about were struck by a sad sight. All that could be ripped loose had gone overboard. The sails that remained on the yards were so shredded that they were just narrow ribbons. Some old sail was patched together and hung up, but the helm and everything so dangled that we could barely sail before the wind. The wind and weather then turned in our favor, and after eight days we neared the Irish coast and soon took a line on board from a tugboat to tow us through the approximately 90 mile length of the divinely beautiful Shannon estuary to the city of Limerick, and there we laid up for repairs.

Limerick is a very large city with not much ship traffic, and it was something altogether fantastic for the people to see a docked emigrant ship. We were heartily dejected, and when the better class of the people found us worn out in every way, they competed with each other to do good things for us. There were various parties in churches and theatre and often small socials in private houses. Also we had several excursions out into the country side by train. One Sunday we had one particularly long excursion to the country, where upon a high hill with a fine view of the fair landscape a celebration had been arranged. In that place there happened one somewhat droll episode. Just as we were on the verge of needing refreshment, some man came hauling along a great keg of porter. A fine gentleman (said to be a professor at the college) met him with a mallet and tap and wanted to help open the keg. But probably he was a more experienced professor and drawing room tea server, for just when he drew the bung from the keg, the porter took to the air and sprayed the professor so thoroughly with foam all over that he looked just like a snowman. Shame to say, we were shameless enough to have a good laugh at the professor's expense.

After seven weeks' delay in Limerick we drew out from the dock because of the state of the water [2] and then were towed far out into the estuary and lay at anchor. There we remained for eight days to take on provisions. At that time everything was made fast and cleared away so that one fine afternoon we could lift anchor and hoist sail to set out again on the journey. But Fate willed it differently. In their enthusiasm one whole group of the young people wanted to be of assistance in hoisting sail, but due to a mistake of the sailors the great yard on the main mast did not run entirely free, and the force pulling at it broke the yard across, so the anchor had to drop again. Here the captain's patience also broke. He was as a matter of fact a fairly good natured man, but then for a moment he was not truly sweet at close quarters for either crew or passengers.

The vessel was soon repaired, and the next day the anchor was raised and sail hoisted in earnest, and then at last we said farewell to fair Ireland and their cozy and good hearted people. Certainly all Hannah Parr passengers developed a fondness for the Irish people for all the good they showed us, and God help anyone who lets slip something disparaging about the Irish in presence of a Hannah Parr passenger.

Having come good and well out from the Irish coast, many of the passengers fell ill of typhoid fever. But through the energetic effort of our official doctor, the kindly, helpful, always clever Nicolai Bruun (later the well known Pharmacist Bruun of Chicago) it was possible to restrict the sickness to two or three deaths. To my best recollection there were in all 14 deaths during the entire journey, most of them children. [3]

We noticed soon after departing Ireland that unwelcome small creatures had come on board; they became more and more bothersome, and they organized themselves so rapidly that their total grew surely into the millions. During the trip we had passably good times, but under the circumstances everything was gloomy and unpleasant.

After about five weeks' sailing, we finally approached Grass [Grosse] Isle, the quarantine station, where we stayed for a few days. There nothing of consequence occurred with the exception that a passenger boy about 20 years old drowned while swimming. Also there arose a bitter war with these "little ones" (in the Canadian language called "graybacks" [lice]). That some of them escaped with their lives and remained permanently it is indeed true, but where they settled is unknown to me. Since then I have taken care not to admit the like to my inner circle of acquaintance.

We finally were through with quarantine and approached Quebec City, where we dropped anchor. Here we ran into another unexpected misfortune. There was just put into force a law that no one could come into the country with less than the means required for continuing to the States. [4] Here was a pretty situation, costly for the captain. He had carried many of the passengers for provisions the whole time since we lay in Ireland and now he stood where he could not put them ashore. He tried as hard as he could to do something, but there were many that took advantage of the opening to have free provisions and free passage. That hung for several days and no one could go ashore. In response some of the passengers became impatient and wrote to the consul, asking for the reason why they could not go ashore when we had passed quarantine and had the means to travel on. The letter was pressed on the serviceable Dr. Bruun when he became the first who could go ashore. It did not take long at all before the captain came back appearing quite grim and said, "Now you may go ashore as much as you want; take advantage of the favor."

Nothing was said concerning how it was resolved, but the general conclusion was that a contract was made for the entire "herd," and the price was set as high as possible for those who had money. For the rest the captain had to pay out.

The next day was the last. Everybody disembarked, and in a downpour we had to tramp in the mire down a difficult road to the boat that was to take us further. There we were shown to a place on the deck, where the mud was so deep that a person needed to have high shoes to keep it from going over the tops. I have often seen writing about the journey from Quebec City to Chicago by steamboat and train via Montreal, Hamilton, Sarnia, and Detroit, and there are complete descriptions of the treatment we had. The captain accompanied us to Chicago and tried to do what he could to get something back of his outlay, of which, to be sure, he had gotten nothing. I saw one person offer him a fur robe, probably with a full crew, and another offered a pack with a dirty shirt inside, etc. There were many that treated the captain very badly.

In Chicago the whole flock spread out like chaff before the wind, and I have heard nothing more about most of them. Some of us continued to travel to Decorah, Iowa, and when we arrived there we had used up precisely 22 weeks in the journey from our home in Gausdal, Gudbrandsdalen.

Enclosed is a friendly greeting to all friends and special greetings to Hannah Parr passengers.

Michel Rentz
Westby, Wisconsin


[1] Easter Sunday in 1868 was on April 12, and that was the date of sailing. April 8th was advertised as the date for boarding. The present name for Christiania is Oslo.

[2] Approaching neap tides would shortly have made it impossible to pull away into deep water. See the Berge diary entry for May 11.

[3] That year, 337 German and Norwegian/ Swedish emigrants who set out for Quebec died during their voyages (2.48%). All but 26 were children. In contrast, the mortality rate for emigrants from the United Kingdom was .06%.

[4] In previous years, it had been Canadian policy to fund inland passage for indigent emigrants, including those headed for the United States. In the short haul this was to keep them from becoming beggars on Canadian streets, but as part of a broader strategy, it was to make Canadian ports more appealing to ship owners, who might otherwise sail to New York.

An added incentive was Canada's need for immigrants in its westward expansion. However, most Norwegians could not be induced to settle in Canada, and on May 4, 1868 the Canadian government at last told the Norwegian consul in Quebec it would stop what amounted to a subsidy for United States immigration. (A similar notice went to the Prussian consul.)

Unfortunately, the new policy was not announced until after many of the 1868 emigrant ships had already put to sea. To worsen the situation for Norwegians landing in Canada, their consul ruled in June that his government would not be responsible for indigent emigrants. Because of these policies and with the added expense of the Limerick layover, some Hannah Parr passengers were hard pressed financially.

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