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The horrifying voyage on the Valkyrien from Bergen to Quebec in 1873

by C. K. Fjærestad - Translated and edited by Børge Solem in 2000

The following description is based on a voyage account from 1873, written by C. K. Fjærestad. It was printed in "Nordmæmdeme i Amerika, deres historie og record", Minneapolis, Minn 1907. Translated by Børge Solem in 2000. I have tried to conserve some of the characteristics of the way the story was told when translating it. Some details in the Fjærestad account have bee left out. Other details have been filled in based on contemporary articles in the newspapers. *Distances in the article is given as "miles", but it does not say if this refers to a Norwegian mile or English mile. (1 Norwegian mile = 10 kilometers, 1 English mile = 1609 meters). The actual distance between Bergen and Marstenen is just about 5 Norwegian miles. Other distances given must obviously be in English or Nautical miles. According to the passenger list the Valkyrien was carrying 302 passengers, 222 adults, 69 children and 11 infants. The Fjærestad account says 303 passengers and 15 crew. The Grosse Ile report says 302 passengers and 16 crew. She left Bergen in ballast.

When the bark Valkyrien started her journey in 1873 she was a 4 year old ship. That year she was mastered by Capt. Andreas Møller of Grimstad. It was the first time for him to sail with emigrants. 1st mate was Christian Krøger of Arendal. The ship departed Bergen at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on April the 25th, 1873, it was a Friday.

The Valkyrien was towed by a small steamship to Marstenen, 5 miles* outside Bergen. Joachim Hansen, Meier Monsen and Schrøder of the emigration company, followed them out, and returned back to Bergen on the steamer.

The emigrants had celebrated their last day in Norway by eating a very rich supper, consisting of peas, grain and boiled pork. As soon as the Valkyrien entered the North Sea, it started rolling. The result was that the pork and grain decided not to come across the North Sea with the emigrants, and most of it left the ship long before they had lost the sight of the Norwegian mountains. All along the deck people were sick, delivering what they had eaten to the sea. From all ends one could hear Dø,døø.

Not long after the emigrants had installed themselves aboard the ship, some of them became aware that they had someone among them, with longer fingers than they should have. The first day after the ship had departed Bergen, it was reported to the captain that some of the passengers had already lost belongings, even though it had been kept under double lock in the larder (in the hold). Only the officers on board had the keys to the larder, and it was only opened once a day, so that the passengers could get their provisions out for the coming day. If you had your own key, it would be possible to open another man's chest while the larder was open, even though there was a guard present. It would then be possible to steal other passengers butter, bread and meat among other things. Just before this was reported to the captain, he had been made aware by 1st mate Krøger, that there was a non-commissioned officer among the passengers, who had also been a policeman, and who had been responsible for the guarding of 89 prisoners on the Bergen fort. This person was Fjærestad.

The captain called Fjærestad to come to his cabin. He was asked to take the command over the steerage passengers. He was appointed quartermaster and was given the responsibility for the key to the larder. The door was only to be opened once in every 24 hours, to let the passengers get provisions. He was also given the responsibility for handing out the rations of firewood and water to each family. He was also asked to be responsible for selling supplies to the other passengers, from the captains reserve. According to the ship law, all male middle-aged passengers, had a duty to help the sailors in keeping the ship clean. Fjærestad was responsible for commanding 6 men out of the 80 middle-aged passengers for duty every morning at 6 o'clock. They were to clean the ashes out of the ovens, and to help the sailors to clean the deck.

At 1100 in the morning of Monday the 28th, the new quartermaster was helping the 1st mate to log the speed. They found the Valkyrien was doing 7 1/2 miles* (knots?), on the watch. By 12 o'clock the weather had changed to storm. The quartermaster went down to steerage to see to it that everyone was in bed, and turned out the light. For some reason the sailor who was keeping lookout had left his post. There was no one to see a brigantine which was sailing on a on collision course with the Valkyrien.

Between 12 and 1 o'clock the passengers were woken by a noise sounding like rolling thunder. To the passengers it felt like as if the ship had hit a solid rock as the ship immediately stopped its forward movement as the two ships collided. Fjærestad had his berth just below the big hatch on the same side as the brigantine hit the Valkyrien. Every time the waves threw the two ships towards each other, the hull was pressed in so that Fjærestad felt it pressing him strongly in the back. Every time the two ships clashed together, he was waiting for the hull to break. The brigantine and the Valkyrien had been entangled together in the collision, and could not get loose from one another. The brigantine was under full sails and was pressing on to the hull of the Valkyrien. At last the storm separated the two ships. All that the people on the Valkyrien could see, was that the brigantine had lost its main mast. They could hear the people on the brigantine screaming for help, as it disappeared in the dark night. From what Captain Møller could hear, he was of the opinion that the brigantine was loaded with iron or coal, and that it was sinking. The Valkyrien's bowsprit with eight sails on it had broken in 3 parts, and the stem had been torn away. The water rolled in on deck every time a wave hit the ship. If they had not been able to stretch and fasten a canvas over the hole, the ship would have sunk quite quickly. The remains of the bowsprit and the sails were hanging under the ship. The hull was also damaged where the two ships had been clashing together before the storm separated them, and the planks had become quite thin.

Fjærestad had gotten out of his berth as soon as he understood that there had been a collision. He lighted half of the lamps, and went back to bed to hold his arms around his 4 beloved ones. Shortly after the captain sent the horrifying message, "all men on deck, go in the life boats". The passengers started moaning and crying, it was a very frightening message, and many of them felt that they were not ready to meet the Lord in such short notice. The passengers were left with only two choices, to die where they were or to risk their lives by challenging the elements of storm, freezing temperature, water and darkness in a small boat on the ocean at night. Several of them decided to stay in their berths, and let it be up to God if they were to live or not. They prayed for God's help, and shortly after the new command to stay was given down the hatch. There was still hope to keep the ship afloat by using the pumps.

All male passengers were ordered up on deck to help save the ship, but most of them were in a state of shock, and the confusion was so great that the order was not carried out. The quartermaster was asked to get the men up and after a while he managed to mobilize 20 out of the 130 men in the struggle to keep the ship afloat. The 20 men in addition to the 15 crew worked hard from 3 o'clock in the night to 8 o'clock in the morning (Tuesday 29th) to get the 8 sails which were caught up under the ship, up on deck. All the pumps had be operated at all times, and the men working the pumps had to be relieved every 15 minutes. They didn't manage to get more water out than what came in, even though they had covered the hole in the ship with canvas to keep most of the water from coming in.

Because of unfavorable wind in the North Sea, the captain had decided to sail through the English Channel. The Valkyrien was just about to enter the Channel, and was about 20 miles* (Norwegian or English miles?) from land when the collision occurred.

[According to an article in the "Bergensposten" the ships collided off Goodwin Sands. The Goodwin Sands are a large sandbank off the North Foreland, near Dover and are the site of many shipwrecks. There are several lightships posted around them. The Straits of Dover are only about 22 miles wide there. According to the newspaper article the other ship was a schooner, probably Norwegian.]

Without the sails on the foremast, it was difficult to navigate the ship towards the English shores, in beam winds. They were forced on a course bringing them towards France. By midday they had had the joy to see land, and hoisted the signal flag to show that they wanted a pilot. Soon after a small pilot ship arrived, and four men came in a smaller boat to try to get the pilot over to the Valkyrien. The seas were so high that it was impossible for the little boat to get close enough to the Valkyrien, so that the pilot had to jump in the sea. The sailors on the Valkyrien threw a rope to him, and hoisted him aboard. As soon as he had entered, they hoisted the distress signal to attract a small steamer by the name of "Victoria". The steamer was out hunting for ships in distress to earn money by saving them. The captain on the S/S Victoria demanded 100 £ or 500 Norwegian Speciedaler (Spd.) (1 Spd. was equal to 4 Norwegian Kroner, - 500 Spd. = 2000 NOK was 585 $ in 1873) to bring the Valkyrien to shore, one mile* from the town of Dover. Because of the high price they could not afford his help, and had to try reaching land without help. They were drifting further down the channel and when they got close to Dover, where the channel is at its narrowest, they could be seen from land. They hoisted the distress signal again. The S/S Palmerston of Dover immediately came to their aid, and took them to shore at the cost of 45 Spd. They would also take them back out to sea for the same price. As the Valkyrien entered the harbor at Dover for repairs, the clock on the church sent its sad sounding signal to tell that the time was 3 o'clock. (Tuesday 29th)

As soon as the Valkyrien came to shore there was a police guard provided onboard the ship for the security of the passengers and their belongings, and on shore there were soldiers on guard night and day. They remained on guard there as long as the Valkyrien stayed in Dover, which was for 10 days. Soon the wharf was filled with people who wanted to get a glimpse of the miserable people on the ill fated ship. The police guarded the ship so that no one could get onboard. The passengers were tired, hungry and dispirited after what they had been through lately.

The next day, on Wednesday the 30th, the ship was inspected to see how badly she was damaged. A contract was signed with local shipbuilders to take care of the repair for the cost of 500 Spd. The repairs were to be completed within 8 days. As soon as the captain had arranged for the ship to repaired, he set of to London to visit a sister who lived there, and to do inquiry about the brigantine, and its owners. He was hoping to get some kind of compensation from the owners of thew brigantine, but he wasn't able to get any information about it.

That Sunday the 4th of May, six of the passengers wanted to go to church. Without knowing where to go, they had entered a Catholic church, but they were welcomed and given seats in the far back. Fjærestad was one of the passengers who vent to church, and he was seated together with only people from Dover. One of them gave him his hymn book.

Monday the 5th of May, the captain went to London again to ask about the brigantine, but with no luck. It had probably sunk. Fjærestad and Markus S., who had been in America for 8 years went to the Norwegian consul to find out if the passenger were in demand of any compensation from the emigration company. The consul told them that compensation would only be given if they ran short of provisions. They was made aware that there was a minister in Dover that was of Norwegian blood. He did not speak any Norwegian, but was proud of his ancestry.

According to an article in "Bergensposten", which was based on an article from the "Dover Standard" (May 10th), the Norwegians had attracted the attention of the Dover citizens as they walked round the town doing their shopping. They were all very proper and clean, despite of showing all signs of poverty. Some of the prominent inhabitants, led by Rev. A. Collett became concerned about the wealth of those poor emigrants. The voyage would to take longer than what they had expected, and they were at risk to run out of supplies. When Collett found out about their miserable condition, and their low supplies, he asked permission from captain Møller to help. Rev. A. Collett was permitted to come aboard, to see how the passengers were managing. There were also a lot of other people who wanted to come with Collett. The passengers cleaned the decks, and changed to their best clothes before the visitors came aboard. The people of Dover did not come onboard only to look at the passengers for their amusement, they had started a campaign to provide the passengers with fresh supplies. Collett, together with Major E. R. Mowl Esq. and the Norwegian/Swedish consul Mr. Lathon, and some other gentlemen and ladies, quickly managed to provide the new supplies consisting of conserved meat, groceries, milk, butter, cheese, cafe, and more. There was also some oranges and candy for the children. They also gave the emigrants some illustrated books and magazines. According to Fjærestad, there were 4 wagons loaded with all kinds of supplies, he also mentions groceries, Swiss milk, 3 sacks of dried fruit, 2 big boxes of candy, 1400 pounds of ship biscuits and 300 breads. Fjærestad claims that there must at least have been supplies worth of 500 Spd. These supplies were to last all the way across the Atlantic, and the last bread was handed out on the railway station in Toronto. As the gift was brought aboard on Wednesday the 7th of May, Rev. Collett held a nice speech to the surprised Norwegians. The cleanliness and order aboard the ship was admired by visitors. The ship became so crowded that the passengers had to sit in their berths all day, to allow people passing by. Many of the visitors stayed for quite some time, and had brought presents for the children. Visitors kept on coming all day, and it according to Fjærestad it continued during part of the next day. The crowd onboard made it impossible for the poor passengers to prepare their food. But the people of Dover had yet just started to show their hospitality. It was just as if the whole population in the town had their greatest pleasure in doing well for the Norwegian emigrants.

The same evening the Norwegians were invited to a banquet by Mr. H. Kingscote and Mr. H Vigne (or Binge). At 5 o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday the 7th of May, they were all dressed up in their best clothes, and at 6 o'clock the Rev. Collett came to walk them to the house where the banquet was held. They left one sailor on the ship together with the policeman and the solider on shore to watch over the ship. Rev Collett and the captain walked in front, and as they walked through the streets, people came out of their houses to get a look at the Norwegians. As they arrived at the house where the banquet was, they could see the Norwegian flag hanging over the door together with the English and the American flag. As soon as they entered the room where they should eat, a number of waiters showed them where to sit, all at ones. 317 at 5 tables and 53 at an other table. In one end of the room there was a stage, and on the wall around it there were 11 different national flags. On the stage 18 musicians from the Garrison Regimental band had found their places. In the other end of the room there were galleries, which were filled with more than 100 spectators who had come to meet the Norwegian farmers. It must have bee some sight to watch them use a knife and fork for the very first time in their life.

The hosts must have done research to find out about the Norwegian customs, as the rest of the program was much like it would have been on a Norwegian farmer banquet. When everyone was sited the band started to play the Norwegian songs "Sønner av Norge" (Sons of Norway), and "Det Eldgamle Rige". Many of the emigrant were so touched that they started crying. When the song ended Rev. Collett's father, who looked to be about 90 years old, graced the food, and they started eating. The music started to play again, and kept on during the entire meal. After the meal the ladies on the gallery came down and started to clean of the tables, putting fruit and bakeries in the emigrants pockets. They then entertained the children by dancing with them, and gave them gifts. Those of the emigrants and crew who could speak English started to converse with their hosts, and the hosts tried to please their guests the best they could. At 8 o'clock the band started playing again. After a while with music and singing Rev. Collett spoke to the Norwegians, and thanked them for their good conduct during their stay in Dover. The captain acted as an interpreter. Then the captain made a speech on behalf of the passengers, thanking the Collett and the people of Dover for all what they had done for them.

As they came back to the ship they watched a diver brig up a child from the sea. It had fallen in while they were away. The account does not say if the child was one of the Norwegians or a local.

The next morning, on Thursday the 8th, the emigrants received even more supplies from the people of Dover. Then Rev. Collett came with pottery gifts for the children, 80 present in all, and some got two. There was no limit to the hospitality of the minister and people in Dover. On Friday 9th of May it was time to take farewell with the new friend they had made in Dover. At 8 o'clock in the morning the Valkyrien was ready to set sails for Quebec. The wharf was crowded with people who had come to see them off. It was just as touching and sad to leave their friends in Dover, as it had been to leave Norway. Rev. Collett was there to give more presents, he had brought 50 pots of sweet milk for the children. The people of Dover had all reasons to proud of whet they had done. As the S/S Palmerston slowly towed the Valkyrien away from the wharf, the Norwegians shouted a loud "Leve Dover! Hurra, Hurra Hurra!" and the people on the wharf responded "Live Valkyrien! Hurray, Hurray, Hurray!".

So the voyage started again after 10 days in Dover. As soon as the ship entered the open sea there was praying and singing to be heard all over the ship. They passed the channel with wind from the south, and current against them. They had to stand off and on in the shallow waters and in the night they almost ran aground, even though they had a pilot aboard. The cannel is a herd place to sail even during daytime. 32 hours after they had left, they still were only 3/4 mile away from Dover. There was no wind and current against, so they had to anchor up off Folkerstone. Monday afternoon at 6 o'clock a 20 months old boy died. According to the report from the quarantine station at Grosse Ile, the cause of death was inflammation of the lungs. It was Søren S. from Bergen, the parents only child. The next day it was buried. They sang the 2 first verses of psalm 623: "Nu lader os grave ned, hans Legem, som i Gud afled" and so on. Then the coffin was closed, and the captain threw earth over it, and it was given to the sea. The poor parents were not in a state so that they were able to watch it. Non of the passengers were used to such burials, and they were all very moved. After the child was buried in the ocean the passengers the next two verses of the psalm.

At 4 o'clock in the afternoon they passed Ireland and started on the Atlantic ocean. The Biscayne bay had al ready given them a touch of what was waiting, and many of the women went to bed with seasickness. The best cure against it was to get them up on deck, so that they could bead fresh air, but it was not an easy task to persuade them to go up on deck. How ever, for the hygienic reasons that were ordered up whether they wanted or not, and the husband was given the responsibility to see to it. If he was not the man to do it, someone else was ordered. They were taken up by force, and walked up and down the deck. There was no doctor aboard. To get people up on deck, they arranged concerts. They played comedies, like "Kongen og Dronningen", played in French; "Manden med Buxen i Læ", Henrik tilhest paa Drommedaren" and "Viseknut paa Ruffe med Silkehatten". That was the right medicine, and it got all the passengers up on deck. Many of them came up long before the time that was announced on the kitchen door.

In Dover they had a new lock fitted on the door to the larder. The look could only be opened with the key that Fjærestad kept. The larder was now filled with all kinds of good food, thanks to the nice people of Dover. The supplies was portioned out, so that no one should eat so much that they became ill. With all that food to look after Fjærestad appointed two assistants to help him, they were A. S. from Sogn, and I. F. from Hardanger. On the 4th day after they had left Dover, they started portioning out from the gifts they had received in Dover.

On the 10th day after the departure from Dover they were surprised by a storm. It was half passed ten in the evening, and they were taking in 7 of the sails, as a schooner came right towards the Valkyrien. The lanterns on the port side of the Valkyrien had been turned off by the storm, and they had to fall off to avoid a new collision. The two ships were so close to each other that the sails almost touched on the two ships. Down in the steerage everything was rolling around on the deck.

On Ascension Day they also had a storm. The ship was rolling strongly which caused chests and other luggage on steerage to loosen. All what they had was being thrown from one side to the other. It was dangerous to try fasten it again, as it would brake their legs if they tried to set their feet on the deck. They had to take in 9 sails and had one of their top sails destroyed. They had another storm coming on May 25th, which lasted for two days. That storm caused water to pour down to the steerage passengers, and they had no possibility to cook anything. A man who went up on deck for a necessary mission on behalf of nature, was almost washed in to the ocean by the waves who rolled in over the deck.

On June 4th, the 26th day after they had left Dover, they came to the Newfoundland banks. It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon. When they logged they found the depth to be 53 fathoms. They fished with 7 lines and caught 4 fishes of about 15 pounds each. The next day they sighted 3 icebergs, but they were in a distance.

On June 9th, 30 days after they had left Dover, they sighted land. On June 15th, 52 days after they had left Bergen they were only 40 miles from Quebec, and entered the St.Lawrence. At 5 o'clock in the evening they hoisted the signal flag to get a pilot, but no one came. At 10 in the evening they burned of some cotton, and after 15 minutes an old-timer cam onboard. It was 30 miles from Quebec. There were 54 ships on the flood that they could see. They raced the "Hindostan".

At the 17th of June, half passed nine in the evening they arrived to the quarantine station at Grosse Ile. The doctor came aboard at 7 in the morning. After one hour they were cleared to proceed. Because of current against, they had to anchor up only 2 miles from Grosse Ile. Later they had to anchor again, now only 4 1/2 miles from Quebec, and again 2 miles from Quebec. On Friday morning the 19th at 6 o'clock they anchored at Quebec. It was on the 63rd day after they had boarded the ship in Bergen. They all prayed and thanked the Lord for bringing them safe to shore. Soon after the custom agents came aboard, and there came a guard from the fort.

On the 20th of June the emigrants left the Valkyrien. A steamer brought them to shore. From there they went to the railway station to get a train to Montreal. The captain accompanied them. They entered the train at 6 o'clock in the evening and arrived to Montreal at 6 o'clock the next morning. They stopped there for 15 minutes. The captain walked through all the carriages to say farewell and to shake hands with all the emigrants.

Other Related Articles :

• Passenger list 1873 - bark Valkyrien

• Bark Valkyrien

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A selection of articles dedicated to help you in your genealogy search for your Norwegian ancestors. Transcripts and pictures of historic documents in connection with the ships and emigration. Also including articles about Pioneers & Norwegian Settlements Around the World
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