By sail across the ocean - daily life aboard
"We placed ourselves in the hands of the Lord and his will, whether we should live or die".
(By BÝrge Solem)
Daily life for the steerage passengers onboard an emigrant ship consisted of various routines and duties. When weather permitted, the passengers were usually up on deck. Some were busy cleaning and others with games to pass the time. On the Sjofna in 1852, the women were occupied with cooking, sewing and knitting. Some had to look after the children and care for the sick. The captain usually held Sunday services on deck. On ordinary weekdays, there was often dancing on deck. Activities depended on weather conditions, but music instruments could be put to good use even when the weather was bad. Once a ship came into heavy fog off the coast of Newfoundland, and all the instruments on board were used to make as much sound as possible so as to be heard by other ships.
With many passengers gathered in a limited space, rules regarding conduct were no doubt necessary. These rules set boundaries for daily life on board. On the ship Fædres Minde in 1853, rules were posted in the steerage stating exactly what was permitted and what was not. Some captains were strict while others cared little about what the passengers did. While all types of games and entertainment were allowed and encouraged on some ships, such activities were forbidden on others. The following is an excerpt from a set of rules printed in Drammen:
1. The fire will be lit on the fire place (stove) each morning at 6 o'clock a.m., and every passenger not hindered by sickness or some other valid reason shall get up no later than 7 o'clock a.m.
2. The fire shall be put out at 8 o'clock p.m. and passengers must be in their bunks by 10 o'clock p.m.
3. The deck in the passengers' quarters and under the bunks shall be swept each morning before breakfast, and the sweepings be thrown overboard. Once a week the deck in the passengers' quarters shall be scraped.
4. Each morning before the fire is lit, necessary fuel and water will be distributed to the passengers. This task, and cleaning of the deck and the cabins on deck, will be carried out on a daily basis by a suitable number of men on a rotation basis. This group is also to check the cleanliness of the passengers and adherence to all other regulations.
5. Lamps will be lit in passengers' quarters after dark and be kept burning until 10 o'clock in the evening.
6. Tobacco smoking is not permitted below deck, nor is the use of open flame or hay or straw permitted.
7. All cooking utensils must be washed after use and always be kept clean.
8. All bedding must be taken up on deck once or twice a week and be aired out, and the bunks cleaned each time this is done.
9. Clothing may not be washed or hung up to dry below deck, but each week, as conditions permit, a day will be determined for general washing.
10. All passengers who bring spirits or other alcoholic beverages on board are obligated upon embarking the ship to hand over the same for safekeeping. These passengers may receive a reasonable daily portion. Passengers are forbidden to have gunpowder in their possession, and this as well as guns or other weapons brought on board must be placed in safekeeping with ship's officers. These will be returned to passengers at journey's end.
11. Cards or dice are not allowed on board since these can easily lead to quarrels and disagreements. Passengers should treat each other with courtesy and respect. No quarrelsome or disputatious behavior will be tolerated.
12. No seaman is allowed on the passenger deck, unless he has received orders to do specific work. Nor is any passenger, under any circumstances whatsoever, allowed in the cabin of a crewmember or the ship's galley. It is not permitted to drill holes, do any cutting, pound nails or do any other kind of damage to the ship's beams, boards or decks.
13. It is expected of the passengers that they appear on deck each Sunday in clean clothing and that they, as much as circumstances permit, keep the Sabbath.
14. All manner of games and entertainment are permitted and recommended as contributing to the maintenance of good health during a long journey. Personal cleanliness also contributes a good deal to this and is therefore highly recommended to the passengers.
15. Passengers must not speak to the man at the helm.
16. It is taken for granted that every passenger is obligated to obey the orders of the Captain in all respects.
The Transatlantic Crossing - read more >>
- Chapter 1: Early Norwegian Emigrants
- Chapter 2: Steerage Passengers - Emigrants Between Decks
- Chapter 3: By sail across the ocean - daily life aboard
- Chapter 4: Children of the ocean - life and death on the Atlantic
- Chapter 5: Sailing ship provisions - Food and drink
- Chapter 6: Sanitary conditions on board - health and sickness on emigrant ships
- Chapter 7: From sail to steam
- Chapter 8: The largest, the fastest and most comfortable ships - by steamship across the ocean
- Chapter 9: The giant express steamers - The transatlantic crossing following 1900