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Chapter 7:

From sail to steam

Favorable sailing opportunity to America, with the speedy and well-equipped ship......
(By BÝrge Solem)

The cost of passage with a sail ship could vary. In 1839, passengers sailing with the Emilie paid 39 speciedaler from Drammen to New York. In 1843, Captain Johan Gasmann of the Salvator made up the following list of expenses an emigrant could expect to pay:

The journey from Norway to Quebec: 20 speciedaler (abbreviation = Spd..)
Landing fee in New York: $1.75
Transportation from New York to the interior: $9.00
Food for 12 to 14 days: $5.00

For those who traveled via Havre, we have information that the cost from there to New York was 50 Fr. When ships began sailing to Quebec, the prices got lower. In 1866 the cost of steerage passage with the Argonaut was 15 spd. per adult, 8 spd. per child between the ages of 7 and 14, and 5 spd. per child between the ages of 1 and 6. Children under age 1 traveled free. This gradient of the fee in to age groups was quite common, and maybe it is the explanation why we find so very few children at the age of 2 or 15 years on the passenger lists. In addition to the passage fee, there was a landing fee of 1 spd. per head. Passenger traffic was lucrative business for the shipping companies. Many shipowners turned the other way regarding a safe number of passengers. The more passengers, the greater the profit. This, combined with good prospects for return cargo, resulted in the establishment of a passenger trade. More and more of the ship-owners specialized in this traffic. A number of ships carried cargo in addition to passengers, but most carried ballast. Restrictions were defined as to the allowable number of passengers. The US Passenger Act of 1819 regarding the transporting of passengers stated that no ship could carry more than two passengers for each 5 register tons. If the number of passengers exceeded this limit, the captain would have to pay a fine of 150 dollars for each illegal passenger.

Prior to 1850 most Norwegian ships headed for North America sailed to the port of New York. From 1850 to about 1854, more and more ships sailed to Quebec. In 1855, only the bark Kong Sverre from Bergen set sail for New York, while the other Norwegian emigrant vessels sailed to Quebec. There were several factors behind this, but the revoking of the British Navigation Act in 1849 was an important one. The revoking of this act made it possible to return home with lucrative cargoes. Another contributing factor appears to have been that the authorities in Quebec were not so particular about the number of passengers on board foreign ships. This made it possible for the shipping companies to carry a greater number of passengers to Quebec than they could to New York. The crowded ships worsened hygienic conditions exposing the passengers to more illness. This hastened the introduction of a new law in Norway. On 23 May 1863, a law was passed restricting the number of passengers on board ships headed for foreign destinations. The most important consequence of this law was that no vessel could carry more than 1 adult for each 2 register tons. The emigrants were to be ensured a minimum of space, and cargo was not to be stored on the same deck as the passengers.

Much was done to promote travel with the emigrant ships. The Argonaut sailed in 1866 from Christiania to Quebec with 356 passengers. The agent responsible for booking passages published advertisements in 12 different newspapers: Morgenbladet, Aftenposten, Aftenbladet, Avertisementsbladet, Oplandske Blade, Hedemarken Amtstidende, Ringerikes Ugeblad, Kristians. Amtstidende, Hamars Budstikke, Lillehammers Tilskuer and Østerdølen. The agent's accounts reveal that there was good money to be made even though the price was low. The total fare for all the passengers amounted to 4 391 spd. The agent deducted the price of the newspaper ads, landing fees, telegrams, fees, a 5% commission for himself, and a 5% commission for Captain Plade Stranger. In addition, Lars Larsen from Vardal had earned free passage for signing up ca. 50 passengers. Adding the income of the return cargo from Quebec to Europe, this was a very profitable business transaction. It was not uncommon that the shipowners had an agreement with local businessmen, or other persons who were locally well known, that they sign up passengers.

Newspaper announcement from "Ringeriges Ugeblad" Feb. 13th, 1866:
"If a sufficient number of passengers signs on, the copper hooded, 1st classed Frigate Ship, "Argonaut" c. 300 Commercielæster, (Norwegian Commercial lasts) mastered by Capt. Plade Stranger, will sail from Christiania to Quebec in the middle of April. The ship is a good sailor, and an excellent passenger ship. With its bright spacey and 7 feet high between-deck it fulfills all expectations of passenger accommodation nowadays. Enrolling of passengers and further information at G. F. Rielsen's in Christiania."


In 1866, when the American Civil War was over, many Norwegians emigrated to America. The end of the Civil War in many ways marked the start of what would later be known as the mass migration from Norway. The growing number of emigrants created a need for increased transatlantic transport. The industrialization of England resulted in a need for the quick exchange of information, goods and raw materials between continents. This led to the development of several large shipping lines such as the Cunard Line, the Inman Line, the White Star Line, the Allan Line, the National Line and the Anchor Line, to mention several. These shipping companies turned to the use of steamships in the 1860s that could carry passengers and cargo quickly across the ocean. The use of steam was also due, in part, to tough competition for postal contracts. These contracts were lucrative, but government officials placed strong demands on regularity and speed. With the rise of mass emigration, the shipping lines naturally concentrated more on passenger traffic.

The S/S Helvetia of the National Line, was built in England in 1864. It made the crossing between Liverpool and New York up to 1891. The ship had a tonnage of 3 318 gross tons, and had a length of 371,5 feet and a width of 41,2 feet. It was rebuilt in 1872 and lengthened to carry more passengers. There was space for a total of 72 cabin passengers and 1 200 passengers in the steerage. The ship is a typical example of how steam was combined with sails. The top speed of the S/S Helvetia was 10 knots. The company advertised large, light and airy quarters, which were heated with steam during the winter months. [old tradecard]


The Transatlantic Crossing -

 -  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

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