100 Years of Emigrant Ships from Norway

Solem, Swiggum & Austheim
By Per Kristian Sebak ©

Their journey to the ill-fated liner

When the legendary Titanic set sail from Queenstown, Ireland, her last port of call, on 11 April 1912, there were 31 passengers of Norwegian origin on board. This article tells the story of how the 31 travelled to the Titanic, and is mainly based on Chapter 3 in my book, "TITANIC - 31 Norwegian Destinies", which gives a comprehensive account of all 31 Norwegians on the ill-fated liner.

27 of the Norwegian Titanic passengers followed the travelling pattern of most of the more than 700 000 Norwegians who emigrated to America: crossed the North Sea before boarding the actual steamer taking them to America. In 1912, there were several shipping lines between Norway and England. These were mainly operated by the Wilson Line of Hull in England, Fred Olsen's company of Christiania, The Bergen Steamship Company (BDS) of Bergen and the Nordenfjeldske Steamship Company (NFDS) of Trondheim.
       The North Sea run was an ancient trading link, but the British were the first to start a steamship line. Shipowner Thomas Wilson was very enthusiastic about Scandinavia, so in 1840 he was granted the concession to start a permanent shipping line between Gothenburg, Sweden and Hull, England via Christiansand in southern Norway. In 1852, the activity in Norway was expanded with a line between Christiania and Hull, also via Christiansand. By that time, he was getting some minor competition from Norwegian steamship companies, but in the long run, no one could beat the well-financed Wilson. Norwegian companies were literally scared off competing with the British company, so between 1867 and 1881, the Wilson Line was as good as alone on the steamship lines between Norway and Britain. In 1867, Wilson started a mail line between Bergen and Hull, calling at Stavanger.
       In 1881, the Norwegian shipowner P. G. Haldorsen finally managed to start a lasting steamship line between Newcastle and Bergen, mainly for coal freight. Haldorsen also saw possibilities in passengers, especially emigrants, so several of his ships were fitted out with passenger accommodation. Nine years later, in 1890, the Norwegian Parliament agreed to support BDS, NFDS and P. G. Haldorsen's plans to co-operate on a regular mail and passenger line between western Norway and Newcastle. However, two years later Haldorsen had to withdraw due to financial problems, but BDS and NFDS continued the partnership.
       The Wilson Line's route from Christiania was also experiencing more serious competition before the turn of the century. In 1881, the new shipping company of Østlandske Lloyd opened a regular passenger route between Newcastle and Christiania. The growing passenger numbers as a result of the vast emigration, inspired shipowner Fred Olsen to establish the joint-stock company of Ganger Rolf in 1899. He soon took over a smaller Norwegian shipping company which operated lines to Scotland, and bought Østlandske Lloyd in 1904. Fred Olsen was therefore Wilson's only serious competitor between Christiania and Britain.

Passenger lines between Norway and Britain in 1912:
Wilson Line: Trondheim - Christiansund - Ålesund - Bergen - Stavanger - Hull and vice versa
Wilson LineChristiania - Christiansand - Hull and vice versa
Fred Olsen: Christiania - Larvik - Arendal - Newcastle and vice versa
Fred Olsen: Christiania - Brevik - Grangemouth and vice versa
BDS/NFDS: Trondheim - Christiansund - Molde - Ålesund - Florø - Bergen - Newcastle and vice versa
BDS: Bergen - Haugesund - Stavanger - Newcastle and vice versa
Svithun Line: Bergen - Stavanger - Liverpool - Manchester - Swansea - Bergen

Norway imported nearly all her coal from Britain, so a coal strike there in February 1912 would eventually cause great problems for Norwegian shipping. The situation was not so critical the first few weeks, but by the end of March, the lack of coal was very noticeable. NFDS and BDS, which operated many busy domestic and international routes, were forced to cancel several important sailings, which was very frustrating for the public of course. Usually up to six steamers were used on their joint line to England, but by early April only the Sirius and the Irma could be used. These two steamers were put on the route between Bergen and Newcastle, so for the time being, NFDS and BDS's line from Trondheim to Newcastle had to be suspended.
       Carl Olsen and his nine-year-old son, Arthur, who were going from Trondheim to Arthur's stepmother in Brooklyn, NY, were travelling with a family friend, Fridtjof Madsen. They began the journey from Trondheim on the BDS's Capella on 1st April, and arrived in Bergen in the morning two days later. In Bergen, they boarded the BDS's Sirius, which would take them across the North Sea. In Trondheim, they had booked for the American Line's Philadelphia from Southampton on 6th April, but because of the coal strike, they were all transferred to the Titanic's departure on 10th April. The Titanic's owners, the White Star Line, co-operated with the American Line.
       The Sirius was berthed at the Festningskai in Bergen on 3rd April. Among the few spectators on the quay on that wet Wednesday evening, was Sina Olsen. She had left her mother in charge of her two young daughters, while she herself followed her husband Henry down to the harbour. Henry was joining a Norwegian steamer in New York as junior engineer. At 10 pm, the Sirius set sail, and Sina waved as long as the steamer was visible through the fog and drizzling rain. Among the Sirius's passengers, were also Henry's new colleagues, second engineer Albert Andersen and second officer Johan Holten. The three sailors were all at first booked on the American Line's Philadelphia from Southampton on 6th April, but as mentioned, that departure was cancelled. Instead, they were transferred to the Titanic's sailing on 10th April. At four o'clock, early next morning, the Sirius called at Haugesund, and received Bernt Johannessen, Ingvald Hagland, Konrad Hagland, Lena Solvang, Johannes Kalvik and Ole Olson. Ole Olson had been visiting relatives in Etne, north of Haugesund, and was now returning to his farm in Broderick, Saskatchewan. A few hours later, the Sirius arrived in Stavanger, and Daniel Grønnestad embarked. He was supposed to return to America with his brother, who had a ticket booked for the Titanic, but days before departing, he decided to stay a little longer in Norway. The two brothers lived in Portland, North Dakota and had been visiting relatives. At noon, on Saturday 6th April, the Sirius docked at the BDS and NFDS's wharf in the River Tyne in Newcastle.
       Sigurd Moen, Olaus Abelseth, Karen Abelseth, Anna Salkjelsvik, Peter Søholt and Adolf Humblen started their journey from Ålesund at 2 pm on 5th April on board the NFDS's Erling Jarl, and arrived at the Festningskai in Bergen the following morning. A few hours later, these six Titanic passengers boarded the BDS's Irma, which was berthed at the same quay. First officer Albert Moss, second officer Knud Rommetvedt and seaman Hans Birkeland were also among the Irma's passengers. Their employer had hoped to send them to their steamer in Philadelphia on a collier, but the coal strike forced them to abandon that plan. The Irma departed at 2 pm, and sailed out of the harbour under a low cloud base. She continued through the Krossfjord, from where she entered the North Sea. Two days later, on 8th April, the Irma arrived in Newcastle.
       The coal strike was also a great burden for the Wilson Line. Many of its world-wide connections were interrupted, including the line between Trondheim and Hull. However, the traffic from Christiania could continue as scheduled. On Wednesday 27th March, the Wilson Line's Salmo steamed out the Christianiafjord with Johannes Nysveen among the passengers. Initially, he was going by train from Hull to Liverpool, from where the journey would continue on the White Star Line's Megantic to Boston on 30th March. But like all other White Star liners from that particular port, the sailing was cancelled because of the annoying coal strike. Johannes didn't get a passage on the Olympic from Southampton on 3rd April either, so the only alternative was to wait for the Titanic's maiden voyage the following Wednesday. One week after the Salmo, the Wilson Line's Oslo headed for Hull. She set sail from Christiania in the early afternoon of 3rd April. Among the passengers, were Arne Fahlstrøm, who travelled first class on this voyage, Thor Olsvigen and Karl Midtsjø. Arne Fahlstrøm, son of a famous theatre couple in Christiania, was going to America to study theatre and motion picture. He travelled second class on the Titanic.
        At 10 pm, on Good Friday 5th April, Olaf Pedersen began his journey from Larvik on board the Fred Olsen's Sovereign, arriving at Tyne Dock in Newcastle two days later.
        Upon arriving in England, most of the passengers went straight to Southampton by train, and were lodged at hotels specially for emigrants. The remaining days before boarding allowed plenty of time to write a few words of greeting to family and friends at home, or just wander around busy Southampton. In the late morning of 10 April, 27 Norwegians boarded the Titanic. Two of them, Karl Dahl and Simon Sæther, had come by steamer from Australia and South-Africa respectively. As the Titanic called at Cherbourg later that day, first-class passengers Engelhart Østby and his daughter Helene came on board. Engelhart was born in Christiania, Norway, but had emigrated to Providence, Rhode Island, where he established a world-famous jewellery factory. Five days later, in the early hours of 15 April, the Titanic sank. 1 500 people lost their lives, including 21 of the Norwegians. 10 women in Norway were left widows and 15 children lost their father.

S/S Titanic of the White Star Line [old postcard]

The 10 Norwegian survivors:
Name: Age: From: To:
Abelseth, Karen Marie 16 Ørskog, Norway Inglewood, CA
Abelseth, Olaus Jørgensen 25 Ørskog, Norway Perkins County, SD
Dahl, Karl Edwart 45 Adelaide, Australia Fingal, ND
Johannessen, Bernt Johannes 29 Avaldsnes, Norway Brooklyn, NY
Madsen, Fridtjof Arne 24 Trondheim, Norway Brooklyn, NY
Midtsjø, Karl Albert 21 Ski, Norway Chicago, IL
Moss, Albert Johan 29 Bergen, Norway Philadelphia, PA
Olsen, Arthur Carl 9 Trondheim, Norway Brooklyn, NY
Salkjelsvik, Anna Kristine 21 Skodje, Norway Duluth, MN
Østby, Helene Ragnhild 22 Egypt Providence, RI

The 21 Norwegian fatalities:
Name: Age: From: To:
Andersen, Albert Kaurin 32 Bergen, Norway New York, NY
Birkeland, Hans Martin Monsen 21 Bremnes, Norway Philadelphia, PA
Fahlstrøm, Arne Joma 18 Christiania, Norway Bayonne, NJ
Grønnestad, Daniel Danielsen 32 Bokn, Norway Portland, ND
Hagland, Ingvald Olai Olsen 28 Skaare, Norway Belmar, NJ
Hagland, Konrad Mathias Reiersen 21 Skaare, Norway Belmar, NJ
Holten, Johan Martin 28 Kristiansund, Norway New York, NY
Humblen, Adolf Mathias Nikolai Olsen 42 Borgund, Norway Milwaukee, WI
Kalvik, Johannes Halvorsen 21 Etne, Norway Story City, IA
Moen, Sigurd Hansen 25 Bergen, Norway Minneapolis, MN
Nysveen, Johannes Hansen 60 Øyer, Norway Hillsboro, ND
Olsen, Henry Margido 28 Bergen, Norway New York, NY
Olsen, Carl Siegwart Andreas 42 Trondheim, Norway Brooklyn, NY
Olson, Ole Martin 27 Etne, Norway Broderick, SK
Olsvigen, Thor Andersen 20 Vikersund, Norway Cameron, WI
Pedersen, Olaf 28 Sandefjord, Norway Seattle, WA
Rommetvedt, Knud Paust 49 Sola, Norway Philadelphia, PA
Solvang, Lena Jakobsen 62 Skaare, Norway Centerville, SD
Sæther, Simon Sivertsen 43 Johannesburg, South-Africa North Dakota
Søholt, Peter Andreas Laurits Andersen 19 Ørskog, Norway Minneapolis, MN
Østby, Engelhart Cornelius 54 Egypt Providence, RI

Please forward any questions/ comments regarding the Norwegian passengers or my book, TITANIC - 31 Norwegian Destinies, to: Per Kristian Sebak , heseba@online.no This book is now available through Amazon.co.uk: Titanic, 31 Norwegian Destinies

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