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The Journal of Hugh Campbell, Part VI: Hugh’s on a Boat

Hugh’s getting settled into life on board, and it’s anything but boring. If you wanted to know what life on board a transatlantic ship was like in the early 19th century, this entry begins to describe this well.
(Click here for Part V if you need to be brought up to speed on the story.)

Note that under the date, Hugh has begun to plot the latitude and longitude, so you can use the lines on a map to see exactly where he was when he made each entry.

[June] 26th
Lon. 11 W. Lat. 57 N.

Having now got fairly clear of all danger we began to put things in a train for rendering ourselves comfortable during our voyage. A commodore or president was elected. Berths were laid out for passengers and the males were very properly separated from the females. We engaged a cook to keep on a fire and attend the sickly and aged passengers. He was an old Innishown pensioner and proved of great service in the course of the voyage. Each passenger agreed to pay him one shilling for his trouble. The ship was regularly washed out by the passengers, once a week, to preserve cleanliness.


One shilling, circa 1818. One shilling was worth about $4.12 USD in 2010.

In order to avoid the cruisers off the European coast and those about “the Banks of Newfoundland,” the Capt. determined that our course should be first W.N.W. and afterwards W.S.W. Our vessel, from her form and eye, proved to be a very slow sailor and discouraged us considerably, but we heard our crew was numerous and well accustomed to a seafaring life, which is a thing of no little importance to emigrants unacquainted with sailing.

The steerage passengers formed themselves into messes.* Every three or four took a berth, joined their stock of provisions and cooked alternately. Great caution ought to be used in making choice of a partner as the comfort of a sea voyage is greatly increased by a connection with an agreeable and clever messmate. My situation as a cabin passenger prevented me from feeling any inconvenience from associating myself with any person. I
walked about when and where I pleased and nothing to attend to but the steward’s call to
dinner, and unless when a vessel came in sight that looked like a cruiser. We were then obliged to conceal ourselves in the old dungeon until all danger was past. In this we were very often deceived during the voyage.

29th June
W. Lon. 13 N. Lat. 57 Degrees 30

I believe there is no period that emigrants feel more sorrow than when commencing a wide sea voyage. They compare their many privations and dangers with the security and ease they left behind. It makes them conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life and sent adrift upon a doubtful world. Sensible of their situation, the passengers began to be reconciled to what turned their attention from lamentations about their friend to enquire how fast the ship was sailing and how the wind blew.

Passengers below decks in their bunks.

Late in the evening, it began to blow a strong gale accompanied by rain and lightning. The sea rose into tremendous waves, and the vessel rolled in the most awful manner through them. The storm continued until day break next morning. During the night every movable in the ship was put in motion by the great heaving. The kegs full of water for immediate use and the buckets full of all kinds of filth were hurled in the greatest confusion through the steerage to the great offense of our smelling organs. The jars, crocks, bottles and glasses were completely broken to pieces by encountering the loose boxes which they met in their progress.

The more timid passengers thought by the loud and frequent calls of the sailors to each other that we were on the brink of Eternity, while the more courageous and unthinking laughed at their fears and roared out to drown their moans and prayers. Next morning exhibited a scene truly comical. Everything in the steerage was in the utmost confusion and disorder. The smell and sight were saluted with the most disgusting appearances, and the ears with complaints of broken shins or some such disaster. To prevent a recurrence of such accidents in future, the Capt. ordered all spare boxes and trunks down to the hold reserving only one box for each mess, which was to be properly fastened. The water was to be brought up from the casks and an allowance of 3 quarts to be given to each passenger  per day.  Various regulations were made to promote our comfort and security.


* A mess is a group of people — usually sailors — who regularly eat their meals together.

Next week: The ship celebrates the 4th of July. Sailor-style.

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