The Second Trial: The passage by sea

by Josef Polišenský - 2003-12-09
Vilem Pflanzer paid 7 and 2/5 louisdors for his ticket from Bremen to Baltimore by ship. As a charge for the American poor, he paid 3/5 of a louisdor, which means that the passage itself cost about 60 florins. The trip from Prague to Bremen cost him 36 florins; shopping in Bremen was about 18 florins, and for a week-long stay with meals in the inn “At the Golden Elephant” he paid 15 florin. Thus, the amount of 140 florins, which the administration required as a minimal amount necessary for the passage to America, corresponded with reality. From the 18 florins used for shopping, Pflanzer bought a box with a lock, eating utensils, two bedrolls, sugar and vinegar. The three-mast sailing ship “Albert” had two decks for 200 hundred passengers. The lower deck was without windows. Normally, the passage did not take more than 5 weeks, which was regarded as a short travel time. Formalities during the boarding of the ship were apparently minimal: ”Nobody asked about the passport, only about the money” wrote Pflanzer to Náprstek. This passage was lucky, according to him, for all the storms had passed them, but he “didn’t feel like traveling on a sailing ship”. We will see that Náprstek’s own experience did not differ much from the experience of Pflanzer.

However Pflanzer’s description of the voyage across the Atlantic, was not the first description written by a Czech traveler. In 1678, two members of the group of Jesuit missionaries originating in Bohemia, described the voyage from Cadiz to Veracruz, Mexico in the years of 1680 and 1681. In 1680, an anonymous writer noted that the voyage lasted from July 12 to September 15, which means about two months. However, Pavel Klein who started from Cadiz on January 28, 1681, arrived to Veracruz on May 21 – after four months of travel. In the middle of the 19th century the sailing ships from England (Liverpool) needed 6 weeks, sometimes even up to 100 days for the crossing of the Atlantic. Therefore, Pflanzer really had a lucky voyage. From the 1840’s steamboats began competing with the sailing ships. The ticket was twice as expensive, however, the trip lasted only three weeks.

By that time the transportation of immigrants from Europe to America, existed for almost half a century. On August 25, 1807 the last ship with African slaves sailed from the English Liverpool. By 1830 Liverpool’s proprietors of ships had found a substitute for the transportation of slaves with the transportation of European workers for American economic growth. There was no connection to slave ships – though we could say that this was unfortunate, because slaves were better taken care of than the poor immigrants. The poorest, the Irish, wanted to get to America even on the decks of sailing ships, which had as their main cargo beef and pigs. The ships which transported timber from Canada had a little better reputation, and on the way back they took immigrants as well. These people traveled in a large steerage space (Zwischendeck), which was furnished only with folding cots. Liverpool was traditionally the port where the American and British ships sailed to with a cargo of tobacco and cotton. On their way back, these ships (holds) took immigrants, until the time when the proprietors of ships recognized that cheap transportation of the ever-increasing mass of immigrants was the best source for making money. Thus, in 1830 15 000 immigrants sailed from Liverpool to North America, in 1842 it was 50 000, and in 1850 it was 200 000 immigrants, which meant a half of all the European immigration. Far behind Liverpool were the French and Dutch ports, only Bremen and Hamburg in Germany were dangerous competitors, because they were more accessible than the other ports in West Europe. However, the Bremen Lloyd and Hamburg’s HAPAG (Hamburg-America Line) did not overtake Liverpool until the American Civil War (1861-1865). This was also the reason that English companies wanted to have a place in these ports as well. The transportation of the immigrants was profitable, because there was almost no need of any investment. In 1852 Great Britain through a law about immigration prohibited the folded beds with straw mattresses due to the bad experiences after a large epidemic in the 40’s, in the USA it was in 1848. These laws had sometimes positive, sometimes negative consequences. The American Passenger Act designated the minimal sizes for one passenger and lead to the fact that the ships were built with three decks and two steerage decks. The ventilation was first done only through hatches, later proper ventilation was built but that also brought in the cold air. The toilets were in such a condition that a ship with immigrants was smelled for miles ahead. However, the main complaint was the food and the behavior of the crew. The food was taken for only short time of the voyage. For three weeks – to save money - the passengers did not receive any food, after that only one cooked meal per day; it was very simple, bland and of bad quality. The necessary result was dysentery and death, especially of children. The water was also bad and of limited quantity. It was stored in barrels after wine, oil, vinegar, turpentine, and it spoiled very quickly. From the 1850’s it was transported in iron barrels. From the 1840’s the British administration required that ships have 7 lb. (3 and a half kilos) of food per person per week. Half of this was supposed to be bread or flour, and the other half was potatoes. After 1847, ships had to have rice, tea, sugar or molasses, beef or pork meat beside dry fish or pickled herrings. Complaints about the food never ended, as well as complaints about the rough behavior of the crew and the harassment of women traveling alone. In the history of USA, as far as its known, nobody was ever prosecuted for these crimes.

Furthermore, sailing boats, and to a lesser extent the steamboats as well, were also at risk of fire, shipwreck, or epidemics. Fires often happened on the wooden sailing ships, but it sometimes happened on steamboats as well. In September 1858 a fire started on a ship of Hapag Company called ”Austria" when tar in the holes of the deck caught fire. From 567 passenger only 67 were rescued, and 500 died. On the first of February 1851 a ship called ”City of Glasgow, sailed from Liverpool with 1 480 passengers, nobody has ever seen them since. In the years from 1847 to 1852, of the 6 817 ships that sailed out of the British ports, 43 were lost and out of 1 422 000 passengers transported, 1 043 died. Among epidemics the most common was typhus, which appeared endemically every year, thus it was called ”the ship fever". In 1847 due to an Irish famine, 7 000 people died on the British ships while sailing and another ten thousand on the American soil. The death toll on the line from Liverpool to Quebec in Canada was 17,08%, which means almost one fifth; however, there were ships where almost one third of passengers died. The people, of course, brought typhus from the land, it only to spread it on the ship. Even worse was cholera, which was the cause of vomiting, cramps, collapse and death, within only several hours after the first signs. Until 1855, when Koch discovered the bacteria (intestinal microbes) in the spoiled water, the fight against the cholera was without success. Even in these cases the passengers were already infected before they boarded the ship. The epidemics of cholera appeared sporadically from 1832, in 1848, and in fall of 1853. Then on the line from Liverpool to New York during three months, 46 out 77 ships suffered of the epidemic and 1 328 people died. On some ships the death toll was even higher than 10%; for example, on the ship ”Winchester" it was 16,21%.

Only the steamboats brought a change for the better, and they reduced the risks of the voyage across the sea. From the 50’s, the English company "Inman Line" specialized in cheap and fast transportation of the immigrants. In 1852 the voyage cost 6 guineas per person, while on the sail boats it was a half of that price, 3 lb. and 10 shillings, which meant 17,5 dollars. Instead of three weeks, the minimum travel time for the 50’s, travel in the 70’s took only 2 weeks, and the fastest ships at the beginning of the 20th century achieved it in 8 days. The risks, however, remained. In April of 1873 a ship ”Atlantic" shipwrecked and from 862 passenger 546 died. In January 1895 the ship ”Elbe” crashed in fog off the Northern Sea. Of 352 passengers 332 died. The ship ”Titanic” also was a casualty, colliding with an iceberg during the night of May 14, 1912 when 825 passenger and 673 members of the crew died. The epidemics remained, though, from 1885 one could fight against cholera. The result was a higher security for travel across the ocean. In 1870, 156 sailboats sailed into New York with 18 824 passengers - the death toll was 0.58%, and 484 steamboats with 194 588 immigrants with a death toll of 0.08%.

Not even in these times was passage a comfortable matter. Steerage was divided into compartments of 20 beds, which were only 2 feet (66 cm) wide, and in three levels (bunked) one on top of another. Between the beds were tables and chairs at which the immigrants spent most of their time on ship. More than laws and regulations, however, in the 70’s and 80’s it was competition between the North German Lloyd and Hapag companies caused an improvement of these conditions. At that time, when Bremen and Hamburg shared with Liverpool the transportation of the majority of the immigrants from the West, North, Central and Eastern Europe, this competition lead to lowering of ticket price to 10 dollars (2 pounds). On the other hand the number of the passengers traveling on the money of their American relatives increased. In 1890 it was estimated that one half of the immigrants traveled on the pre-paid tickets or on money sent to them, and in 1900 it could have been as much as two thirds more. The steamboats companies, therefore, built a network of agents, this time not in Europe but in America. In 1890, Hapag had in the United States 3,200 agents.

In 1907, 1 285 000 of immigrants arrived to the United States, the 60% of passengers sailed from four main European ports. On the first place was Naples with 204 000 immigrants, mainly from South and Southeast Europe. The second place hold Bremen with 203 000 immigrants, mainly from East and Central Europe, and on the third place remained Liverpool with 177 000 immigrants, mainly from Great Britain and Jews from Russia. Hamburg took the fourth place with 142 000 immigrants, mainly from North and East Europe. Since the 80’s, iron was replaced by steel, and the weight of the ships increased rapidly. While in the middle of the century the average weight was 2 000 BRT, it was now 10 000 tons, ”Mauritania had almost 32 000 tons. The Italian ships had the worst reputation from Naples and Genoa, followed by Liverpool. The ships from Bremen and Hamburg had the best reputation. After the cholera epidemic in 1848, both of these cities established stations for the immigrants, where they were isolated from the rest of the population, bathed, deloused and disinfected. In Hamburg such a hospice was founded for 4 000 people, in Bremen it was similar and in Liverpool a Cunard company built a similar system for 2000 people. After 1892, Hamburg and Bremen enforced that immigrants had to undergo a medical check already at the eastern German border. These regulations were mostly positively accepted, even though the hygienic and disinfection procedures were done with little consideration. Before the First World War a control line already existed in Europe, the second control was on the ship, because the North American government enforced that the captains of the ships were responsible for bringing only such immigrants that would not become a burden for their new country. If, before 1914, the risks of travel were minimal, there still existed one more obstacle on the voyage into the New World - the immigration screening in the USA. In New York this was for most the ill-famous Castle Garden and after 1892 the island of immigrants – Ellis Island. It seems that the Czech immigrants into America were spared, with some exceptions, most of the horrors. However, the letters of immigrants from the 1850’s documented that the losses were heavy and that mainly children and old people were dying on the ship or soon after landing. The Bremen companies were trying since the 50’s to win passengers from Liverpool, especially through statistics showing how many people traveled through Bremen to America and with a note that the English ships carry typhus. According to statistics, in 1846 32 thousand people traveled overseas through Bremen, in 1847 it was 39 thousand, in 1848 it decreased to 30 thousands (in the period just before the revolution there were fewer people traveling overseas, more of them were coming back). In 1849 it was 29 thousand, in 1850 it was 26 thousand, 1851 the number rose again to 38 thousand (which signalled the beginning of a new wave of immigrants). In 1852 it reached 58 thousand, in 1853 it held at 58 thousand, then in 1854 it skyrocketed to 76 thousand (that was the record). In 1855 it fell back to 31 thousand, in 1856 it was 36 thousand, in 1857 it rose to 49 thousand and in 1858 it fell to 23 thousand people. Of the destinations New York was stated most often, New Orleans was second, third was Baltimore, and the fourth was Galveston. Sailing ships still dominated, and in 1858 58 of them sailed to New York with 10 260 immigrants, while only 17 steamboats brought 2 169 immigrants. English companies wanted to establish themselves in Bremen and in Hamburg, especially the company Morris & Co., ”Columbia, the fastest transport of immigrants to America and Australia”, wanted to hold a place in Hamburg. The prizes were high. A 1st class cabin cost 210 florins, for children to the age of 10 it was 180 florins. A 2nd class cabin was 190 or 175 florins, a place in the steerage cost 154 florins and for the children 145 florins. Compared with the 60 florins that Vilem Pflanzer paid in 1847, it was very expensive. It seems that, according to a report of the gendarmary station in Usti above Orlice, a merchant in Vamberg, Alois Kareš was in connection with one of the Hamburg companies. Four years later, in 1856, he was already employed in Bremen Obernstrasse 13 as a Czech agent for a company of F.W. Bodeker jr., a successor of H. Aug. Heineken.

The conditions for reduced prices from Bremen to the USA were stated in 16 points, that the ticket price to New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, could be lowered usually (depending on the fulfillment of the ship) by 50-70 florins. Tickets for children to the age of 10 were reduced by 8 florins, infants to the age of 1 year traveled for free (based on their birth certificates). The deposit, in this case, was always 10 florins per person. The price for ship’s berth or cabin was usually 125 florins per person. From this transportation were excluded all persons that the USA government did not admit: persons sick, disabled, or unable to support themselves, criminals and beggars, widows and unmarried women with children, and persons older than 60 years of age. ”Every traveler must have documents for traveling abroad” stated article 9, which practically meant that any identification document allowing someone to depart from Austria was sufficient.

The meals should have consisted of salted beef and pork, peas, beans, semolina, rice and wheat stuffs, cabbage, potatoes, plums, and butter etc. In the morning and in the evening coffee or tea was offered with biscuits, for the rest of the day there was only water to drink. The ships should have stored food for three months or 13 weeks, the passengers could take food of their own to improve meals, but they could not provide their whole boards. The space for each person was measured to 20 square feet; the passengers had the right to a cargo box with measurement of 1m x 166 cm. The passengers had to provide their own blankets and bedrolls in steerage. They also had to have their own pots and utensils for food, drink and washing. The passengers were insured by the company in case of catastrophe, they had the right for medicines from the ship’s storage, but medical attention was not promised to them.

The following Notes gave general information where and how to change the Austrian money and where practical information was to be found. According to these, a set of tools cost approximately 5.5-7 florins. Board was possible on some ships in cabins for an additional 10 florins per person. A ticket to Philadelphia was 4 florins higher than to Baltimore or New York, and the connection to Canada or Australia was open only for several months a year. Transport to Australia cost 120 florins, and to San Francisco even as steerage (the gold fever was already in effect) cost 250 florins for a place. From Leipzig to Bremen there was 1/3 discount from the cost of the train for a holder of transportation papers. The Bohemian (of Slavic origin) customers were contacted by a company ”representative", Alois Kares, who urged the people to form communities in USA (this lead the police to investigate a possible conspiracy, which would have the goal to create a ”New Czechia”). Due to the fact that the prices were high in comparison with England, Kareš explained that for 4% of provisions: “soon every year a certain number of poor countrymen, who would want to secure a future for themselves and their families, and improved living on confederate spending and according to centralization, with our help will be transported to America". In 1857 similar conditions suggested the Bremen company Stisser, in the 74th pamphlet from Bodeker and Kareš, from February 20, 1858, had these excerptions, which together with Kareš, announced Bodeker’s successor Hermann Dauelsberg. Even the German pamphlets contained Kareš’s stamp.

The conditions changed very little and only in details. So the required storage of food had to last 80 days, among the foods were added raisins and fruit, one place in the steerage cost 26-33 Austrian tolars (78-110 florin). The passengers were required to have a valid passport and a ship’s transportation contract. The prices on the steamboats were even higher – a place in steerage cost 55 tolars, which at the relative value of 1 tolar = 3 and a half florins added up to 170-180 florins. The Elegant post steamboats New York and Bremen of 2500 tons and 700 horse strengths traveled from Bremen to New York once a month (the passengers had to report to Bremen three days earlier). The sailboats sailed from Bremen to New York the first and the 15th of each month, similarly to Baltimore and New Orleans (only from March to November) and to Galveston from March 15 to October 15.

In the 70’s, Josef Pastor, a Czech agent of Aug. Bolten company in Hamburg, started his activities. The 1877 program the ”Czech department of general agent Aug. Bolten, representative for a Hamburg – American stock steamboat company (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft) in Europe, advertised transportation only on ”iron post steamboats” traveling from Hamburg to New York every week for prices much lower than ever encountered before. ”The Czechs traveling in steerage could pay in Austrian money. The prices were as follows: 65 florins for an adult, 32 florins 50 kreutzers for a child from 1 till 10 years old and 5 florins for an infant till 1 year old. The company paid the American charge required in certain ports; the meals were ”plentiful, filling and healthy. In New York, Hapag had general agent Kunhardt, Richard & Boas, in 1878-1879 Pastor’s representative was Johan Vosátka. Hapag did not travel to Baltimore, and so it is not surprising that Bolten and Pastor attacked at this line, which till now was dominated by Bremen competition. The passage to Baltimore combined all public opinions taken from the Czech-American newspapers. There were experiences of immigrants printed in the American Slovan and Slavia, mostly in 1874-1875. The articles outlined all the evils of Baltimore, and they underlined how much better it was to travel through Hamburg.

The same content of pamphlets ”Passage to America through Hamburg without changing the means of transportation, summarized quotes from articles in the Chicago Vestnik, the Labor Lists from Cleveland, Slavia from Racine, American Slovan from Iowa City and the West Progress printed in Omaha, Nebraska. The Bremen ships smelled horribly, the Hamburg ships had perfect conditions and good meals. ”Until recent times the majority of Czech immigrants traveled through Bremen, now they start to turn toward Hamburg, where operates honest and convincing Czech, Josef Pastor, the true friend of Czech immigration." The Hamburg ships had "the food as delicious, as given by the contract, we even had every day wonderful beef soup, fresh meat and other foods, which were brought to us. There was a medical inspection twice a day, and the captain with the crew took care of the passengers’ health." At least, that was the opinion of F.J. Chaloupka from Cleveland, who traveled on a Hapag ship with his mother. While traveling to America he went through Bremen, when he heard ”how gentlemen Kareš & Stotzky warn our countrymen not to travel through Hamburg." "I cannot and I mustn’t praise my first passage to America through Bremen." On their advice Chaloupka traveled by sailboat instead of steamboat, but the meals were so bad that he couldn’t eat them. At the end of the 70 days, that is how long the passage lasted, he had to pay 70 dollars to the captain for meals that he could eat. However those, who couldn’t pay, badly cursed misters Kareš and Stotzky. It is obvious that the Bremen agents, to whom Kareš and Stotzky associated as independent entrepreneurs, wanted to use the capacity of old sailing ships, while in Hamburg they counted on fast and modern transportation of immigrants with steamboats. The pamphlet ”Who travels to America chooses the passage only through Hamburg”, expresses the advantages of Hamburg and its boats and the low regard for agents, who “try to get people for Bremen”, where the transportation of poor immigrants a long time ago became merely a place for many money-seekers without conscience.

It is clear that even through Bremen countrymen did not stay behind, however, their defense was less than successful. Moreover, the Austrian police stopped being interested in agents of both rival companies, the North German Lloyd and Hapag, especially since ex-officers of police or government founded the agencies. Not even they, nor Kareš and Stotzky, had such a turnover as had the Bremen agencies in the 70’s. The Czech and the Czech American public remained divided. In 1879 Josef Novinský, agent of the company Omaha-Topeka-Santa Fe Railway, in his pamphlet about buying land in Kansas wrote ”A word about passage from Europe", where he recommended to the Czech immigrants himself (address: Great Bend, Kansas, North America), Kareš and Stotzky (29 Bahnhofstrasse, Bremen) or August Bolten, representative of W. Miller (33-34 Admiralitatsstrasse, Hamburg), ”where the Czech department is lead by well-known mister Josef Pastor". According to Novinský the passage from Prague to Great Bend cost an adult 64 dollars, which when 1 dollar = 2 florins and 10 kreutzers, meant about 130 florins. This meant that to cross the ocean he counted only 20 dollars, which meant about 44 florins. This estimate was very low. On the other hand, Novinský was correct, when he emphasized that in every American port there is some “good Czech agent”.

The advertisements shifted from Bohemia to America, because now the majority of immigrants arrived thanks to financial help from their relatives. They had already struggled through the last obstacle on the way to America, the immigration station, and could financially help their younger siblings or other relatives. That was of course not in the interest of Austrian or Austria-Hungarian administration – they warned about the use of Italian companies, who inherited the Liverpool company’s legacy and bad image.