Possibly the swiftest route to your roots.

Robert Whyte's 'The Journey Of An Irish Coffin Ship, 1847', Chapter 2

Roll on, thou dark and deep blue blue ocean, roll!

Thursday, 3 June

When I came on deck this morning I found that we were sailing upon the bosom of the broad Atlantic, no object being visible to relieve the vast expanse of water and sky, except the glorious sun and as I turned my eyes from the survey of the distant horizon and fixed them upon the little bark that wafted us, a sensation akin to that of the 'Ancient Mariner' possessed my mind. Alone, alone, all, all alone Alone on a wide, wide sea. As the boy who was unable to attend the muster still continued ill, and was reported to be feverish, the mistress and I reviewed the medicine chest. We found it to contain a jar of castor oil, Epsom salts, laudanum, hartshorn, etc; also a book of directions, which were by no means explicit, and they so perplexed the mistress, even with the aid of her spectacles, that as she was nothing the wiser of the study she resolved to trust to her own experience in the concoction of a dose. The mate took his first observation at noon and as he stood peering through the eye-hole of the quadrant, he reminded me forcibly of poor old Uncle Sol's little midshipman. The passengers' fireplaces, upon either side of the foredeck furnished endless scenes, sometimes of noisy merriment, at others of quarrels. The fire was contained in a large wooden case lined with bricks and shaped something like an old-fashioned settee - the coals being confined by two or three iron bars in front. From morning till evening they were surrounded by groups of men, women and children; some making stirabout in all kinds of vessels, and others baking cakes upon extemporary griddles. These cakes were generally about two inches thick, and when baked were encased in a burnt crust coated with smoke, being actually raw in the centre. Such was the unvaried food of the greater number of these poor creatures. A few of them, who seemed to be better off, had herrings or bacon. The meal with which they were provided was of very bad quality - this they had five days and biscuit, which was good, two days in the week.

Friday, 4 June

The sailors and apprentices were (as the mate expressed it l in his log) variously employed mending sails, tarring ropes, spinning yarns, etc. Sailors sit and sew very differently from tailors; instead of doubling up their legs under them they stretch them out straight before them as they sit upon the deck. Their thimble is also peculiar, not being worn on the top of the finger, but upon the ball of the thumb, to which it is fastened by a leather strap, buckled round the wrist. I was surprised at the expedition and neatness with which they sewed with their coarse needles and long threads. Jack created some diversion by daubing a gossoon's face with tar, and shaving him with a rusty knife. It was exhilarating to hear the children's merry laughter - poor little things, they seemed quite reconciled with their situation! I learned that many of these emigrants had never seen the sea nor a ship until they were on board. They were chiefly from the County Meath, and sent out at the expense of their landlord without any knowledge of the country to which they were going, or means of livelihood except the labour of the father of each family. All they knew concerning Canada was that they were to land in Quebec and to go up the country; moreover they had a settled conviction that the voyage was to last exactly three weeks. In addition to these, there were a few who were going to try their fortunes on their own account. One of the latter was a Connaught 'boy', who having lived upon the coast and spent his time partly in fishing, made himself useful about the brig and thereby ingratiated himself into favour with the captain and won the consequent jealousy of his fellow passengers, who, thinking him rather soft, took pleasure in teasing him. Two young men from Kilkenny and one from the County Care completed the list. The former used to astonish the Meathmen with the triple wonders of their native city.

Saturday, 5 June

As the passengers had a great inclination to infringe upon the after-deck, the captain drew a line, the penalty for crossing which was the stoppage of a day's water. I observed the sea to be crowded with myriads of slimy looking objects, which the sailors called 'slobbs'. They varied in size, form, and colour, some of them resembling a lemon cut in half. How beautiful also was the luminous appearance of the water at night, which I delighted to watch, as we glided through the liquid fire. Nor was it less pleasing to observe the 'Portuguese men of war', with their tiny sails set to the breeze, and surmounting the crests of the rolling billows. I had a rummage through the charts and enjoyed a practical lecture upon them, with illustrative lectures by the mistress, enlivened by way of episode with occasional contradictions by the captain who with rule and compass traced our progress daily upon the great chart of the North Atlantic ocean. We had two ships in company with us all the day; they were too distant to distinguish their names. One of the passengers having thrown the Connaughtman's hat overboard, the captain gave him a blue and white striped night-cap, with which on his head he strutted about, much to the amusement of the youngsters, one of whom attached a rope to the tail of his coat; this he dragged after him for some time, until Jack changed the scene by cutting the tail off. When Paddy discovered his loss, he was outraged and made a grievous complaint to the mate who doctored the coat by abstracting the other tail, thereby transforming the garment into a jacket. When the matter came to the captain's ears he presented Paddy with an old pilot jacket, which made a great coat for him; he was, therefore, no loser by the affair.

Sunday, 6 June

The favourable breeze that carried us out of the channel 1 having forsaken us, the little progress we made was gained by tacking, which kept the sailors constantly employed. The passengers were dressed in their best clothes and presented a better appearance then I expected. The sailors also donned their holiday toggery in the afternoon. A group of young men, being at a loss for amusement, began to wrestle and play 'pitch and toss' but the mate soon put a stop to their diversions at which they grumbled, saying that they 'didn't think that Mr Mate would be so hard'. Very few of them could read; neither did they seem to have any regard for the sanctity of the Sabbath. In the evening they had prayers in the hold and were divided into two parties - those who spoke Irish, and those who did not; each section having a leader who gabbled in his respective language a number of 'Paters and Aves', as quickly as the devotees could count their beads. After these religious exercises they came upon deck and spent the remainder of the day jesting, laughing and singing. We had a clear and beautiful sunset from which the captain prognosticated an easterly wind.  
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