Thursday, 25 June 2009

Steerage Passengers En Route To The "Land Of The Free"

Steerage Passengers Immigrating To The New World

by johnofgwent

Something a little different this morning.

Over here I found an excellent article, apparently a first hand account, of a man taking steerage passage on one of the "Great Liners" from Britain to the "Land Of The Free" in ther late 1890's. I think it is a must read. I found it riveting stuff.

At the time, a first class passage on such a vessel cost upwards of two hundred and fifty dollars and was the preserve of royalty, presidents, foreign ambassadors and the J P Morgan's of the world. Second Class Passage cost around a hundred and twenty dollars. But for thirty two dollars - two dollars thirty cents of which was the booking agent's commission, you could book yourself a place on the "EasyJet Experience" of its day.
It soon became apparent that a number of the men were curious to behold the glories of the saloon; and it was at length proposed by one of them that we should pay the saloon deck a visit that night. Six of us having agreed to venture it, we waited until four bells (ten o'clock) had gone, and then, when the watchman was forward, climbed the barred ladder leading up from the after hatch, and reached that part of the upper deck allotted to the second cabin.

Rows of comfortable steamer-chairs were ranged against the house, and from a hundred brass-rimmed ports streamed lights suggestive of warmth and luxury. Somewhere forward we could hear a piano playing, and the sound of a woman's voice. It stopped, and there came a loud clapping of hands. Some one said there was a concert in the ladies' saloon. In the lull that followed we heard a cork pop in the smoking-room, and caught a whiff of a good cigar.

Come on,» whispered the Londoner, who had appointed himself leader. Another minute, and we had ducked under the dividing-line, and reached the open ports of the smoking-room. For a few moments we stood looking into the handsomest ship's smoking-room in the world. To us of the steerage it was indeed a glimpse into paradise. Our peep, however, was destined to be but a short one. Before we had time thoroughly to take in details, we were discovered by the watchman, and driven ignominiously back to our own pen.

But the piece I particularly liked was the account of the docking of the ship.
An hour after sundown our steamer was made fast alongside her pier in the North River. The saloon and second-cabin passengers proceeded to stream down the gangway at once; but we, being immigrants, were roped well back, and carefully guarded. For the steamship company is responsible to the government for every immigrant it brings. If any escape before being turned over to the proper authorities at Ellis Island, the company is liable to a heavy fine.

After an hour or so it was announced that none but those who could show citizen's papers would be allowed to land. At this a howl of disappointment went up from the land-hungry crowd. Threats, oaths, and wailings were heard on every side. It was an outrage, some said, to be brought alongside the wharf, and then imprisoned like thieves. If the cabin folks got ashore, why could not we? There were two niggers in the second cabin, and they got ashore. Were niggers better than white people?
And then this on the processing of immigrants at Ellis Island

It will thus be seen that the Immigrant of to-day undergoes three examinations: first, at his home when he applies for passage; second, on board the vessel before departure; and third, upon his arrival in the country. The last is of necessity the strictest.

All cases considered by the inspectors as doubtful are detained, and brought before the boards of special inquiry, who are empowered to he,ar and decide such cases. At Ellis Island these boards sit every day of the year, and during the time to which I have referred heard no less than 40,539 cases.

Any immigrant found to be insane,a pauper, entering contrary to the alien contract labor laws, or for any cause incapable of earning a livelihood, is debarred, and returned to the country from which he came, at the expense of the steamship line that brought him.

It may be interesting to note here that, according to the report of the commissioner-general of immigration, 343,267 immigrants arrived between July 1, 1895, and June 30, 1896. Of these, 2,799 were returned, 776 being unlawfully under contract, and the remainder mainly paupers. These figures show an increase of 84,731 over the previous fiscal year, a somewhat alarming fact when we note that 76,443 of this number hailed from Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

The question whether this stream of immigration, which is pouring into the country at the rate of about 830 per week all the year round, shall be encouraged or dammed, is a many-sided one, and not the concern of this paper. But when one sees the mass of low cosmopolitan humanity such as is to be found at Ellis Island, one cannot help feeling that to assimilate it the country has need of an excellent digestion.

And this, as I say, is how they did it in the Land Of The Free. No mucking about. No appeals. Those who can work to keep themselves are welcome. Those who can't can bugger off back where tehey came from.

Next time Obama opens his mouth and utters some arabic that actually translates as "May The Peace That Comes From Subservience To Allah be Upon You" we ought to print this off on stiff card and make him eat it.