The Gateway to the New World
I open the gate and walk down the few steps to the ocean. For many, this was “The Gateway to the New World”. Ships have been docking here at Greenock, Scotland, just one of many emigration ports, for the past 130 years. Yet today, there are no ships here. The gate is still here, however, along with a clock showing the time — the time it took before the ships came in and took passengers to what would hopefully be a better life. A life that would be free from poverty and hunger, to a life that would include employment and better living conditions. Not everyone succeeded in America, but the great majority had a better life. These few steps down to the ship would take them to the Promised Land (forjettede landet).
The journey in Norway
Norwegian emigrants often traveled during the summer months (March through October), and the spring months from March to May saw the greatest exodus. Immigrants would then have a better chance of getting settled before winter set in the new homeland. Some of the ports were also affected by the flow of water in the riverbeds and were therefore only passable during the summer. The way in which emigrants made their way to ports depended upon the era. They traveled to their nearest port, and most likely with everything they owned. Perhaps they even had a small handcart in which to carry their luggage. Traveling by carriage was another method of transportation to ports, or some came by boat. When the railroad was built in the 1850s, traveling by train became an option. The first railway line was opened between Christiania and Eidsvoll in 1854. Emigrants from Biri traveled mostly through Christiania.
The United Kingdom
The journey from Norway to North America generally went through Great Britain from 1865 — 1915. The most common route on this journey was through Hull in England. The Christiania — Kristiansand — Hull route was used most often (by the Wilson Line). Grimsby (The Humber Ports), and Newcastle, however, were other possible arrival ports. From Hull, Grimsby and Newcastle, the journey would continue onward by train to Liverpool. Travel time across the North Sea usually took two to four days, depending on when the exodus took place, what kind of ship was used (schooner or steamship), and of course, the weather. The major ship lines Allan Line, Cunard Line, Dominion Line and White Star Line carried emigrants from Liverpool or any other city in the United Kingdom to their destination. Some lines went from London, Southampton or Plymouth to America, but others went from the ports of Greenock and Gourock in Scotland.
The trip to America
At first, only schooners carried emigrants. The years 1865-1870, however, brought the age of steamships to the market. People did not trust steamships in the beginning, however, and thus the journey continued with both schooners and steamships. Around 1875 the schooners disappeared altogether. The transition from schooners to steamships also meant that travel time was considerably shortened from two months to around 14 days. The reason travel by schooners endured so long may also have been due to travel costs. In 1869, it cost 14 spesidaler, (the currency of Norway between 1816 and 1875), to travel by schooner at one’s own expense to America. Food allowance for two months on board cost approximately 8 spesidaler, an expense that came on top of the 14-spesidaler-trip cost. At the same time, a passage with the steamships cost approximately 30 spesidaler, but that was all-inclusive. The Norwegian Emigration Commission (1870-1873) recommended the following provisions for an adult for 10 weeks; 70 pounds of hard bread, 8 pounds of butter, 24 pounds of meat, 10 pounds of bacon, one full helping of herring, 3/8 barrel of potatoes, 20 pounds of rye and barley flour, ½ bushel of peas, ½ bushel of barley, 3 pounds of coffee, 3 pounds of sugar, 2 ½ pounds of syrup and some salt, pepper, vinegar and onion. In addition, it was recommended to drink 3 pots of water a day. Most travelers brought chests with them containing what they needed to start a new life in America; clothing – working clothes and nice outfits, tools for men and women, bedding, a hymnal and a Bible.
Laws and Emigrants
As emigration increased in Norway, there became a need for restrictions and controls. The conditions on board the ships were not always the best, and in 1862, four percent of emigrants on Norwegian vessels died on the voyage to Canada. Even more Norwegians were incapacitated upon arrival there, becoming a financial burden for immigration authorities.
Norway passed laws that regulated emigration in 1867 and 1869. On April 6, 1867, a provisional decree ordered police chiefs to maintain strict control over agents who sold tickets to America. The agents had to apply for a permit from the chief of police in the city in which they had a main office. The Emigrant Protocols of 1867 came about as a result of this decree. The first protocols were enacted in Christiania, Trondheim and Tromsø. From 1869, the agents were required to provide emigrants with a written contract. This would inform emigrants of the conditions on the journey and provide information on their travel and destinations. In other words, emigrants would receive a ticket all the way to their final destination. One of the main reasons for this was due to the many complaints to the consul in New York regarding the conditions in Liverpool, from where the major lines sailed.
The Emigrant Protocols have been transcribed and are searchable at www.digitalarkivet.no. The final destinations were often listed in the Protocols, and were usually the nearest railroad town in the U.S.
Excerts for this article were taken from the book, Slektsgranskerens guide til utvandringen 1825-1930, by Liv Marit Haakenstad (2013).