This path was created by Derek James Rachel.  The last update was by Erika Strandjord.

Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Decent Ships of the Irish Famine

Over the famine years, countless ships carried the Irish away to a hopefully brighter future. The state of these ships varied greatly, yet very few ships actually had decent conditions. In those few cases, the success of the ships depended either on the help of the captain, the crew, or simply plain luck in dangerous storms. Conditions on the ships greatly affected the comfort of the emigrants, and created the view that all of them were disease-ridden and despicable. While most of the coffin ships were horrible, there were a few exceptions.

Australia was not the most common destination for the ships, and most of the ones that did journey there contained convicts, orphans, or young women. Earl Grey made several trips to Australia, though mostly with orphans or young women seeking employment in the new nation. On all journeys there was a superintendent and surgeon “of good character and evangelical stripe” in charge of keeping the women under control (Keneally, “Australia” 555). According to Christine Kinealy, “the [1848] voyage was reported to have been healthy with only two emigrants dying en route” (This Great Calamity 321). This low death toll can largely be connected to better treatment of the passengers, and the availability of a surgeon on board. Many of the emigrants headed to Australia were selected because of their skills, and their fares paid for, therefore there was a higher wish to keep the women healthy.

Another ship that lost few passengers was the Marchioness of Abercorn, which was “one of the principal transport ships for Irish emigrants who were escaping from the potato famine” (Dobson 2015).  She made many trips before she was eventually damaged in a storm in December 1847. Before this, she would transport “up to 500 passengers from the Irish ports of Cork and Londonderry to Quebec and […] New Orleans” (Dobson 2015). The St. Lawrence in Canada would frequently freeze over, therefore forcing the ships to travel further south in North America. Marchioness of Abercorn had stable statistics, and on the last journey she brought a total of 400 passengers to Grosse Ile in Canada, with only six deaths.

Cushlamachree, which is Irish for Joy of My Heart, was a renowned ship that arrived in New York on March 1st 1849 with all passengers safe and sound. However, the ship had been “hampered by bad weather” and it took a total of 57 seven long days and nights before they finally reached their destination (Laxton 121). It was rare that a ship managed to keep all of their passengers alive on the journey across the ocean, but Cushlamachree managed to do exactly this. Another ship keeping all its passengers alive was Creole, which was headed for Philadelphia from Londonderry with a crew and 221 emigrants in December 1848 under the command of Captain James Clarke. On December 7th, Creole “lost two-thirds of her sails, her main and mizzen masts, but under one remaining mast she limped back into Cork” after three weeks of travel (Laxton 111). Even though this ship did not make it to its original destination, it managed to save everyone through skilled sailing and loyalty to its passengers.

However, one of the most famous ships of the famine years was the Jeanie Johnston. Under the control of ship captain James Attridge from Castletownshend and the skilled surgeon Dr. Richard Blennerhasset, “the ship made 16 voyages to North America carrying over 2,500 emigrants safely to the New World” (“History of the Jeanie Johnston”). Through all these journeys they never lost a passenger at sea, which is an accomplishment not seen on any other ships during the famine years. The harsh conditions of ships would usually harm the passengers, but the actions of the captain and the surgeon improved the journey greatly. According to Edward Laxton, Jeanie Johnston “concentrated on the Canadian emigrant runs, making voyages to America only after the famine years” (153). There were many reasons why they would focus on Canada, but one of these might have been the lower ship fares and reluctance of the United States to let the emigrants in. The Jeanie Johnston managed to become what the ships were designed to do: bring the Irish to safety.

No ships could ever be categorized as great, simply because even if the they managed to keep all their passengers alive, the health conditions were horrible. But ships such as the ones mentioned above made a thorough attempt to provide as decent of a travel as they could for the emigrants. Some of them were successful because of plain luck and skilled crew during shipwrecks. However, others such as Jeanie Johnston and Cushlamacree managed to provide a decent journey for their passengers through a skilled captain, superintendent, or a proper surgeon. Conditions on ships were far from fortunate, and these ships were the only ones that were the exception.

Works Cited
Dobson, Ian. “The Marchioness of Abercorn.” Cornish Story, 2015. Web.

“History of the Jeanie Johnston.” Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship. Custom Quay House, Dublin. Web.

Keneally, Thomas. “The Great Famine and Australia.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.

Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.

Laxton, Edward. The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Rachel and Amanda Lundeen

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