The truth about coffin ships? (task 2)
Task 2: A view from on board a coffin ship
Extract from Gerard Keegan’s Famine Diary 1847
April 9. We sailed at daybreak this morning. Our shop, the Naparima, with estimated accommodation for three hundred, has over five hundred on board. It will indeed be a prosperous voyage for the charterers and the Captain who gets five pounds for each passenger. The Naparima is an ancient tub of a vessel that has reached a ripe old age.
Her creaking timbers will be severely tested if we run into rough weather.
After dropping the pilot at Kingstown three days’ rations of sea biscuits were served. They were tough and somewhat mouldy but the people were so famished that they ate them without complaint. Unfortunately almost all of them were consumed the first day. About half of the passengers had no place to bed down for the night. They tried to rest on bundles and chests on the floor of the steerage quarters. What I have seen today of the Naparima bears out some of the details I have already quoted about the whole system of transporting Irish emigrants. It is not an exaggeration to say that anything that will stay afloat and carry a sizable number of passengers is being put into service. I heard that a lot of the boats were built for Canadian lumber export. Some are dismantled when they reach England so that the structural timbers can be used. Others return to Canada with a human cargo as ballast. They take from six weeks to three months to cross the ocean. The holds are dark, cavernous dungeons fitted with narrow movable bunks for the emigrants. There are no lights, no portholes, and no ventilation except for what fresh air enters from the two hatchways.
The legal allowance is thirty-three inches, in width, for each passenger, but the crowding on the Naparima allows only about half of that. By noon hour today the air was already foul and if fever breaks out I fear for the worst. It is an ideal place for disease to spread.
Read this extract carefully.
Try and find phrases or sentences which tell us about:
2. Whether anyone made profits from the emigrants
3. Food and water
4. Quality of the ships
5. Conditions on board ship
6. Laws or regulations
Look at the tone of the language in this extract.
Do you get the impression that this account is a reliable source for the historian looking at how the Irish emigrants crossed the Atlantic?