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parties by an officer as to whether the claim was true.
This part of the business was very touching. I went
with the introducing official. Generally the recogni-
tion was obviously genuine. Eyes met, and people
rushed together. The woman with the six children,
who had been kind to the two babes on the voyage,
pounced on me in the Rotunda, eagerly asking,
" Where is my husband ? I know he must be some-
where about ; I saw him rowing round the ship in a
little boat : I thought he would be here." " All
Tight, mother," said I, "he is in the next room ; "
and I took her in. She was far too grateful to think
of thanking me. There he was, and a cheery, broad-
shouldered fellow he was, too. How they all blocked
up the passage with their family embrace ! They
made quite a little mob. How he kissed her and
hugged the children all around ! How they leaped
upon him ! " Come now," said the officer, good-
humouredly, " You really must let these other people



EMIGRANTS IN NEW YORK. 217

get at their friends." So they trooped out, all flus-
tered with joy.

Some who had no particular destination, but in-
tended simply to seek work in America, went at once,
free of charge, into the Labour Exchange, a large
office in Castle Gardens, where employers or their
agents were waiting to engage labour. Clerks sat
behind counters, over which were written up the names
of the various trades in which work was then to be
found. The wages being given that day were La-
bourers, 1 dollar 75 cents to 2 dollars a day ; tailors,
up to 20 dollars a week ; carpenters, 25 dollars a
month and board, or 18 dollars a week without board ;
bricklayers, 5 dollars a day ; farmers, i.e., agricultural
labourers, 12 to 14 dollars a month and board ; shoe-
makers, 6 to 15 dollars a week. These were the
figures I took down from the clerks. " Farmers "
get more in the summer, sometimes as much as 25
or 30 dollars a month with board, in the West.
Tailors and shoemakers, whose maximum wages were
20 and 15 dollars, received in many cases much less,
the claims of some to work at their respective trades
being almost nominal. Bancroft UbSf?

So much for the Labour Exchange, which seemed
to be conducted with much care and to do a great
deal of business. Some of the newly landed emi-
grants found work at once through this institution, a
record being kept of the various engagements entered



218 TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK.

into by its means, thus affording the Commissioners
of Emigration an easy method of reference in case of
complaint, and the emigrants a convenient mode of
tracing friends who had gone before them.

The baggage of those thus engaged, as well as of
those who were sent off by rail or otherwise disposed
of, having been examined on board ship, was given to
them afterwards. They had checks for it, being
allowed to bring none but hand-parcels into the
Rotunda. I should add, that, beside provision of
railway tickets, there were counters for general infor-
mation, assistance in letter-writing, telegraphic mes-
sages, and exchange of money. Clerks in attendance
spoke and wrote the various continental languages.

Let us now go back to those without money, letters,
or friends. They formed a dismal party, and had to
shake down that night as well as they could, under
supervision, in the Rotunda. Next day they were
put on board a steamer and sent to Ward's Island,
about an hour off, up the river. I went with them.
Divers were in tears. One woman in particular was
loud in her sorrow. She had expected to find her
husband, and found neither him nor any message.
She had four or five small children with her. The
officers told me that the friends of emigrants in
America often waited till they saw in the papers
the arrival of the ship in which their relations were
to come, and, knowing that they would be cared for



EMIGKANTS IN NEW YORK. 219

by the Emigration Commissioners, did not write or
make their appearance for a day or two. Thus I was
glad to learn that the two lone children would be ac-
counted for. They had a father in the States, who
had caused them to be shipped for America, like
parcels, to be kept till called for. But this woman
would not be comforted. As she was embracing her
children, and lamenting in the broadest Devonshire
accent, I said to her, " Don't be frightened, my good
friend; from what part of Devonshire do you come?"
This touched the vein of her sorrow. She turned to
me as to a deliverer, and dried her tears when she
found that I knew something of her home. I explained
all about the place she was going to, the strong pro-
bability of her being soon fetched away by her husband,
and cheered her wonderfully.

Among the emigrants was an Irishman, shrewd
enough in some things, but rather bewildered at what
was being done with him. He thought he was going
to some workhouse. He told me where he came from
and said that he had expected letters. I made him
more comfortable in mind, and gave him some tobacco.
"Now," said I, "tell me all about it." I give his
story, translated from the strongest brogue, but very
touchingly narrated by him.

" Sir," he said, " I have had two brothers in
America for some years. I thought I would stay be-
hind, as I had fourteen acres of land, and thought it



220 TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK.

would go hard if I could not get my living out of it.
So I dug and drained, and all promised well. Then,
one day, the agent came to me and, says he, ' I can
get double the rent for that land now, Mike, and you
must pay it or go.* So I went. But I have given
all that work to the landlord for nothing. I assure
you, sir," he continued, " I know violence is wrong,
but when these things are done, a man's mind is
upset ; he forgets himself."

Then he paused for a moment, spat into the river,
and added, " Sir, I've known 'em lie behind a hedge
with a revolver men like me. I know it's wrong.
I said to myself, Til go. I'll leave this place and go
to the Land of God.' So I am here, though I have
only feasted my eyes upon the shore, and not set foot
upon it yet." It was a hard case.

Along with the other passengers were some dregs of
emigration : tattered, greasy, blear-eyed. The Com-
missioners bind themselves to provide shelter in the
State of New York to emigrants for some time after
they land, in case they are in tribulation. And some
prefer chronic tribulation. They earn a little money,
drink, are turned off, and throw themselves upon the
Commissioners. There were two or three of these
poor rascals on board. Besides them were sick emi-
grants going to the hospital on Ward's Island. Pre-
sently we landed, and all trooped up to the receiving
office. There I presented my introduction, and was



EMIGRANTS IN NEW YORK. 221

asked to take a seat by the chief behind his counter.
The party was soon disposed of. Some were sent to
the refuge, where they had work to do, but were fed
and lodged. Some were dismissed to the hospital.
The children were sent to school, but not separated
from their parents. Then came the turn of the most
prominent rascal. The officer glanced up. " Drunk
again, I suppose." " Yes, sir," said the man sheep-
ishly. " Go into that corner," replied the officer.
They make the place uncomfortable to these gentry,
though the Commissioners are obliged to feed them.
When the crowd was melted down, the officer took
me over the establishment. It appeared to me to be
well managed. The Commissioners hold more than
one-half of the island, or about 121 acres. The build-
ings are the refuge and the hospital proper, reserved
exclusively for non-contagious diseases and surgical
cases ; there are also fever hospitals placed near the
water and isolated, the lunatic asylum, dispensary,
barracks, nursery, surgical wards, and residences for
the officers. There are two chapels, one Episcopal,
and one Roman Catholic, each holding about 500.
Representatives of religious bodies and societies may
distribute religious books and papers among the emi-
grants, and may report to the officers any wants not of
a religious nature. They may also visit any sick in
the hospital as often as their presence is desired by
patients.



222 TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK.

The lunatic asylum was especially distressing.
The poor sufferers appeared to be treated with much
kindness, but the proportion of lunatics is great. I
was told that some who had built their hopes on emi-
gration and come out with vague ideas of meeting
friends at once, had gone mad, on finding their hopes
suddenly dashed to the ground.

Attached to the refuge is a farm, on which many
emigrants are set to work till they can get employment.
In the previous year, the total number of inmates
cared for and treated in all the various establishments,
including hospitals and refuge, was 14,250; the total
number dead or discharged in the same period being
12,249. Thus 2,001 were left in December, 1868.
These destitute, sick, or temporarily friendless, form
a small proportion of the emigrants received and dis-
posed of by the Commissioners in the twelve months.
The total number landed was, in 1868, 213,686.

I will not weary our readers with statistics, which I
take out of the published report of the Commissioners
to the Legislature of the State of New York, but I
might mention that there was in 1868 a decrease in
alien emigration of 29,045 from the number received
in 1867 ; but an increase over the average of the
previous twenty years, of 22,421. Germans came iu
proportionately larger numbers. These amounted to
101,989 ; Irish to 47,571 ; English to 29,695 ; and
all other countries together to 34,431 ; showing a



EMIGRANTS IN NEW YORK. 223

decrease of 37,182 in the emigration from Germany,
Ireland, and England together, but an increase of
8,137 in the miscellaneous emigration. The most
marked feature in this latter item is the great number
of emigrants from Sweden. Among the year's arrivals
were 7,390 Scotch, 2,811 French, 699 Welsh, 268
Poles, 149 Belgians, 33 Australians, 22 Turks, 10
Africans, 3 Japanese, and 1 Sardinian.

The advantages held out to emigrants by the Com-
missioners are very great. The chief one is care for
some time after landing, in case they become sick or
fail in getting employment, either in Ward's Island
or in places throughout the State of New York where
such help is needed. The Commissioners keep an
account with country agents and institutions, to whom
the needy emigrants apply.

The revenues of the institution arise from the pay-
ment by ship-owners to the Commissioners of about
five shillings a head. This is virtually paid by the
emigrants, being included in their passage-money.

The result is that the Commissioners have some
control over ship-owners, and can care for the comfort
of emigrants on board ship. By an Act of the Legis-
lature of the State of New York passed in 1867, the
Commissioners are generally invested with the power
(subject to certain conditions) of examining under
oath any witness respecting complaints; and such
testimony, if made in the presence of the persons



224 TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK.

complained of, may be used as evidence in any subse-
quent action between any of the passengers and the
owners, masters, or charterers of the ship.

The financial position of this great institution is
good. The Commissioners had, on January 1, 1868,
a balance of 6,865,013 dollars.

There are many interesting details in the " Report
of the Commissioners of Emigration of the State of
New York." I have tried to give a general idea of
their work and position, which is not so well known
as it should be.

I must add that nothing could exceed the courtesy
with which I was treated by all the officials.




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Online LibraryHarry JonesTo San Francisco and back → online text (page 12 of 12)