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Dublin to Quebec on the Mary and Bell, 1817

From Narrative of a Voyage from Dublin to Quebec, In North America, by James Wilson, 1822, CIHM #63247

1817. I sailed on Thursday 15th of May from Dublin, in the brig Mary and Bell, bound for Quebec, commanded by Captain Cunningham; felt my mind awfully impressed on leaving my native land; yet sensible that it is thy will, O God! Do willingly commend myself and family to thee both now and for ever.

17th -This morning the following circumstance happened. The captain seeing a small cask or barrel floating on the waves, took boat in pursuit of it, and on examining found a human body contained therein.

I and my family are now sick, especially my companion: Lord help us to be resigned! We are in thy hands, O God! Chasten us, but not in thine anger, lest thou bring us to nothing.

18th -This day the wind is fair; the vessel sails rapidly. We passed Tusker rock, situate within nine miles of Wexford town, on which is built a light house to be a guide for shipping by night; a family resides therein, paid by government for lighting the house. This evening I was requested to hold a religious meeting, which I consented to, having obtained leave from the captain of the vessel; a great number attended on the occasion, whilst I said a few words on the 3d chapter of 2d Peter. The people waited on God in a becoming manner; I trust not in vain.

19th -The people are mostly all recovering from their sickness, consequently there is more order and regularity observed.

20th -This day the wind is fair; the ship sails nearly five miles an hour. The rocking of the vessel has brought on sickness again to many of the passengers. My wife is quite unwell, and myself also; but thou art my portion, O Lord, my God!

21st -This morning is quite calm: the sky clear. About twelve o'clock; the waves swelled prodigiously, the ship making five miles an hour and through its excessive motion extreme sickness prevails. O my God! Save me from a murmuring spirit, and help me to cast my care on thee

22d -It is now eight days since I left Dublin bay, never more, I suppose, to return. I find it a serious thing to go to America; it is attended with much pain of mind, sorrow, sickness and affliction. How few consider this, till they find themselves on the wide extended ocean then 'tis too late to wish themselves back! I think those who enjoy the comforts of life in abundance in Ireland, have no right to leave a certainty for an uncertainty. At least without a satisfactory evidence of their removal being of God, but, alas! how few consult him on any occasion.

This evening several huge fish were see sporting on the waves; this it seems indicated an approaching storm, which lasted the whole of the night.

23d - This day nothing particular occurred; many of the passengers continue sick: my wife and I are still unwell, and my children also; but my trust is in thee, O Lord, my God!

26th -Being much afflicted with sickness these few days past, I have been unable to write, but thanks be to God, now feel better. I never witnessed such a scene before as the storm which we had on Friday night. About eleven o'clock, the captain being just gone to bed, it began; on which he immediately got on deck and ordered all the sails down, which being done, restrained the motion of the vessel; nothing could equal the awful change that took place-the vessel rolled from side to side, and overturned all the passengers' boxes, pans, kettles, and vessels of water, in such a manner as that no tongue can express, or mind conceive the state we were in-all, I may say, expected every moment to be swallowed in the great deep. My mind was seriously impressed on the occasion, but my whole soul was stayed on god. The captain had, by his own account, three dozen of plates broken, besides several bottles of porter. This storm continued partly till Sunday evening.

27th -This day being very fine, the people are chiefly on deck, and thanks be to God recovering their health after the late tremendous storm.

28th -This day has been the most favourable for sailing of any we have had since we left Ireland. It is supposed the vessel has sailed since four o'clock yesterday until twelve this day, one hundred and fifty miles. If this continues we shall soon arrive in Quebec.

31st -Yesterday I felt so sick, with a violent pain in my head, that I was not able to leave my bed; but thanks be to God, to-day I find myself something better. Whilst on deck, I had a view of several huge fish, some of them, I think, were from eight to ten feet long, called sea hogs, they came within six yards of the vessel. How wonderful are thy works, O Lord!

June 2d -On Saturday night we had another storm, which continued the whole of Sunday; and although it was not so violent as the one we had on the 26th, yet I may safely say, the consequences were of a more serious nature. Through the violent agitation of the waves, the vessel heaved from side to side so vehemently as to produce the utmost confusion; the people could scarcely remain secure in their beds; their chests and other articles of use were all thrown into one common heap: in short, I never witnessed such disorder before. I felt my mind deeply impressed on the occasion, and firmly stayed on the God of my salvation. The vessel sailed near ten miles an hour part of this day, till the shifting of the wind caused a decline in sailing.

5th -We are now three weeks this day at sea, and by this time, have a tolerable knowledge of what kind of provisions are most needful for a voyage to America:

And 1st Oatmeal, and cutlings are much used, molasses also; potatoes are of the greatest value, nothing more so in my judgment. Salt, or hung beef, pork, bacon or hams, are all excellent in their use; veal when salted, and afterwards watered, then boiled with beef or bacon, will produce a soup very desirable. One family here, brought a quantity of fowl in pickle, which when watered, eat very delicious. Coffee is much preferable to tea, the water being so bad, as to render the tea rather insipid and tasteless: bottled ale is good for drink, but in my opinion, cyder when mixed through water, is a much better and cooler drink for the stomach than any other; a constant thirst being common to all on sea. As to spices, pepper, and ginger is mostly used. Flour is essentially necessary; cake bread or pan cakes being very applicable to weak constitutions. Eggs are much used, and when well grazed, or put in salt pickle for six hours, and well packed, will keep fresh a considerable time, this I found by experience. Good port wine is very reviving on sea, when used moderately; but spirits is not so very necessary here. I conceive pickled cabbage to be very useful, such kind of diet only answering whilst sickness prevails; I therefore recommend it. Biscuit is much used by seamen, and the only way for passengers to take it is, to pour boiling water on it, and when steeped a few minutes toast it before the fire, then butter it, and it will eat as pleasant as loaf bread, but not otherwise: oat bread well baked in an oven, will answer well with either tea or coffee; cheese will be very needful; split peas for soup; and lastly, vinegar, butter, and potted herrings.

To preserve new milk for a voyage, take a large or small jar or jars, and clean them remarkably well, and when done, put the milk therein, and after securing it well by corking it close, put the jar or jars into a large pot of water, and boil them over a good fire, and when done, pack them in a hamper, or some other place, and it will keep sweet the whole of the passage. This has been tried by a man of truth and credit, who went last season to Philadelphia, and used the milk there after his arrival, it retaining its natural sweetness. There is a diet much used here, vulgarly called "beggars dish," composed of peeled potatoes and either beef or bacon cut in thin slices, and mixed through them, affords a pleasant meal, the soup is much esteemed, being seasoned with pepper. Delft ware will not in any wise answer in common use, I would therefore recommend tin poringers, or small wooden noggins and trenchers, these will be found best at sea, as the constant motion of the vessel will have a tendency to break any other: a tin kettle in the form of a D will be found very useful in boiling meat or any other food, as it can hang on the bars of the grate at any time, this will be highly accommodating, especially where so many families are boiling their food at one time. The kind of apparel I would recommend to male passengers would be, short jackets or waistcoats with sleeves, a dark handkerchief for the neck, and coarse trowsers:-for women, a long bed gown, or wrappers with dark shawls or handkerchiefs, as cleanliness cannot be observed with any degree of precision. It is necessary to provide strong chests or boxes for a voyage, well secured with good locks and hinges; or otherwise it is impossible to preserve property: I am sorry to have it say, in this vessel there has been much plunder committed, for want of being duly prepared against it....

9th -This day is fine, and affords much pleasure to the passengers who are chiefly on deck, except a few who are weak and sickly. My dear wife being one of these, is a good deal confined to her bed. She is this day better, thanks be to God. Our vessel is sailing well to day, with a fair wind. We hope ere long to be favoured with a sight of Newfoundland banks, if this was once effected, we then, it seems, would be liable to no danger arising from storm.

Yesterday we were cut short of our allowance of water, from three quarts per day to each passenger, to five pints, (government allowance) and from the badness of it, together with the small quantity given, serves to increase the distress of mind which arises daily; and never did the children of God pant, and long more eagerly for the water of life, than the people do here for the clear spring water: but when will they long for the fountain of living waters? I fear some never; I hope others in due time.

11th -Yesterday being quite unwell with a violent pain in my head, I was chiefly confined to my bed, but this day feel much better. Glory be to God. Our vessel is gaining but little these few days by means of foul winds, and a constant swell in the sea. Both render our passage tedious and disagreeable. Our captain says he never remembers such severe weather this season of the year before: "but the end of all things is at hand." May I be sober, and watch unto prayer.

This evening presents an awful appearance, a dark sky; the waves roll mountains high; and from the frequent dashing of the water over the deck into the hold, unite to make our condition truly distressing; the people themselves, and their beds being frequently wet thereby.

12th -This day we are four weeks on the perilous deep, divinely preserved amidst the storms and tempests that constantly prevail; ...

13th -Another day has commenced, thank God. A thick fog covers the sea; this is to be expected, it seems, in drawing near Newfoundland.

15th -I feel a degree of thankfulness to the Lord for his sparing mercy, in being brought to see another Lord's day....I often think of my kind religious friends of the town and neighbourhood of Ballycanew, (Co. Wexford), many of whom lie very near my heart; their loving kindness to me,...

16th -This morning we have a calm sea, the day being very fine, the passengers are chiefly on deck, there are a few who remain sick. One young woman, I fear, will not recover. I visit her frequently, speak to her respecting her soul; and pray also with her, I hope not in vain.

This day a slender pine tree, about 18 feet long, was seen floating on the waves; the captain took a boat and brought it on board; I never saw such a curiosity before. On this tree grew small shells, so thick as to cover every part of it, their form not unlike the head of a young bird, with a yellow edge, in these shells the bird called the Barnacle commences its existence; it is nourished from a long tube connected with the shell, and very like a large worm; I was quite astonished at its singular appearance. I suppose it had been driven to and fro these several years.

17th -We have this day much in our favour; a lively fair wind, the ship sailing near 8 miles an hour since eight o'clock last night. We expect every day a sight of Newfoundland, and were it not for the severe weather past, would ere now obtain our desire, I humbly hope the time may not be long till we arrive safe on shore.

18th -The ship sails very slow this day, the wind being contrary. There is much patience and resignation wanting here, it being a place of severe trials, crosses and losses. The utmost care is wanting to preserve property, from being taken privately.

19th -This morning we had a view of a large mountain of ice, a considerable distance off, which caused the captain to ascend to the top mast of the vessel, to get a better view of it, when suddenly he perceived a huge body of ice right a head, about a gun shot from the ship, which caused him to hasten down and alter the course of sailing, or otherwise the consequence would have been truly awful, as the force of the vessel coming against the ice would have rent it in pieces.

20th -I visited Phoebe Dagg, (the young woman already spoken of) about twelve o'clock this morning, but found her speechless, prayed with her for the last time, and commended her soul to the Lord; she died about two hours after. She was allowed to remain in her bed till night, when about nine o'clock she was put into a sheet of canvas and brought upon deck. I was sent for by the captain to have prayer on the occasion. It was a serious time! After prayer she was let down into the sea, there to remain till the morning of the resurrection, when the sea shall give up her dead, and body and soul be united again to receive its final sentence, and I hope to inherit a crown of glory. The distress and anguish of her sisters on the occasion were truly lamentable.

This young woman was from Ahowle in the Co. Wicklow, about 23 years of age, and whilst in health, was agreeable, friendly, and truly pleasing in her manner.

21st -We have at length arrived at the banks this morning; the captain sounded for bottom, and found it 54 fathoms. A thick fog covers every part of this region, with a heavy mist of rain. The vessel sailed from four o'clock yesterday evening till twelve to day, about 7 miles an hour and now sails slowly this evening, through means of a dead calm, yet we humbly hope very soon to land at Quebec.

22d -This blessed Sabbath is spent by many of the passengers in fishing, fish being very numerous in this part of the sea...

23d -This morning several vessels are in view, all employed in fishing, this part of the deep supplying chiefly every part of the world with fish, and is resorted to at this season by fishermen of almost all nations who trade in this line of life. A thick fog covers the whole sea in this place, and is, I think, unwholesome in the highest degree. I expect a few days will bring us to the gulf of the great river St. Lawrence-this will be truly pleasing to our longing minds.

26th -We are now past the banks, and have a sight of the island of Newfoundland, this gives general satisfaction as we pass along, it being six weeks this day since we left our native land. Our ship hardly moves, there being no wind whatever, the sun intensely warm, the sea quite smooth, all render this a delightful day; the chief of the people are on deck-their beds and bed-clothes airing. This is very necessary, it being impossible to conceive how fast the infection of filth and dirt prevails in this wretched place.

27th -The weather is at present very fine-the high winds and constant storms are entirely gone; a dead calm succeeds, which makes our voyage tedious; yet blessed be God, it is preferable to the dreadful hurricanes we have passed through.

28th -This day has changed much in our favour; whereas yesterday and a few days before were quite calm, we have now a fierce sharp gale-our vessel sails eight miles an hour. We passed three islands, St. Peter's, Langley, and Magalawn islands; on the mountains of these are several huge ridges of snow which, no doubt, is the chief cause of the severe cold which we experience.

29th -Thanks and praise be to the God of all mercy who hath graciously spared me to see another Lord's day, which I trust will be the last I shall spend here, this being the seventh on my voyage to America. There is a clear view on the right of a very extensive chain of mountains, composing some hundreds of miles, and so thickly covered with snow as to form a grand appearance; at the S.E. end of which lies Cape Ray. It is expected by to-morrow morning we shall get fully into the gulf, wind and weather permitting; this done, we have not long to spend here till we arrive at Quebec.

30th -This morning presented a beautiful clear sky, the sun extremely hot, with a calm smooth sea, until about three o'clock, when a lively gale of wind sprung up, causing the vessel to run seven miles an hour, which brought us to St. Paul's island supposed to be seven miles round, between Cape Ray and Cape Breton, off Nova Scotia, but much nearer the latter. Cape Breton forms a very fine appearance, being to the left on our course. This timely wind has been kindly given by the hand of God: for had the calm continued, it would be nearly impossible for us to urge our way through the heavy tides that are here, being now fully in the gulf of the river, leading to Quebec; here several large rivers empty themselves, and are of such force as to be able to drive back any vessel from its course, unless the wind is fair and strong, which, thanks be to God, it is this evening.

July 1st -This morning we had heavy rain, attended with a thick fog, preventing a sight of land on either side; the ship sailed near eight miles an hour all night and continues to do so still; we passed a few large islands called the Bird isles, lying northward of our course, and fifty miles from St. Paul's; a few days more with such a constant wind will bring us to our desired haven.

3d -We are this day seven weeks on the great deep, urging our way often against fierce contrary winds and heavy tempests, and as frequently detained by a settled calm; this has been our case since we left America; yet blessed be the Lord, he has brought us to the river Saint Lawrence, at the entrance of which may be seen a large wood, or forest, abounding with stately trees, which afford great pleasure as we sail along. This morning and yesterday we made no way, by reason of a dead calm, but at two o'clock a brisk wind arose, and we now proceed at the rate of eight miles an hour; we therefore expect, being now far up the river, that our danger is over, and hope the rest of our passage will be pleasant and agreeable.

4th -This morning (as is usual in drawing near Quebec), about six o'clock, a pilot came on board to steer us safely up the river; it appears no vessel dare approach the city without one. This had a tendency to appease the minds of the people at large, being now convinced that we are near our landing place. The stately mountains ascending over each other, are truly grand along the sea shore on the left, and it seems continue all the way to Quebec. The people now seem to forget all the misery, sickness, and sensible trials they have passed through, as all enjoy health, and are looking forward with eager desire to a speedy deliverance, and are thereby comforted, expecting to reap the benefit of an exertion truly great and awful, in leaving one kingdom for another.

5th -The vessel now being conducted by the pilot, I think it my duty to make some observations on our captain, and am of opinion, that no man could possibly take more pains to secure the comfort, health, and protection of the passengers at large than he did; night and day he left nothing undone to hasten us on our way; and when almost all the people were sea sick, he failed not to visit them daily in their respective births, to enquire after their health, and to administer such medicine or food (whether meat or drink), as he judged might recover them speedily: his attention to the deceased young woman who left this stage of time, deserves to be noticed. He attended her faithfully, and freely gave her of his wine, fowl, or any thing else he had, and evinced much trouble respecting her; and confident I am, that his knowledge and skill in conducting and bringing passengers to America cannot be exceeded, or perhaps equalled.[sic] And I am further of opinion if captain Cunningham is disposed to bring passengers next season to Quebec, it would be wise and safe in all my countrymen who can to embark with him in preference to any other; and I would not make such an assertion, were it not that I feel convinced of his ability, care and attention to all who commit themselves to his protection.

6th -This sabbath day I expected to spend in Quebec amongst the people of God; but the Lord has so ordered it that we are still on sea, and have a clear view of Labrador on the right hand, and a truly delightful prospect it affords. The land is low near the sea, and spots of it cleared, which look exceeding well; the trees are very large, and growing along the beach. I saw this day two or three huge whales in this wide and very deep river; also another curious fish called the seal; and had a view of another large fish called the thresher: this fish has two great fins, or arms, with sharp points, with which, the united help of the sword fish, and effectually kills the whale. The thresher, by constantly striking its back and sides, and the sword fish by keeping under its belly and piercing it in the tenderest parts until they actually destroy it. I saw the thresher close to the whale, as if in the very act of using every exertion to kill it. How astonishing is this!

8th -This morning I was confined to my bed with a violent head-ach, but finding myself better, arose and went on deck, and had a new view of Bird island, a very beautiful place, also Green island; both lying on the left hand as we pass to Quebec. The river here grows quite narrow, and affords a pleasing view on each side. On the right nothing appears but high mountains without any inhabitants; but on the left the land is cleared in spots, and inhabited chiefly by French and Indians. We passed a small oval island, also Wet island and Hare island, all on the right in the river; from Hare island to Quebec is 105 miles. We have this day a fair wind and good sailing. This evening we passed several small islands in the river, on the left called the Pelerins, and expect to be at our journey's end by to-morrow, God being our helper.

9th -This morning I arose between four and five, went on deck, and felt truly thankful to the Lord for his wonderful care over us in the past night, which ought never to be forgotten by any on board this vessel. A tremendous storm took place in the evening late, continued all night, and it being extremely dark, together with the judgment that was required in steering aright, all conspired to make our state quite dangerous; the captain had to sound the depth of the water for the space of two hours constantly, and give a report of it every five minutes; the vessel sailed over part of the river not exceeding twenty-four feet of water, but through the great skill of our pilot we were safely brought clear of the rocks which were on every side. We passed by several large vessels which lay at anchor, being fearful to get under sail till morning, the masters of whom advised us not to proceed; but depending, under God, on the experience of the pilot, we proceeded safely, all praise be to God for this and all other mercies. Having contemplated with astonishment our great deliverance, I cast my eyes around to view the country as I passed along, and never did I behold such a delightful view as I had on both sides. Here are lands improved with such exquisite taste and lain out to such great advantage, as to exceed every idea that can be formed of it by any mind not favoured with seeing it. Here are beautiful large and small houses so neatly built as to afford the greatest satisfaction to the beholder, several churches and chapels are along the sea shore; windmills, tan-yards and large buildings, are also to be seen. The houses are very near each other, and the land laid down in square lots, about two acres wide, and extend very far backward, where the people have their wood-land for firing. There are none of these houses mean in appearance; they are all executed in the neatest manner, and painted outside, some white, some yellow, and others slate colour. In short I never beheld such an improved country, nay, not in any part of Ireland that I have seen, and what causes such deserved praise to this land of liberty is, that all the improvements done are the effect of much labour and constant industry.

We arrived safe, glory be to God! About eleven o'clock this morning at Quebec, and so concluded our voyage of eight weeks. Our ship cast anchor opposite the great battery, where we have a view of the troops doing duty, and also of the shipping lying in the harbour.

We now felt the strongest desire to go on shore, and having applied to the captain, a few of us were allowed that liberty, but requested to return in a few hours, the ship not yet being examined as to the state of passengers' health, &c. We got into the boat, and in a few minutes arrived on shore, when the joy that each of us felt was inexpressible. We could scarcely walk, the earth appearing to bend under us. My first object was to find out the stationed preacher of the city; and after some enquiry was shewed the house he lodged in, belonging to Messrs. Shea and Walker, partners in the boot and shoemaking trade. This family received me very kindly, and brought me to Mr. Hicks' room, to whom I was introduced as a friend and local preacher from Ireland...

(After a few days in Quebec the party made their way to Montreal.)

The steam boat sailed at eleven o'clock at night, having near five hundred souls on board, consisting of the 37th regiment of foot, and part of another also, which, with their wives, children and luggage, produced such a scene of confusion and distress as to exceed any thing I ever before witnessed. I thought the misery I passed through on sea could not be exceeded, but when I compared it with my voyage from Quebec to Montreal, I felt my comforts of body and mind were then much greater, as I was now surrounded with the most unruly cursing, swearing mortals I ever beheld.

The expense of this voyage was only 9s. each, and 4s. 6d. for every child under fourteen years of age. The reason of this charge being so moderate was occasioned by government contracting with the proprietors of the steam boat, and thereby allowing every settler to proceed to Montreal for half price.

We arrived in Montreal the second day about eleven o'clock, being much fatigued for want of rest, having slept but little for two nights. On leaving the vessel, our boxes, chests, and beds were all measured, and a charge laid on, only a small allowance made to each passenger. The expense of this journey amounted to 3 5s. which sum I could not have paid, but for the kindness of my friends in Quebec. Lord remember them for good!

Here my first object was to look out for a temporary lodging, but on enquiry I found that the king's barracks were open for the settlers to remain awhile; this was very timely, as it saved some expense, lodging being very high in this place. I hired a waggon and brought my family and luggage into the barrack, as did also the rest of the families who came over with me. We remained here about a week, during which time my wife employed herself in cleaning the wearing apparel, bed-clothes, &c. after the severe distress and filth contracted on sea....

(After a few days in Montreal the party continued.)

...I prepared to proceed on my way, and from enquiry found I should hire a waggon to bring my family about eight miles;...(and proceeded to ) a small town called Lacheen, to which place I proceeded, paying eight shillings for carriage the above distance of eight miles...A large boat being about to sail, I got my family and luggage into it, and so proceeded on for Prescott, a distance of nearly one hundred and eighty miles...After sailing a few days, we arrived at a part of the river called the Cascades, called by some the Rapids, and by others the Split Rock. In this place the water swells and rises to such a degree that every boat or vessel coming up against these Rapids are obliged to be unloaded, and the property sent by land carriage to a place called the Cedars. And here my increasing sorrow, I may say, commenced: for being obliged to lighten the boat I and my family were in, amongst the ?? Of the property delivered up by the proprietor of the boat to carriers waiting on shore for that purpose, my valuable library of books, packed up in a large box, with another larger one of clothes, &c. were given in charge to the waggoner, to be brought forward to the Cedars; it being rather late in the day, this carrier left my two boxes, with two puncheons of rum, in the yard of a tavern, about half a mile from the place where he took them in charge, and as I supposed them safe, remained with my family; in the mean time, my box of books was stolen in the night: and thus, after bringing them safe across the sea, and flattering myself that I should have much comfort in reading them from time to time, in one night I lost my valuable library, which I had for years been collecting. I pray God, that they may fall into some hands that may know their value, and derive divine knowledge therefrom.

After a tedious passage, and I may truly say a most disagreeable one, I and my family arrived safe in Prescott, and felt much satisfied in mind that I had no longer to deal with the wicked crew belonging to the boat, and having my luggage on shore, we got our beds, &c. in the most comfortable place we could find near the river side, and slept secure till morning.

Being uneasy to get forward in my tedious journey, I agreed with a waggoner to bring my family and luggage to Brockville, a distance of twelve miles, for which I gave him 12s. 6d....


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