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A Trip to California in 1856 - Part 7

by Isabelle Walton Lusk

In earlier episodes Isabelle traveled by steam ship from Bangor to New York City, freshened up (accidentally) at the exclusive Astor Hotel, and met her future husband while getting stuck in her hooped skirt exiting a coach (apparently one of the reasons this fashion never really took hold.) From that point on she refers to Mr. Lusk as My Knight. In the last episode she described her traveling companions on the steam ship to Panama; and she continues in this part. You can read Parts 1 - 6 on the City Guides website.

In 1856 more women and children were traveling to California. One man stated during this period, "The greatest annoyance on board the ship is the number of babies and children. The noise they keep up is frightful. (1)

Part 7 - Eating and Sleeping Arrangements

Mr. Dangort our first officer [came by]. Mr. Ellery asked where is our Captain. The first officer stammered saying, "He has the mumps." I said, "Oh dear, I supposed we will all get them." Someone said," No, women and children do not get this kind." And then the others were convulsed with laugher.

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The first officer was a kindly man. When he learned of the delicate [health] situation of a Spanish lady, he immediately fitted his own stateroom on the upper deck. It opened up on a narrow walk where there was air all around the deck. The room was two staterooms where a partition had been taken out. The lady was removed up there, and she could get fresh air and sunshine. (2)

She would not go without her husband and maid and child. The first officer had intended the Spanish couple's room to go to Aunty Haskell and the twins. (3) But two men claimed the rooms. The officer told the men, "They are old ladies and have to sleep on bare stables, without beds."

The men said, "We can't help that. If they are old women they have no business here. They ought to be at home by the chimney corner, smoking their pipes."

Aunty Haskell told the officer, "Let them alone sir. They are the kind of men who would take the bed from their own mother and let her sleep on the bare floor. They will find a place [someday], in jail or prison where they belong." So [the officer left the men as is], but gave them no tickets to the first-class tables and they had to fight for a place at the second-class tables. And many a skirmish they had for they were trying to cheat American men and women.

Although Alice Judson was entitled to a place at the first-class table, she always sat at the second- class one with her husband(4)
. She told us of the fights the people had to keep their places [at the table] from robbers.(5)

There were nine brides abroad the ship and one of the men [for one of the brides] had a berth in a small room with Mr. Judson. This man's bride was a born thief. She stole poor Dick's handkerchiefs, socks, and shaving kit. When Dick complained, the poor husband looked distressed and offered Dick his own things, but Dick refused.(6)

I lost my appetite and could not eat the food. I could not drink the coffee or black tea the waiter would bring me. The first officer, who was at the head of our table, would sometimes bring me food he thought I could eat, but could not eat the dark bread with specks I could not account for. One day, the first officer brought me a tray of things to eat: green tea in a little pot, toasted bread made into a sandwich with boiled ham, some jelly, and three little sweet cakes that were like crackers. I knew it was My Knight that was paying for my lunch.

A little later I spoke to My Knight. "Mr. Lusk, you must not pay for that tray of food any longer. But I thank you a thousand times. My appetite has returned and I am all right now." He answered, "But why skirmish for food [at the table]?"

Among the passengers at the first class table was a young girl about my age. She was with her father and mother going out to a brother in California. I liked her on first sight and we became friends up until her death a few years ago. She had long heavy hair and we used to comb each other's hair. She always wished her hair was curly like mine. But I told her if she knew how much trouble curly hair was, she would be glad hers was straight.

The next part of a Trip to California in 1856 will be published in a future GuideLines issue. Thanks to Eric Bennion and Frances Lusk Bennion for sharing this memoir.

(1) Source: The Panama Route: 1848-1869, John Haskell Kemble.

(2) In Part 4, Isabelle met a Spanish couple and their daughter. The woman was not in good health.

(3) In Part 5, Isabelle describes a number of women who were sold fraudulent first-class tickets, and had no place to sleep on the steam ship.

(4) For some reason, Alice and her husband Dick Judson had two different classes of tickets.

(5) First-class passengers enjoyed priority seating at the dining tables, followed by the second-class. Steerage passengers had to bring their own bedding and eating utensils, and were not allowed to eat at the dining tables. Source: The Panama Route: 1848-1869, John Haskell Kemble

(6)One passenger commented on a trip from New York to Aspinwall, "The only difference between the first-class, second-class, and steerage is the amount of money they have. I do not think that there were over 35 passengers on board who would be considered first-class on a European ship". Source: The Panama Route: 1848-1869, John Haskell Kemble

Photo courtesy of SF History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

In Part 1, Isabelle described herself and her trip preparations.

In Part 2, Isabelle meets her chaperon and travels to New York.

In Part 3, Isabelle dines at the Astor House and meets her future husband.

In Part 4, Isabelle boards the steamship to Panama.

In Part 5, Isabelle describes the people she meets on the steamship.

In Part 6, Isabelle describes life on the steamship.

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