After traveling by train across Sweden from Norberg, his hometown, Carl Albin Jacobsson arrived Göteborg Central Station at 7:03 on the morning of Monday, 21 April 1902, where he met two cousins. They, like thousands of other Swedes that year, had paid approximately 118 Krona for passage from Göteborg to New York (about $12 US).1 The emigrants entrusted their baggage and themselves to agents of the White Star Line and prepared to board a steamship at 4:00 that afternoon to cross the North Sea.
Göteborg to Liverpool
To Albin’s surprise, the feeder steamship to Hull was a crowded, dirty cargo vessel that had been put into service to transport emigrants under contract to White Star. Quarters were cramped, “poorly lit, and with not particularly good ventilation.” The bunks were stacked so tightly “that you could barely turn over.”2 He claimed a top bunk both nights of the crossing. Fortunately, he had brought his own food for the 50-hour trip. If ever to cross the North Sea again, Albin vowed not go 3rd class steerage!
The SS Cameo was a Wilson Line steamship built in 1876 at Hull, England, that usually ran between Hull and Scandinavia. The company had been known in the 1880s for poor treatment of emigrants.3
When England came into sight on Wednesday 23 April, “the air was warm, the fields glowed green before us, and the sun shone from a cloud-free sky. It was so refreshing and put us all in a good mood.” They docked at Hull at 4:30 in the afternoon on a high tide, and were ashore in about two hours. A half-hour later they boarded a train to Liverpool, where the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Celtic awaited its New York departure.
It was a comfortable 4-1/2-hour train ride across England. The compartment was filled with friends, so they “had a really nice time the whole way.” Yet, the companions were “quite tired and worn out from the constant noise and vibration” upon their 11:30 Liverpool arrival that night.
Albin was again disappointed with the accommodations provided by White Star. Their Liverpool hotel had “rooms with 7 or 8 beds for two people each. . . . Strips of wallpaper hung from the walls, and dirt had spread almost up to the ceiling. We were almost afraid to get near them. The floor was in such condition that we were afraid we would slip and fall at any moment. We could see through the windows, but just barely. Of course, there was no question of curtains, and there was no lighting either. We had to make do with the small amount of light that might possibly come from the corridors. . . . the least that could be expected from our worthy transport company is minimal attention to cleanliness.”
But Albin was lucky because the White Star hotel was crammed to capacity; he transferred to a Cunard Lines hotel, where he shared a room with David Erickson. “Our accommodations were very neat and clean, and we slept very well there.” They had Thursday and most of Friday in Liverpool before the RMS Celtic was to depart. Albin found it an unpleasant, dirty city.
And, they could not find a decent cup of coffee. “We went into a café which looked so nice from the outside, to get a cup of coffee, but it was not very nice inside. We drank our coffee but it did not taste good. . . . Coffee made without sugar and milk is not to be found in England. We asked for black coffee, but were told that if they offered that, they would only sell one cup a month. So that is the tradition here.”
Liverpool to New York
Around midday on Friday 25 April, White Star started transporting passengers and their luggage to the ship. “There were, I dare say, people of all nationalities here: Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Poles, Russians, etc. All of them “clucking” in their own languages, of course, so it was dreadful to listen to.” The ship was loaded and got underway, only to stop briefly to pick up 1st- and 2nd-class passengers, and left Liverpool at 5:00. The Celtic headed for Ireland with about 2,000 passengers and 500 crew aboard.
The Celtic (2) was the first of the White Star Line’s Big Four ocean liner class. All four of the large ships had twin propellers driven by steam. When launched in 1901, RMS Celtic was the biggest ship in the world at 21,035 gross tons.4 It was built to carry 2,857 passengers (300 1st class, 160 2nd class, 2,350 3rd class steerage) and was 701 feet long with a 75-foot beam.5 Albin counted 350 “regular steps” from bow to stern, 35 steps side-to-side. “From water level it looks as high as a four-story building.”
The next morning they arrived at Queenstown on Ireland’s coast and 800 more passengers were loaded. “Now it became a little crowded onboard and life was completely different. The Irish are a happy and lively folk, but they are very slovenly. . . . They danced from morning to night throughout the entire trip. At first their dance looks pretty nice, but it gets boring after a while. They call it a type of jig.”
There was singing and dancing by various nationalities throughout the passage, including the Swedes. One afternoon, Albin and his friend Eriksson entertained an audience on flute and zither. Most days were spent “playing and singing and having a nice time. . . . We were always a group of six or eight when we went up to walk on the deck.” Albin and his mates drank coffee together every day from a pot Eriksson had brought along. After meals, tables in smaller dining rooms were made ready for smokers with red cloths. “It looked pretty nice. This was a good place to sit and do some writing if one wished. People chatted and played cards here as well.”
Land was sighted on 02 May, eight days after leaving Liverpool. It was a relief “after such a long time of seeing only sky and water and the occasional steamship. We wondered what the island was because it took a long time to sail past, . . . We soon found out that this long island was called Long Island.”
The harbor pilot came aboard around noon. As the ship passed into New York, a little steamboat approached flying a yellow quarantine flag. “This meant that there was a doctor onboard. We were going to be examined yet again before we could proceed further.”
Albin’s overall impression of the Atlantic voyage was good. Partly because the first day Albin had “cheated” by paying a crew member (“the scoundrel”) to secure a six-bunk cabin amidship, instead of their assigned spot in an aft dormitory for about 1,000. The cabin, regular walks on deck, and fellow Swedes had been a comfort on the crowded ship. The food was “pretty good” (even if the service was “careless and unsanitary”), the weather was beautiful, and the water calm.
The ship docked near the Brooklyn Bridge at 4:00 on Saturday, 03 May, completing one of nine crossings the ship made from Liverpool to New York in 1902.6 But Albin’s journey was not over. He would spend the night onboard. Thousands of lights were reflected in the water that night. And there was one “clear, strong light rather high up in the sky. This comes from ‘The Statue of Liberty,’ a colossal statue at the entrance of New York.”
On Sunday, the Celtic’s 3rd-class passengers were ferried to Ellis Island and processed as immigrants. Two weeks after bidding farewell to family in Norberg, 26-year-old Albin Jacobsson began his life as a Swedish-American.
>> DOWNLOAD: "To America" - English (PDF, 425KB). Wentland, Cynthia, transl. “To America by Carl Albin Jacobsson: An Emigrant’s 1902 Journey from Norberg, Sweden.” Bruce Jacobson, ed. Privately held by Jacobson (Beacon Street, Boston). 2019.
This work by Bruce Jacobson is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International License—Attribution-ShareAlike.
Header photo of RMS Celtic (2) image by Montague B. black, nd, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License by Ian Boyle of Simplon Postcards (http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/2WhiteStar/Celtic-100_900.jpg : accessed 25 May 2019).
Photos of postcards, nd, showing SS Cameo at dock and interior lounge of RMS Celtic (2) provided by www.norwayheritage.com ; use permitted for personal web pages, family history books, etc.
Postcard images of RMS Celtic (2) in port and at Liverpool in the public domain, nd, courtesy of greatships.net (https://greatships.net/celtic2 : accessed 27 May 2019).
Panoramic photo “New York City, 1908,” courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007661246/ : accessed 26 May2019); Call no.: PAN US GEOG – New York no. 177 (E size) [P&P].
Last Updated on 18 January 2022.
- “Swedish Immigrant’s Steamship Passenger Contract 1902 [Ester Helbana Magnuson]” at Ancestry.com, online database (http://ancestry.com: 2010). Original data cited: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls); Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957; (National Archives Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls); Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
- All quoted material is from: Cynthia Wentland, transl., “To America by Carl Albin Jacobsson: An Emigrant’s 1902 Journey from Norberg, Sweden,” Bruce Jacobson, ed. (2019); privately held by Jacobson (Beacon Street, Boston).
- Børge Solem, “The Wilson Line,” at Norway Heritage (http://www.norwayheritage.com/ : accessed 16 May 2019); search term: “Wilson.”
- Wikimedia Foundation, “Big Four-class ocean liners,” at Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Four-class_ocean_liners : accessed 27 May 2019).
- Wikimedia Foundation, “RMS Celtic (1901),” at Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Celtic_(1901) : accessed 27 May 2019); citing Arnold Kludas, Great Passenger Ships of the World Vol 1 1858-1912 (Patrick Stephens Ltd.), 90. In 1904, Celtic carried the highest number of passengers in a single crossing in White Star’s history, arriving New York on 16 September fully booked with 2,957 passengers on board.
- Børge Solem, “S/S Celtic (2), Wilson Line” at Norway Heritage (http://www.norwayheritage.com/ : accessed 26 May 2019); search term: “Celtic (2).”