It was June the 6th 1866 in the old Castle Garden on the upper bay of New York, the landing place where nearly all European emigrants filed into the United States- that a lad, midway between nine and ten years of age, might have been seen seated on a bench- on the south side of Castle Garden- waiting the time when the large company of Mormon emigrants, which filled the Garden, would embark for the zig-zag route across the United States, through Canada, for the distant valley of Salt Lake, Utah.
He was a boy of no prepossessing appearance. In the first place he was clad in just a pair of barn-door trousers and jacket, made from the old trousers of an English policeman, a pair of iron-rimmed wooden clogs; and on his head was what was supposed to be a jaunty Scotch cap, faced with bright plaid around the rim and ending in two black streamers behind, a headgear which the lad heartily despised. His eyes were restless, keen, blue and deep set, a nose decidedly ill-shaped and upturned, and the face was freckled, the lips full, but not tender nor sweet. The head appeared to be crunched down into the shoulders, amounting almost to a deformity, the teeth were ugly, misshapen, and a wide gap between the two frontal ones through which the lad had learned to send forth a shrill whistle on occasion. The body was rather heavy, such as is described for lads as "chunky"; the hair was of light mouse-colored hue, ill kept, slightly wavy and unruly of management, no amount of training seemed to affect it. On the whole he was stolid and sober faced. There was no joy of boyhood in his appearance, no disposition to mill around with the seven hundred other emigrants thronging the old Castle Garden. He seemed to be without companions and doubtless would have been repulsed by him if they manifested friendliness. He was a boy evidently who was accustomed to being alone-apart from the throng. He was not restless, but rather solemn and gloomy. He seemed, however, to be watching somewhat, and trying to keep within vision, a young girl about nineteen years of age. She was rather shabbily attired and the dress she wore was not only threadbare but torn in places. Her head was uncovered and the hair, glossy black, was pasted close to her head. She had the lad's ill-shaped nose- it evidently was a family defect-her brow was high and broad and there was nothing to relieve the plainness of the face except the deep set, hazel eyes, intently bright and the friendly smile which at times graced the generous mouth and full lips. She was sociable and evidently having both a sad and a cheerful time in manifestations of social meetings and the prospective partings with the friends that thronged about her. Her social disposition was in marked contrast with the surly disposition of the ill-favored lad on the bench. They were brother and sister, on the way with this great throng of nearly a thousand emigrants bound for Utah. By the side of the boy were several packages, some [p.1] in canvas wrappings or small canvas bags. These proved to be pieces of fat-side bacon, made greenish by the intense pickling of the pork to make it suitable for food on the long voyage by the sailing vessel, which had just ended; some loaves of bread; some packages of hard tack, common to sea voyages, which lasted, for sailing vessels over six weeks in duration in crossing from Liverpool to new York in those days (1866). It had been a terrific voyage this crowd of emigrants had made in the ship John Bright of the Guin Line. The ship still lay some distance out in upper New York Harbor.
A short distance west of Ireland, the John Bright had encountered three days of severe storm with high seas and had to sail with hatches down and sails reefed. The three decked serviceable ship was seaworthy, but tub-like in movements and during the three days of fierce storm little progress had been made on the western journey-in fact it was said among the passengers to have been driven backward. In six weeks and two days, however, the John Bright had made New York Harbor, and had disgorged its nearly one thousand emigrants on the shores of the New World.
It was a motley crew of Mormon emigrants that were chiefly from the working classes of English people, of various grades; trades people, shopkeepers, household servants, followers of odd jobs, such could be had from any source of industry. . . . [p.2]
Yet Charles Dickens, three years before, on the 6th of June, 1863, said of a similar company of about the same number, in his capacity of "Uncommercial Traveler", that they were in their degree "the pick and flower of England." This company so described by Dickens, was made up of emigrants of English and Welsh Latter-day Saints. It was equally true of the Saints from the Scandinavian and other European countries, and through all the years that the immigration or "gathering to Zion" continued-through all this 1866 company of Saints gathering to Zion, now in our narrative in Castle Garden- of the common people, purely; of the came class that "heard Jesus gladly" (St. Mark 12:37), that God must love, because he had "made so many of them." It is true of all the Mormon immigration to Utah, for they were practically of one class from first to last- the common people . . . [p.3]THE VOYAGE
. . . During the winter of 1865 word had been received by the authorities of the church in England that the Roberts children were to be brought to America that season, and consequently such steps were taken as would prepare both brother and sister for sailing in the first ship to leave England that season, the date of which was set for April 30th. The details of the arrangements, of course, were not known to either Harry or his sister Mary, but in some way the instructions were compiled with and at the Liverpool Branch on Sunday the 29th of April great public meetings were held and great rejoicing had by the large number of emigrants that were preparing to go.
All the forenoon of Monday, April 30th, small boats carried passengers from the shore to the ship John Bright lying at anchor with signals flying announcing an early departure. Up the sidesteps of the vessel the throng of passengers made their way until the decks were reached where they were distributed to upper, middle, or lower decks, according to nationality, price of passage, etc. In all there were about 764 adult passengers, how many accompanying children is not known. It fell to the good fortune of the Roberts brother and sister to be located on the first deck under the main open deck which for pleasantness of passage was better than the other two.
It was a varied crowd of passengers milling on the main open deck before the sailing of the ship, and there were both tears and laughter in the matter of saying goodbye, as many of those who came aboard were relatives of the passengers. Harry noticed that his sister Mary was for most of the time in tears and it was a matter of wonderment with him why she would be crying. For him the secret thought was that he was now on the way of fulfilling the promise he had given his mother, that he would join her in America, Zion to the Saints, and that filled him with very great satisfaction. Although nothing was said between brother and sister on that head. Harry could only account for his sisters tears by supposing that she was afraid that the ship might go down. While clinging to her hand as she went among her friends bidding them good-bye, Harry stamped firmly on the strong open deck and finally getting her attention he said: "Polly," (for that was the family name for Mary). "Polly, this ship won't sink," to which she gave tearful assent.
Sometime late in the afternoon the vessel was cleared of visitors, the anchor "weighed," and the ship started upon her voyage. It was the time now for songs of farewell and among these Harry remembered what to him was a familiar hymn:Yes, my native land I love theeAll the scenes I love them well-Friends, connections, happy country.Now I bid thee all farewell [p.15]REFRAINYes, I leave thee, gladI leave theeFor in distant lands to dwellAlso the Gathering Hymn:O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewellWe're going to the mountains of Ephriam to dwell.
There were several verses of each and they were sung by a strong congregational chorus at this departure, and often repeated through the long voyage. It was growing dark as the vessel drew away from the Liverpool Harbor.
Days passed and somewhere out from the Coast of Ireland a tremendous storm arose which lasted for three days. The roughness of the seas compelled the shutting down of the hatches. And as all the people were compelled to be mewed up below deck, life at sea was gloomy, and the tossing of the vessel made nearly all of the passenger heartily seasick. Food could not be served and there was much pounding of dry hard sea biscuits, washed down with water already becoming putrid. Late in the afternoon of the third day the hatches were opened and the steps leading to them were thronged with people all but panting for fresh air. Harry was among the many children who pushed his way up to the top of the steps and got a glimpse of the restless ocean as it was being thrashed by the winds. After the hatches had been turned back Harry observed quite a large ring in the farther edge of the hatch and pushing his way round the side edge, seized upon it. Nearly within his reach was still another ring, this too he grasped and by means of these rings he could lie upon his back and hold on amidst the restless pitching and rocking of the vessel. Way off at the horizon he could see the sun beaming through the clouds, giving promise of a better day on the marrow. Everywhere on every side the sea was raised into high though choppy waves that presented the sea in its wildest aspect, and this Harry enjoyed, though once in awhile waves leaped over the low sides of the John Bright and drenched him. The joy within his soul however rose to meet the boisterous ocean, and it was remembered as an experience of supreme exultation. It was not long to continue, however, as a sailor, who it seems had been designated to watch over the children and keep them from mischief and danger, came by with a rope end in his hand. Because he was swarthy and had very black eyes he was known among the children, whom he sometimes disturbed, as "Blackeye" and he took means to dislodge this boy Harry from his place of vantage. There was a wild scramble for the entrance to the stairway and in the wild dash Harry won first place and slid down the side banisters of the stairs of the gangway and escaped. He had good reasons for getting away from "Blackeye" because sometime before the storm broke the lad had invaded the forbidden regions of the "rattlings" which ran from the side of the ship to the vast cross beams which held the main sails, thence on up from cross beam to cross beam to the "top sail." Harry on this occasion reached the first cross beam when "Blackeye" saw him and swinging on the under side of the rattlings came up hand over hand [p.16] almost catlike. For one vain moment Harry tried to escape by climbing still higher up the rattlings, but it was no use; "Blackeye" had followed him and being on the underside of the "rattlings" was in excellent position to use his rope and after the boy had started to scramble down, suffering from the cuts of "Blackeye" rope end, until he could drop on the deck and escape. After that "Blackeye" was something of a terror and hence when the sailor made for the hatch to which Harry clung, there was hustling in hot haste to get to the deck below, where he made his escape.
All the days, however, were not so stormy, nor all the scenes stamped with sadness. Many of the May days cloudless and the air balmy. There were frolics on the deck, games and group singing, and there were many beautiful voices in that list of passengers, English, Welsh, Scotch-for they had been gathered from all the scattered branched in those countries. Some of them noted for their music. There was dancing also games for the children; among others, marbles for the boys when the ship was steady enough for the marbles to stay in the rings until shot out by the players. Of course there were childish quarrels and violence too. Harry remembered one which arose over the dispute about giving up of marbles that had been lost to him in the play-for the games was generally for keeps. The boy with whom the quarrel arose was of dark complexion, swarthy skin, a hard face, it would have been called because of its desperate earnestness and the fury with which he held up the fight of his quarrel. First blows were struck; but "Blackeye" was back at hand and soon separated the boys. The dark complexioned boy's name was John Gibbs, and he and Harry were held apart by "Blackeye". There was great anger registered on each face. Strange the meeting of these two under such circumstances. Twenty years shall not have passed when John Gibbs will have become a martyr to the faith of the Latter-day Saints, and Harry presiding over a mission in the Southern States will take some risks in bringing John's body from an unsatisfactory burial to send it home from Tennessee to friends in his hometown in Utah. The identification of each other and the relation of the circumstance to their lives took place during their missionary experience together. It can't often be prophesied what future relations quarreling boys will have to each other. This was one of the strangest.
So far as remembered the officers of the John Bright were very fine and they watched with serious care over the welfare of their passengers. This is true of all of them . Perhaps one exception was the first mate who was a "grouch," both towards the crew and the passengers, maybe he was a splendid officer, too, but he shout out his words in a deep guttural or husky voice, and always he had the appearance of having got up feeling mad about something. One mid-afternoon he gave a gruff order to "Blackeye" to go and bring him some bread and butter and a cup of tea. He was on duty and wanted this refreshment. Presently "Blackeye" came back with some choice thinly sliced white bread and butter laid together [p.17] like sandwiches. The mate appeared angry that the slices of bread had been cut so very thin; and so without any apparent reason he shouted at "Blackeye" as he threw the bread and butter over the side of the ship and into the ocean and said: "I told you to get some bread and butter, not wafers." And when Harry recalled the sea-fare of the passengers, which did not include delicately cut bread and butter, it was with no slight indignation that he witnessed this action of the first mate. "Blackeye", however, went to the cook's quarters and soon returned with bread thick enough to please the first mate's taste; but if ever the ocean was begrudged a thin bread and butter sandwich, it was when it received that double sandwich from the hands of the angry first mate of the John Bright.
The days of the voyage went on and one after another the days passed, and it began to be whispered among the passengers that we should in a few days begin to see land- American land. The rumor of it was remembered as thrilling, but it was not to be realized until another fierce and unlooked for storm. The clouds gathered which the officers and sailors spoke of as 'angry', as they rushed about carrying out the orders to reef sail and lash every loose thing fast. Passengers were ordered below, preparations were made to shut down the hatches. One man remarked to a companion as he stood by the door of the cabin(for there was a cabin and a few special and apparently wealthy passengers among the emigrant companies that occupied it)- taking a glance around the horizon from which in all directions the entreating storm seemed to be arising, "By G-d I wish we were in New York Harbor."
Harry wanted to see this storm, but the emigrants were ordered below deck and several sailors were hustling them down the hatch steps. Harry lingered near the penthouse on the rear of the deck where the emergency compasses were and where subordinate officers were stationed to assist in steering the ship. On the bridge, across the west of the ship Harry could see the helmsmen being lashed to the frame of the steering wheel. Evidently there was going to be a wonderfully interesting time. Harry crouched down out of sight behind the penthouse until all the others would be fastened below while he would be free to see what happened on deck. He didn't have to wait long for the happenings to began; a fierce wind gathered up a spiral of water, a waterspout, in fact, and soon it was crossing the pathway of the John Bright. The ship was caught in the outer edge of the swirling waterspout which carried the vessel far, far out of its course and the wildest scene of lashed ocean and swirling water occurred. How long it lasted was not known, but before the vessel was entirely free from the influence of the raging column of the water, night was falling and even Harry was glad to escape from the side of the penthouse and join the passengers under the hatches. [p.18]
After this adventure the location of the ship-its longitude and latitude had to be ascertained by soundings taken of the ocean bottom. The storm and waterspout had taken the vessel far to the north of the direct line of its proper course and the talk on shipboard was that it had been brought up toward Newfoundland; and several hours perhaps half a day was taken up in these soundings, after which the vessel's course was once more in the direction of New York Harbor, where now on the sixth day of June, as notice in Part I, the John Bright came to anchorage in Upper New York Bay and its passengers were temporarily lodged in Castle Garden, waiting to be loaded upon the low-lying steamboats which would take them up Long Island Sound to New Haven, when the journey by rail and riverboats would proceed into the middle-west of America.
It was an extremely zig-zag and indirect course which this company followed and it can not be understood how it was that the journey from New York was made by boat up the Long Island Sound to New Haven; thence to Montreal, Canada; thence up the river to Fort Laurence; thence to Niagra by train. The recollection is distinctly impressed upon Harry's mind that the train halted upon the Niagara Falls Bridge with the Falls in full view. There was some talk among the emigrants of one Blindell walking a tight rope over the Falls, his feet encased in baskets to make the fete more difficult and exciting.
Another incident of the journey helped to fasten upon the mind of Harry the halt on Niagara bridge. This was an attempt of the woman who had gone insane at Castle Gardens to destroy herself. She had escaped from her guards and rushed from the car in which she had been installed and made an attempt to leap from the car and bridge into the river below. Her guards, however, succeeded in recapturing her and taking her back to her car which was the same in which the Roberts brother and sister were traveling. These cars were of the cattle shipment type and before the cars left the bridge halt- the exits were locked. This enraged a good Welsh brother by the name of Williams and who in some way exercised a sort of guardianship over the Roberts brother and sister. He was a short man in stature, a typical Welshman of the excitable kind. His eyes were black and fiercely bright, the mustache was clipped rather short and stood out bristling and generally it was remembered that his beard was seldom shaved and contributed to the ruggedness of his features. He was readily excitable and bitterly resented being locked up in these cattle cars. As chief guard of this poor insane woman he wore an ancient rapier buckled about him in a leather scabbard, which he occasionally drew. It was supposed to add importance to his position as guard. At one point of the journey he undertook to cut his way out through the dual or oak door of the cattle car and Harry remembers how he smote repeatedly the door with this light-plated rapier doing no other damage than loosening a splinter or two, until he satisfied even himself that his [p.19] assaults amounted to nothing. He was peppery tempered and in later years, as Harry's extensive reading was well on its way it reminded him of Shakespeare's Welshman known in Prince Hal's Glendower who could call up spirits from the vasty deep and Prince Hal's taunt of "So can I and so can he, and so can anyone, but will they come when you do call them." Williams' assault upon the impregnable door with his slight steel blade was something of the same order. At any rate this fiery Welshman was a source of amusement to our Harry, on the boats, and as one of the rear guards of the covered wagon train.
That same night after leaving Niagara Bridge our unfortunate insane woman again escaped from her guards and for a time ran wild in the car, leaping over benches and sitting upon the sleepers variously stretched out on the benches that were supplied in the cattle cars. Harry had a distinct recollection of her coming and sitting on his head as he was asleep and as soon as he recognized her from her screams and wild laughter, he let our a yell that would have awakened the "seven sleepers," which scream only increased her hilarity and clapping of hands. At the first yell she bounced up and then dropped back again on the lad's head with renewed force. This went on for sometime with alternating bouncing and screaming. At last the guards who had fallen asleep were aroused and succeeded in capturing the woman and relieving our emigrant lad. After that the brother and sister avoided contact with the poor woman and succeeded until reaching Camp Florence on the Missouri. The journey was then continued to Detroit. Entering Canada, the baggage underwent an overhauling by the customs officers, of that Dominion and again at Detroit. The red coats of the British Military uniforms brought vivid recollections and something of a pang about having left England.
The journey was continued through Chicago, thence to Quincy, Illinois, where much of the conversation among the emigrants turned to Joseph Smith and Nauvoo, thence to St. Joseph and up the Missouri to a point called Wyoming, a little to the south of Council Bluffs. Arrival was made on the 19th of June. Here the emigrants' mule trains and ox trains were met that had been sent from Utah, chiefly by the Perpetual Immigration Fund Company, an organization for the gathering of the Saints to Zion. The means were advanced by this company to trustworthy members of the Church, with the understanding that the means advanced for the emigration, -would be refunded with a very low rate of interest; and when the object of the company was taken into account it was one of the most unselfish and practical arrangements that could be made, and beneficial with all, both to the emigrants and also to the newly and sparsely settled valleys of Utah. Thousands by this means were delivered from limited conditions in Europe and given the opportunity of becoming landowners in the Far West, many of whom attained unto independent conditions of prosperous middle-wealthy people, who constituted the wholesome men of affairs in their new homes. It was a cruel blow to the prosperity of the common people when the government of the United States in later years abolished this [p.20] system of mutual helpfulness between the poor of Europe and the development of Utah resources. Further notice of this will be taken when coming up to the period of the abolishment of the law. It was largely through the operation of this wisely planned institution that the Roberts brother and sister were able to be brought to America, and both in later years met the obligation for their emigration by repayment. Mary, through the man whom she married and Harry by working on the Utah Central Railroad, the road that connected Salt Lake and Ogden. The Church trains to meet the incoming immigrants in the year 1866 numbered ten, with, of course, ten plains captains, 456 teamsters, 49 mounted guards, 89 horses, 134 mules, 3042 oxen, and 397 wagons and 62 other wagons, 50 oxen, and 61 mules were added by purchase. All this for the emigration of Church members that year, which was one of the largest emigrations conducted by the church.
Nearly a month was spent at Wyoming, fitting out the trains and dividing them into groups for crossing the plains and going over the mountains. The movement westward from Wyoming could not begin until the 13th of July, thence continuing their departures through the summer into the middle of August. Captain Abner Lowrey's train leaving Wyoming on the 13th of August- the last train to leave. This train did not reach Salt Lake City until the 22nd of October, which was dangerously near the storm season of the mountains east of Salt Lake. In order to guard against calamities of the later contingencies, precaution had been taken to send out relief trains under Captain Azra E. Hinckley. This relief train extended eastward about 450 miles in order to meet the last company of the Saints that year. . . . [p.21]
. . . Owing to the journey drawing to the close, the impatience of the returning teamsters to get home and the emigrants to arrive at their objective point, created a spirit of restlessness which the slow movement of the ox train severely tired. . . . [p.36]
. . . [the] entrance proved to be third south; then, and long afterwards known as 'Emigration Street,' now Broadway. When Captain Chipman's ox team swung around the corner of third south into main street, Harry found himself at the head of the lead yoke in that team, walking up the principal street of the city, the rest of the train following. Here the people had turned out to welcome the plains worn emigrants and were standing on the street sides to greet them. Some horsemen dashed up the street swinging their cowboy hats, the customary cowboy handkerchiefs around their necks as if they were in from the range. . . . [p.37]
BIB: Roberts, B. H. Autobiography (Ms 106), bx. 1, fd. 1, bk. 1, pp.1-2, 15-21, 36-37. (University of Utah)