march 1896 - november 1898


Johannes Martens Miedema

It was fall 1895 when father, as usual, wrote a letter to old Dirk Miedema. That old gentleman was a cousin of father and had left in 1855 when the passage was still by means of sailing ships; that journey took 59 days (from shore to shore). I was supposed to mail that letter and included one myself. I had heard that one could make good money there and that sounded pretty good to me. When after four or five weeks a response was received, it appeared that the old man had answered my father's letter more or less for half of it and the one I included much more. From the beginning to the end he described all kinds of happenings and events and was writing about prospects because he was very glad that a member of the family wanted to visit him. But then the worst part of it had yet to come: I needed approval from my parents. Father didn't spend much time on that but mother was reluctant. However, after discussing it over and over again she decided: "It does not help me a bit when I disagree but I'm telling you that you will not stay there for ever". So she finally approved.

It didn't take long before a couple of friends were going to join me: Jasper Hogendijk and Siebe Mellema. The three of us registered at the Holland America Line and left on March 10 with the Broersma coach to Leeuwarden - old grandma watching us from her house in the dawn of the early morning - and on to Rotterdam with the emigrant-train. In the evening we visited the theatre and the next day: off to the sea. Leaving shore on board the ship sure grabs you, moreover because a brass band was playing "Whom who has Dutch blood running through the veins". Then there are many waving their family and friends farewell in tears. We pretended that we had nothing to do with that but everyone knows their own feelings best. On board we met a guy from Hartwerd, Ate R. de Boer. He had been in America for two years and told us a lot to which we listened with interest. We were travelling second class and that wasn't too bad because third class was no good, in particular for women and children. Next morning, while passing Boulogne, we sent a postcard to the folks back home. A French ship came alongside, dropped another thirty passengers and took the mailorders along. Next day we were mostly on deck. The weather was nice, the sky clear and the chalk cliffs of England with the green lawns and lower lands in between offered a great view. Later that afternoon we passed Land's End which is the final end of the coast. We didn't see the lighthouse, the actual last sign of life. I may have missed it or forgotten.
Life was not bad for us on board the ship, everything neat and clean with the beds always made. Siebe and I shared a cabin and Jasper had a man from Groningen as roommate. All cabins had an electric burner that could be turned on or off. When we were on our way for three days, the sea was getting a bit rough and most passengers got seasick, one more than the other. Jasper was one of the toughest but at the end he said: "I am sick and feeling miserable. If I had known this, I wouldn't have laught at you". One doesn't feel good at all. It feels like you have over-eaten or was on a spree the night before.

At the rear end of the ship was a knot indicator, an instrument comparable to a clock face but with one indicator only. Behind that knot indicator was a long rope, at least 70 metres, I would think. To that rope a small radar was connected that turned around. The faster the ship was sailing, the more the indicator showed the speed in knots or sea miles. The distance from Rotterdam to New York is 3333 English miles. It took us eleven days so we should have covered 303 miles per day. However, sometimes that could differ 100 miles from day to day.
Storm and wind would make quite a difference, of course. In the second class a map on a wall had all the North latitude and West longitude and each day the position and distance of where we were was shown on this map. In the evening it was time for fun and pleasure. We had a piano on board and there was playing and dancing with a vengeance. At first the third class passengers seemed to be okay but once these folks - from all kind of different countries - had been staying there for some days, one had enough of the smell just by passing the doors of their accomodations.
On the way we passed a ship that send messages by means of flags. It was a Portugese ship, so we were told. I think we passed it at a distance of 5 minutes. We also saw a three master but it was far away. We never noticed fish but the black sterns accompanied us most of the time. Early in the morning they arrived and in the evening they left for the shore. The last two days we were looking for the shore from time to time and finally an old crew member adviced us to take a look upfront the ship. There we saw a small dot that was getting bigger each hour but what did it take a long time. One hour after the other passed. We figured that we would arrive in the evening but that was only wishfull thinking.

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