Monday, February 20, 2017

On the Historical Trail: The Bacons Come to America

Recently, I was taking a look through Ancestry.com to see if I could find when my great-great grandfather and his family arrived in the United States from England. I knew the approximate year, so I checked ship records for their names. Not only did I find Edward Bacon with his family, I found his brother George and his family who joined them, and the name of the ship on which they sailed. Then I learned some amazing things about that ship.

Most people tend to believe that all immigrants entered the country through Ellis Island. While over 12 million immigrants did enter the country through that famed island, it was not constructed until 1892. Before that, New York’s main point of entry was Castle Garden. This sandstone fort, located in Battery Park in Manhattan, was an immigration station from 1855 until 1890. Over 8 million immigrants entered the country through Castle Garden. However, the Bacon family did not arrive in New York City.
SS Batavia in Boston Harbor

Edward, Eliza, James, and Charles arrived in the United States on April 10 1883 at the Port of Boston in Massachusetts. With them came Edward’s brother, George, and his wife and children. They were in the mid-ship section of steerage aboard the Cunard Line steamship, S.S. Batavia. Their voyage from Liverpool took about two weeks. At the time, my great grandfather, Charles, was only about three months old when they moved from East Ruston, Norfolk, England.

The S.S. Batavia made its maiden voyage on May 10, 1870 when it sailed from Liverpool, England to New York City. It was the first ship of the Cunard Line to be fitted with compound steam engines. It was 327.4 feet long and 39.3 feet wide. Liverpool was it’s home port in England, and for the first decade of use, New York City was its American destination. In 1880, Cunard decided to send the Batavia to Boston instead.
The Port of Boston about 1904

The S.S. Batavia was the ship that Samuel Clemens sailed on in 1872 on his return to American. Better known as Mark Twain, he observed a dramatic mid-ocean rescue on the trip home. Over 1,500 miles from anywhere, the Batavia happened upon the Charles Ward, which was foundering in a heavy gale.

The other ship had lost all its sails in the storm and was going to be lost to the depths. The captain of the Batavia and his crew were able to save all nine people aboard the other ship. Twain wrote about the experience.

If I have been of any service toward rescuing these nine ship-wrecked human beings by standing around the deck in a furious storm, without any umbrella, keeping an eye on things & seeing that they were done right, & yelling whenever a cheer seemed to be the important thing, I am glad, & I am satisfied. I ask no reward. I would do it again under the same circumstances. But what I do plead for, & earnestly & sincerely, is that the Royal Humane Society will remember our captain & our life-boat crew; &, in so remembering them, increase the high honor & esteem in which the society is held all over the civilized world.

By the end of 1883, the S.S. Batavia had been sold to John Elder & Co., who refitted her engines with triple expansion engines. She was also renamed the S.S. Tacoma in 1892 when it was acquired by Northern Pacific Shipping. It mostly operated between Seattle/Tacoma and Hong Kong and Japan.

About 1905, the Japanese government purchased the ship and held it until 1912. They also renamed her Shikotan Maru, a name she kept until she ran aground on October 3, 1924. The ship was scrapped at Shanghai.
Boston Harbor in 1876
Sometimes, you can find very interesting things when you’re researching your family. It isn’t always about your family members. This time I found out a lot about the ship they used to get to the United States. The story behind the S.S. Batavia is just as much fun as simply finding the date they arrived in the New World. I was intrigued when I discovered that Mark Twain had also rode the ocean waves on that ship. It’s these fun little facts that make research fun.

Craig Bacon doesn’t like boats. If it were him in 1883, he’s probably still live in England. He’s glad that his family members were secure enough to brave the Atlantic Ocean for two weeks.

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