Journal Volume 5 2006
Surplus People from Newcastle and Ballyvolan (continued/6)
The ‘tween Decks
Their names checked against the passenger list which Graves had received from Challoner, the emigrants settled down to wait. If the ship was in port ready to board they would do so. If not they would wait until she arrived and embarkation could begin.
The McGuerrys, Ellises and Roches would have made their way down the gangway into the dark world of the Swan's cargo hold. Rough boards had been erected to form two tiers of bunks six feet square. To the uninformed, such allocation of space did not seem too bad, but they were quickly disabused of their erroneous assumption. The bunks were not intended for the exclusive use of a single passenger, nor were they to be shared by two people, nor even three. Four passengers were to crowd into this six-foot-by-six space. Each was allocated six-feet-by-eighteen inches, a mere nine square feet to call their own until they reached Quebec. Large families claimed adjacent bunks, smaller ones and people travelling alone no doubt sought out the close proximity of friends. Such sleeping arrangements could prove disturbing for young women and men travelling alone, and various government committees investigating conditions on board emigrant ships repeatedly heard of activities between unmarried people of both sexes leading to 'bad results'. Even when getting undressed for bed it was extremely difficult to maintain privacy and the voyeuristically inclined were often well rewarded for vigilance. Not surprisingly, many women spent the first nights of the voyage sitting up, fully dressed. Eventually fatigue triumphed over decorum. A major advantage in our three families travelling together was the fact that they totalled seventeen and a half statute adults, so could lay claim to four adjacent bunks, with the remaining one and half statute adults sharing with someone else. A 'half-adult' was anyone under the age of fourteen. Such proximity to each other had to have been comforting in a situation where comforts were few and far between.
Chests were stowed were they could be seen, or used as proprietary markers and, in that dismal catacomb, the people made their spaces as much their own as they could. The narrow passageways between the tiers of bunks were common space to be left clear, but in such confinements even this would have been cluttered.