They Came By Ship

The Titanic Sunk and Loss Feared of Over 1,500 Lives

The April 16, 1912 of the Guardian newspaper screamed this headline.1 Other newspapers around the world had similar headlines.

Just over three weeks later on May 11, 1912, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, his widowed mother, Sarah McLaughlin, and his two brothers, Edward and Francis, boarded the S.S. Grampian in Glasgow, Scotland, to cross the Atlantic to start their new life in Canada.2

They would have been sad to leave their home, excited about their new lives, and definitely worried about hitting an iceberg.

There was a total of 1,638 “souls” on board the S.S. Grampian,3 33 of whom were Saloon or First-Class passengers, and 363 were 2nd cabin passengers. My family was part of the 1,244 passengers in steerage. The crossing took 20 days and the ship arrived in Quebec City on May 21, 1912. Between them, the McHughs arrived with $150 in their pockets. Browsing through the passenger lists, I can see that they had a lot more money than many of their fellow passengers. 4 A Google search tells me $150 in 1912 is about $4,300 in today’s dollars. As they were poor and lived in a tenement in Dundee, Scotland, I can only assume that this meant that they had carefully planned to emigrate.

Steerage accommodations were often divided into three compartments on the ships at that time: one compartment for single men on one side of hold of the ship as steerage passengers certainly did not have an ocean view; one for families in the middle; and a compartment for single women on the other side of the ship. I assume and hope that my family travelled together as a family. These compartments were crowded, with about 300 people in each of them.5 Nor did steerage passengers have a lot of room to move around top deck. They were restricted to a portion of the open deck and prevented from mingling with the Saloon and 2nd cabin passengers by metal gates.

The berths were two-tiered and made of metal frames. Each bed had a mattress and a pillow that could be used as a life preserver. The passengers probably brought their own bedding. Most passengers slept fully dressed.6 The picture below is an example of a four-berth room found in a brochure for the Cunard Line, 1912,7 although many ships had no rooms in steerage and the berths were set up in an open space.

The dining room in steerage had long tables with benches. Steerage passengers were provided with a set of utensils that they used for the entire trip, normally a fork, spoon and a lunch pail. A small dish fit into the top of the pail for meat and potatoes, with an attachment on the lid as a dish for vegetables and a tin cup that fit inside for drinks. The pail also served as a wash basin. 8 The poster below indicates that steerage passengers had to pay 3s 6d per adult for their small pail and utensils (pannikin).9

An example of a dining room for the steerage passengers.10

When the McHughs arrived in Quebec City, they were inspected by one of the medical examiners, either Dr. Drouin or Dr. Dupont, who were tasked with examining all the steerage passengers.11 Each immigrant would have been given an inspection card like the one illustrated below. The ship’s surgeon would have signed that they were vaccinated protected.12

My grandfather, Thomas, his brothers and his mother, were not the only McHughs to arrive on the S.S. Grampian. A year before Thomas arrived, his sister, Mary McHugh also arrived on this ocean liner.13 She came from Dundee, Scotland to work as a domestic. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie, accompanied by their seven children, arrived six months after Thomas, also on the S.S. Grampian. 14

It is no surprise that they all booked their passage on the S.S. Grampian as the Allan Shipping Line, founded in 1819 and whose main shipping line was between Scotland and Montreal, is credited with providing passage for the largest number of Scottish immigrants to Canada.15 In 1907 Sir Montagu Allan of the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers ordered the building of the S.S. Grampian from the Stephens & Sons Ltd. shipbuilding yards in Scotland.16

When World War I broke out, the S.S. Grampian was used to transport troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) from Canada to Europe. After the war, during the summer of 1919, the S.S. Grampian had left Montreal on its way to Liverpool and struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. Even though the front of the ship was crushed, it managed to reach the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Two of the crew were killed, and two of them were injured. Even though the ship was repaired, two years later, while undergoing a refit, it was gutted by fire and sank. It was then considered a write-off.17

  1. Newspapers.com, The Guardian, April 15, 1912, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  2. “Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2HLP-31W : 23 February 2021), Thomas McHugh, May 1912; citing Immigration, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, T-4785, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  3. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  4. Ibid.
  5. GG Archives, Steerage Conditions, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/SteerageConditions-ImmigrationCommissionReport-1911.html, retrieved February 3, 2022
  6. Ibid.
  7. GG Archives, Changes to Steerage Conditions on Steamships, 1912, Third Class / Steerage Four-Berth Room. 1912 Brochure RMS Franconia and Laconia – Cunard Line. GGA Image ID # 118805de77, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/ChangesToSteerageConditionsOnSteamships-1912.html, retrieved February 7, 2022
  8. Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  9. Image courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  10. Image credit: Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  11. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  12. GG Archives, Allan Line, Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card – Steerage Passenger – 1912, Wm. Cudly, jgenvik.com, “Immigration Documentation,” https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/ImmigrantDocumentation/1912-06-27-InspectionCard-SteerageImmigrant-Canada.html, accessed February 3, 2022.
  13. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Mary McHugh, S.S. Grampian leaving Glasgow June 24, 1911 and arriving in Quebec City July 8, 1911, retrieved January 23, 2022.
  14. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Elsie McHugh, retrieved December 13, 2017.
  15. Wikipedia, Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Line_Royal_Mail_Steamers, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  16. Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  17. Ibid., retrieved February 7, 2022.

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