Crossing the Atlantic Sixty Years Ago, 1899

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Submitted by Christine Gorman -

Mrs. Norton was Ellen Veale who married John James Huddart Norton on January 17, 1854. Ellen made many trips back and forth to England in the years before her marriage to John. John and Ellen are the great great grandparents of Dave Hunter, operator of "The Island Register". John travelled aboard the "Fanny" to California during the gold rush. See his "Letter Home". See also the Norton Lineage!

January 9, 1899, The Daily Examiner.


Crossing the Atlantic Sixty Years Ago

Mrs. John Norton's Eventful Passage

Comparison with the Run of the Present Day - Other Changes..

Mrs. Norton
Bessie Seaman and Ellen (Veale) Norton


Among those who visited the steamer Gaspesia during her recent call at this port, was Mrs. John H. Norton, mother of Messrs. E. H., R. B. and G. B. Norton and Mrs. J. D. Seaman, of this City. Mrs. Norton was born at Belwyn, Eng[land], in 1824, and is therefore in the 75th year of her age. She crossed the Atlantic on several occasions, making her voyages at a time when it took weeks and often months to make the run, instead of days as at present.

The contrast between the Gaspesia and the means of conveyance in her time impressed Mrs. Norton greatly and aroused memories of her own experiences in crossing the Atlantic, some of which were not of the pleasantest character. The Gaspesia, she observed, was fitted up in good style, having elegantly-appointed saloons, and staterooms, and everything else calculated to make the trip enjoyable, whilst she and her fellow passengers had to make the most of the cramped quarters and little attention on slow-moving sailing vessels.

To a member of THE EXAMINER staff who called upon Mrs. Norton at the residence of Mr. Seaman, she kindly related some of her experiences.

It was in the summer of 1836, she said, that she left Bristol for Charlottetown, and the trip occupied some six weeks. She came out in a brig commanded by Captain Barret, the name of which has escaped her memory [Magnes]. She was then but twelve years of age, and her aunt, a Mrs. Sargeant came with her. They were the only passengers and the trip was uneventful.

But her next trip, made two years later, was fraught with stirring events. It was made in the fall of 1838, in the schooner Ann, commanded by Captain Pierce. Her companion was a Miss White, of Murray Harbor. They left Cardigan for Bristol in October, and did not reach their destination until Christmas Eve.

All went well with the Ann and her living freight until they were off the Banks of Newfoundland. Here a storm arose which continued for a fortnight, during which their frail craft was tossed about like a cockle-shell on the raging waters, and several times her captain and crew gave up hope of ever seeing land.

Her masts were broken off, the hatchways stove in, companionways and stanchions swept away and other damage done. One of the sailors was also washed overboard and drowned.

Mrs. Norton and Miss White narrowly escaped. When the masts snapped, they caused the schooner to careen badly, and several big seas were shipped. Every quarter of the ship was deluged with water, and the room occupied by the two passengers, received a goodly share. Were it not for the prompt action of the captain, both would have been drowned. When he reached the room used by the passengers, the water was gurgling in Mrs. Norton's throat, and in a little while she would have been beyond earthly aid.

When the craft careened, the stove in the galley was dashed from its place with great violence, striking the cook, inflicting a bad cut on the side of his face, and very nearly ending his life. The cook, who was a mere lad, was lying in front of the stove at the time. The stove was badly broken, and rendered unfit for further use.

To add to the horror of the situation, their supply of fresh water gave out, and everything eatable was saturated with salt water. The biscuits were in a bad way, from the salt water, and those on board who did not appreciate them in that condition subsisted on raw turnips. The clothes of the passengers were also saturated with water, and their bed-clothing was in a similar condition. They had to lie in their clothing while it dried on them, for their trunks had been tossed about the ship and broken open by the action of the storm, making changes impossible. Fires were out of the question, as their only stove had been rendered unfit for use; and even if they had a stove, there was nothing to kindle a fire with, as all the matches in stock had been spoiled by the water which had come into the ship.

At length, after many weary days of watching, a passing vessel, in response to a signal of distress hoisted by Captain Pierce, came to the rescue of the Ann, and rendered such assistance as was possible. This vessel was coming to P. E. Island, and the two girl passengers were given the opportunity of returning by her, but they decided to remain where they were and put up with the consequences. Under jurymasts, and with ropes taking the place of stanchions, the Ann proceeded on her way, making Bristol on Christmas Eve to the great relief of all concerned.

Mrs. Norton's next trip across was made seven years later, and this time she came out in a vessel called the British Lady. The trip occupied about six weeks, and was comparatively pleasant. The following spring the British Lady was sunk off Richmond Bay.

The incidents of the trip across in the Ann are as fresh in the memory of Mrs. Norton as if they had just occurred. Notwithstanding her advanced years, this estimable lady is enjoying excellent health, and the indications are that she will long be spared to brighten the lives of her children and grandchildren. Mrs. Norton also talked interestingly regarding the means of travel and the conditions of life in our province at the time she settled here, contrasting then with the facilities now enjoyed. Even if we are somewhat behind the times in certain things, the advances that have been made during the past forty or fifty years are certainly very great and the change that has taken place is most striking.

The blazed trail through the forest primeval is a thing of the past, and the log house with its few rooms and open fireplace has been replaced by commodious structures of a more pretentious character, many of them fitted with all the latest improvements. The cart, which was once considered a luxurious mode of conveyance, has been superseded by the more stylish carriage and the iron horse; whilst musical instruments which were at one time comparatively unknown are now quite common throughout the country districts. Steamers now call at outports where they were unheard of in the olden days; and the principal sections are now brought in closer touch by the medium of the telegraph and the telephone. The farmer's life has also been made much easier by the introduction of labor-saving machinery, and the old system of farming has been completely revolutionized. Schools and churches, once so few and far between, are now to found everywhere; and the opportunity for acquiring an education or hearing the Word of God is within reach of all.

A person has only to talk for a short time with one of the "good old stock" to fully appreciate the extent of the change that has taken place. Prince Edward Island has certainly made great progress during the past half century. What will take place during the next fifty will be for some of those who are now reaping the benefit of their forefathers labor to relate.

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