AFTER finishing my
apprenticeship, I spent some three weeks at home, completing my
preparations for sailing to Canada. I invited Mather to spend a few days
with me so that my father and my brother Robert would know the companion
who was going to accompany me to Canada to try his fortune there, too. We
secured berths on the Allan Line steamship Peruvian, which was due to sail
from Liverpool for Halifax and Boston on the 25th January, 1882.
I had inherited from the
estate of my maternal grandmother, who had died some eight years
previously, the sum of £80, which my father was holding in trust for me. I
had forgotten all about this, and was agreeably surprised when he turned
this sum over to me. So that was the capital with which I started on my
voyage to Canada.
My friend Hyslop, now
living alone in Glasgow, had invited me to a small supper-party which he
was giving in his lodgings as a send-off to me, on the evening of the
24th, the evening on which I was to leave Glasgow for Liverpool. So,
having said good-bye to my father and Robert, I left that morning for
Glasgow and attended the supper-party. Besides Hyslop and myself, there
were four of our closest friends. We had a very happy evening from about 7
to 10 o'clock, and when the party broke up, they all accompanied me to St.
Enoch station. Mather, with some of his friends, was there when we
arrived. So we took our places in our carriage for Liverpool; and, as the
train pulled out of the station our friends bade us farewell and wished us
We arrived in Liverpool at
an early hour the next morning, and put up at a hotel — by no means
prepossessing — near the docks. Here we had bed and breakfast. Later in
the day, we got aboard the Peruvian; and she got under way that day — the
25th of January, 1882.
A call was made at
Queenstown, where the passengers were allowed a few hours ashore. This was
the first time Mather and I had been to Ireland, so we enjoyed the novelty
of most of the sights we saw. We had considerable difficulty in escaping
from the numerous groups of women and girls who tried to sell us shamrock
and other souvenirs. One insisted on pinning a bunch of shamrock on my
coat. I protested that I didn't want it, and that she was just wasting it.
"Sure, and I'd waste the world for your sake — if I was fond of you," was
her enigmatic reply.
After we were well past
Queenstown, we were met by a strong head wind; and the Peruvian responded
by giving a demonstration of the cork-screw motion, as she pitched and
rolled her way in the teeth of the gale. This form of motion was all very
interesting to watch; but very upsetting; so much so that Mather and I
beat a retreat below to our cabin.
I need not dwell on the
state of mind in which we lay there bemoaning our fate. It has often been
described — with variations more or less fantastic — by others who have
had a like experience. A short time after our retirement to the lower
regions, we were brought to our senses by our bedroom-steward, a little
curly-haired fellow with twinkling eyes. He looked in on us in our cabin,
and seeing us both in bed, exclaimed — with feigned astonishment: "Hello!
gone to bed already?" We moaned something incoherent. "You'll never get
well lying there; get up on deck and get the fresh air," he insisted. He
spoke as one who knew what he was talking about; so, we obediently
complied, and with his help struggled on deck, and fought it out there;
with good results.
A day or two later we got
our sea-legs, and were able to tramp the deck in spite of the rolling; and
to mix with, and get to know our fellow-passengers. There were not many —
about twenty-five or thirty — and of these there were a few whom we never
met, or even saw, for they kept to their cabins all the way.
The Peruvian had nothing of the luxury of the modern Atlantic liner; it
depended on oil-lamps for light and on open port-holes for ventilation.
Our cabin was under the dining-room, below the water-line, and so had no
porthole to open. It was haunted by an aura emanating from a blending of
the smells of bilge-water and the cook's galley. Stuffy would be a mild
term to use in describing the condition of the air in that cabin. But we
didn't mind that a bit; we were young and could stand it.
In the dining-room, one
long table had seating capacity for us all. This table ran lengthwise of
the ship. The captain's seat was at one end, and he — Captain Ritchie —
entertained us at meals with his rich fund of stories. I can see him yet,
seated there, swaying to keep his balance with the rolling of the ship,
and laughing heartily. It seemed that the more the ship rolled, the
heartier his laughter.
But it was in the
smoking-room that we got to know each other best. We played cards there —
generally vingt-et-un, and Nap — and exchanged yarns. The ship's doctor
joined us frequently; he was a good story-teller, and was the life of our
gatherings. Of the names of the passengers whom I got to know best, I
particularly remember Gibson, who was in business in Montreal, and was
returning from a visit to his native land, Scotland; and Beeston, an
employee in London of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had been transferred
to the company's store in Winnipeg, and was on his way there to take up
his new position in the accountancy department.
The meeting of a ship at
sea is always an event of interest, and we had the good fortune one
evening to meet and exchange greetings with the Parisian. She was the
newest ship of the Allan Line, and — according to standards of comfort in
those days — was considered most luxurious. She was on her way to
Liverpool, and had as passengers the Marquis of Lome, who was then
Governor-General of Canada, and the Princess Louise. The lights on the
Parisian made a pretty picture. We watched her as she passed and kept
watching her until she was lost to sight in the distance.
The day before we reached
Halifax — Saturday, 4th February — the storm which had accompanied us all
the way from Queenstown had abated, and we were all much relieved at being
able to move about freely on the ship and to have our meals in comfort.
But not so, apparently, the captain. He seemed to have lost all his
bonhomie, and sat at table in solemn silence, apparently brooding over
some pending trouble. And there had been trouble brewing, as we learned at
breakfast on Sunday morning. The Peruvian, we were told, had reached
Halifax during the night. She had reported that there was a case of
smallpox on board, and had consequently been ordered away from the dock,
so was now lying at anchor in quarantine.
We lay there all Sunday in
a blinding snow-storm; we could see nothing of the land, nor of anything
to indicate where we were. But dreary as this situation seemed, we managed
to pass the time quite pleasantly. The smallpox patient was removed from
the ship that afternoon, and the ship was thoroughly disinfected. But this
did not relieve us from quarantine. The captain, however, took the
responsibility of running the ship alongside the dock at an early hour on
Monday morning, and landing the passengers. For thus breaking the
quarantine, he was said to have been fined $400.
The Halifax authorities
were naturally not too well pleased at this action of Captain Ritchie, and
were in no mood to welcome us. Nor were the hotels at all keen to take us
in. We could, however, use the waiting-room at the station as a
resting-place. But this room, with a red-hot stove in full blast, was too
suffocating. So Mather and I wandered about the city in search of some
quiet place where we could get something to eat. We eventually found a
small grocery store out in the suburbs where we were able to buy some
crackers and cheese, which served as our lunch. The woman who served us
said that she was not at all afraid of smallpox; so we spent some time
talking with her while we ate our crackers and cheese.
By the time we had finished
our lunch, it was near train time, so we wended our way to the station,
and got on board the train for Montreal. Just how long the journey took, I
can't remember; but it was the longest railway journey either of us had
ever taken. Beeston and Gibson, our fellow-passengers on the Peruvian,
journeyed with us to Montreal, too. Beeston put up at the Windsor Hotel,
which, with the position he had, he could well afford to do. But Mather
and I, having as yet no position, looked for less expensive quarters. In
this we were aided by Gibson, who knew Montreal well. He directed us to
the Albion Hotel, near the docks. So it was in that hotel that we spent
our first night in Montreal.