Bremen to New York: Minnie’s Potatoes

ss-werra

My great grandmother sailed to America on this ship.

The North German Lloyd Steamship Line’s Werra I left the Port of Bremen in Germany on October 12, 1882 on her maiden voyage. Captain Richard Bussius was at the helm. She crossed the English Channel to Southampton, loaded cargo and mail, and sailed out into the Atlantic. In her hold was Minnie Hartman with her three squirming, inquisitive boys along with hundreds of other steerage passengers. Seventeen days later they arrived in New York harbor and the land of opportunity.

The Werra was a ‘river class’ steamer, one in a series of vessels named for the rivers that snaked across Germany. Advertised as ‘an ocean going greyhound,’ she was a 4,817 gross ton ship, with a length of 433.1 feet and a beam of 45.9 feet. She had two funnels, four masts, an iron hull, and a single screw that produced a speed of 16 knots. Today a plane could make the trip in five hours.

This express steamship had accommodation for 125 first-class, 130 second-class and up to 1,000 third-class passengers. Steerage fare for Minnie and all three sons was $75.

Each third-class passenger was entitled to a cramped steel bunk with a straw mattress, a blanket, a bowl, a cup and a spoon to use for the entire trip. The hold was divided into three separate compartments: one for men, one for couples traveling with their families and one for women traveling alone with or without children. Each traveler received three meals a day if they could make it up the steep staircase from the bowels of the ship. Once on deck, passengers stood in line for their bowl to be filled and ate what was doled out. They washed themselves with salt water from a single spigot before returning to the hold where the stench of seasickness was widespread and fresh air was spare.

Built by the John Elder Company in Glasgow, the Werra’s last sailing on the North American route was in1891. She was chartered to Spain from 1898 to 1899 to repatriate Spanish troops from Cuba, and was scrapped in 1901.

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