Inspection of Emigrants by the Hamburg America Line (1903)

Landing Stage at Cuxhaven, Germany, Near the Port of Hamburg.

Landing Stage at Cuxhaven, Germany, Near the Port of Hamburg. GGA Image ID # 19f52a5f55

Mr. Hellmrich to Mr. Peirce.
Hamburg, Germany, October 8, I903.

Emigrants embarking for the United States at Hamburg should be divided into three classes, viz:

  • (A) Emigrants arriving from or via Russia
  • (B) Emigrants arriving from or via Austria-Hungary
  • (C) Emigrants arriving from other European countries

Emigrants arriving from or via Russia

(A) Emigrants passing the Russo-German border are taken to one of the control stations at Bajohren, Tilsit, Eydtkuhnen, Insterburg, Prostken, Illovo, Otloczyn, or Ostrowo, maintained mutually by the Hamburg America Line and the North German Lloyd, under the supervision of the Prussian Government. At these control stations, emigrants are bathed, all their clothes and baggage disinfected and labeled accordingly, and the passengers themselves medically examined and placed under medical observation until their departure.

At these stations, there are ticket offices of the two steamship companies, by the officers of which emigrants are also examined as to their financial affairs, to avoid issuing tickets to paupers and other persons likely to be deported on their landing in the United States. Those admitted for transportation receive a passage pass, later exchanged in Hamburg for the steamship ticket proper.

Emigrants must remain at their respective control stations for at least twenty-four hours. Still, as a rule, they stay two, three, or four days until there are sufficient to fill a train. Thereupon they are transported directly to the railway terminal at the Hamburg America Line's emigrants' barracks in Hamburg, by a special emigrants' train, via Ruhleben, a similar control station near Berlin. In Ruhleben, their papers are examined to ascertain whether they have appropriately passed the examination, etc., at one of the control stations along the Russo-German frontier, as described above.

Those who have proof of having passed one of the latter stations can proceed immediately to Hamburg. Still, those of whom there exists doubt }n this respect, or of whom it is evident that they have avoided or escaped examination on the frontier, are detained until they have undergone the same treatment as prescribed for the border stations and sent on to Hamburg later.

This station at Ruhleben is also used to receive all emigrants-immaterial as to their former residence-found in any part of Prussia as "stragglers" (not in emigrants' trains).

All emigrants arriving from Russia are smuggled across the frontier. They are invariably sent to Ruhleben for examination whenever such emigrants are discovered. One can easily understand that several emigrants escape inspection at the border stations because Russia disapproves of emigration, except for Hebrews and Mennonites.

Emigrants arriving from or via Austria-Hungary

(B) Emigrants arriving from or via the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy are brought to either the control station at Ratibor or that at Myslowitz, in Silesia, where they undergo the same treatment as at the control stations along the Russian border, without, however, being bathed and quarantined, or being obliged to have their clothing and baggage disinfected, but being medically examined.

These emigrants are transported in special trains or cars directly to Hamburg from the respective control stations. They are not, as a rule, landed here at the terminal at the barracks mentioned above, but at one of the regular railroad depots.

Emigrants arriving from other European countries

(C) Emigrants from other European countries than Russia and Austria-Hungary arrive in Hamburg at any railroad depot without passing any control stations.


Upon their arrival in Hamburg, Emigrants of the A-class are confined to the said Hamburg America Line's own emigrants' barracks on the Veddel, a suburb of the city of Hamburg. These barracks are under the supervision of the Hamburg police department, having a resident police inspector, and are divided into two sections, "dirty" and the "clean" sections.

Upon leaving the train, they are placed in the "dirty" section until they have passed an examination by the official emigrants' surgeon of the Hamburg State government. Every morning, this surgeon makes his examination, and every emigrant is carefully examined undressed.

Those having passed such examinations are allowed to enter the" clean" section after being bathed and after having furnished proof that their clothes and effects have been appropriately disinfected before entering Germany at one of the previous control stations; otherwise, such disinfection is done here.

After having entered the "clean" section of the barracks, emigrants are allowed to walk about of their own free will and to leave the barracks in the daytime (I know that very few. however, make use of this permission), but they may still be considered as being under medical observation because the said emigrants' surgeon visits the barracks daily. The said police inspector has to report to him daily fully on the state of affairs, particularly the health of the emigrants. (I may mention that this police inspector has held this position for more than ten years. He is known to this office as a conscientious and efficient officer.)

In the event of the outbreak of a case of dangerous contagious disease-such as measles, chickenpox, smallpox, etc., the person or persons affected are immediately transferred to a hospital. Extra disinfection of baggage and clothing of the other occupants of the respective pavilion or pavilions or the entire barracks, according to the seriousness of the case, as well as isolation in a proper manner of the disease is ordered by the emigrants' surgeon and strictly carried out under the supervision of the said police inspector.

Emigrants of the class herein referred to receive their steamship tickets in the barracks that house the Hamburg America Line ticket office in exchange for the pass obtained at the respective control stations.

Emigrants of the B and C classes are admitted to the licensed "emigrants' lodging houses" in the city, which, however, are under constant control and supervision of the Hamburg bureau of emigration, the officers of which make tours of inspection of such lodging houses almost every night, thus preventing overcrowding and controlling sanitary conditions.

In case of a contagious disease outbreak, the same steps are 'taken as indicated in the preceding paragraph (concerning the A class of emigrants). The respective house is disinfected in all its parts. As there are heavy fines provided for in case of an infraction of the police regulations for such emigrants' lodging houses, the proprietors of such homes are very careful in strictly observing the rules in force, and especially so as their houses are always under the surveillance of the bureau of emigration, as above mentioned.

Emigrants staying in lodging houses in the city are not subjected to medical examination upon arrival in Hamburg before their embarkation. They can leave the homes and walk about the streets as they please. As these lodging-houses only have room for a limited number of emigrants, the majority of the Band C classes are also sent to the emigrants' barracks, as if coming from Russia.


On the day before the sailing date, all steerage passengers for the respective vessel are taken to the passenger halls-those from the lodging houses in the city in carriages and those from the barracks on a tender.

Before the embarkation, all the baggage is personally inspected by the baggage inspector of this office (who receives remuneration for his services indirectly from the Hamburg America Line but otherwise is in no manner connected with that company or interested therein).

All beddings and bed feathers found are disinfected under his supervision, except those previously disinfected and as such identified by the official label "disinfected" of one of the control stations. Thereupon every single piece of baggage of all .steerage passengers is labeled by him either with a red label" inspected, or with a yellow label" disinfected," as prescribed by the United States Quarantine Regulations.

At the said passenger halls, the final medical examination takes place. All emigrants pass the official emigrants' surgeon in single file.

If not rejected, he affixes an official stamp "medically examined" to each ticket, passes the ticket, to which are attached the "vaccination cards" required by the United States Quarantine Regulations, over to the baggage inspector, who then stamps the same with the official stamp of the office, "Passed, United States consulate-general, Hamburg," and returns the ticket to the respective emigrant.

Upon leaving the room where this final examination takes place, the emigrants immediately go aboard the tender lying alongside the passenger halls, which tender takes them directly to the" large steamer" without being allowed to go ashore again.

Before boarding the tender at the passenger halls, emigrants have further to pass an examination on the part of the local police department. This examination also takes place at the passenger halls and is usually carried out by four or five officers of the criminal police (plain-clothes men) to prevent the embarkation of German youths trying to escape military duty, army and navy deserters, fugitives from justice, minors leaving without permission of their parents or guardians, women abducted for prostitution, for the detection of persons illegally or under false pretenses encouraging emigration, etc., thus rendering valuable services in preventing undesirable immigrants embarking for the United States.

Emigrants found at any of the above-described examinations, both medical and otherwise, physically, mentally, peculiarly, or otherwise unfit to embark, or likely to be deported by the officers of the United States Bureau of Immigration, are invariably sent back to their homes in Russia, Galicia, Hungary, Roumania, or wherever the same may be.

The Hamburg America Line makes it a principle not to allow persons to embark for the United States of whom there exists, as far as can be ascertained here, doubt as to their admittance to the United States without difficulties. The company will never take passengers at its own risk who have been objected to by the official Hamburg emigrants' surgeon or at one of the previous examinations.

I may mention that a considerable number of emigrants is daily rejected at the several control stations along the frontier; a like number is daily objected to by the Hamburg emigrants' surgeon in the course of his daily inspections of the emigrants' barracks; furthermore, still, other emigrants are refused embarkation in the course of the final medical examination at the passenger halls, above mentioned. Such rejected emigrants are forbidden to embark for the United States and are returned home.

Emigrants from Hamburg are vaccinated on board by the ship's surgeon as soon after embarkation as practicable-generally before the vessel leaves the River Elbe. The ship's surgeon certifies to such vaccination by endorsing each passenger's vaccination card, either by stamp or signature, as prescribed by the quarantine laws.


Attending medical examinations

The medical examinations of emigrants at the passenger halls, immediately before their boarding the steamer, are invariably attended by one of the consular officers here, from beginning to end. Besides the official emigrants' examining surgeon, the baggage inspector (who stamps the vaccination cards), and the consular officer, there are present at such examinations the ship's surgeon and second officer, an employee of the passage department of the Hamburg America Line, and one or two officers of the Hamburg bureau of emigration, occasionally acting as interpreters.

This office requires the Hamburg America Line to present at the said examination the full emigrants' manifest to the inspecting consular officer for perusal.

Although the authentication of these manifests by consular officers is no longer required, according to the recent immigration act, we carefully examine the manifests as to the correctness, completeness, etc., striking out all emigrants rejected and drawing our pen over the blank lines of the last sheet of the manifest, thus avoiding possible irregularities, such as adding passengers on the lists who have not passed 'medical and consular examination.

We also count the number of passengers as per the manifest to obtain the correct number of passengers for the bill of health as the emigrants pass the examining surgeon in single file, as above stated. In the presence of a consular officer, almost all of them carrying their baggage, we can also quickly satisfy ourselves that all luggage has been inspected and properly labeled.

Consular inspections of Vessels

To adequately explain the consular duties as performed in Hamburg in connection with this requirement, I deem it proper to divide the Hamburg America Line's and Sloman-Union Line's passenger steamers plying between Hamburg and New York (no steamers leaving from Hamburg for other ports of the United States with passengers) into four classes, viz:

  1. Express steamers (Auguste Victoria, Columbia, Furst Bismarck, Deutschland, Moltke, and Blucher).
  2.  Passenger steamers of the so-called" P" class (Pennsylvania, Pretoria, Graf Waldersee, and Patricia).
  3. Steamers of the so-called "B" class (Bulgaria, Belgravia, and Batavia).
  4. Steamers belonging to the Sloman-Union Line (Albano, Pisa, Barcelona, and Pallanza).


The express steamers (1) are generally dispatched from Cuxhaven on Thursdays, remaining in port there from the date of arrival until the date of sailing. The consular agent makes the inspections of these vessels at Cuxhaven. Therefore, emigrants are examined in Hamburg on the day before the sailing date and sent down to Cuxhaven on a tender, a trip of about five hours from Hamburg. They receive bread, meat, and coffee free of charge on the tender.

Cabin passengers for these vessels leave Hamburg for Cuxhaven by special train on the morning of the sailing date (Thursdays), such train leaving the depot here, as a rule, before 9:00 a. m. These vessels receive the bill of health at Cuxhaven in the same manner as is the practice in Bremerhaven for the ships of the North German Lloyd.

The" P" steamers (2) are dispatched from Hamburg on Saturdays, receiving the most significant part of their cargo, as well as the entire food and water supply, in this port. On account of shallow water in the Elbe between Hamburg and Brunshausen, these steamers, as a rule, cannot complete their cargoes here, and therefore leave the port of Hamburg on Thursdays, anchoring again at Brunshausen or Krautsand, on the Elbe, where they receive the rest of the cargo from lighters.

As at the time of leaving the port of Hamburg, the steerage compartments of these vessels are not yet correctly fixed up, this being done at Brunshausen or Krautsand-it is necessary for us, in this event, to inspect these vessels there, going down the Elbe, on Friday afternoons by tender with the steerage passengers.

After taking aboard the steerage passengers on Friday evening, the vessel starts for Cuxhaven, where it remains until the following morning, to take over the cabin passengers arriving by special train from Hamburg, same as for express steamers, and leaving the Hamburg depot at the same hour.

If a steamer of this class leaves Hamburg, not before the eve of the sailing date, which, however, very seldom happens, the inspection takes place here in port, alongside the quay.

The inspection is done in the manner prescribed by the United States Quarantine Laws and Regulations-inspecting steerage compartments, hospitals, water· closets and washrooms, crew's quarters, and examining food and water supply. The German emigration laws prescribe a similar inspection. For this purpose, four official inspectors are employed in Ham burg-former ship captains-being engaged and salaried by the Hamburg State government.

They are conscientious and exacting in their duties, so that we generally inspect vessels at the same time, if feasible, that said inspectors make their inspections.

The "P" steamers receive bills of health in Hamburg and supplemental bills of health at Cuxhaven.

The "B" steamers (3) and the Sloman-Union steamers (4), as a rule, carry only steerage passengers-no cabin passengers. These steamers are generally dispatched from Hamburg directly, without calling at Cuxhaven, and are usually inspected here.

Sometimes, however, for the same reasons as obtained in connection with the" P" steamers, the" B" steamers must leave the port a day or two before the sailing date. In this event, we inspect the vessels at Brunshausen or Krautsand in the same manner as explained concerning the "P" class of ships.

Examination of cargo manifests

Finally, to satisfy ourselves concerning the sanitary condition of the cargo, the Hamburg America Line presents to one of us at the depot, about an hour before the cabin passengers' special train leaves, a full copy of the cargo manifest of the respective vessel, accompanied by duplicates of all certificates of disinfection issued for all goods on board requiring disinfection, such as cattle hides not dry salted or arsenical cured, cattle glue stock, used bed feathers, and rags.

Before taking such goods on board, the Hamburg America Line, in compliance with instructions from this office, requires the shippers to present to us, at the office of the consulate, the "Schiffszettel" (order to take goods on board) and a duplicate of the respective certificate of disinfection, which is thereupon stamped "passed."

Similarly, all Schiffszettel for goods that only require disinfection if coming from a district where an epidemic disease prevails are presented to us beforehand, together with a proof of origin, and stamped as above, if approved, or ordered to be disinfected. This requirement refers to articles like sheep and goatskins, horse hides, raw fur skins, bristles, guts, bladders, old rubber shoes, etc.

In examining a cargo manifest, this system lets us satisfy ourselves that there are no goods on board the respective vessel that should have been appropriately disinfected before their shipment.

Upon approval of the manifest, presented to one of us at the depot, as above mentioned-together with all stamped Schiffszettel, the same being generally found to be in perfect order, it is subscribed and marked" approved," and thereupon the bill of health is issued.

The cargo manifests for the Sloman-Union steamers (4) are generally presented at the office. When one of the" B" steamers is being dispatched, carrying steerage passengers exclusively, the vessel remains in port or at Brunshausen or Krautsand-wherever the cargo is being completed-until the manifest can be sent aboard.

Under such circumstances, we must examine that manifest in the office of the Hamburg America Line, generally as late as I or 2 o'clock in the night, as the company can't complete cargo manifests for the New York steamers sooner.

For obvious reasons, it is impracticable to keep the vessel waiting until the following morning, the bill of health being required to be issued before the ship leaves the Elbe. In addition to the preceding description of the consular duties performed here in connection with emigrant steamers, I would respectfully refer to Consul-General Pitcairn's Dispatch No. 272 (May 18, 1903) to the Department of State, of which the following is an extract:

Inspections of Ships Carrying Steerage Passengers

According to the Quarantine Laws and Regulations, inspections of all vessels carrying steerage passengers are required, which means that I must board all such ships. This inspection is generally done on the day of departure, as such examinations should be made as late as practicable before sailing.

The Hamburg America Line's passenger steamers are generally docked at a quay in the remotest part of the harbor of Hamburg; it takes about three-quarters of an hour from the office of this consulate, which is situated in the center of the city, to reach the location of the vessel.

The inspection itself consumes at least an hour and a half, as a careful examination is made of all the holds to be occupied by steerage passengers, the washhouses, water-closets, compartments for the crew, hospitals, provisions, water supply, etc.

For the convenience of the Hamburg America Line, to avoid delay in the dispatching of steamers on account of low water in the river, passenger steamers are frequently in fact, were throughout the entire summer, last year-dispatched from Brunshausen-on-the-Elbe, about 36 miles beyond Hamburg. It is in such cases necessary to go down the river on a tender to inspect the vessel there. This change in point of departure consumes, on average, from seven to ten hours and frequently more, often returning to the city as late as 1 or 2 o'clock in the night.

The inspections of the steerage passengers take place at the "PassagierHallen" (passenger halls), about half an hour from this office, where they are also medically examined by the surgeon employed by the Hamburg bureau of emigration, whom they have to pass in a single file, in my presence and that of the ship's surgeon and one of its officers, thus enabling me to inspect them properly and to see that those who have been found diseased, disabled, or otherwise unfit to emigrate to the United States are stricken from the manifests and prevented from boarding the steamer. Such inspections consume from one to five hours and more, and they often take place outside of office hours.

Frequently, the time for the embarkation and inspection of a steamer is set at the same hour, thus requiring one of us to attend to the embarkation and another to the examination.

Cabin Passengers

The cabin passengers of the Hamburg America Line's steamers invariably board the vessel in Cuxhaven, leaving Hamburg on a special train early in the morning-always outside of office hours. On this train are also forwarded the cargo manifests, because one can not complete the same before a late hour in the previous night.

These manifests are always carefully examined by one of us, with a view of ascertaining that no goods undisinfected on board require disinfection under the quarantine laws of the United States, such as rags, hides, skins, glue stock, etc.

In the last moment before the departure of the train, an official of the steamship company gives me the number of the cabin passengers, and only after having thus been enabled to complete the statements required- in the bill of health can I deliver the same. This work is done at the railroad depot from which the company's special train starts for Cuxhaven and consumes about an hour.

Three of the Hamburg America Line's regular passenger steamers, the Bulgaria, Batavia, and Belgravia, only carry steerage passengers. When one of these steamers is dispatched, it must wait in port for the cargo manifest, which can only be taken on board after its completion late in the night, as above indicated.

We frequently had to go to the office of the Hamburg America Line as late as 1 or 2 o'clock in the night to examine a freight manifest for one of these steamers.

Although this extract repeats a significant part of what I have said before, I have deemed it proper to include the same in this report, as it fully indicates the time consumed in carrying out the quarantine laws and regulations here.

I trust the preceding clearly explains the amount of trouble and loss of time incurred in fulfilling the many consular duties performed here in connection with emigrant steamers. Furthermore, one must admit that the performance of these duties is connected with certain dangers to the consular officers.

We have to be present at medical examinations in the course of which many emigrants are being rejected on account of dangerous contagious diseases, such as trachoma, favus, syphilis, eczema, measles, chickenpox, sometimes smallpox, scarlet, and typhoid fever, etc. The tickets of such rejected emigrants are given to us, and we strike their names from the manifest.

The room where these examinations take place has open doors at both ends, constantly admitting a draft. In the worst weather, we are often compelled to go down the river on a tender to inspect a vessel. Occasionally we are obliged to climb onboard a steamer utilizing a primitive pilot ladder. In rain and storm, this practice is always connected with danger for persons not accustomed to such gymnastics, not to speak of the soiled clothes.

By the system adopted in Hamburg by this office and the Hamburg America Line, quarantine and immigration regulations are enforced to the best of our ability. Considering the local conditions, this system could certainly not be simplified in any manner.

The services required must be performed outside of the office. The Hamburg America Line's particular desire, in the interest of a prompt despatch of its steamers, is that most of these services be performed outside of office hours. The company has expressed its willingness to pay to the consulate a reasonable remuneration repeatedly, therefore, which, of course, we have always refused. We have never accepted any payment from the company beyond the old fee of $1 per manifest, which charge was discontinued immediately upon receipt of instructions from the Department of State.

O. W. HELLMRlCH,.Deputy Consul-General.

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