Stowaways on Ships - A Reporter's Exposé - 1928

Rose Host, Stowaway on a Steamship

Rose Host, Stowaway on a Steamship. The Ocean Ferry, November 1928. GGA Image ID # 1d99b08b1c

When a good looking and well dressed young woman presented herself before the captain of the Manchuria a few hours after the ship had left New York on a recent voyage for California ports, and confessed she had neither ticket nor cash, it appeared that the limit had been reached in the art of stowing away.

This young person, who had enjoyed the fleeting glory of winning a local beauty contest, and was bitten with an ambition to shine on the silver screen, had come aboard the ship on a visitor's pass, with the deliberate intention of beating her fare to the West Coast.

Some wiser head than hers evidently had plotted her course as a stowaway. She stood a chance of being put ashore, and in jail, at Havana. But putting a stowaway ashore at Havana costs the company money, and this fact appeared to be known to the charming young beat; for she was charming, all hands agreed. Therefore, on official advice, the master kept the young woman aboard, and set her to work as a clerk in the purser's office.

Rendering diligent service, the young woman paid her fare in hard labor. She had no change of clothing, but with the luck of the adventurer in travel, she found friends who loaned her a shift. Thus she came to the coast, where a keen-eyed tabloid newspaper editor took her on as a feature, and she attained her goal, insofar as coming near the bright lights of Hollywood was concerned.

But it is an established fact on that particular line, the Panama Pacific, that since this incident, young women visitors to the line's steamers are more closely scrutinized than they used to be. The simple process of coming aboard as a visitor and later asking the master what he is going to do about it no longer serves. Everybody aboard is checked up before the ship sails.

Two Juvenile Girl Stowaways

Two or three years ago two young girls stowed away on the Majestic, of the White Star Line, at Pier 59, North River, by hiding themselves in a closet. They were found when the ship was well at sea, and were sent down to third class, where they made the voyage under the observation of a matron.

They were an engaging pair of young adventurers, born in the lower West Side, in families drawing their sustenance from the stevedoring trade, and they were wise in the ways of ships and travelers.

Their story soon becoming known on board the Majestic, they became a center of interest with the passengers in all classes. A purse was made up for them, and a kindly woman gave them dresses better dresses than had ever before graced their young forms.

Arriving on the other side, the pair were put into jail at Southampton and kept until the next White Star ship, the Homeric, sailed for New York, when they were put on board. Again under guard, they re-crossed the Atlantic, after seeing precious little of Europe.

On arrival home they wept, as the press photographers swarmed around them. Nevertheless, they had their great thrill of stowing away—something to be cherished in later years. One of these misses was 14, the other 13.

Women as Venturesome as Men

Women appear to be as deeply stirred by the lure of travel as men, and will face as great hardship in attaining a cherished end.

A few years ago, when the present Red Star liner Pennland was in the Hamburg trade, as the Pittsburgh, a young German woman stowed away on board in a most ingenious manner.

Dressing herself as a laborer, she boarded the ship with the men who were stowing cargo. Seeking an empty hold, in which there was sand ballast, she buried herself in the sand, setting up a small tin tube through which to breathe until after the ship's officers had inspected the hold before sailing.

When the hatches had been clamped down, and the engines began to turn over, the stowaway came out of the sand. She had a bundle with her, containing a supply of bottled water and sausages, and her woman's clothing.

For six days this hardy stowaway remained in the dark hold. Then she was obliged to pound on a bulkhead to attract attention. Her sausages were salt, and her thirst had led to inroads on her supply of water, which was now gone.

She was placed in the hospital, and on arrival at New York was sent to Ellis Island for deportation. Her reason for wanting to come to America, she said, was to earn a living for her old mother in Germany.

Reasons for Stowing Away

Three underlying reasons seem to be the determining causes for stowing away on a ship, namely:

  • Desire to see the world.
  • Desire to evade immigration restrictions.
  • Desire to get home from a foreign land.

The women as a rule are prompted by the first reason. With men it is different. Except for an occasional young fellow with a desperate case of wanderlust, the men stowaways I have seen take the desperate chances they do either to get home from abroad when broke or to defeat the law.

Starvation, and even death, face some stowaways, notably Chinese who would evade the exclusion laws of the United States. Italians, eager to get into the land of plenty outside their national quota limitations, will take any desperate chance to stow away.

Often a baffled stowaway, returned to the land whence he came, will try the game again, at the first opportunity. I know of one young man who had been sent back to Europe six times after suffering the greatest possible hardships and privations as a stowaway. "I'll win yet," he said, as he went back the sixth time.

The Seagoing Hotel Beat

Another type of stowaway is one I may designate as the seagoing hotel beat. He comes aboard in the guise of a traveler, sometimes with baggage, mingles with the passengers, goes boldly down to meals, and by various arts and social graces, disguises the fact that he has no room.

Usually the dead beats of this type are quickly recognized by wise stewards who know their ways, and are quietly checked up. The result usually is a job peeling potatoes or scouring cooking pots in the galley, and Ellis Island of course is their landing place, if they are westbound.

Rarely, the polite stowaway gets within touching distance of his destination. Some years ago a chap of this sort was on a ship docking at the Chelsea piers, and was about to land when he was held up by an eagle-eyed gangway man who said, "Landing card, please."

"It's all right," said Mr. Beat, with a wave of the hand, "I'm from the office."

"Wait a minute," said the gangway man. "What office? Show me your credentials."

In two minutes the airy one was classified, and handed over to the master at arms for disposal in the usual way.

But he came unusually close to his goal.

Chances are All Against Them

In these times, the stowaway finds, on the North Atlantic, at any rate that the chances are all against his "getting away with it."

Ships are watched more carefully than they used to be, to prevent stowaways from getting aboard. Then they are searched before they are well clear of the harbor, and if found, a stowaway is sent back to port by a tug or another ship.

If not found, he must hide in some noisome, dark place, usually in an uncomfortable position, there to pass the hours like a hunted thing. He may pass days that way, only to be discovered, sometimes near death.

When found at sea, a stowaway, if physically able to perform labor, is set to work at some hard, menial task. Nobody has a kind word for him. He is despised.

In view of these facts, there is good reason that the stowaway business is on the decline.

Harold Hamill, "Reporter Tells of Stowaways He Has Seen," in The Ocean Ferry: A Publication of the International Mercantile Marine Company, Vol. VIII, No. 2, November 1928, Page 6+

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