A Human Derelict—The Stowaway - 1906

An interesting read about a few of the more intriguing stowaways from the early 1900s. You'll chuckle about the exploits of some, be amazed at the exploits of others, and learn about the unfortunate stowaways who made poor choices.

The annual number of stowaways that come to port on the transatlantic liners is far greater than would be supposed, taking into consideration the constant vigilance of captains and mates. Of these, however, only a small percentage are able to land. Most of them are discovered and sent back before the ship drops her pilot on the other side.

Sometimes the hold reveals a pitiful tragedy when the vessel discharges her cargo, for if a stowaway hides himself among the bales and boxes below, and the ship encounters rough weather the pitching and tossing shifts the pieces of freight and the secret passenger is crushed to death, or entrapped among the huge piles, dies of starvation if the voyage is a protracted one.

Such an unfortunate was discovered in the hold of the S. S. Maryland last winter when she docked in Philadelphia, after a stormy passage, and an emaciated corpse half devoured by rats was taken out with the cargo.

The Stowaway's Favorite Hiding Place - One of the Ships Lifeboats.

The Stowaway's Favorite Hiding Place - One of the Ships Lifeboats. The New Age, March 1906. GGA Image ID # 14b1a1a877

An intelligent stowaway who fully understands the risks he runs watches for an opportunity and tucks himself away in a lifeboat, as there he finds water, provisions and pure air, while the boat's jacket protects him from sun and rain. At night he can come out of his snug retreat and stretch his legs with the stokers or the steerage passengers without much fear of detection.

The lifeboats are supposed to be overhauled and re-stocked with fresh bread and water on every voyage, but on a busy ship like an Atlantic liner this duty is often omitted, and so the stowaway's chances of discovery are less than in any other place on board. But in winter when the freezing spray dashes high over the bulwarks, and deck fittings and ventilators are crusted with ice, a berth in a lifeboat has some very obvious drawbacks.

Occasionally one of these salt-water tramps hides in the narrow spaces between the boilers and is roasted alive before he can escape from his fiery prison.

A great many stowaways crawl into the coal bunkers where they are soon discovered, hauled out, and made to feel that the way of the transgressor is especially hard at sea. Sometimes the stokers take pity on one, bring him food and drink, and post him how to take his airings after dark in the part of the ship where he is least likely to encounter an officer.

Often the stowaway has friends in the steerage who conceal him. But if he succeeds in evading the keen eyes of the mates during the voyage, there is not one chance in a thousand that he will be able to leave the ship undetected, and many and ingenious are his devices to effect a landing.

An amusing instance was the case of William Campbell, who dodged aboard the tramp steamship Hypatia at Liverpool, and on reaching New York was ordered by the authorities to "move on" to the River Platte, the vessel's ultimate destination. But the stowaway longed to become a free American and had no intention of proceeding.

He was five feet seven inches tall, tipped the beam at one hundred and sixty-four pounds, was thick shouldered and deep-chested, and the only way to liberty lay through a smooth iron bound port hole thirteen inches in diameter.

Nothing daunted he stripped himself to the skin, and with the aid of the sympathetic cook who provided a bucket of slush with which he greased himself all over, and a couple of friendly longshoremen to pull him by main force, he managed to squeeze through this narrow gate to freedom.

Another stowaway who tried it on another ship, but neglected to grease himself, stuck fast half-way through the port hole and had to be sawed out.

Johann Beck, A Plucky German Stowaway.

Johann Beck, A Plucky German Stowaway. The New Age, March 1906. GGA Image ID # 14b1fb107e

A plucky stowaway was Johann Beck, the German house painter, who shipped himself in a box as freight on the S. S. La Patria from Hamburg, and after a sixteen days voyage arrived in New York more dead than alive. He found friends in this land of big hearts and was permitted to remain in the country he had suffered so much to reach.

Quite as courageous and even more persevering was Bozo Gacina, an Austrian boy sixteen years old. who left his native town of Dalmatia for Trieste, where he smuggled himself aboard a steamer which took him to Alexandria where he repeated the trick with the same success, and reached Liverpool.

There he stowed himself away for the third time on the Cunarder Umbria, but on arriving in New York was handed over to the immigration officials who deported him, and two weeks later he was turned loose in Liverpool again.

But with a perseverance worthy a better cause he hid himself on the Umbria for the second time, selecting for his stateroom the donkey engine used for distilling water; only the fact that the supply did not give out on the way over, and there was no necessity for starting up the boiler, saved the young adventurer from a horrible death. He was allowed to land.

The youngest stowaway on record was three-year-old Raffaleo Zaccarina on the Citta di Milano from Naples. Pinned to his clothing was a note addressed to Signora Zaccarina, New Haven, reading: "I send you the boy as promised."

Little Berth Walman of Bermuda. One of the Youngest Stowaways.

Little Berth Walman of Bermuda. One of the Youngest Stowaways. The New Age, March 1906. GGA Image ID # 14b1d6b5d9

Occasionally the extra passenger is a woman. Little Bertha Walman, of Bermuda, thought she would like to see New York, and hid herself on the SS Pretoria, was discovered on the way up, and despite her tears and lamentations was returned to the little white island of her birth.

The oldest stowaway in petticoats was a very aged French woman discovered in the steerage by the purser of La Lorraine when the ship was one day out from Havre. She was crippled, without clothes, without funds, and able to speak only the dialect of Brittany.

Though suffering from chronic hip disease she had walked all the way from Cotes-du-Nard, Brittany, to Havre, a distance of over two hundred miles, and having no money depended on the charity of people along the road. The ship's officers treated her kindly and saw that she fared as well as the other steerage passengers who had paid their way, but she was, of course, deported.

A cool hand was a young man who partook of three meals a day, mingled freely with the passengers, and slept in a berth on La Touraine, and was not discovered until the ship reached Ellis Island. He returned to France in less luxurious fashion, being put to work with the stokers.

Two lads were found concealed between the bedding in the crew's quarters on the S. S. Servia when she was off the S. E. coast of Ireland just before the tug left her. One was sent ashore, but the captain was obliged to keep the other willy-nilly, for anticipating such a possibility the shrewd rascal had stripped and thrown every rag of clothes overboard.

It was impossible to bring him on deck in the altogether and equally impossible to find clothes for him before the tug's departure, so he was carried to New York and back to his great delight.

A war-time stowaway was the Spanish lad Pedro Urizar, who concealed himself on the Spanish warship Reina Mercedes when she left Bilboa for Cuba, and who became Admiral Cervera's cabin boy.

When the Spanish fleet was destroyed, he was rescued by the crew of the Texas and brought to New York where he elected to remain when peace was declared, and the other prisoners were exchanged.

A homesick and penniless French man begged the French Consul at Colon, C. A., to send him home. This, however, the Consul had no power to do. "But," he said, "I can send you to Point-a-Pitre (Gaudaloupe)."

The man embarked for Point-a-Pitre, but when the ship was about to leave that place for Havre he could not be found though a thorough search was made for him, and it was certain that he had not gone ashore. A few miles outside the harbor he appeared before the astonished captain. "Where were you hidden that you could not be found before we sailed?" demanded the irate commander.

The homesick one pointed to one of the empty flour barrels put on deck by the baker, and which are always thrown over the side when the vessel is clear of the harbor.

"I was there," he said, "your men looked among them but not into them." The French captain struck with the man's ingenuity sent him to work with the coal trimmers and allowed him to leave the ship unmolested at Havre.

The S. S. Origaba was known to have a stowaway on board when leaving Vera Cruz, but he could not be found though every square foot of space was systematically searched from stem to stern.

Even the cargo was moved and inspected. Before leaving the next port, which was a fever port, the ship was fumigated to guard against possible infection, and Mr. Stowaway was smoked out by the stifling sulfur fumes, but neither threats nor persuasions could induce him to reveal his hiding place.

Sometimes the masters of sailing ships, which are generally short-handed, are not sorry to find two or three stowaways aboard to swell the crew at no extra expense to the owners.

Once in a while though a stowaway will not work, as was the case with a Spaniard from Barcelona, who concealed himself in a lifeboat on a French liner bound from Marseilles to Rio de Janeiro. When discovered he took it very coolly, and when ordered forward with the coal-passers refused to go. "I will not work," he said haughtily to the wraithy captain, "and you will take me to Brazil."

He was put in irons on the way, and lodged in jail at Rio, but evidently he well understood the law's delay in South America, and had laid his plans accordingly, for the ship was obliged to sail before his case came into court, and as the captain was not there to press the complaint he was allowed to go.

In extreme cases the ship's officers may be in sympathy with a stowaway, and so make no special effort to rout him out before the vessel is beyond the harbor.

The officers and crew of a British tramp discharging coal at Puerta Barrios, Guatemala, took compassion on the wretched negroes on the dock who toiled all day in a tropic sun receiving in return only the blows, kicks, and curses of a brutal master.

When the steamer sailed, she carried twenty-six stowaways not one of whom was seen out of his hiding place during the forty-eight hours run to Vera Cruz. At that port they were routed out and went ashore quite happy.

On a steamer plying between Alexandria and Liverpool two little Arabs of the donkey-boy type were found concealed in a lifeboat when the ship was well on her way to England. When marched before the captain they offered the naive excuse that they had fallen asleep on board and did not awake until they were far out at sea.

They were put to work with the coal-trimmers, and I fear the  good-natured Captain was looking the other way when the ship reached her dock in the Mersey, for they disappeared as soon as the gang plank was out.

Ten days later on the outward passage One of the little fellows turned up again, a grotesque figure attired in the red tunic of an infantryman but wearing his native fez or tarbuche. With a great show of anger the captain asked him why he was not satisfied to stay in Liverpool.

"Ah! no like Alexandria," said the swarthy rascal with much gesticulating of  grimy hands and rolling of sparkling black eyes, "when I lay down in the street to sleep at night a great man come along with silver buttons on, and he kick me and say "Move on there!"

A tragic fate was that of the boy Morris Zucker of New York, who stowed away on the steamer Levington, was discovered and handcuffed, but jumped overboard on reaching Savannah, and was drowned. Strangely enough his body did not rise until the Lexington's next arrival when it came up alongside in the very spot where it went down.

The British Colonies get their share of stowaways as well as America. The Captain of a large sailing ship bound from Liverpool to Sydney, N. S. W. told me that he rooted out no less than seventeen stowaways of all ages and descriptions from different holes and corners of his vessel on the last voyage.

Each one repeated the same hard luck story of no work, starvation, and the hope of bettering themselves in the Colonies. In the days of stately sailing-ships when a glamor of romance hung over the sea, the unwelcome passenger was usually a lad who sighed to be a sailor.

The captain of one of the Hamburg American liners took his first voyage as a stowaway. But the modern steamship stowaway is of a different mold. Men who have been doing Europe and gone broke in the process, prodigal sons returning penniless to the parental roof, and human derelicts drifting about from country to country with the wanderlust strong within them, but no means to gratify it except by beating their way from port to port.

These are the general types of a class which the steamship companies are finding a greater tax every year. The landing of stowaways before the English coast is quitted has now become an everyday occurrence on all the large steamers, especially the cargo-boats, and if the pilot has been dropped it is a difficult and often dangerous bit of work to put in near enough to the English coast to lower a boat and send him ashore.

The engines must be stopped and valuable time lost, while there is always more or less danger of drifting on the rocks which girdle the British Isles. The Phenix liner St. Andrew, Antwerp to New York, struck a ledge off Shanklin, Isle of Wight, while approaching shore to get rid of ten stowaways, and sustained serious damage.

The stowaway shrewd enough to hide himself until it is too late to land him costs the owners a pretty penny a hundred dollars and perhaps more if he gives them the slip on arriving out, and three or four of them every voyage is a heavy addition to the annual expense of any line.

If he happens to be an American citizen he is free to walk down the gang-plank as soon as the ship touches a United States port, but if he is an alien and the captain through carelessness or otherwise allows him to land, the vessel is liable to a fine of $500.

In England this troublesome tramp of the seas can be imprisoned for six months, but usually gets only fourteen days, so this law does not abate the nuisance at all, as the ordinary stowaway is from a class familiar with jails and quite ready to risk "doing time" in his efforts to reach fresh fields and pastures new on the hither side of the Atlantic.

The stowaway discovered too late to be landed is likely to receive anything but gentle treatment from the wrathy captain who desires not only to punish him, but also to discourage others from following his example.

The hardest, roughest work aboard is the stowaway's portion, he is generally put to work shoveling coal, a back-breaking, never ending task on a trans-Atlantic liner, though if the captain is a tender hearted man, and the case one that appeals to his sympathies he may only put him to washing down decks.

This was the task allotted to a New York war correspondent who found himself stranded and penniless in the streets of Liverpool at the end of the Boer war and stowed himself away on a big White Star steamer.

The ship's officers saw that he fared a little better than the average stowaway, and though unused to manual labor he worked faithfully all the way across, being glad to get home at any cost.

An Impudent Stowaway.

An Impudent Stowaway. The New Age, March 1906. GGA Image ID # 14b20433e3

Before the ship sailed again, he came down to the pier in fashionable attire, and was royally entertained by the mates. It was hard to believe the well-groomed young gentleman in faultless tweeds was the same ragged, grimy and disreputable-looking wretch who was yanked out of a lifeboat by the third mate, and led with no gentle hand to the captain, being treated to a running fire of choice expletives all the way.

On this same vessel another stowaway was a man of education, who at one time had managed one of the largest stock-broking firms in New York, and yet another had been chief draughtsman in a Paterson, N. J., Engine Works. Both had come down through drink.

But the sentimental side of the stowaway has ceased to exist, and he is now a distinct source of annoyance, trouble and expense to all concerned. It is almost impossible to prevent his coming aboard.

Stowaways have been known to live ten days on a ship before it sailed, as there is always a great deal of confusion on a steamer in port, people constantly coming and going, and always changes in the crew of stokers and coal-passers, so it is easy for the officers to think that a strange face belongs to a new hand.

Penalties vary in different countries, but everywhere they fall heaviest on the shipmaster. In a U. S. port the culprit must be placed under special surveillance during the vessel's stay.

The cost of all this care must come out of the captain's pocket, but the payment of fifty or seventy-five dollars does not cover the extent of his responsibility for a heavy fine must also be paid if the stowaway escapes.

Vessels trading to Venezuelan and Colombian ports find it impossible to sail without a large number of these undesirable passengers, as they come aboard under pretense of selling fruit or birds, and hawk their wares about the decks until they find an opportunity to conceal themselves.

The Brazilian government has found it necessary to make a stringent law for stowaways, though it must be confessed that it does little good. The nuisance has been steadily increasing of late years, and British ship-owners and captains are now petitioning the authorities to deal more severely with stowaways.

Leaving the cost of his passage and probable fines out of consideration his uninvited presence, especially on the mail- boats, causes delay prejudicial to every one interested in the vessel or the voyage but himself pays the passage of emigrants, but the Argentine Republic.

Minna Irving, "A Human Derelict – The Stowaway," in The New Age Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 3, March 1906, p. 216-221


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