September 20, 2016

A small digression with a link to Matilda's journey

Last night I wrote about Matilda’s journey, at least some of it.  But I am a writer and I tend to go back and criticize and edit so this morning I reread what I wrote and realized that I had left out so much that was important.

Matilda came over on the SS Ivernia a workhorse of a ship owned by Cunard that made many trips brimming with immigrants between Liverpool and Boston and Trieste and New York between 1901 and 1914.  She was then hired by the British government to haul troops to war.  In 1917 commanded by Captain William Thomas Turner (who had, by coincidence Commanded the RMS Lusitania and was in command of the Ivernia when my grandmother sailed in her) she was attacked by a U-boat and sunk south east of Greece.  There were 2700 troops aboard, her capacity was listed as 1964. 120 souls were lost more than half of them crew.  Captain Turner was henceforth assigned a desk job.

Those facts send me to wondering about immigration in the early 1900s.  Though not as perilous as much earlier crossings had been, crossings that took months or as dangerous as crossing during wartime, the 13 day trip was still a journey of souls at sea and all sea travel was dangerous.

People take sea journeys these days because they either want a slow, luxurious vacation experience or because it seems a safer alternative to air travel.  I’m not sure the latter is true what with Noro virus and captains who can’t seem to navigate the coast of Greece.

There is a third reason they take sea journeys.  They take their journeys in leaky boats or rubber rafts.  They are fleeing political oppression or the complete dissolution of society as they know it or the bombs, the constant bombs.  So many of them don’t make it, and when they do they are locked into detention camps or must run for their lives across Europe to an uncertain future under the threat of deportation.

Now Matilda was probably only looking for a new life or perhaps an adventure, I will never know. 

But what I do know is the greatest number of us in the US, somewhere back in our history, came to this country, by ship and by airplane or by land and with a stubborn determination to survive.  By looking into Matilda’s journey I have even more empathy with those modern immigrants who want a better life for themselves and their children and who risk death at sea for that life. 

I will remember this the next time I hear someone who wants to build walls or close boarders and I will help them to remember too.

"Eternal Father strong to save
Whose arm has bound the restless wave
Who bidst the mighty ocean deep
It's own appointed limits keep
Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea."


  1. Wonderful! She seems to have come while the winds of war were gathering in Europe. My Swedish family came in mid-1800's during a time of famine.

    1. Wait for it...Just this morning found out what happened in WWII to her aunts and cousins when one of them married a German. Details in a future post.

  2. If you are curious about this time circa 1850), read "The Emigrants" by Vilhelm Moberg.