Getting There: The S.S. Bothnia Beginning the Grand Tour

Setting Sail

After a brief visit to friends and family in New York, Franklina and the rest of the Hewes Party boarded a steamship for their transatlantic journey. Expecting the latest in luxuries, they sailed on the S.S​. Bothnia from New York to Liverpool. The Bothnia was only a year old and was equipped with four transatlantic “firsts:” the first smoking lounge, the first ladies’ lounge, the first library at sea, and the first system of electric call bells. But even this new steamship depended on sails to stabilize the pitch and roll of the open seas. Franklina had never undergone such a voyage and after a few days at sea remarked:

I have actually recovered from any seasickness; an event which promises to plunge me into a state of astonishment for the rest of my natural life."

Journal, Sunday, July 11, 1875, Off Newfoundland, Str. Bothnia.

Luxury and Leisure

Though they traveled in style, the ever-adventurous Franklina despaired at the lack of amusement on board. While she was pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow passengers, she was less impressed by "A number of people from New York" who flaunted their wealth and status:

Their diamonds, their maids, their clothes are discussed in painfully audible tones."

Clearly uninterested in such frivolous matters, Franklina found herself quite bored.

(Pictured: The S.S. Bothnia in 1877, Ancestry.com Public Archive)

We do little but eat and sleep on the ship... Between meals we read & nap in our steamer chair while the gentlemen on board drink brandy & soda."

Journal, Monday, July 12, 1875, On Board the SS Bothnia in the Atlantic Ocean

Left: women recline in the "steamer chairs" that Franklina note. Right: The SS Bothnia could accommodate 300 first class passengers; the dining saloon could seat all 300 guests at once!
Portrait of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Princess of Hawaii, by Frederico de Madrazo, 1880.

Among Franklina's fellow passengers were Charles Reed Bishop and his wife Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Bernice was the last living descendent of King Kamehameha I of Hawaii. The Bishops were making the transatlantic voyage aboard the Bothnia en route to their own Grand Tour to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary.

The Princess of Hawaii was already well known to Franklina's family by the time they connected on the ship. Franklina's Aunt Rose and her late husband Arthur Brown were good friends of the Bishops, having met while the couple resided in Hawaii.

The Bishops were not the only high-profile travelers on the Bothnia during Franklina's voyage. Among them were real estate and business tycoons, prominent physicians, and high ranking military officers. General Adam Badeau, a Union Army officer, diplomat and author and his new wife Marie provided some amusement for Franklina:

An ancient bride is particularly entertaining. She is a vivacious little Frenchwoman about forty years old; very homely, and very proud of having just married General Badeau, US Counsel General.

Journal, July 11, 1875, On Board the SS Bothnia in the Atlantic Ocean.

Tickets, Please!

While the Bothnia was an undoubtedly top-ranking vessel for those who could afford a first class ticket, 1,100 passengers traveled "third class" in steerage.

Travelers like Franklina and her family who purchased "cabin" tickets paid between $80 and $130 (between $1,920.00 and $3,120.00 today).

The remaining passengers purchased third class tickets at "lowest rates," about $15 (in 2020, $360).

(Pictured: Newspaper advertisement of the Cunard Steamer Line, The New York Herald, July 14, 1874, page 2. Library of Congress.)

Below Decks

Once boarded, travel conditions for steerage passengers were a far cry from the comfort enjoyed by those above decks. Despite 19th Century lawmaking efforts to improve steerage accommodations, conditions were notoriously dirty, noisy, hot, odorous, and cramped. In 1879, one journalist traveled in steerage aboard a Cunard Steamer from New York to Liverpool undercover. His reports of the squalid state and horrendous treatment of his fellow passengers shocked readers:

This dirty boarded space -- not nearly so large as an ordinary room -- was the 'saloon,' dining room, and living room for steerage passengers; and it was certified to accommodate 150 persons. The stench, combined with the heat, was simply intolerable."

"In the Steerage," Indiana State Sentinel, Wednesday, September 17, 1879, page 2.

Above: Steerage passengers aboard the SS Umbria, Pencil on Paper, André Castaigne, 1897, Library of Congress. Left: "On Board and Emigrant Ship–The Breakfast Bell," 1884, Library of Congress. Right: "On Board an Emigrant Ship," 1871, Library of Congress.

Land Ho!

After 10 days at sea, the Hewes party set eyes on Europe for the first time in the form of the Irish coast. Queenstown, County Cork (today, Cobh), was one of Ireland's most popular ports for both travel and trade. Years later, in 1912, it would be the last port stop of the RMS Titanic before its voyage across the ocean. The SS Bothnia let off about forty passengers here before concluding its passage in Liverpool, England where Franklina formally began her Grand Tour.

As we approached Queenstown, green fields began to appear, divided by stone fences and dotted with houses which looked more substantial and comfortable than we expected of Irish houses."

Though she had never set foot in Ireland, Franklina's knowledge of that country may have been colored by her experiences with the Irish in America. The Great Famine (1847-1852) sent hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean.

American nativism, classism, and religious prejudice quickly stereotyped the Irish as dirty, lazy, drunken, violent, and poverty-stricken. Franklina's surprise at Queenstown's "substantial and comfortable" houses was undoubtedly influenced by these unkind and exaggerated assumptions.

(Pictured: Antique postcard showing Queenstown Harbor, County Cork, 1890. Library of Congress.)

The Industrial Revolution introduced a new world of steamships and trains which allowed Europeans to travel through the continent in significantly less time. The emerging middle-classes and the introduction of travel guidebooks fostered the tourism industry. Following the Civil War, the American nouveau riche—with their guidebooks in hand—crossed the Atlantic to immerse themselves in European class and culture.

Here, Queenstown is bustling with well-dressed people among chimneyed houses. As a port city, merchants and business people would have made up the majority of the immediate population. For most Irish people, however, life was a different story.

(Pictured: 1872 illustration of Queenstown harbor by J. Brennan. Note the Cunard line Emigration office in the foreground!)

As Franklina admired the quaint coastline of Ireland from afar, she failed to note the masses of working class emigrants seeking passage to the city she had just left. For most, the choice to emigrate was less of a choice and more of a necessity. Famine, poverty, and lost land inheritance were among some of the reasons the Irish left their homeland. For women Franklina's age especially, restricted choices for marriage, sparse dowries, and the rarity of paid work were driving forces for emigration.

While the Irish were among the most plentiful and widely remarked on immigrants in the mid-19th century, they were certainly not the only ones who came to America seeking a better life. Italians, Germans, and Eastern European Jews featured prominently in the latter half of the century as westerly transatlantic travelers. On the other side of the globe, Chinese immigrants crossed the Pacific and made up much of the West Coast's labor force.

"Emigrants Leaving Queenstown for New York." Harper's Weekly, 1874.

Back above deck, Franklina poked fun at her more stuffy fellow passengers,

What a hard thing life must be when one cannot condescend to be amused."

Luckily for Franklina, the promise of amusement beckoned in the form of her Grand Tour.

Though she was a financially well-off, well-educated Victorian lady, Franklina often escaped the trappings of her class: she had little patience for small talk and dainty pretensions. Her passion for history, art, and exploration set her apart from typical Victorian women. There were, nevertheless, rules and expectations of women traveling abroad in 1875. Click the button below to learn more!

(Pictured: Photograph of Franklina C. Gray during her Grand Tour, c.1875, Camron-Stanford House Collection. Gift of Tracey Bartlett, 2018).

Franklina C. Gray: The Grand Tour / An Online Exhibit Presented by Camron-Stanford House.
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