Death on Board

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter I (4) | Start of Chapter

All was quiet after the first wrenchings were past. On the third morning after our departure, the captain came up from the steerage, saying, "We have had a death on board." The wife of a Scotchman occupied the same berth with her son, a boy of thirteen. She went to bed the preceding evening in as good health as when she came on board, and she slept the sleep of death in the night. Her husband and another son of twenty were in a berth above them, and knew nothing of the circumstance till the young boy awoke, and found his mother cold and stiff by his side.

On descending the steerage stairs, I saw the accompaniments of death as they never had been presented to my view before. The rough hands of the sailors were wrapping the slender body in hempen cloth, and fitting iron weights to the feet, to cause it to sink. The father and the eldest son looked silently, if not coldly on; whilst the younger boy, in a flood of grief, was interrupted occasionally by the stern command of his father, to "hold his tongue."

The body was placed on deck, and at twelve the captain assembled the crew, read some passages of Scripture, appropriate for the burial of the dead, prayed (for he was a man of prayer), and four sailors raised the board containing the body upon the railing of the deck, turning away their faces; one dismal plunge was heard; the parted wave closed again, and all was hushed, save the suppressed sobs of the young son. The captain whispered, "the husband was not kind," and each turned to his monotony again.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.