|Ms. Annie Moore; first immigrant processed at the Ellis Island centre|
During this last month there have been numerous Media Specials and articles about the RMS Titanic. The loss of passengers for Ireland was an extremely painful episode in already hard and difficult lives of most of the Irish country people. The event was never talked about at all and it is only now some one hundred years later that some of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those lost have been able to face the fact, plan and build memorials to their lost fellow villagers.
It was of course a double loss for them, the family member and fellow villager was gone and so also was the money that had been collected for their passage with no hope of any return or more family and villagers going in the future. What does one mean by that?
Well it was quite impossible for the person wanting and prepared to go to America to raise the Steerage passage fare money. So what happened was the village got together and raised the fare money which for a Steerage passage which was about £25.00 or $125.00 in 1912 dollars. Sometimes after a good harvest, a cattle or horse sale enough money was raised to send several villagers. The idea was that they in turn would send money back for another group to go and to support the older family members. So the loss of the villagers in the RMS Titanic was a tremendous hardship for all.
However in all this there is another side and that is in the RMS Titanic and indeed all the passenger vessels calling at Queenstown, now again known as Cobh, there were the unlisted Steerage class passengers. Those who could not afford or raise the Steerage class fare went to Cobh and made contact with a "booking agent". It was not hard to do as they hung out at certain Quay pubs and were well known. For considerably less than the Steerage fare the "booking agent" would arrange with the Junior Purser in charge of Steerage to issue a passenger Tender "boarding chit". The Purser and "booking agent" of course split the money obtained and the emigrant boarded via the Steerage passenger side door, an unlisted passenger to America. They slept where they could in the Steerage area and got the left over food, but they got to America and they came in huge numbers.
Since the ships Senior Pursers had done exactly the same thing in their days in charge of Steerage there was no problem it being the accepted practice as long as it was not carried to extremes. It is therefore quite likely that as many as a hundred of these unlisted Steerage passengers were lost on that dreadful night of April 15, 1912.
It was the practice in Ireland to light huge bonfires along the cliffs west of Cobh to say goodbye, forever usually, to the departing emigrant. My mother, who lived in that area, used to tell me of the hysterical family members who knew they would never see them again.
As an indication of cost; in the RMS Titanic the 1st. Class fare was £100, 2nd. Class fare £60, 3rd. Class fare £40 and Steerage fare £25 or by "booking agent" arrangement. In 1912 the English pound £ was worth $5.00. At that time a live in housemaid earned an annual wage of £5.00 a year plus all found so the Steerage fare was five years of her total earnings.
Some 300 of our fellow seafarers are held hostage by pirates off Puntland, Somalia. They face mutilation and death at all times. There are currently no plans to release or rescue them.