The Famine Ships

by Edward Laxton

The defining moments of Irish history are studded with arrivals (St. Patrick, Oliver Cromwell) and departures (St. Columbanus, James Joyce). In the 1840s the great arrival was the Potato Blight, and the even greater departure was the multitude of ships carrying the nearly one million emigrants escaping the Irish famine to America. In this work, Laxton, a former newspaper editor, narrates the stories of these emigrants as they sailed for the the New World. The work is a fascinating compilation derived from family histories handed down through the generations; it describes both the horrible conditions aboard the ships and the emigrants' boundless optimism concerning the freedom of America. This well-written supplement to the various works on the Irish famine exodus finally draws attention to the people and the ships that defined a moment in Irish and American history. John J. Doherty, Montana State Univ., Bozeman

The Immigrant Ships


The average run of a Black Ball Liner on the Liverpool-New York round passage was 40 days. In 1839, all four Dramatic Liners averaged passages of 28 days, shaving 12 days off the run. Their flat floors increased their cargo capacity considerably. Now again, the South Street tongues were wagging, but singing a different tune.

Story of bad treatment aboard a Black Ball Liner

Date Passengers Ship Line Captain Departure Arrival
June 1, 1848 elder Michael Sullivan (age 40) and wife Julia (age 28) Fidelia


Aug. 10, 1849  Michael Emmett Sullivan, age 6 Marmion Taylor & Merrill FREEMAN, THOMAS F LIVERPOOL New York
January 8, 1851 Florence (24 yrs) , John (26 yrs) and Daniel Sullivan (age 18 yrs) Fidelia


Black Ball Line Enoch W. Peabody LIVERPOOL New York
1851 Mary Sullivan Sweeney          
1863 Joanna Sullivan Harrington          
before Nov 20,  1853 Margaret Sullivan Moran          
  Peter Sullivan          

Fidelia June 1, 1848 - elder Michael Sullivan (age 40) and wife Julia (age 28) see picture of ship

Black Ball Line, consisting of the Columbia, New York, Fidelia, Montezuma, Yorkshire, Manhattan, Isaac Webb, Harvest Queen, Neptune, Great Western, and James Foster Jr.,

ShipName Arrival Port Captain Nationality1 Nationality2 Nationality3 Crew Tons Line manifest
Fidelia 6/1/1848 LIVERPOOL YEATON, SAMUEL Ireland England Wales 0 0    

The shipyard of William Webb - builder of the Fidelia

The busiest of all the shipyards along the East River was that of William Webb. He had inherited the yard from his father, Isaac Webb, known throughout the maritime world as "the father of shipbuilders," who had died at the age of forty-six. William was just twenty-four years old at the time. William was six years younger than Donald McKay was and the two had apprenticed under his father, Isaac Webb, and both had learned their lessons well. Isaac Webb had built the Natchez that Waterman had sailed to fame over the China run.

Soon William Webb established a reputation for himself building swift packet ships for the North Atlantic trade. From 1840 to 1850 William Webb built the packets Montezuma, Yorkshire, Havre, Fidelia, Columbia, Sir Robert Peel, Splendid, Bavaria, Albert Galatin, Isaac Webb, and Vanguard. One of them, the Yorkshire, was known as "the fastest packet of her time." William Webb also built the China packets Helena, Montauk and Panama. Webb was a meticulous craftsman who possessed a good intuitive sense as to the proper dimensions of a ship and tried to live up to his father's legacy and devoted much attention drafting out his carefully constructed models of the hulls of his ships.

Clipper Ship - Fidelia


102   BLACK BALL LINE; 1818-53 Selection of EL/E, similar to previous Lot but carried by "Europe"(9), "Fidelia"(4), "Florida", "Hibernia"(2), "Isaac Wright"(2), "Manchester"(4), "James Monroe"(2), "Montezuma", "Neptune", "Nestor"(3) and "New York"(7). Variety of hand stamps. (36 covers). 120

Two Packet Ship Paintings. Hart Nautical Collections Curator Kurt Hasselbalch examines the rich stories embedded in two exceptional paintings by the famous Liverpool school artists, Miles Walters and his son Samuel. The paintings depict the Black Ball packet Fidelia homeward bound in 1845 and the Massachusetts-built Robert Pulsford arriving at Liverpool 1832.  Hasselbalch highlights the artists lives, explains the Liverpool School, discusses packet ships in general, and touchs on the interesting circumstances that brought these magnificent paintings to the MIT Museum. Free. Refreshments provided. Room: MIT Museum.

Marmion in NY on Aug. 10, 1849 - Michael Emmett Sullivan, age 6

ShipName Arrival Port Captain Nationality1 Nationality2 Nationality3 Crew Tons Line manifest
Marmion 8/10/1849 LIVERPOOL FREEMAN, THOMAS F Ireland England Germany 0 0    

Taylor & Merrill the Ivanhoe, Guy Mannering, and Marmion


Sp. Samuel Hicks


T. G. Bunker

On March 1st Samuel Thompson & Nephew


"    Empire


J. G. Russell

advertised as agents for the Black Star line of


"    Panthea


W. B. Lane

packets from Liverpool to New York. Vessels


"    Indiana


James D. Bennett

sailed every six days throughout year. Line


"    Huguenot


S. Goodhue

included Sea, Liberty, Cornelia, and Ohio, and


"    Marmion


William Edwards

the 14 ships listed for 1847. The correct


"    Elizabeth Denison


F. W. Spencer

official tonnage given here is in general sub-


"    Devonshire


W. T. Thompson

stantially lower than the advertised tonnage.


"    Niagara


Hy. Russell

The firm continued to use Britis ships, in


"    Atlas


H. Coffin

addition to those listed here.


"    Chaos


J. L. Wilson



"    Sardinia


C. R. Crocker



"    America


S. Weare



"    Peter Hattrick


J. D. Post


MARMION - 1852

1)  Master:  Captain G. Dale
RiggingBrig; sheathed in yellow metal in 1844; partly fastened with iron bolts
Tonnage:  198 tons using old measurements and 218 tons using new measurements
Construction:  1844 in Maryport
Owners:  R. Grice
Port of registry:  Port Philip
Port of survey:  London
Voyage:  sailed for Port Philip

2)  Master:  Captain Peat
RiggingBarque; sheathed in yellow metal in 1850
Tonnage:  360 tons using old measurements and 388 tons using new measurements
Construction:  1838 in Dartmouth; partial new keelson & some repairs in 1851
Owners:  Stringer & Co.
Port of registry:  Liverpool
Port of survey:  London
Voyage:  sailed for Hobart Town

other Marmion bio:

This American ship, 823 tons, coal laden, from Departure Bay, B. C., for San Francisco, foundered off Cape Flattery, November 8, 1879. In command of Captain F. W. Jordan, the vessel encountered a strong southeaster and in a cross sea began to leak badly. Pumps became useless as water gained in the hold. The vessel was abandoned and the crew picked up by the Tam O'Shanter. The Marmion Iater foundered under her 1,300-ton cargo of coal. Jim Gibbs, Shipwrecks off Juan de Fuca, Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1968.
Citation: Tacoma Public Library
The ship Marmion, Capt. F. W. Jordan, coal-laden from Departure Bay for San Francisco, foundered off Cape Flattery, November 8th. [1879]. She sailed from the coal port, November 7th, with 1,300 tons of cargo, and after passing Flattery encountered a strong southeaster with a heavy cross sea, which strained the ship so that she began to leak badly, and the pumps were unable to keep her free. The water continued to gain on the crew, and on the morning of the eighth the barometer stood at 29.30. Serious consequences were anticipated if they remained longer with the doomed vessel. She was accordingly abandoned, and the crew boarded the Tam O'Shanter, which had been standing by, and were taken to San Francisco. The position of the vessel was 48 degrees 6' north and 125 degrees 40' west. E. W. Wright, Modern Propeller Steamships Appear, Oregon Railway & Navigation Company Incorporated, Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. New York: Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1961., p.273.


Many of these old ships were exceptionally fast sailers, keeping up their reputation for speed after their usefulness had ended in the packet service and they had been transferred to some other trade. On this list should be placed the names of the Roscius, Henry Clay, John R. Skiddy, Devonshire, Constitution, Marmion, Enterprise, St. Denis, New-York, and Admiral.


The U.S. ship GUY MANNERING was built at New York by William H. Webb, New York (hull #43), for Robert L. Taylor and Nathaniel W. Merrill's line (called in Liverpool the Black Star Line) of sailing packets between New York and Liverpool, and launched in March 1849. 1,418 tons; 190 ft x 42 ft 6 in x 29 ft 8 in (length x beam x depth of hold); 3 decks (the first three-decked merchant vessel built in the United States); draft load 24 ft. The name GUY MANNERING was derived from a romance published by Sir Walter Scott in 1815; Taylor & Merrill had already given names derived from Scott's works to two earlier ships built for them by William H. Webb, the MARMION (1846), and the IVANHOE (1847). The GUY MANNERING continued in the New York-Liverpool service through the Civil War, although her voyages may have been irregular as the war progressed. On 30 November 1865, under the command of Charles Brown, the GUY MANNERING cleared New York (sailing on 2 December) for Liverpool, with 6 passengers, a crew, including the captain, of 32, and a cargo of 1611 bales of cotton, 5326 bushels of wheat, 33,986 bushels of corn, and 4 cases of cotton goods. On the afternoon of 31 December 1866, the GUY MANNERING was wrecked on the west coast of the island of Iona, with the loss of 17 lives. The following are the two most complete accounts of the wreck I have at hand:

Fidelia January 8, 1851 - Florence (24 yrs) , John (26 yrs) and Daniel Sullivan (age 18 yrs)

Black Ball Line, consisting of the Columbia, New York, Fidelia, Montezuma, Yorkshire, Manhattan, Isaac Webb, Harvest Queen, Neptune, Great Western, and James Foster Jr.

See descriptions of the Fidelia and one it's captains above.

Captain of the Fidelia January 8, 1851:

I, Enoch W. Peabody (view of article requires free registration for the NYTimes), do solemnly, sincerely and truly swear that the following List or Manifest of Passengers, subscribed with my name, and now delivered by me to the Collector of the Customs for the District of New York, contains, to the best of my knowledge and belief, a just and true account of all the Passengers received on board the Ship Fidelia whereof I am Master from Liverpool. So help me God.

Sworn on this 8 January 1851
Before me (Unable to read name of Collector of Customs).

List or Manifest of ALL THE PASSENGERS taken on board the Ship Fidelia whereof Peabody is Master, from Lpool burthen 895 tons.

Immigrant passengers onboard that were transported from Liverpool, England to New York. This list represented numbers, names, ages, sex, occupation, the country which they severally belong, the country to which they intend to become habitants, died on the voyage, and part of the vessel occupied by each passenger during the voyage.  Also, National Archives and Records Administration, film M237, Reel 335, List 971. 

The Line continued until about 1881 but sailed irregularly towards the last. The larger of the Black ball packets had a capacity of 800 to 900 passengers. Enoch was Master of 5 Packet/Clipper ships within the fleet including; the Neptune, Columbia, Isaac Webb, Yorkshire, and Fidelia. These 5 ships became the end of the Peabody Packet/Clipper Ship legends. But, the 3 rd maritime generation of the Peabody family became another National and State of Washington legend. Enoch W. Peabody’s son, Charles Enoch Peabody, born Dec. 4, 1857, in Brooklyn, N.Y. ultimately created the next family maritime generation legend.

North American Ports 1800's

Castle Garden aka Castle Clinton - where immigrant passengers arrived prior to Ellis Island (1893+)

Pictures of Castle Garden

European Ports 1880's

Liverpool 1847

Eimskip Shipping Lines  Pictures of the current Eimskip Ships

Port of New York Immigrant Ships


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