THE THOMAS BELL
The "Thomas Bell" (pictured above) left Madeira on November 8, 1887.
This is the vessel that my Grandmother Maria Pereira de Sa Gomes journeyed on
around Cape Horn to Hawaii.
This voyage was particularly rough with heavy gales that caused major damage to the vessel.
They were forced to land in Iquique, Chile for repairs before continuing.
This crossing took 156 days.
They arrived at the Depot at Kakaako in Honolulu on April 14, 1888,
and from there they were shipped out to various destinations such as Kauai.
EXCERPT TAKEN FROM THE "PACIFIC COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER"
Hawaii State Archives
The British bark "Thomas Bell", commanded by Captain James Low, of which destination was the Sandwich Islands, having arrived early yesterday morning, April 13, 1888, at Honolulu port bringing 144 men, 66 women and 184 children, a total of 394 immigrants.
On the ship there were 22 stowaways from the Island of Madeira, and it took several days shipping the immigrants and their baggage. After leaving Funchal, Madeira, a series of gales were encountered. On November 20th, we exchanged signals with the bark "Paarthaton" of Swansea, bound north. On December 13 and the early part of the 14th, strong NW and NE gales split the sails. Jibbon carried away on the afternoon of the 26th of December, reduced sails, and the gale increasing top sail and fore sails were taken in. Weather moderating on the 28th of December, another jibbon was run out, the immigrants assisting.
Afternoon of December 30th we spoke to the ship "Alameda" of Bath, from Swansea, bound for San Francisco, 50 days out, and also we spoke to bark "Liverpool" from Newcastle at noon on December 30th.
Heavy gales, lasting until midnight, and on January 1, 1888, we sighted the "Mystic Belle" for a second time and exchanged signals with her. January, we shifted cargo in a gale, righted as much as possible the next day. January 4, 8, 9, 10 and 12 were days of gales. On the last date, the ship strained heavily. On the 12th of January, latitude 46.34 South and longitude 86.83 West. The condenser broke down and the ship was forced to land in Iquique, Chile to have it repaired. We arrive in Iquique 97 days out of Madeira. At Iquique, one of the immigrants decamped, leaving his wife and family to fate and was not seen again.
March 31st, we lost another jibbon in a squall, and sails were split, proceeded in fair weather the rest of the way, arriving in Honolulu and anchored in the stream on April 13, 1888. There were 14 births and 14 deaths on the voyage. Deaths werre 2 men,, 4 women, and 8 children. The Minister of the Interior boarded the ship and finding no sickness, ordered the immigrants to land on the Kakaako Depot, which was done this afternoon.
JOURNAL OF 156 DAYS
The people from the Portuguese Genealogical Society of Hawaii were kind enough to send me a copy of this journal. I felt others may also be interested in reading this, especially since no other documents have been found to explain what life could be like at times on an ocean crossing. This journal can be found in the book "Portuguese in Hawaii" by John Henry Felix and Peter Senecal.
The Journal of the 156 Days' Trip from the Island of Madeira to the Archipelago of Sandwich, on the English Vessel Thomas Bell, Captain James Low, November 8, 1887 to April 14, 1888 kept by João Baptista d'Oliveira and Vicente d'Ornellas.
Funchal, Madeira, November 8, 1887.
It was two o'clock in the afternoon. I had just said goodby to my family, and was approaching the beach of Funchal when I met some of my friends who had come to bid me farewell. Trying to conceal my tears by looking away from them, my eyes rested on some boats being launched which were carrying families who were to board the Thomas Bell. Hurriedly excusing myself, I soon became a part of them.
By six o'clock that evening we were all aboard. We were all grouped about on deck when we heard the voice of the captain ordering the crew to loosen the sails. When this was done, one of the immigrants by the name of Nimni climbed the mast of the ship where he hoped to get his last view of Funchal. The steward ordered Nimni to descend, but was forced to climb the mast himself before Nimni would comply with his orders.
The ship was now leaving the port of Funchal. I went up aft to the Camara
, leaned against the rail and gazed at the land, knowing in my heart that I would never see it again. And thus I said farewell: Goodby, beloved motherland; goodby, beloved parents who gave me life; goodby, beloved María, for I leave you in tears and deep sorrow; goodby, dear sisters and all of my family; my godchildren, my godparents, goodby to you all. And as I looked across the mountains, there stood the Church of the Virgem Santíssima do Monte. Bringing her picture to my lips, I meditated in this manner: Oh Virgin Mother most holy, bless these your children. Have pity on us all. Ask your most holy Son to accompany us so that we may have a pleasant journey. Ask Him to be with us through life and death. Oh, most holy Virgin, I well know that my supplications are not worthy of being heard; I know too that I am such a great sinner that nothing should comfort me. But have compassion on these my brothers and the little children who do not know how to ask for Your mercy, nor do they know what their fate will be.
My meditations over, I met some of my friends and walked the deck with them, for I wanted to look at Madeira as long as I possibly could. At 1:00 a.m. the island was lost from my sight. Forty-five minutes later, I went down the aft hatchway and saw the immigrants lying in their bunks with their children, some of whom were crying while others were laughing. Going portside, I saw a man who apparently was emotionally disturbed. As soon as the ship's doctor was aware of his condition, he ordered him to be carried to the ship's hospital where he remained for a short time before he regained his senses. So off to bed I went, but not for long.
November 9. At 3 a.m.
I was awake and immediately went up on deck. We were sailing perfectly; the wind was cool, and the sea calm. Approaching the man at the rudder, I asked him in English if the wind was good, to which he replied, Pretty fair. Going down below deck, I met some of the immigrants and inquired as to how they had passed the night. Some had not fared badly, but others had been quite seasick and had severe headaches.
The morning was clear and cool, and seemed like a morning in June. At eight o'clock, the bell rang for breakfast which consisted of bolacha
and excellent coffee. I spent the rest of the morning walking about, and saw seasick women in all corners of the ship, with their children lying at their sides.
Soon it was time for lunch. We were served white beans with meat and potatoes. In the afternoon we walked around the deck for the sea was very placid and the wind gentle. At 6 p.m. each of the passengers received a piece of fresh bread and a cup of tea for supper.
Again the sea was calm. At 7 a.m. I was near the middle hatch conversing with some of the passengers when I had a fainting spell. Two of the passengers took me to the doctor who gave me a glass filled with a certain liquid for me to smell. In less than five minutes I had recovered.
There was a married woman aboard who had grown so weak from having no nourishment other than bolacha, tea and coffee that she had become delirious. The doctor ordered that she be given milk and farinha de sustencia
(A fine flour similar to corn starch, used as nourishment)
. By noon she was much improved and spoke with more sanity.
Breakfast was at the set hour. At five o'clock in the evening we were served bolacha and coffee.
The news of the day was this: a certain man named Jose' Goncalves had near his bunk a little basket in which he had planted a stem of mangerona
. He was on his way to the upper deck to water it when he ran into some passengers conversing near the middle hatchway. He shouted, Land from Madeira in sight! Excitement was high. They all looked out to sea, looked back at José, and saw the bit of earth from Madeira in which the sprig of marjoram was growing, the only land from Madeira most of us would ever see again.
As we were conversing on deck with some of the sailors, the
bell rang for breakfast. It seemed that we had just taken a few turns around the deck when it was time for lunch. Today, it was a piece of salted meat and potatoes, but many did without lunch for they were not sure that they could keep it down. Soon there was a heavy rainfall followed by such a thick fog that we could barely see the sails which were now four in number because of the strong wind. The flashes of lightning and the bolts of thunder made us wonder whether Judgment Day was upon us. Men, women, and children were frightened. Suddenly we saw streaks of lightning plunging into the high waves. The sun was hidden so that we thought it too had been lost in the sea. At eleven o'clock when we went to bed, we heard the women in their bunks singing the Bemdito (A prayer or motet beginning with the word Bemdito, meaning Blessed) and other songs, asking the most holy Virgin to save them. Some were so seasick that they could hardly lift their heads as they prayed. We were now in 27' 21& N. Lat., 20' 15 W. Long.
We arose very early, bid everyone good morning and inquired as to how each had spent the night. The unanimous reply was, What a night! I am almost dead! When I laughingly suggested that they have something to eat, the replied, I would much rather die of hunger, thank you.
At eight o'clock we tried to eat breakfast but quickly changed our minds and went back to our bunks instead. We could hear one woman telling her husband, Homen do diabo!
(You devil of a man)
It's your fault that I am suffering. If it weren't for you and your stupid ideas, I would be resting most comfortably in my own bed at home! Then came her husband's reply: Mulher, aciencia
! But before he could continue, she interrupted angrily, The devil take you if you say one more word to me. Oh, to be home in bed, instead of being rocked here in this horrible cradle!
At noon we called the cook to bring our lunch to us. It was macaroni and potatoes, but anything would be nauseating in this kind of weather. Early in the afternoon there was a heavy downpour accompanied by a gale that seemed to turn our ship completely around. The men and women who were walking on deck could scarcely hold themselves upright. The wind blew so furiously against the ropes that they emitted a sound like that of a guitar being played. It was an eerie accompaniment to the thunderbolts and lightning flashes that frightened us so. At the
time, my companion Vicente and I were leaning against the door leading to the Camara, holding on to the window frame. We saw our ship lunge its prow into those profound billows and toss from side to side until it appeared that we would soon be submerged. On the middle and forward hatchways one could hear the Bemdito but it was shouted instead of being sung, with each toss of the ship. Then out came one of the passengers carrying a Menino Jesus
(Statue of the Christ Child)
which he soon threw into the ocean. A few minutes later, the wind became calm and the sea smooth. (We do not say this was because the Menino Jesus was tossed into the sea; we do know, however, that the calm followed that act.)
At six o'clock we supped happily on bread and tea, and remained on deck until 11 p.m. enjoying the beautiful weather.
After our baths, we went up on deck as usual to learn the news of the day. Again we saw a very calm sea. Word reached us regarding two ill women passengers, one of whom was a young girl in a serious condition. The other was a married woman who had taken ill soon after embarking, and was now in a critical condition suffering from typhoid fever.
Because we had retired so early last night, we arose at 3 a.m. We went up to the deck to the place where the pump was located, and there we had our baths. The water was so warm that it seemed as though it had been heated. We got dressed, went down the middle hatchway at the foot of which we saw a group of men and women who informed us that one of the children had taken seriously ill and was not expected to live. At 6:15, the child's mother was mourning its passing. The body was placed in a shroud, which was merely a sack, with some pieces of coal to weigh it down. Around the shroud, the flag of the Sandwich Islands had been wrapped. At 9 a.m. the captain ordered all persons to come up to the poop deck. As we went up, we noticed the English flag at half mast, and the flag-covered shroud now was placed on a heavy plank at the edge of the ship. With our hats in our hands, we waited as the captain, the first and second mates, the doctor and two sailors approached the body. The captain read portions of a book he held in his hands throughout the service, then gave the signal to the two sailors who picked up the plank and ushered the child into its watery grave. Imagine the sorrow that pierced the hearts of those of us accustomed to seeing a human being buried in a cemetery! Through our minds ran this one thought: when will it befall us to be hurled into the waves, only to be swallowed by the inhabitants of the sea? This occurred in 6' 10 N. Lat., 26' 57 W. Long.
Half an hour before dawn we were informed that the woman who had been ill with typhoid fever had left this world. Mourning her were her husband and their year-old child. The captain sent for the husband and the child at 8:30 so that they might say their last farewells. Going up to the bridge, the widower carried his child in his arms. Now he was approaching the plank where the body of his wife lay, wrapped in a shroud similar to that of the child who was buried yesterday. The widower wept pitifully as he spoke to the child of her departed mother. After a brief funeral service, the captain ordered the sailors to lift the plank so that she might be buried in the sea.
At eight o'clock in the morning an English bark passed us sailing slowly,for the wind was very slight.
We were sailing with a very gentle wind. The morning was uneventful. We spent the afternoon getting ready for Christmas. Some passengers killed their chickens; others made sweet rolls with raisins; others recalled the happiness they had left behind and said, "I am thinking now of the many purchases I used to make in Chafariz. Oh to be in the market place again!" Many tears were shed this afternoon. And to add to our unhappiness, the eight-month-old daughter of the woman who died of typhoid fever on November 26 left us to join her mother.
Christmas "Boas Festas!"
All of our companions were up early, for we were to receive our casseroles with food which had been prepared by some passengers the day before. After a delicious breakfast of carne de vinho d'alhos
(Pork pickled with vinegar and garlic)
, bread and coffee, we all dressed in our Sunday best. A few danced and sang, but most were content to converse with each other.
After lunch, we each took a dram of the brandy that had been brought aboard and saved for this occasion. One of the men stood up and said, "Gentlemen, I can barely moisten my lips with this dram of brandy. You can well imagine the homes of our parents at this hour. In some of them there are no thoughts of us. But there are other parents whose eyes are filled with tears of recollection. Some will foresee our end in an abyss; others will regard our absence with some consolation. And here we are, within these four walls of the ship, with nothing in sight save sky and sea and our friends who left their native land, their wives, their children, and their parents, in order that they might earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brows. However, let us not remember the past, but look ahead, asking Providence to extend her kind hand over us so that we may be happy."
We had two ships ahead of us, and a sailing vessel far behind. We were forced to clew our sails, there being only four unfurled. The wind was now blowing forcefully and seemed to carry with it everything that got in its way. It was rainy and cold, and we remained below the decks, with the sensation of having neither fingers nor toes nor noses. By five o'clock the weather had not changed; it was obvious that we had ahead of us another night of torment, bitterness, cold and hunger.
The storm was still with us. The hatchways were all closed because of the large waves which had tossed our ship from side to side. Our food had been reduced to half the amount we had been receiving, but it still was difficult to get. Early to bed that night for there was nothing else to do.
We have little to say today. The weather was the same, except that the cold had increased. At two o'clock we saw a large four-masted sailing ship, but we did not know to what country it belonged. We went to bed at 8 p.m. and spent a miserably cold night. The clothes we had brought with us were not heavy enough to keep us warm.
A rough sea and a westerly gale started this day off. The waves were so high that they seemed to leap over the tops of the masts. From time to time they bounded on the ship over the prow or the sides, much to the passengers' fright. Albatrosses were numerous. The captain threw a line into the ocean and succeeded in catching two of them. One of them measured twelve feet in breadth from wing-tip to wing-tip. Most of the sails were furled by 4 p.m., but an hour later they unfurled one of the sails on the top-gallant-royal and another at the prow, as the weather was a bit calmer. But it did not take long before they had to furl again the very ones that had just been unfurled. Soon there was a squall; the wind, the rain and the sea were raging.
At 9:30 p.m. a woman from Calheta gave birth to a son.
The day was dark but the wind rather favorable. After a few hours, however, the wind ceased.
Again we were becalmed. At 10 a.m. there were many tuna fish swimming near the ship, but we did not catch any. At 6:15, the young girl who came with Nimni was near death. She had been suffering for some time, but a fall on the stairway of the ship made her condition more serious. Although she herself was at fault for not having consulted the doctor earlier, she should have received better care. Even the food she received was the same as ours. She became so thin and weak that all she did was cry throughout the day and night. She was buried at sea at 7:15 in the same manner as they buried the others. Today we traveled three miles per hour. 23' 38" S. Lat., 71' 26" W. Long.
We saw great schools of tuna fish at 7 a.m., and watched them leap out of the water to catch the flying fish which were also in schools. The carpenter again threw a line into the sea but this time he was unsuccessful. One of the passengers, however, caught four.
At 4 p.m. nearly all of the passengers went up on deck to try to get some relief from the heat. Some stretched out relaxing; others played dominoes and the women washed or mended their clothes. Some even spent the entire night there with their families. I got up at 2 a.m. and saw these people grab their bedding and run to their bunks when the rain came. All day long one heard, "Deus meu, what a long trip! Here I am out of tobacco; the water is salty; they are already cutting down on my soup; when will we ever arrive at the Sandwich Islands? They must be at the other end of the world."
The news at the break of day was most heartening. We were told that we would be able to see Hawaii as soon as the day cleared. Eager for the first glimpse of our destination, we lined the rails in anticipation of that long-awaited moment. We have been aboard this ship for 155 days now. Small wonder that such a glimpse would create such a stir! And when we did see the outline in the far distance, excitement was everywhere.
The islands of Hawaii and Maui were clearly visible at dawn. Gathered at the prow were many passengers who did not forget to thank God for His kindness to them. The ship itself looked different to us who have been aboard for over five months, for it had been cleaned thoroughly.
At 9 a.m. Oahu appeared in view, and at sunset we saw two other islands, Lanai and Molokai. We were sailing silently, having traveled fifty-eight miles during the day.
It was about 10 a.m. when a tug-boat named Eweo arrived and led us into port. Aboard the tug were some young men who had arrived earlier from Madeira. Among them were José Cambado and José Silva. They had brought with them gifts of tobacco for us, much to our hearts' delight. On entering the harbor of Honolulu we saw two American battleships, an English battleship, many merchant ships, and the sailing vessel we had seen ahead of us on December 12. The harbor appears to be a lake with many houses afloat on its placid waters. Directly in its center is a house which, we are told, is a hospital for the Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Near it is a lighthouse. At twelve noon, we were visited by many Portuguese. Then all of the passengers brought their luggage up to the deck. It was like Judgment Day for most of us; for once, food was of no importance. Our only concern was to gain entrance into "heaven", and in the meantime, smoking was enjoyed by those who had been fortunate enough to have received gifts of tobacco.
Saturday morning at 7 a.m., a large boat laden with refreshments and a great quantity of bread sent by the Immigration Officers pulled up alongside our vessel. What a feast this was for us! Following this, the government officials and the Portuguese Consul, A. de Souza Canavarro (the latter proved to be a very good friend of the Portuguese) came aboard. In reply to his question as to whether any of us could read and write, we informed him that the log of the trip had been recorded by J.B. d'Oliveira and Vicente d'Ornellas.
At 11 a.m. there was roll call, when each of us was assigned a number.
At 3 p.m. the tug Eleu arrived to tow us to a place called a lazareto
(Lazaretto, a quarantine station)
. This tug brought along a large pontoon into which we all assembled and which was placed alongside a sort of pier which is opposite the Quarantine Depot. It was 4 p.m. when we finally set foot on terra firma, and saw many dark-skinned women who are called "Canecas"
("Kanakas" - Hawaiians)
The Depot was an interesting place. There were four rows of wooden houses, a large kitchen, and a place where we could wash our clothes, a bathroom, a park, and a magnificent house where we registered. This house had a telephone that is used to communicate with many people in the city. All about the Depot were beautiful shade trees whose names we do not know. Around the Depot is an enclosure made of wood which the people here call a "fence". South of the Depot is a fort, but it is so low that any warship can arrive safely. The beach nearby is all sand; in fact, there is hardly a stone visible.
It was 8 p.m. before the guards had finished examining our trunks to see if we had brought any liquor. That is the greatest contraband any one can bring here, according to what they tell us. However, we know of many passengers who passed the guards with their liquor securely tucked away in their clothes.
One hundred and fifty six days aboard the Thomas Bell! What the future holds for us, God only knows. May He be with us to guide us in the days that lie ahead!
The End Of Journal
Translated from the Portuguese by Lucille de Silva Canario. Hilo, Hawaii - 18 May 1970
If you enjoyed reading about this ship, you can find other ship desciptions at
"Immigrant Ship Information"
"Return to Gomes Page"