My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Sunday, January 1, 2012

SATURDAY'S STRUCTURE - Packet Ship Gladiator (1846)

In recognition of the new year that has just begun, it's a good time to write about a very important structure - the ship Gladiator. This is the ship that my 4th great-grandfather Ekhard Horst and his son, my 3rd great-grandfather Martin Horst and several members of their family travelled on in 1846 when they left their home in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, leaving their extended family, their friends and all they knew to start over in a new country they had never laid eyes on before. We've heard it all in school, how the new immigrants arrived on ships into New York Harbor, passed through Ellis Island before they were allowed to enter the country. But this story is not that simple, not that easy.

First, it's important to know that Ellis Island didn't open it's doors until January 1, 1892 (120 years ago today). The federal government had just taken over control of immigration in 1890. Before then it was the role of officials from the city where the port was located to process new arrivals. Before Ellis Island, Castle Garden  Emigrant Landing Depot functioned as the New York state immigration processing center, between 1855 and 1890. But the Horst family arrived in 1846, years before such official processing took place.

A Packet Ship Off Liverpool
Second, we probably think we can imagine what it was like to be a passenger on a ship to America - mostly from movies like Titanic, with its Irish passengers in 3rd Class who slept in little rooms with bunk beds and ate meals in little crowded common areas. But Titanic was a steamship, making its first run in 1912. Steamships did not become the main mode of transportation for most ocean travel until after the Civil War. There were a few steamships carrying passengers in the 1850's but most new arrivals came to America on packet ships. The Gladiator was one of these ships. Packet ships were so called because they originally carried mail and cargo; later, transporting people across the ocean became a new way to make money for the ships' owners.

Horst Family Sets Sail for America

John Ekhard Horst (1802-1852), my 4th great-grandfather, his second wife Eliza Geiss (1817-1852) and their children arrived in America in New York City harbor on August 7, 1846. Ekhard's first wife and my 4th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Martin (UNK-before 1842) had died in Germany, leaving four young children. Ekhard married Eliza around 1842 and they had two daughters. The children travelling with them were, from his first marriage, Elizabeth, age 19; Martin (my 3rd-great-grandfather), 16; Carl, 12; and their two young children Mina (Wilhelmina), 3, and Maria, their baby. Conrad, age 14 at the time, remained temporarily in Germany. Ekhard, as he was listed on the manifest, gave his occupation as “farmer”.
Passenger List from Gladiator, August 1846
[l to r: Name; Age; Sex; Occupation; Nationality (German, Do=ditto), Destination (America)
The family had sailed on the ship Gladiator, departing from London, England, under the ship’s Captain Richard L. Bunting. Martin and his family travelled to America along with 209 other immigrants in “steerage”, as most immigrants at that time did. [See "Steerage" below for more insight into their voyage.] Also on board were 11 passengers who stayed in cabins, including three men whose occupation was listed as “gent”.  On the Horst family’s trip six passengers died – which often occurred on these long travels -  including 4-year-old Catherina Grafen; 11-month-old Johan Giltz; 64-year-old Eva Risinger; and 10-year-old Catherine Rettig, all Germans.

[It's interesting to note, when they arrived in August 1846 into New York Harbor there was no central facility for the new immigrants to get information for housing, food, jobs or medical care. So it was common for new arrivals to be robbed, taken advantage of, and mistreated. If they were fortunate when they arrived they may have been assisted by the Deutsche Geselleschaft, the German Emigrant Society that had been organized in the city to help relocate newly arriving Germans, provide information on travel, housing and jobs, and protect them from the bands of thieves that populated the harbor area. German Catholic Churches were also set up to help new immigrants.]

Boarding Packet Ship
ca. 1851
"Steerage in the mid-19th century typically consisted of the area immediately below the main deck of a sailing ship. The ceiling height of the between-deck was usually 6 to 8 feet. The bunks, made of rough boards, were set up along both sides of the ship. The bunks were ordinarily positioned so the passengers lay in the direction of the ship, from fore to aft, but on a few ships the bunks were placed transversely or “thwartships”.Obviously this caused passengers greater discomfort in rough seas. The larger ships might also have an additional row of bunks in the middle. On these ships there was only a small corridor between the bunks. Each bunk was intended to hold from three to six persons, and these were often called family bunks. If passengers were lucky, there would be enough head-room to be able to sit up on their beds.

Families brought with them all of their worldly possessions as they resettled in the new country, but this was only part of what they carried with them onto the ship. They were also required to bring their own mattresses (stuffed with hay or horsehair) for their family’s bunk bed, and sometimes even all their own food and cooking supplies for the long journey. Water would be available but good hygiene was not.

The emigrants were also advised to take along equipment, such as a water pail, (the size according to the needs of each family, about 3 quarts a day per person) cooking pot, coffee kettle and dishes and eating utensils. They had to prepare their own food on the ship's galleys placed up on deck. Often there were no more than a couple of these to be shared by all the passengers. The lines for preparing food could easily become long, when there were several hundred passengers. There are reports about ships where some passengers never made it to the stoves -- it was a matter of the survival of the fittest. A passenger traveling on theAtalanta in 1871 told this from his journey: "Now our place as emigrants was in the hold, on the between deck. Everyone had a chest of food, a keg of milk and one of beer, all of what was stored in the mid of the deck, held in place by ropes."

"From Liverpool each passenger receives weekly 5 lbs. of oatmeal, 2 1/2 lbs. biscuit, 1 lb. flour, 2 lbs. rice, 1/2 lb. sugar, 1/2 lb. molasses, and 2 ounces of tea. He is obliged to cook it the best way he can in a cook shop 12 feet by 6! This is the cause of so many quarrels and...many a poor woman with her children can get but one meal done, and sometimes they get nothing warm for days and nights when a gale of wind is blowing and the sea is mountains high and breaking over the ship in all directions."—Anonymous, New-York Daily Times, October 15, 1851 [This report of conditions in steerage was written by a doctor who had crossed the Atlantic many times on large American packet ships. “Reform must be made,” he wrote, “to better the condition of the poorer classes of emigrants.”]

Steerage ca. 1851
Sometimes only daily rations of wood and water were included in the price of the ticket. The emigrants on board the sail ships were completely dependent on wind and weather. If the weather was bad, the journey could take much longer than anticipated. There were several occasions when the emigrants ran out of food and water before they arrived in port.

Light was admitted through open hatchways and partly through skylights in the deck. There was canvas in the hatchways, but during storms and rough seas these often had to be covered, and if this continued for any length of time the air in the room below occupied by the emigrants often became frightfully bad.

Sometimes those in steerage were not allowed on deck or may only be allowed for a short time. Some captains had a strict routine for the steerage passengers to follow, including what time to wake and sleep, when meals were made and a list of chores to be done daily, including cleaning the steerage floor every morning for the men; other captains didn’t make the effort. Besides watching their children or caring for the sick, women would spend their time cooking sewing or knitting. Games were played and there was often dancing and music provided by those on board. The captain usually held Sunday services on deck.

Illness was common given the poor hygiene, lack of ventilation and cramped living conditions passengers had to endure. Seasickness was very common and there was no medicine to relieve it. Sometimes sick passengers were kept on deck to keep the steerage area cleaner. But with bad weather, passengers stayed in, hatches were closed and ventilation was non-existent. Primitive toilets, if they existed, were kept on deck, with sometimes only one or two available for the several hundred emigrants to use.

Inside a Packet Ship ca.1851
[click to enlarge]
The most common illnesses for passengers to suffer from at this time were cholera, typhoid fever, measles, chicken pox and dysentery. It was very common for passengers to die en route and families had to suffer further when their loved one’s body was dropped into the ocean. Passengers arriving sick with contagious or infectious diseases were quickly quarantined at the Marine Hospital at Staten Island." [From]

So now picture it - there were eight Horst family members boarding this ship, carrying with them all of their worldly belongings - two parents and six children, including one infant. They joined over 200 other passengers from various countries, all strangers sharing a very small area inside the dark ship for over six weeks. No electricity or air conditioning. Windows closed during bad weather. People getting sea-sick. Babies crying, Men snoring. People talking. No televisions or radios to keep the children entertained. No showers. Passengers getting sick. Several passengers even dying. Then having a service onboard before dropping the bodies into the ocean. Martin Horst was just 16 years old. What a difference his decision, and his family's decision to come to America made in the lives of his descendants.

The Gladiator & Audubon
An interesting note about the ship - John James Audubon (1785-1851), the renowned French naturalist and painter, sailed with his son John (1812-1862) from Portsmouth, England, to America on August 2, 1836 on the packet Gladiator. With them they brought 260 live birds, 3 pointers and "a brace of tailless (Manx) cats". They reached New York in thirty-three days. Audubon wrote in his journal:
"August 1. Somewhat before the setting of the sun, we went on board, ate and drank, and laid ourselves down in those floating catacombs, vulgarly called berths. When the Gladiator left St. Katharine's Dock she had on our account two-hundred and sixty live birds, three dogs received as a present from our noble friend, the Earl of Derby, and a brace of tailless cats...." [John James Audubon]
By the end of the trip only fifteen of the birds had survived; "the cats are well", Audubon wrote his wife Lucy. One of the pointers had delivered seven puppies.

I can find no picture of the ship Gladiator


  1. Thanks so much for this account! Some of my Johannes ancestors arrived aboard this same ship on December 10th 1846 (a bad time to be crossing the Atlantic!).

    Oakland, CA

  2. Thanks for the well documented information. Our grandfather Conrad von Hagen travelled aboard this ship 4 years earlier. 20 Apr 1842 London to New York. He returned 5 Sep aboard 'Ontario' to London and there he reared 12 children.

  3. Thank you so much for the account of your ancestors immigrating on the GLADIATOR. As it turns out, some of my own ancestors were aboard the same ship on the same voyage, and even enumerated on the same page of the passenger list. Mine were the Stephan Zimmer family. Stephan came with three sons, Peter, Johann and Mathias, ages 11-6. So I can imagine the boys spending the days playing with the boys from your Horst family.

  4. It’s really interesting that you’re able to document your family history. Well, hearing about naval history is really exciting. It’s kinda nostalgic to imagine those passengers of different classes inside one ship. But what really got me was the manual navigating system that old ships had. They’re only composed of ropes, pulleys, and some large-sized wooden gears, but they are able to navigate the seas with relative safety.

    Brent Vandenbroek

  5. Susan, Please email me at

    My great grandfather was on the same ship and I have a question

  6. I also found a picture of the Gladiator 1844

  7. This is a wonderful account. Would you mind if I cited you for a portion of it? I had family on the Gladiator from London, arriving NY on 4 Jan 1840. Also, Tony,(above) would you share the image you found? Jo