CASTLE GARDEN...One lady's experience.
This article, published 23 Dec 1866 in the New York Times, is in the possession of Paul Peterson and transcribed by several members of "The Ship's List".
It was written by a steerage passenger aboard the ship S. S. SCOTLAND describing her experience being processed through Castle Garden.


The New York Times - Marine Intelligence Column
December 23, 1866

Topics Covered

Experiences of an English Emigrant
Description of the Emigrant Depot at Castle Garden
The First Night There
Despondent Emigrants
Difficulty of Obtaining Situations
Wreck of the SCOTLAND

The daybreak of a bright Autumn morning beamed over the magnificent Bay of New-York City as the ship Scotland, conveying some 300 emigrants from the Old World, fired a salute and cast anchor in the ?roadested, amid the ringing cheers of passengers and crew. It was right pleasant -- after a passage somewhat protracted, but, for the season of the year, unprecedentedly propitious -- to at length enter the haven where we would be. With the exception of two or three nights of turbulent weather and ?hyperborean blasts as she passed the Banks of Newfoundland, where many a noble ship has met her ?fate, the voyage of The Scotland was a most favorable one and for days and days we floated over the Atlantic on a sea so level and undere a sky so calm that a pleasure yacht might have sailed over it in safety. It was indeed exhilarating, after days and nights of endurance in cabin and on deck, with the ever-same boundless blue and green of firmament and sea, with only now and then a ship in sight, or the wild wheeling sea-gull on the vessel's track, to come in view of something like land and the great City of the world's commonwealth, New York.

It was a sunrise in the New World! and a glorious and electrifying sight it was, as the sun, about to ascend the horizon, flooded cloud, sky, bay and seaboard, shipping and the surrounding scenery with streaks of gold and purple - the great City itself, and its sister cities of Brooklyn and New-Jersey, waking up as it were at some celestial summons out of the dreamy darkness of the night.

"Fair was the day, in short, earth, sea and sky beamed like a bright-eyed face that laughs out openly." The steamtug B?kbeck having come alongside, was engaged for a considerable time in transhipping the luggage, till at length we were safely landed on the threshold of Castle Garden, glad and grateful to set foot on the terra firma of the free, and rest our weary limbs and sea-worm souls and systems under the wing and welcome of its refuge. Here again at the landing stage, during the process of the second transhipment, a further opportunity was presented of viewing the river scenery, now diversified with its swift-moving, mansion-looking steamers, which fairly astonished the weak eyes and nerves of those accustomed only to the liliputian streams and petit maitre miniature landscapes of England and Europe. Truly the approach to New York is one of the most splendid and imposing in the world. Talk about the approach by the Thames to London Bridge, by the Mersey to Liverpool, by the Seine to Paris, or the Lagune to Venice! Why, you might as well compare the aforesaid muddy Thames to the great father of waters, the Mississippi, or British Snowden and the Malvern Hills to the Rocky Mountains. Things European dwindle, as it were, into specks and points infinitesimal before these stupendous stretchings and these bold outspreadings. It is Hyperion to Satyr, a wash hand-basin to a bay, and never do you so completely realize the old schoolboy reminiscence. Sic parvis componere magna solbam.

As it always happens when the attention is absorbed, or the mind rapt in admiration, something extraneous steps in to mar the meditation, just as on some Summer evening when the landscape is a all lovely and serene some grasshopper of bull-frog disturbs the quietude, so illustrating the potent truth of but "one step from the sublime to the ridiculous". A bystander, in a strong Hibernian brogue, volunteers the erudite observation, "Arrah, Pat, and what do you think of Dublin Bay after that," while another from Cockney Land apostrophizes a companion, and asks him what about the breadth of Old Father Thames at Putney. We had seen multitudes of churches, public buildings, factories, stores, and other structures, as we steamed up the Bay, but the one we had now arrived at, Castle Garden, attracted particular attention, principally, in all probability, from its being the emigrants' destination. The eye of a military man would have singled it out first and foremost as a structure pertaining to his profession, while the eye of a civilian or of an ordinary observer would have taken it for a huge reservoir or gas-holder. The landing stage is all alive with the officers of the Emigration Commissioners and the Custom-house, and while they are engaged in their duties, the more curious are all on the qui vive to ascertain what can be the nature and object of the structure before them. Although appropriated to the purposes of an emigrant depot, it turns out to be an old fortress or castle, and remains one of the great landmarks or trophies in that eternally memorable struggle -- the first great war of independence. It was built by the British in 1812, after the model of the Martello towers of the old country, when they entertained the fond but futile hope of colonizing, or, in the language (Heaven save the mark) of modern diplomacy, "annexing" America to Great Britain, and has stood dismantled and in memoriam ever since. The building is of red granite, of tremendous thickness, circular in form, and furnished with portholes and platforms, so that it is available at any moment for the defence of the harbor, only requiring a garrison and a few grim Dahlgrens to impart to it its real character.

Truly strange and checkered is the history of this structure. After the first war, and when the peace and prosperity of the City were in their zenith, the building was converted into a saloon for the amusement of the people, and has on occasions held as many as 4,000 people, when JENNY LIND, the Swedish Nightingale, and MARIO and GRISI electrified with their melody the musical elite f New-York. Here also JULLIEN wielded his magic and memorable baton before thousands at his promenade concert. The building has also since been devoted to religious services and the meetings of mechanic' institutions. Although the saying of SHAKESPEARE be trite, yet the ever freshness of it is a truism, both to men and things -- "To what stranage uses do we come at last!" -- is curiously applicable in this case, for now more marvellous still we have the structure devoted to one of the noblest of humanitarian uses, that of a depot, established by a paternal Republic for the strangers and children of other lands who seek its shores in such undiminished shoals.

All being ready, the emigrants proceed in a body up the corridor into the interior of the building, their boxes and baggage being removed to the luggage warehouses, and here they range themselves in order on the seats. In front of them, and in the centre of the building, which is lit by a glass dome, stand a staff of some dozen gentlemen, all busily engaged in making arrangements for facilitating the movements and promoting the settlement of the newly-arrived emigrants. Each emigrant, man, woman and child, passes up in rotation to the Bureau, and gives to the registrar his or her name and destination, as a check upon the return of the Captain of the vessel, who gives the name, place of birth, age and occupation. One of the leading officers connected with the Bureau of Information then mounts a rostrum, and addressing the assembled emigrants, tells them that such as are not otherwise provided for, or prepared to pay for their accommodation, can find shelter under the roof of that building; that advice and information of the best and most reliable kind can be had relative to tickets for railway and steamer to take them East, West, North or South; as to the best means of obtaining employment, for which a register is kept in the Intelligence Department of the Institution; also as to the best and most expeditious routes to take, with facilities for corresponding with friends, and of changing money at the Bureau of Exchange.

The Intelligence Department is largely resorted to by emigrants, inasmuch as there they can obtain information as to probable situations without fee, for which outside they are asked $2 by the employment agents. A careful supervision is exercised by the office as to the suitability and respectability of the parties on both sides. All this is well and wisely done for the protection of the emigrant, who would otherwise, if lett to himself, become the prey of sharpers, boarding- house "runners", "scalpers", leafers, et id genus omne. Such as are ill or invalid are at once sent to the State Hospital, where they receive the best of medical treatment and general attention. A tolerable estimate may be formed of the work and labor devolving on the establishment, when it is remembered that during the past month of November, 17,280 emigrants had arrived at Castle Garden, or a grand total of 219,830 to that date since the beginning of the year, while according to the latest return made up to Thursday last, the total number of arrivals from January to Dec. 5, had reached the enormous number of 222,494, being an increase of 26,142 over the corresponding period of the preceding year--all permeating and passing through the great artery of life and labor at Castle Garden. The advantages conferred by the regulations of the institution are developed every day in the shield of protection that, by means of its advice, information and police, it confers on the unsuspecting emigrant and on the unprotected female, the friendless, the orphan and the widow.

Such is Castle Garden as a great national refuge for the emigrant from all lands. It has nothing to parallel it on the continent of Europe. It stands alone in its noble and utilitarian character.


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