Monday, May 03, 2010

SS Hermann

My great-grandfather emigrated to the US in 1853. He embarked at Bremen on the S.S. Hermann, which, despite its name, was an American steamship. Only 17 and coming from a town near Münster, he was subject to the Prussian military draft and could not leave the country without permission. He must have been an impatient young man, or perhaps a bit desperate, because the "discharge paper" enabling him to depart is dated about a year after he took passage: September 15, 1854. Here's a scan of the front of the document.

The Hermann looked like this when at the time my great-grandfather took passage on her. As you can see she was a sidepaddler, sporting three masts that could be used for carrying sails if need be. Like the sailboats from which her design derived, she was constructed of wood and was somewhat smaller than the iron or steel propeller-driven ships that began to displace her within a decade of her first voyage.

{SS Hermann; source: Michael Palmer’s defunct website, “Palmer List of Merchant Vessels”}

When he boarded the Hermann, he would have joined about 280 other souls, most of them, like him, Germans seeking to immigrate to the US and most, like him, in steerage. I don't know anything about their voyage at that time, but it I'm sure no one in steerage would describe it as comfortable. The ship would freely heave, pitch, and roll in seas of moderate or greater extent. and the crowded lower decks would quickly have become unpleasant places to be. It was, nonetheless, a faster and more reliable ship in 1853 than it had been a few years earlier. Not an immediate success when first put into service, it required refitting after its first few years on the trans-Atlantic route.

Here's a brief history of her short life as an immigrant ship.
The steamship Hermann was built for the Ocean Steam Navigation Co by Jacob A. Westervelt & William Mackey, New York, and was launched on 30 September 1847. Original configuration: 1,734 tons; 234 feet; 3 masts; wooden construction, 3 decks, square stern; side-wheel propulsion; service speed 9 knots; accommodation approximately 180 passengers in 1st & 2nd class.

In 1850-51, the Hermann was withdrawn from service for modifications; two original boilers replaced by four smaller ones; short single funnel tucked in between the paddle boxes replaced by two much taller funnels, very close together, fore of the paddle boxes; service speed increased to 10.5 knots; bark rig retained, but the main yard usually stowed on deck, giving the rig the appearance of a barkentine. Upon the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, France and England began to charter transport to carry men and supplies to the Black Sea. The Cunard Line lost so many steamships to war service that she abandoned the New York half of her operations after December 1854. As a result of the withdrawal of British ships, the Ocean Steam Navigation Co's Bremen service gained freight and passengers, and 1855 became the most successful year in the line's history. However, with the end of hostilities, the chartered vessels returned home, interrupted routes were resumed, and many new services planned.

-- Quoted from “Palmer List of Merchant Vessels” (see list of sources, below)
Beginning in 1856, the Hermann suffered competition from a growing number of more modern ships and her fortunes declined greatly over the next decade. Taken out of trans-Atlantic service in 1857, she ended up in Japanese coastal trade and was wrecked in a storm in 1869.

Later, there were other ships named Hermann carrying immigrants to America, one was German-flagged and operated out of Bremen beginning in 1865, the other was Belgian-flagged and operated out of Antwerp beginning in 1881.


Michael Palmer’s defunct website, “Palmer List of Merchant Vessels” found on Immigration of Carl Friedrich Phillipp Held & Ship Hermann Information (pdf)

North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P.Bonsor, vol.1, p.188-9, found on The Ships List

Maritime Heritage Project

Immigrant Ships

List of blog posts on family history:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

my gg grandfather also came to america on the ss hermann landing in new orleans.. hoping for a common link.. gottleib biebusch.. crystal neil on face book