600 Norwegian Passengers to Hawaii – It Never Happened Again (Book Excerpt)

Tearfully singing hymns in Bragernes Prayer Chapel, family and friends said their goodbyes to a large group of young people who were leaving to try their luck on a far away island that they probably had known almost nothing about just a few weeks earlier.  Life in this new country turned out to be quite different from what they had hoped.

After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, emigration from Norway to USA increased rapidly.  But there were some who chose other destinations.  Among them were the more than 600 passengers who sailed on the bark Beta, commanded by the Norwegian Captain Kasper Rist Christensen, and the bark Musca, at the command of the German Captain D.W. Oltmann.  In the fall of 1880 they sailed southwest, rounded Cape Horn, and then set sail to the northwest.  Their destination was the Sandwich Islands, now called Hawaii, in the northern Pacific. Norwegians who were already living there had written home to Norway that workers were needed on the sugar plantations.

In 1877, Captain Christian L’Orange, born in Fredrikshald (Halden), married Caroline, the daughter of merchant Hans Peter Faye and his wife Karen Sophie (nee Knudsen) in Drammen.  Immediately after their wedding in Strømsø Church, Christian and Caro, as she was called, sailed to the islands that today make up the State of Hawaii.  Caroline’s uncle, Valdemar Knudsen, had already settled there.  Her cousin, Anton Faye, also sailed to Kauai in 1877.

Knudsen, Faye, and L’Orange got involved in the operation of sugar plantations on Kauai.  L’Orange later owned a plantation on Maui before he returned to Kauai to manage the Lilikoi Plantation. In 1878 L’Orange had suggested to the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration that he could bring Scandinavian workers to the sugar plantations.
The need was great.  Thousands of workers had been brought in from Japan, China, and other countries.  However, the plantation owners were not very satisfied with them.  As soon as they had completed their contract time, they disappeared.  Maybe the robust Scandinavians would turn out to be more faithful workers?

The 1876 Reciprocity Treaty between Hawaii and USA had given the Hawaiians the right to sell raw sugar to USA without paying duty, resulting in a great increase in Hawaiian sugar production. On July 20, 1880, the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration authorized L’Orange to sail to Norway to find at least 400 capable adult farm laborers who wanted to work on the sugar plantations.

Free Passage

Christian L’Orange arrived in Drammen via USA in the late summer of 1880.  He put an advertisement in Drammens Tidende and other newspapers with the following text:

To the Emigrants for the Sandwich Islands
Contracts with those who will go to the Sandwich Islands, are drawn up and signed on Wednesday, Sept. 23, and the following days at the office of Hans P. Faye, at Drammen from 11 to 3 o’clock.  The parties must be provided with good recommendations, and attestations for good and faultless behaviour.  Parties under obligation of military service, must bring release from service.  Signature of minors must, to be valid, be confirmed by guardian.

The conditions are now regulated, and thus fixed:  Laborers over 20 years, 9 dollars;  under 20 years, somewhat less, per month, with free board, or board-money and free lodgings, families may bring two children with them.  Free passage and board, which is not to be worked out afterwards.
Chr. L’Orange, Agent for the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration, Sandwich Islands

As surprising as it may seem to us today, there were many who applied for something they knew so little about as contract labor on a sugar plantation five or six month’s voyage away.  Industrial Norway was, indeed, in the midst of depression at that time, and many were out of work.  This can explain why so many artisans and skilled industrial workers applied.  Very few of the applicants were farm laborers, despite the fact that this was the very group L’Orange had been commissioned to recruit because of the great need for them in Hawaii.

Most Were Young Married Couples

Most of the applicants were between 20 and 30 years of age.  Families were limited to two children.  However, many circumvented this requirement by allowing childless couples to register the “extra” children as their own.  The required certificate of good conduct for each applicant was not always so carefully corroborated.  Some of the good character references were forged and thus not always grounded in truth.

Captain L’Orange had a draft of the contract in Norwegian for the emigrants to sign before boarding, and then they would be required to sign the original contract in English upon arrival.

In just a few weeks the bark “Beta” was outfitted and ready to sail from Drammen. The amount of food including bread, crackers, and flour in the hold was enormous, but certainly necessary in order to provide food for over 400 passengers and crew members for several months.  A few live hogs were taken along, as well as some 50 or so chickens, which were also quite alive and well!

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“Aloha from Forgotten Norwegians in Hawaii”

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