Voyage on the “Musca” (Book Excerpt)

Eleanor and Carl Davis have quite aptly stated in their publication “Norwegian Labor in Hawaii – The Norse Immigrants”, that the voyage on the bark Musca was a nightmare.

Several sources confirm this, including an article in the San Francisco Valkyrien of September 1, 1881, which quotes passengers upon their arrival in Hawaii as follows:

“The water was to that degree rotten, that it stunk all over the deck when it came out of the hold; it had been filled in old, dirty casks, and it looked like a soup made of rye bread and beer. With this nasty water the meat was cooked, and was thereby made very bad. But what could we do? … If we made any complaint, the answer was ‘it was good enough for slaves—shut up, otherwise we will put you in irons and lock you up.’ ”

Fifteen persons died on the voyage, including eleven children. Two of the couples who lost children were later comforted somewhat by the fact that the two mothers gave birth during the voyage.

One couple lost three children. They were Ole Hansen Bjerke and his wife Nicoline (nee Christiansen) from Modum. Ole was born in Hole parish and was a blacksmith. The three children who died were Hans Christian, 9 years; Ragna Andrea, 7 years; and Edvard, 6 years of age. Three year old Gotfred survived the ordeal. Nicoline gave birth to a child during the voyage and gave her the name of her sister, Ragna Andrea.

Starving Passengers

It was not until May 13, 1881, that Musca arrived in Honolulu harbor. The voyage had lasted nearly six months. When the representatives for the sugar factors Castle & Cooke came aboard, they found starving passengers.

Eleanor and Carl Davis write that it is not known what actually happened to all of the passengers. Different sources of information seem to indicate that other employers or persons paid to free them from their three-year labor contracts with the sugar plantations. The reason for this is that the Norwegian immigrants who had arrived earlier on the Beta had created such a disturbance with their complaints, that Castle & Cook wanted to disperse these newcomers all over the islands to avoid more trouble. They made it known that the Musca passengers were available to other employers who would want to purchase their three-year plantation labor contracts.

According to Davis, many of the Musca passengers wanted to settle on Oahu. The immigration authorities agreed to allow them to stay there if employment could be found. Castle & Cook had only one objective for the Norwegians after realizing how horrendous their voyage had been, and that was to disperse them as much as possible.

Even so, it was apparent that several of the Musca passengers would end up working on sugar plantations, either under their original contract, or just because that was where employment was to be found.

23 adults and six children went to Papaikou on the island of Hawaii. Eight unmarried men went to work on Bond’s plantation in Kohala on Hawaii, and nine adults went to work for G.E. Beckwith on Maui. All the unmarried women were employed in Honolulu as housekeepers.

Arnt Nilsen Sanne, a seaman from Nøtterøy, came on the Musca. With him were his wife Christina (nee Eriksen), from Eiker, and children Anna Pauline and Nils Edvard, both born in Drammen.

Edward Neilson, who resides Honolulu, is Arnt’s great-grandson. He says that another employer purchased his great-grandfather’s three-year plantation labor contract when the Musca arrived in Honolulu. He went to Kauai to work on Rice ranch in Lihue as a harness and saddle maker and then later as a watchmaker. The highest bid was awarded the sale!

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“Aloha from Forgotten Norwegians in Hawaii”

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