Voyage to America

HANS LORENTZ DASTRUP VOYAGE TO AMERICA ABOARD THE JOHN J. BOYD

by Therin L. Dastrup

BACKGROUND

The John J. Boyd was a sailing ship built in 1855 in New York City.  It made three voyages to America – in December of 1855, in April of 1862, and in April of 1863.

During the years of steady Mormon immigration thousands of saints crossed the Atlantic on numerous difficult voyages. Perhaps none were as treacherous as the December 1855 voyage of the John J. Boyd from Liverpool to New York.  Due to extremely harsh weather conditions, an ill-tempered captain, and rampant illness the 1855 passage of the John J. Boyd was the most treacherous and deadly Atlantic voyage throughout Mormon maritime migration history.

Hans Lorentz Dastrup, the progenitor of all the Dastrups in America, was on board that voyage.  The following story of  his voyage on the John J. Boyd in 1855, and all the material in this paper comesfrom first-hand accounts gathered and compiled by Daniel Mark Dastrup, third-great grandson of Hans Lorentz Dastrup, as part of a research project for a Church History course at Brigham Young University.  (THE VOYAGE OF THE JOHN J BOYD.pdf)  It is re-told here in the first person by Therin Lane Dastrup, great grandson of Hans Lorentz.

MY STORY

Hello.  I’m Hans Lorentz Dastrup.  I was born in Denmark on 13 October 1813.  In 1855 I emigrated to America with my first wife, Ann Marie Mathiasen Berg, and my two children, Peter, age 12, and Hans Lorentz, Jr., age 10.  We sailed on the very first voyage of the John J. Boyd to America.  My dear firstborn, Peter, died just two months after we arrived.

The voyage began at Liverpool on 12 Dec. 1855, just a few months after the ship was first launched.  The shipmaster was Captain Thomas Austin.  He ran a well-ordered company.  Rules of conduct were established.  A trumpet called the immigrants to prayer morning and evening, and religious services were held in English, Danish, and Italian.

The average voyage from England to New York aboard a steamer was 13 days, while the average trek across the Atlantic via sailing ship was 37 days.  But our voyage on the John J. Boyd lasted 65 days, nearly one month longer than the average sailing ship crossing.

During our voyage, sixty-two people lost their lives. That’s the highest death toll of Mormon immigrants upon any vessel crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  Even the six-month voyage of the Brooklyn from New York to San Francisco in 1846 claimed only 10 lives.

Many of the Saints had stayed onboard the ship the night before setting sale, setting up their beds, and preparing for the long journey ahead.  Excitement and optimism filled the air as the ship’s captain and crew made the final arrangements before launching.  President Franklin D. Richards, Mission President in Britain and local church agent, made an appearance onboard just before our departure to speak with us on deck, and gave us many encouraging remarks and bade us farewell, after which we set sail and were soon lost from all sight of land.

Elder Knud (Canute) Peterson became the church leader of The John J. Boyd after filling a mission to Norway and Denmark.  He was later called as President of the Sanpete Stake.  He was a very kind, fatherly man and very watchful over his flock and ever ready and willing to give kind and good advice to those under his care.

On the long trip, we would make up a dance and many of the Danish brethren had instruments with them and could play many good dance tunes.  The young men would invite the English sisters to their dance and they would go and enjoy themselves for hours together.  President Peterson would always attend the dances.

Weather Conditions

Almost immediately after beginning our voyage, the ship was struck with tragedy as a terrible storm hit just days into the journey.  It was a terrible, severe voyage upon that old ship.  On December 19th a terrific storm came up and our vessel rocked, tossing us from one side to the other, boxes and all.  Again on the 22nd , 23rd, 24th, and even on Christmas day, these storms continued.  On January 1, 1856, it was so terrific that one of our masts was split and had to be wrapped with chains.

The winds blew so hard the crew could not control the ship, so the sails were lowered and the ship found its own way through the water.  Winter weather upon the Atlantic was so severe that the ship lost all forward progress made in the first weeks of the voyage.  We had headwinds most of the way. When we were about one-third of the way over we were driven all the way back to the coast of Ireland.

During one storm, the boxes tore loose and slid from one side of the ship to the other.  The women and children had to climb up in the bunks so they wouldn’t get hurt, while the men got everything tied fast again.

Extremely bad weather prevailed for most of the journey consisting of severe hurricanes and strong gales. The slow pace of the John J. Boyd was exacerbated by the ship getting caught in the North Atlantic Drift.  The weather got worse after crossing the Banks, so much so, that we were into the Gulf Stream three times, and many of our sailors were frostbitten.

The captain became so discouraged over the unsatisfactory conditions that he forbade any of us to sing or pray onboard the ship.  But this did not prevent us from fasting and praying in secret which was ordered by President Peterson, after which better weather prevailed.

At one time the captain said to President Peterson,  “If I hadn’t damned Mormons on board I would have been in New York six weeks ago.”  President Peterson said to him, “If you hadn’t Mormons on board, you would have been in hell six weeks ago.”

We were tossed about the Atlantic for eleven weeks. Across the Atlantic we encountered some fearful storms.  On mid-ocean we hailed a wreck that had been laying for eight days in a fearful situation.  The rudder, mast and railings were gone.  The man at the helm and the cook with all his utensils were washed overboard.  Part of the bulwarks had been torn away by the sea and the waves had swept over the ship.  One of the sailors had been swept overboard.  Mutiny occurred on our ship when the captain did not want to rescue the sailors of the disabled ship.  The mates did.  We were told that the mates and the crew put the captain in confinement.  The first mate, with two sailors took a small boat and rowed to the disabled ship.  The wrecked ship was loaded with flour from America to England.  It was left to drift where it would.  We watched it as long as we could see it.

At one point during the our voyage a fire broke out, starting in the captain’s quarters and quickly spreading through the entire ship.  The fire burned through the floor and filled the ship with smoke.  The clouds of hot smoke nearly suffocated those who were resting in their quarters.  It was only after much work that the fire was successfully put out.  Some of the passengers and crew, fearing for their lives jumped overboard, and it was only after Knud Peterson assured the saints that they would put out the fire that panic ceased.  It was later revealed that Captain Austin had been drinking and kicked over a small stove in his quarters.  Precious personal cargo and provisions were lost in the accident all due to the Captain’s terrible addiction.

Captain Austin was a very rough and cross man.  He was a bad man to his sailors.  After the first mate and some of the crew rescued many of the crew of the shipwrecked Louis Napoleon, one of the rescued sailors thanked him for coming to their rescue. Captain Austin replied to them “G.D— you go to work.  That is all I want of you.  Get up that rigging.  I don’t want to hear no more of your talk.”

This seemed quite harsh to many of us saints who observed that these men had not eaten in days and were immediately put to work.  But the shipwrecked crew was a great blessing to us because of the great service that they provided.  Many of the original crew had fallen ill or broken limbs and were too weak to work.  Had they not come to our assistance we never would have arrived in New York.

The captain was very cruel to the sailors.  At one time the vessel sprang a leak, water running in fast.  About thirty sailors were working a large double lever pump with ropes attached to the ends of the levers.  One sailor was not working to suit the captain.  He picked up a rope with a heavy hook in the end, and from behind hit the sailor on the head with the hook, killing him instantly.  The ship was getting short of able-bodied sailors to man the ship and the captain planned to draft passengers to take the place of disabled sailors.

ILLNESS ONBOARD THE JOHN J. BOYD

We had a great deal of sickness on the vessel. The principal cause of death among the children was from measles which brought much anguish to the parents.  There were sixty-two deaths in all. It seemed a severe trial to have to bury our loved ones in the sea. One brother buried his little girl.  It did indeed, seem very hard to roll her in a blanket and lay her in the big waves and see the little dear go floating away out of sight.

There was one Danish couple who had two sons.  Both of their sons died and were buried in the sea.  This was a severe trial for this poor brother and sister. They were faithful, good Latter-Day Saints, but the loss of their only two children seemed almost more than they could endure.

When the John J. Boyd finally arrived at Castle Garden, New York on February 15, 1856, it was rumored that Captain Thomas Austin was not aboard the ship. Several ships had met up with the Boyd a few days before they landed, and it was thought that Austin, fearing prosecution from the law for his many grievances, fled on a small fishing boat.

The voyage had lasted nearly eleven weeks.  We had experienced heavy storms, mast-breaking gales, two fires, flooding, a reckless captain, mutiny, and sixty-two deaths.  We were low on provisions and had enough water left for only one day. Though faced with incredible hardship and sacrifice throughout the journey we remained steadfast in our testimonies and optimistic that the Lord would deliver us from the high seas.  And when we arrived we were so grateful to Lord for blessing us and allowing us to come to America to begin a new life.

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One Response to “Voyage to America”

  1. hansdastrup November 21, 2010 at 6:53 am #

    What an amazing story. Thanks so much for posting this!