A Life on the Ocean Wave
December 8, 2016 3:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm impressed by the freewheeling way people used international shipping to get around in the late 19th century. The lack of modern passport requirements undoubtedly helped. Looking at ships' manifests, however, there often appear to be wide differences between names, ages, etc., that are listed by the shipping company and the actual details of the passengers. In particular, children are often listed as significantly younger than what they actually were.

So here is the question: apart from the obvious fare differences between first class and steerage, did shipping companies also charge different amounts based on the age of the children, or the number of them in the family? Of secondary interest, did it make a financial difference if the husband traveled with the family, or if the wife took the children without him?
posted by alonsoquijano to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
children are often listed as significantly younger than what they actually were.

What sources are you using to identify a discrepancy between the manifest age and real age of passengers? I would be a little wary there, because it's just as possible that people would lie about their age at some point after arriving in the new nation as before getting a ticket.

Your question is interesting, but it's a bit broad. Can you be more specific about
-what time period you're interested in
-what routes of migration you are looking at

A further complication is that shipping companies often subcontracted with agents to fill the passenger lists:
since all steerage tickets were sold without space reservations, obtaining a ticket was easy. Principal shipping lines had hundreds of agencies in the United States and freelance ticket agents traveled through parts of Europe, moving from village to village, selling tickets. ­After 1900, in addition to a ticket, however, immigrants had to secure a passport from officials in their home country.
The agents were sometimes empowered to broker a wide variety of deals, like combination train-boat tickets, vessel tickets linked to job assignments, discounts for large groups of migrants, etc. When tickets were selling slowly, prices would drop, and when in demand, prices would rise. Fairly chaotic, not really the equivalent of tickets today - except air tickets, I suppose, which sell at such a wide variety of prices.

You might find more detail searching on terms like "immigrant contract for passage"
posted by Miko at 6:25 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is an anecdote, but I was helping a coworker look up her ancestors on the Ellis Island website and she told me her grandfather and his sister lied and claimed they were twins so they could travel on one ticket because they couldn't afford two. They had to share a berth all the way from Russia. And sure enough they were listed as the same age on the ship manifest when they were really a few years apart in age.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Identifying the discrepancy between manifest age and real age was fairly simple: I had copies of birth data and manifest data for specific passengers (which for reasons of privacy I would not list here). The time period was for the 1880's and 1890's. The routes I was mainly interested in were the big ones: Australia/England, England/USA, and USA/Australia. It appears I may have fallen into the modern day error of assuming that there would be some consistency in setting fares, but of course in those days it was probably whatever price you could get on that particular day, and it was up to the ship's captain to make a profit?
posted by alonsoquijano at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, as far as I know that's accurate. Not really set prices.
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on December 9, 2016

Speaking of immigration anecdotes, the one I'd heard had the children listed as younger so they weren't considered too small for their age (or possibly sickly) upon arrival.

If they segregated travelers by gender maybe children under a certain age were permitted to stay with their mothers, or were perceived to be kept safer in some way.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 8:39 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If they segregated travelers by gender

Rare for families. Single travelers were sometimes bunked with same-sex travelers, but families pretty much lumped together.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Dog suddenly vocal, but only with her sitter. Why?   |   Does my happy-hour wake me up at 2:11 am? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.