The Long Voyage to Hawaii

Harrowing Voyages Tested Emigrants' Resolve

From 1878 through 1913, Hawaii welcomed Portuguese immigrant workers.

Years:  1878 — 1913

The transportation of emigrants commenced in 1878 with a German sailing ship, the Priscilla, taking a group of 123 single men and families from Madeira to Hawaii. The trip took 120 days. Over the next thirty-five years, 28 ships, either sailing or steamships, transported over 25,000 Portuguese to Hawaii. The sailing ships took between 92 and 156 days, while the steamships completed the journey in 53 to 76 days.

As a ship left the dock, the adult passengers felt sadness and hope. They fixed their eyes on their fading view, waving to family and friends and crying because they knew they would never see their parents, grandparents, or homeland again.

Accounts of the actual voyages describe a wide range of experiences. One can imagine that on four to five month trips on sailing ships powered by the wind, passengers would experience all types of weather and sea sickness. There was the heat of the equator and the cold of the passage around the southern tip of South America, Cape Horn, and through the Straits of Magellan. This was terrifying for passengers. There often encountered bad weather -- high waves and gale force winds with long spells of wet, cold weather. During the voyage of the Amana, the passengers lacked adequate clothing for the cold temperatures they had to bear. With rough seas and gale force winds, passengers could be confined to their quarters for two months at a time. Disease spread and at one time more than 150 of the Amana's passengers fell ill.

Each ship was said to have had doctors and nurses to deal with the births, illnesses, and deaths. Most of those who died were young children, their deaths mostly from measles or smallpox.

Reports on the quality and quantity of food varied. It usually consisted of porridge, soup, salt pork, beans, and hardtack. At times, when the food spoiled, the captain would have to make landfall to replenish their stocks. Sometimes the food was not eaten because, while common to the countries where the ships originated, the food was distasteful to the Portuguese passengers.

Among the passengers were those avoiding conscription, considered stowaways, because they could not obtain passports from the Portuguese government. They were put to work on the ships.

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