The Journey of the Thomas Bell, Part 1

João Baptista d’Oliveira chronicled his voyage on the Thomas Bell.

Years:  1887 — 1888

On leaving Madeira:  “Within me is a great sadness, for I am away from you and from the ones who gave me life, awaiting the hour when we shall meet again and live in peace and happiness...”

Nov. 15, 1887:  “Early in the afternoon there was a heavy downpour accompanied by a gale that seemed to turn our ship completely around...  We saw our ship lunge its prow into those profound billows and toss from side to side until it appeared that we would soon be submerged. Then out came one of the passengers carrying a Menino Jesus which he threw into the ocean. A few minutes later, the wind became calm and the seas smooth.”

Dec. 14, 1887:  “At about noon we were just off Buenos Aires. Soon the wind was again blowing so hard that the waves came up over the prow. No one was allowed on deck.”

Dec. 18, 1887:  “This was like a spring morning. The sea was so placid that we could have been sailing on a lake.  We were waiting for eight o’clock to attend the funeral service of José, late of Oporto. The body was on a plank as the others had been. After the prayer, the body was lowered into the sea. It came up to the surface three times, facing the ship each time it reached the surface. May God rest his soul.”

Dec. 24, 1887:  “We spent the afternoon getting ready for Christmas. Some passengers killed their chickens; others made sweet rolls with raisins; and others recalled the happiness they had left behind. Many tears were shed this afternoon. And to add to our unhappiness, the eight-month-old daughter of the woman who died of typhoid fever on Nov. 26 left us to join her mother.”

Dec. 31, 1887:  “At 3 pm the twentieth death aboard occurred when one of the young boys who had stowed away left this life. He was Manoel dos Reis, a native of Sao Jorge. The ship’s doctor reported that his death had been the result of a fall he had received while carrying two buckets of water.”

Jan. 2, 1888:  “The wind was now blowing forcefully and seemed to carry with it everything that got in its way. It was rainy and cold, and we remained below the decks, with the sensation of having neither fingers nor toes nor noses. By five o’clock the weather had not changed; it was obvious that we had ahead of us another night of torment, bitterness, cold, and hunger.”

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