Sunday, June 22, 2008

Diary of Dagbjort Dagbjartsdottir

Dagbjört Dagbjartsdóttir was born 18 October 1862, the daughter of Dagbjartur Hafliðason who is the brother of Katrin Hafliðasdóttir, the mother of Eyjólfur Eríksson, my great grandfather, who emigrated from Iceland to Utah in 1882. Dagbjort immigrated to Victoria B.C. in 1887 the same year as my great grandmother Jarthudur Runolfsdottir immigrated to Utah.
As a young girl Dagbjort, called Daga for short, learned to cook and sew, spin, knit and weave and to make shoes from sheepskins. In Iceland at this time it was common for little girls to learn to read, but it was not considered necessary for them to learn to write. Daga had ideas of her own. She made friends and did errands for a kindly old man who worked in the barn. He taught her how to write. Pen and ink were not available, she found a large feather from one of the many birds along the seashore, and the old man made a quill pen for her. Now, what to use for ink? It being butchering season, the old man saved a bottle of sheep’s blood, and this was the beginning of Daga’s very fine handwriting.
Daga meet Helgi Þorsteinsson and the two of them immigrated to Victoria B.C. Many of Daga’s and Helgi’s friends hoped someday to come to America, so Daga promised to keep a diary of the trip, hoping it might help the ones that were to come later.
From North Vik they traveled to Reykjavik by horse back. Some of the horses where ridden, and some were used as to pack the luggage. There were no roads and no bridges over the rivers.
The shallowest places were chosen by the guide so that people and luggage stayed dry. At certain times of the year when the rivers were high the only way to cross was for the horses to swim. Several people joined the group, some going only part way to Reykjavik, others going all the way; but Daga and Helgi were the only ones headed for America. The trip to Reykjavik was tiring but uneventful, and in the big city they met with groups of people from all parts of Iceland, all going as immigrants to America, mostly to Canada.
From Dagbjort’s Diary translated form Icelandic to English by Runa Thorsteinson
July 11, 1887 “At 6:30 this mourning we boarded the steamship Cameoens. There is much to see which I cannot fully describe, but will try. We are in a fairly large room or cabin forward on the ship and on the middle deck. There is room for thirty bunks on one side and twenty-six on the other, two bunks high. We are all bedded down in the same cabin. It is quite light and open on both ends so the sun shines in. There are two canvas ventilators, one at each end, so we have good ventilation. At one end of our cabin are stairs that lead from our deck and the deck below us to the upper deck. There is much traffic in these stairs as everyone is getting settled and preparing their bunks. There is much noise one can hardly hear their own voice. I don’t know how many rooms there are but there must be many.
Hot water is available two to three times a day in a large kettle forward on the ship. There is a tap on it and each person must bring their own container. Cold water is on tap at all times. Six restrooms are on the ship, three for men and three for women there is no mistaking them as they are marked with big white letters. One of the men is playing an accordion in our cabin and soon the whistle will be blowing and we are on our way. Now the whistle has blown and they are hauling in the anchor and I have never in my life heard such a racket. The whole ship quivers and shakes. I’m sure it must be hard on the nerves of anyone who isn’t very well. Now it’s five o’clock and Cameoens is starting to move. Lovely calm weather and almost feels like the ship is standing still. Now the ship is beginning to roll a little and I am getting a headache. Some of the women are knitting and some sewing, but it doesn’t look very peaceful. I am going up on deck as I am afraid I am getting seasick. Now its eight o’clock and every one has to go to their own bunk.”
July 12th “I slept quite well last night and feel well as long as I lie still but everyone has to go up on deck for fresh air and exercise. Our dear fatherland has disappeared.
There is much seasickness and some of the women are quarreling. Many of them are sick. I vomit very little but am so weak I can hardly write even if I am trying to do it. The man is playing his accordion again and another a violin, some are singing hymns and it would be good entertainment if one were feeling well. There is and English minister on board and also and English doctor and two Icelandic nurses. The minister was very kind and gave each child under twelve years old that could make it up on deck, bread and raisins.
He sent milk to those below and also to the women who were sick. The milk is thick and real sweet. When thinned with water it is real good. This evening it is blowing and raining. They say the ship is only going half speed even if all sails are up. Very much seasickness.”
July 13th “About midnight last night we were in a thick fog, so thick that one could hardly see across the deck. Bright lights were placed on each side of the ship and the whistle blew every four or five minutes to warn other ships that might be near us. This mourning at four A.M. a baby was born in our cabin, all went well. I was so sick yesterday I could not even comb my hair, let alone anything else. But I staggered up on deck twice as the doctor recommends we get up on deck occasionally to fill our lungs with fresh air.
This mourning I felt so much better I got up at nine. I’m sure all of you at home got up much earlier than that. On deck one of the ships crew brought me a slice of bread with a piece of hot meat on it. I didn’t have much appetite but was able to eat some of it with hot water. It was the most I have eaten since I came on the sea. Mostly I have just had cold water. The doctor tells us who are sick to eat dry hardtack and drink water even if we don’t feel like eating anything so that the vomiting will be easier on us. The weather is good now and a calm sea and to my surprise I saw a flock of fulmar fly by. It was like seeing old friends and almost made me homesick. Most everyone is feeling well today and up on deck. Imba is a little worse than I am; still she is able to be up today.
There is much entertainment for those who can feel happy and enjoy it. There are two playing all sorts of music, one on the accordion and one on a violin. They harmonize real well, according to what people are saying, and a crowd has gathered around them. Somehow I cannot enjoy it and am sitting to one side with my little book and writing, whether it ever gets to you, my dear friends, or not. This afternoon we really are in trouble. The engine broke down and it is so calm that the sails just hang. This could be very bad for us travelers because if the ship doesn’t reach Scotland tomorrow we will miss the train and would have to wait in Scotland for two weeks. At 7:45 this evening they got the ship going again. This was the worst part of the trip so far. When the ship stood still it waltzed around so much that we all got sick again and in our bunks we could hardly tell which end was up”.
July 14th “At two this mourning someone reported seeing land. The weather is good and everyone is feeling better. We are sailing along the coast and to far away to see the lowland but we see lots of mountains. It is a lot more interesting than to see only the heavens and the ocean. The mountains are beautiful but somehow not as bright and friendly as the dear mountains at home. They only awake in us memories of the past. Scotland is to the right and the Orkney Islands on the left.
At 12:30 today the ship stopped and blew the whistle several times. A boat came out from shore with three men on board. Our captain gave them some papers and they left and went back to shore. Cameoens started up again. We are closer to shore and it is beautiful. In some places there are rocks on the shore, something like the rocks in front of Vik. Up on the bluffs there are green fields and houses that look so high against the blue sky. Many of them are snow white with white fences around them. Large grain fields are at the back. They tell us that the name of this place is Thors Island.
It is now eight o’clock and we are still along the coast of Scotland. The scenery is beautiful and lovely weather. All around us are fish boats, both large and small and many steamboats have passed us today. Very little seasickness today and I am feeling quite well today, but have no appetite. People are happy today, some playing instruments and others singing. Some are playing chess and a few are gambling with real money. Two Englishmen are playing accordions and singing English songs and toward the back two Icelanders with their violins are playing and six or eight couples are dancing. We are enjoying it”.
July 17th “At two P.M. we arrived at Clyde, Scotland. By seven we were all on the train with our baggage and left at once. The train had fifteen or sixteen cars in it and most of them baggage and freight. The passenger cars were last and all this was an impressive sight.
Scotland is a beautiful place to see. Woods, farmland, and pastureland. The trees are so big they are much higher than the houses. Many homes have hedges. The trees are so close to the track that some branches touch the train window. And if I (and God lets me live) should see more natural beauty than here in Scotland. I lack the ability to describe it as I should, but I want so much to tell you about something you would enjoy hearing about. I stare with wide-eyed wonder at the beauty of nature and feel bad that poor little Iceland was not given any of this.
The train seats are very comfortable. I am sure that even a weakling would find it hard to take. The benches are polished wood with a comfortable back. The ceiling is painted white and the windows are so close together that we can sit back and enjoy the scenery. I assure you there is no danger of losing your breath even if the speed is so great. The worst is that we go by so fast we don’t have time to get a good look. I would have liked to stop the train when I saw a herd of cows right near the track. They were so fat and contended-looking and I would have been real happy to milk one of them to get a good drink of milk.
Our trip across Scotland was a three-hour trip and six times the train went underground. It gets pitch dark and you can’t distinguish black from white and the noise is terrific. Especially if they meet another train. They pass so close that there is only about a foot of space between.
At ten P.M. we arrived in Glasgow. It was dark but the streets and houses were all bright with many, many lights like a starlit heaven. All the people were told to stay in a group and hurry because this part of the city was not a very safe place to be at night. The streets were paved with stone and very smooth but it looked like a place where one could very easily get into trouble. I’m afraid some of the people will long member this night because when we reached the ship at two A.M. there were several people missing, mostly tired women and children who had gotten separated from the group in the crowded streets. All have been found except one woman and her child. I kept close hold of Helgi’s arm. It is very important to stay with the group so as not to get lost. Please member this, my dear friends, when you come.
Glasgow is hard to describe. The buildings are so large and overpowering, and even if the city is well lighted we couldn’t see much except this one street. There were many side streets and in several places we walked under high arches. There was much traffic in the streets and many tough looking characters motioning us to come follow them. Crossing the side streets was where we had to be careful not to get separated from our group. This is what probably happened to the ones that got lost. It is hoped that friendly hands helped them”. From Glasgow Daga and Helgi boarded another ship headed to Quebec. They arrived at Quebec on July 27th. Then took a train to Victoria B.C. arriving August 5th.

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