A Night in a Sea-Steamer

This chapter from At Home and Abroad; or, How to Behave, by Mrs. Manners (Evans & Dickerson: New York, 1854) highlights the different behaviour of passengers on a steamboat in the mid-century. We are so lucky to have sea-sickness medications now. Notice how the one woman who lost her hair, had gingerbread in her workbag. Ginger was helpful, to some extent, for motion sickness.

A Night in a Sea-Steamer

I will not undertake to recall all the many scenes which twelve years of constant travel have brought be, but an incident or two in a recent journey will not prove uninstructive.

When I left the city in which I reside it was in a steamboat, and we were soon at sea, where the water was so rough, and the boat rocked so uneasily, that several of the passengers were sea-sick. Sea-sickness is one of the most unpleasant sensations in the world, and does not dispose those who suffer from it to be very amiable. The little children cared least for it, and though some were sick, it did not appear to affect their temper as much as it did that of some who were older, and ought to have known better.

There were three young girls, who looked very neat in their travelling costume, when they first came on board, and who seemed to be very lively and cheerful, but their liveliness soon subsided into almost total silence, broken only by impatience, and even rude exclamations of annoyance and illness. One was very cross to the chambermaid, who could not do anything to please her; she spoke pettishly to her sister and cousin, which seemed to be the relation the other bore to her. She sent several times for her father, and complained of her unpleasant feeling to him, as if he occasioned or could prevent them. Altogether, she certainly did all she could to make other as uncomfortable as herself, and when I looked at her cross face and listened to her pettish, whining tones, I wondered [if] I could ever have been pleased with her.

Her younger sister was much like her, only she made fewer demonstrations of ill temper; she seemed much more reserved, and would sometimes reprove “Elinor” in a sharp tone for “making such a fuss.” But if she said less, she was certainly no less unamiable than her sister. “Carrie,” as they called their cousin, was a gentle, blue-eyed little girl, who was in reality a much greater sufferer than the sisters were, but she was certainly the sweetest tempered girl; she seemed to try to give as little trouble as possible; she hand gentle tones, and said pleasant words, and even tried to smile when her uncle asked her how she felt.

It seemed they had all been at school during the winter in C., and were now going home, and the father looked very sorrowful as he contemplated the unpleasant countenances of his children, and saw these indications; for whatever change had been effected in his children for the better, it certainly was not their tempers which had improved.

When night came on, and the sea-sickness only grew more unbearable, the confusion became greater, and the scene was sometime ludicrous, and sometimes shocking.

One lady lost her false hair, which, with her side-combs when rolling on the cabin floor, in company with some ginger-bread which strayed from her work-bag. The attentive chambermaid picked them all up, and helped the poor lady to a couch, but her groans were most sonorous and expressive. A curtain was drawn, separating the ladies who, had no accommodations except mattresses on the saloon floor, from the gentlemen, who were similarly unfortunate, on the other side.

Among the ladies was one who had not been long married to her present husband; she had been a widow, and made great pretensions to refinement and intellectual cultivation. The husband was quite a servant to her various whims, which, however, were usually expressed in very insinuating tones. Now, as she rolled on her bed, her groans and complaints were indicative of any thing but refined affection. “Goof Lord, Mr. W.!” “What, my love?” from the other side of the curtain. “Oh, I shall die – I’m awfully sick. Come here and hold my head.” “I can’t, my darling, I also am” – and here his sentence was cut short by sounds of no unequivocal nature. “Come here, I say; what did you take me to sea for, when you could not take care of me? You are a brute, Mr. W. Oh, Lord!” But enough of this.

I have but one more thing to tell, and then I must stop, having hardly finished my sea voyage, and reserving all my railroad adventures for another time.

A friend, who passed most of the night on the upper deck, told me of a little incident which was quite a relief to the usual disagreeable scenes of sickness at sea. There was a lady, evidently from the country, and of plain appearance, who was sitting with her son near the boat-railing. He held her head whenever there came a paroxysm of sickness. By-and-by, the young man also became sick, and was about putting her head down on the bench, while he was to the other side of the boat. A number of well dressed and fashionable young men were walking up and down the deck. One of them observing the mother and son, and the situation of the latter, went up to him at once and kindly asked to be allowed to take his place; and there he sat, and actually held the old lady’s head for two or three hours. When he joined his companions, he had to bear much raillery on the subject of his gallantry, and his odd choice of a lady to whom to be polite. He took it very well, and his reply quite hushed their rattle.

“You may laugh as much as you please, but I thought if she were my mother, how I should feel to see obliged to be neglected, and I am not at all ashamed of the impulse which induced me to offer my services.”

I wish his mother could have heard him; I think she would have been more proud of him than ever. This little incident, and the sweet serenity, under such unpleasant circumstances, which the gentle “cousin Carrie” had shown, impressed me very much, in the contrast they formed, to the usual selfishness of people when sea-sick.

Now, one question would be… which type of passenger would you like to portray? Which would be more educational for guests or an audience? Which would be more interesting? What if you really were motion sick?


Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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