Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Jeanie Johnston
by Lou Kelley
Kerry's Finest Emigrant Vessel

Jeanie Johnston

No Coffin Ship


'Over the green sea Mavourneen, Mavourneen,
Long shone the white sail that bore thee away,
Riding the white waves that fair summer morning,
Just like a Mayflower afloat on the bay...'

19th Century Irish Emigration ballad 

Ireland is threatened with a thing that is 
read of in history and in distant countries, 
but scarcely in our own land and time - a 
famine. Whole fields of the root have rotted 
in the ground, and many a family sees its 
sole provision for the year destroyed.
(The Spectator, October 25,1845)

During the fall of 1845, the scortching wind of famine blackened 
Ireland's green and misty isle.  Irelandís potato crop was 
infected with a fungus that destroyed the crop and triggered 
the most catastrophic event in Irish history - the Great Hunger. 
Over the next five years, the successive failure of the potato 
crop led to the death of approximately one million Irish men, 
women and children.  Another one and a half million of Irelandís 
population fled 3,000 miles to North America .  They went in all 
kinds of vessels, most of them hastily converted cargo ships 
referred to as "coffin ships."  Some, in virtual panic crowded 
into these ill-equipped, unsanitary vessels and died of disease 
and hunger before ever reaching the new world.    Mortality 
rates of 20-40% aboard the coffin ships were common with 17,465 
documented shipboard deaths in 1847 alone.  But not all 
suffered this melancholy fate. While the journey was always 
perilous, and the accommodation cramped and rudimentry, some 
got to travel under responsible captains and in a seaworthy 
craft. Of all of Kerry's emigrant vessels, the Jeanie Johnston 
was the most famous and had the proudest record. 

The original Jeanie Johnston (1847 - 1858) piled out of the small 
part of Tralee, County Kerry in South West Ireland.  Built in 
Quebec in 1847 by the Canadian shipbuilder John Munn, and bought 
shortly thereafter by the  Donovan family of Tralee, the Jeanie 
Johnston was a no "coffin ship" but a stout triple masted ship, 
32 meters long, constructed of oak and pine, displacing 700 
tons, and  designed to carry 200 passengers and a crew of 17.
The firm of John Donovan & Sons of Tralee, Ireland purchased 
the ship to serve as both a passenger and a cargo vessel.   As 
was often the custom, the Jeanie Johnston was used as a passenger 
ship from Ireland to Baltimore, New York and Quebec.  On the 
return voyage the ship usually carried timber from North America 
to Tralee; however, during the winter of 1848 the ship brought 
badly needed food supplies from New York to Tralee in an attempt 
to ease the famine conditions.

During the period of the Great Hunger, the Jeanie Johnston made 
16 trans-Atlantic voyages.  However, unlike coffin ships of that 
era, the Jeanie Johnston never lost a single passenger or 
crewmember.  A broadside, dated March 24, 1848, advertises that 
the Jeanie Johnston  "...possesses spacious accommodation for 
passengers and will be fitted up in the most comfortable manner."  
On six different occasions, passengers published letters of 
appreciation attesting to the attention given to them by the 
shipís captain, James Attridge.
When the Jeanie Johnston sank, waterlogged at last in the 
mid-Atlantic in 1858, she did so slowly enabling everyone aboard 
to be rescued thus maintaining her untarnished reputation for 

Baltimore, Maryland was one of the ports visited by the Jeanie 
Johnston. Passengers to Baltimore reflected the common trends 
of Irish emigration and the large numbers of female emigrants 
to Baltimore was typical for the times.  Another trend was the 
ability of the Irish emigrants to make a better life for 
themselves in their new country.  Patrick Kearney, a passenger 
on the 1849 voyage of the Jeanie Johnston arrived in Baltimore 
as a "gardener."
By 1860, the census listed him as a Harford County farmer owning 
land valued at $1500 and employing a laborer.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger and 
to honor the role played by the Jeanie Johnston, architects and 
master shipbuilders came together to build a full-size sailing 
replica of this famous emigrant barque.   Original plans said  
the reconstructed Jeanie Johnston would set sail for North 
America in April 2000, visiting over 20 cities, including 
Baltimore New York and Quebec.  The departure of the Jeanie 
Johnston was delayed for nearly three years, thanks to a litany 
of financial problems.  She set sail on 16 February 2003, and  
arrived in Florida on 19 April  2003.
Citizens of Maryland may took great pride in the arrival of the 
Jeanie Johnston as it, along with other ships of its kind, 
brought to their shore emigrants who made positive contributions 
to their state and the country. Further information regarding the 
the Jeanie Johnston:  (Updated information can be found on the 
Internet at www.jeaniejohnston.com)   

    * Gray, Peter.  The Irish Famine.  Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.
    * Keating, John.  Irish Famine Facts.  Dublin: Teagasc, 1996.
    * The Jeanie Johnston Project: A Dream Rebuilt.  
       Tralee: Jeanie Johnston Project, 1999.

See also  http://www.irishtradingpost.com/jeanie-johnston.htm or  

Shamelessly plagurized from multiple sources by LPKelley

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