Jack and Annie Woods

Annie’s diary

My great granny Annie was a very strong woman. Her husband Henry John was a ship’s captain and his work took him to America. He was killed in an accident on the docks and Annie returned to Bristol where she raised her six young sons on her own.

Some years before the accident, whilst Annie was still in England, Henry (aka Harry and Jack – we like nicknames in our family!) called her to America for the trip of a lifetime. Annie took their eldest son Harold with her, leaving baby Ken with family in England.

This was in July 1900 and the journey lasted eight months. Annie kept a journal which her grand daughter – my mum Ann – transcribed back in November 2010.

Note: There are references in the diary to “black people”. I apologise if these cause offense and they do not reflect my beliefs. I have left them in as I am presenting the diary as it was written and I believe they are a reflection of the attitudes at the time. I am sure that Annie would have a completely different attitude had she been alive now.

Here is the first entry from Annie’s Diary:

An Account of my Holiday 1900

A cable from Jack!! What excitement we were in when we found he had sent for me to join the “Menantic” at New York to go on a voyage to New Zealand. Just three days rushing round shopping, telegraphing and packing and then at 1am Saturday morning July 21st found us (Harold and myself) in the Liverpool train en route for New York.

After a journey of 6 hours we arrived at Liverpool where Charlie met us and after a rest and breakfast at the Shaftesbury Hotel he took us across to Seacombe to pay a farewell visit to Alice Symes. There we met Mr Symes Senior who was on a visit to them with Lillie and Ada. So we were quite a large party.

We had dinner together and at 2pm returned to Liverpool. At 4 o’clock we went on board the “Umbria” and soon we were off. The rest of the day we spent exploring the ship and finding our way about; our berths were very comfortable, a lady and her little girl being the other occupants with us. Harold soon made friends with Polly and she relieved me a good deal with playing with him.

I found on board a son of Mr Higgins our late landlord, who was going to New York for his holidays, so I had someone to speak to now and again, but after a few hours sea sickness claimed him for a victim, and for a couple of days he was invisible.

We reached Queenstown at 10 o’clock Sunday morning, a couple of hours late owing to fog. We took on board there more passengers, mail and provisions and in a couple of hours were once more on our way. The usual Sunday morning service on board was given up as they were all so busy at Queenstown. We thought probably there would have been a service later in the day but there was not.

Nothing of very great interest happened on the way across; we had rather foggy weather in the mornings, then it would clear off and be very hot. We only saw a few ships – none very near – I saw one day a large sword fish and there were a number of fish around which we were told were young sharks. I don’t know if this was correct or not. On the night before our arrival there was a concert held in the cabin in aid of sailors’ orphans and widows. A number of the 1st class passengers came to it – in evening dress all of them.

We sighted the American shores on Saturday evening about 7 o’clock and anchored at 10pm too late to go right up to the landing place. Breakfast was served at 6 o’clock Sunday morning and for two or three hours we were busy passing the Customs officers and Doctor. I had been wishing for a first glimpse of New York harbour, with its Statue of Liberty and famous skyscrapers, but while passing the Customs we were passing all these sights and when I got on deck again we were at the landing stage. Harry was on shore anxiously scanning the 6 or 700 passengers until he saw us, then we felt OK. It took us some little time to collect our luggage and have it examined but at last it is over.

We hired a coach and pair and were soon off for the “Menantic” which was lying across at Brooklyn. It was a long drive but very interesting; for the first time I caught sight of the enormous buildings I had heard so much of, some of them over 20 storeys high; then we came to the ferry and coach and all went over on what seemed like a floating street – with its side walks and carriage ways.

We had very hot weather all the time in New York but managed to get around a good deal. We had several nice trips to Bergen and Brighton beaches across the Brooklyn Bridge and on the elevated railway through the city. I think I prefer Brooklyn to New York, it is more like Clifton is to Bristol (a fashionable suburb). Some of the stores here would simply electrify the people at home – you can purchase any mortal thing in them; there are also refreshment rooms – ladies toilet and sitting rooms, post office, drinking fountains, and bars for iced drinks – one could easily lose themselves in one. Harold was delighted with the elevators and wanted to be in them all the time in spite of the black men who were managing them.

At last after delays of one thing and another we are all ready for sailing. We are taking a miscellaneous cargo amongst which is machinery, organs, barbed wire, tobacco, typewriters, clothes pegs, jewellery and I know not what besides. Our decks are filled too with coal as we shall need such a lot on this long voyage…

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