The Days of Bogus Tickets gone

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER X (13) start of chapter

This triumphant vindication of an institution which is to none more important than to the Irish who seek a home in America, bears the signature—'Howell Hoppock, Foreman of Grand Jury.'

With a full knowledge of the evils with which the Commissioners of Emigration had to contend, we shall be better able to appreciate the leading features of the system pursued at Castle Garden, and how far it realises the intentions of its benevolent founders.

The emigrant ship (7) drops her anchor in the North River, or upper part of the Bay, where she is compelled to await the arrival of the steamer and barge belonging to the Commissioners, by which passengers and their baggage are landed at the wharf of Castle Garden; which to the alien is the Gate of the New World—the portal through which he reaches the free soil of America. Passengers and their baggage are under the protection of the Commissioners from the moment they are thus transferred to their charge; and though the brood of cheats and harpies may grind their teeth with rage as they remember the time when they were the first to board the emigrant ship, and, as a matter of undisputed right, take possession of her freight, living and inanimate, they know that their anger is unavailing, for that their day of license has passed. No sooner is the ship's arrival notified at Castle Garden, than the officer on duty obtains at the proper office a list of the passengers for whom letters, or remittances, or instructions, have been received by the Commissioners from friends who expected their arrival by that vessel. The officer boards the ship in his steamer; and the first thing he does on reaching her deck is to read aloud to the expectant hundreds, by whom he is quickly surrounded, the names of the passengers on his list, and announce that letters, or news, or money, await them at Castle Garden. Cheering to the heart of the anxious or desponding emigrant—probably a wife who has come out to her husband, or a child in search of a parent—is this joyful proclamation, it sounds so full of welcome to the new home.(8) Too many, perhaps, feel their isolation or their disappointment the more poignantly from there being no word of love, no sign of welcome to hail their arrival.

The passengers are transferred to the steamer, and their baggage to the barge, and landed at Castle Garden, where their names and destinations are entered in a book kept for that purpose. In the large building at the disposal of the Commissioners the emigrants may obtain the luxury of a thorough ablution, and the comfort of the first meal on solid land; and those who have brought out money with them, or for whom their friends have sent remittances in anticipation of their arrival, and who desire to push on—North, South, or West—may at once start on their journey. They can change their money for the currency of the country, and purchase railway tickets to any part of the United States or Canada, and do so without going outside the building, or risking the loss of its salutary protection, They and their baggage are conveyed to the railway depôt, from which they start on their inland journey, fortunate indeed in not having a single feather plucked from their wing by watchful harpy.

Of many important and valuable departments of this Landing Depôt, those for the exchange of money and the sale of railway or steamboat tickets are not the least important or valuable. In the exchange department various nationalities are represented; and for a small percentage, sufficient to remunerate the broker without oppressing the emigrant, English and Irish, Germans, French, Swedes, Danes, and others, may procure reliable money—not flash notes—for their gold and silver and paper currency. The exchange brokers admitted to do business in Castle Garden are men of respectability; but were they inclined to take advantage of the simplicity of the emigrant, their prompt expulsion would be the certain result. Here then, in a most essential matter, is complete protection afforded to the inexperienced and the helpless.

The sale of railway tickets, the fruitful source of robbery and actual ruin in former days, is entrusted to responsible railway agents, over whom the Commissioners, as in duty bound, maintain a watchful control, necessary rather to prevent delay and inconvenience to the emigrant than to protect him against positive fraud. It is the interest of the railway companies represented in this bureau to fulfil their engagements with honesty and liberality; as if they fail to do so, the Commissioners have sufficient power to bring them to their senses.(9) Of bogus tickets there need be no apprehension now, as in former times, when they were sold at home in the seaport town, and even in the country village; on board-ship during the voyage, or on the wharves and in the streets of New York. The mere loss of the purchase-money did not by any means represent the infamy of the fraud or the magnitude of the evil. Not only was the individual or the family effectually plundered, but, being deprived of the means of transport, they could not get beyond the precincts of the city in which they first set foot, and thus all hopes of a future of profitable industry were lost to them for ever. The sale of railroad tickets in Castle Garden is therefore a protection of the very first importance to the emigrant.

The baggage of the emigrant, which had been so long the prey of the lodging-house keeper, the runner, and the 'smasher,' is now not only retained in safe custody in compartments well adapted to that purpose, but is frequently held as a pledge for the repayment of advances made by the Commissioners to assist their owners to proceed on their intended journey. There is, however, no charge made for its custody, neither is interest required to be paid for the loan or advance. I have seen quantities of boxes, trunks, and packages of various kinds, duly marked and lettered, and safely stowed away, to be kept until the owners found it convenient or necessary to send for their effects, or, in case advances had been made on their security, until they were in a position to redeem them.

This plan of making advances on the security of the baggage, or portions of the baggage of the emigrant, which protects it from being plundered, and enables the individual or the family destined for the interior to proceed on their route, has now been in practice fully ten years, and has been attended with great good. The advance does not in any case exceed a few dollars; but the possession or the want of these few dollars may, at such a moment, determine the future fate of an entire family. In their Report for 1865 the Commissioners bear testimony to the good which these advances have done. Assistance has been rendered to many who might otherwise have become the prey of fraud, or have fallen into destitution, 'whilst,' as they state, 'the character of the assistance was such as not to lessen the feeling of independent self-reliance.' The small amount of $112 was advanced in 1856 to nineteen families, or about $6 ½ per family. This had been punctually repaid. The total amount advanced from August 1856, when the system was first adopted, to the end of 1865, was $23,215; the number of advances, whether to individuals or families, being 2,394. Of this amount, there remained unpaid but $1,376.

Another important department may be described as the letter or correspondence department, the value of which is becoming every year more fully appreciated, as well by emigrants as by their friends in America and at home. Suppose an emigrant, on arrival at New York, to be without the means of proceeding inland, or disappointed in not receiving a communication from a friend or member of his or her family, a letter, announcing the person's arrival, and asking for assistance, is at once written by a clerk specially appointed for that purpose; and in very many cases the appeal so made is promptly responded to, and the emigrant is thus enabled to proceed onwards. In the year 1866, there were nearly 3,000 such letters written, stamped, and posted, free of all charge to the parties interested. Of these letters 2,516 were written in English, the balance in German and other languages. The value of this admirable system may be shown by the fact, that the amount of money received in 1866, in reply to letters from the Landing Depôt for recently arrived emigrants, and applied to their forwarding, was $24,385.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America