Working of the System

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER X (15) start of chapter

Shortly before I left New York an instance occurred which impressed me with the value of the present system, under which such care is taken of the interests of the emigrants. A young girl arrived out by a certain steamer, and being taken sick of fever was sent to the hospital at Ward's Island. She said her father was in Boston, but she did not know his address. Her father, expecting her arrival, telegraphed to the agents in New York, enquiring if his daughter had come. The agents, whether ignorant or careless, replied by telegraph—'No.' The father, not satisfied with the answer, wrote to the Commissioners of Emigration, and they at once notified to him that his daughter had arrived, and was then in hospital at Ward's Island. He started from Boston without delay; and I had the assurance of the admirable physician by whom she was attended,(10) that the interview with her father saved the daughter's life, which was at the time in danger.

Innumerable cases might be given in proof of the inconvenience and suffering—oftentimes the gravest injury—entailed on emigrants, especially young girls, through this neglect of sending the address accurately and fully, and retaining it when received; also of women giving their maiden instead of their married name; of not having the name written distinctly, and of saying the name is O'Reily when it is Riley, or Donnelly when it is O'Donnell. Mistakes, perhaps apparently trifling, are quite sufficient to keep the nearest and dearest relatives apart, and deprive the young and inexperienced girl of the much-needed protection of a brother or a father.

The titles by which the General Superintendent is addressed are very varied. At one time he is styled 'The Mayor of Castle Garden,' at another 'The Commander,' at another 'The Keeper,' and not unfrequently 'Head General!' The mistake of 'Blackbird's Island' for Blackwall Island, in which there is a penitentiary, is not altogether inappropriate; but that of mistaking a General officer for a Police officer was much more serious, as witness the following:—

Two country girls, recently arrived from 'Sweet Tipperary,' with the painting of nature on their healthy cheeks, received from one of the clerks a written card bearing the address of their friends in the upper part of the city, and were directed to apply for information on their way to the first policeman they met; and one of these blue-coated brass-buttoned dignitaries, on duty at the Depôt, was pointed out to them for their guidance. 'Thank your honour kindly, we'll be sure not to mistake the pelliceman when we want him,' said the rosiest, who did all the talking. It was at the early part of the war, when the streets were full of blue Federal uniforms. The two country girls set off rejoicing, but had not been gone many minutes when they were back again, out of breath and greatly flurried. 'Well,' said the clerk, 'what brings you back?' 'Oh, sure your honour, we did just as your honour tould us. We went up the wide sthreet ye call Broadway, and when we kem to the big church beyant, with the cross on it, sure there we saw a gintleman with a blue coat and gould buttons, and a cocked hat on his head, and a fine feather in it, and a swoord by his side; and Mary and meself thought he must be the head of all the Pellice. So we made bould to tell that your honour tould us to ax him which was the way to the third Avany cars, and sure he tould us to "go to the Divil"—so we kem straight back to your honour.' The clerk, who was a good judge of a joke, looked steadily at the speaker; but she seemed utterly unconscious of having perpetrated a bon mot.

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