The Evening News, now Detroit News, Jan. 27, 1892, page 7
Second half, Jan. 28, 1892, page 7
Story of the Fenian Conspiracy in 1866
Tom Tuite doesn’t like the tory British government, and he acquired that sentiment honestly. His mother and father were among the caravan of Irish humanity who were forced to
leave their native country by English tyranny and oppression in 1831. Its malign influence followed his father to Canada and was reflected in the Family Compact, which drove the freemen of that country into insurrection and rebellion in 1837 and 1838. The
elder Tuite, although a catholic, fought for the cause led by McKenzie, the Scotch Presbyterian, at Navy Island and Short Hills.
Tom thus absorbed hatred to English misrule with his mother’s milk, as it were. At the breaking out
of the American Rebellion he was 14 years old, and was learning his trade as a tinsmith, and plumber at Buffalo. He enlisted and carried a musket for 90 days. When discharged he came back to Buffalo to re-enlist but was rejected for lameness contracted in
exhausting marches. Then he came to Detroit and tried again to re-enlist, but was rejected for the same reason.
Uncle Sam would not take him, so he recommenced to learn his trade. He was a “minute man” in the old fire department and loved
running the machine. He was a model fireman, prompt, clear-witted and courageous.
Every Irishman in Detroit knows that Tom left Detroit in 1866 and went across the Atlantic “to strike a blow for Ireland”, but very few have any precise knowledge
of his adventures over there. Everybody, however, knows of his gallant exploits in 1887, when he entered the burning “English Kitchen” boarding house and restaurant on Jefferson Avenue and saved eight of the lodgers from being roasted to death,
and everybody knows too, how the city of Detroit rewarded his gallantry by electing him twice in succession to the responsible and honorable position of city treasurer. And this, too, as a life long republican in a city having a democratic
majority of 3000 votes. But it is not alone as an American or an Irish patriot or civic hero that Tom is alone entitled to admiration. He is a good citizen, public spirited, a charitable, modest, democratic, sensible and tolerant, with the highest respect
for law and order, and with a heart responsive to every tale of misfortune and oppression.
In both of the city campaigns when he was a candidate for office, his intimate friends rightly thought that the publication of the transatlantic adventures would
help his chances, and importuned him to make it public, but he steadfastly refused on each occasion saying that such as course savored too much of political clap-trap. At this later day, when out of politics and when it is probable that he may soon
leave Detroit to engage in manufacturing in another city, he has been persuaded to have his adventures published in “The News”.
In 1866, and for several years before and after, this city was a stronghold of fenianism, and Tom, as a
matter of course, was a member of a fenian circle. In that year a fenian call was issued for volunteers to go to Ireland and fight. They were required to pay all their own expenses and subsist themselves till the provisional government
of Ireland was in a position to help them. At that time James Stephens was at the head of the fenian organization in Ireland, and John O’Mahoney was the head center of the American troops.
Five Detroiters responded
to the call, including Tom Tuite and John Flynn who is now at Duluth as agent of the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan Transportation Company. Tom who was then 18 years old, was given charge of the party. Captain McCafferty, a Kentucky Irishman,
who had raided Johnson’s Island at Sandusky and attempted to liberate the Confederate prisoners at that place, gave Tom his assignment.
He was to proceed to the village of Killallon, in the country of Meath, near the town of Kells,
and join the fenians who were to rise at that point on Jan. 1, 1887. Killallon was chosen because a member of Tom’s Irish relatives lived there. He was also the bearer of the message to Mrs. O’Donovan Rossa whose husband
was then in a British prison. The message was in relation to the duties of the Irish ladies society for the relief of the families of political prisoners, of which Mrs. Rossa was one of the heads. The squad of five were Tom Tuite, John Flynn, Dan
Regan, cooper; Dennis Driscoll, who afterward died at Oshawa, Ont.; and Con Evans, shoe maker. They started November 16, 1866, and when they arrived in New York, were pressed into service at one of the fenian armories in that city. Some 20,000 stand
of arms, used in the late war had been purchased and they were being repaired and fitted up in these armories. The five patriots put in two weeks at this work. Tom because of his training gave valuable aid.
“Our party went over in the old City
of Paris, of the Inman line, and made the passage in 8 days and 9 hours which was very good speed. I noticed by the secret signs exchanged that there were other fenians on board, but I had very little communication with them. My total equipment was
1 suit of clothes, a chin-chella overcoat which cost $40 in Detroit and some underwear which was wrapped in a red bandana handkerchief. I had no collars or white shirts, and I wore my red fireman’s shirt.
None of the party knew much of the
plans of the leaders in Ireland. We had heard of a fleet of armed vessels from America which was to land troops on the Irish coast, but we knew nothing definitely. We had all been cautioned relative to the strict search and the liability of arrest when we
landed, and we each had made up our little stories to baffle the inquisitiveness of the soldiers and police. As for myself, I resolved to tell the strict truth about myself in all particulars, except to disclose my errand.
We landed at the Cove of Cork,
a few days before Christmas, 1866. The moment we put our foot on the sacred soil we found ourselves in the custody of the police. The square toed American boots gave us all away the first pop. Each of us was subjected to a long, persistent and skillful examination.
I told truthfully my name, trade and antecedents; that I was going to Killallon to see my relatives; and that I afterwards would go to Cornwall to inspect the tin mines and tinplate manufacture which would benefit me in my trade as a tinsmith when
I returned to America. Then came a rigid and subtle cross examination, in which every effort was made to trip me up and if I had not taken any other plan that I did I would certainly have been caught. One of my companions, named Dan Reagan, told a little romance,
but he was soon tangled up. He was stripped to the skin, the linings of his clothes cut open and even the heels of his boots taken off, but no incriminating documents were found, for the reason that we had none. My instruction and the message I bore to the
centers in Cork, Dublin and elsewhere, were all verbal.
I took a short walk around the streets of Cork, and listened with delight to the sweet sounds of the famous peal in the cathedral town “The Shandon bells” immortalized by Fr. Prout.
Then I proceeded to the store of the Cork center. He was not in, and I left a verbal message that he would know the meaning of, to call for me at the Queens’ hotel. I was eating supper at a table which commanded a view of the door when he came in. He
made a sign; I responded; and then he drew a chair up to my table and sat down. We then went through the secret formula of questions and answers, which identified us both as fenians, after which I made my report. My own assignment, as I said before, was
The fenian center of Cork, was a large fine looking man, with dark hair and eyes, and a handsome, manly face. He was a large dealer in butter and cheese, and a leading member of the butter exchange. I learned from him that there
were hundreds of Irish Americans hidden in the homes of sympathizers in the city and waiting for action on New Years day.
I learned that all the Irish Americans in the city had been cautioned to keep hidden at their quarters, as the suspicion
of the authorities was aroused and they were tracked very close. The whole population of Cork, he said, wasfenian, with the exception of the government connection. Even the Irish soldiers in the English and Scotch regiments stationed in Ireland were loyal
to the cause and would join in the rising.
I was quartered in the house of a widow who kept a small store, and my room was in the center of the house and was lighted by a shaft in the roof. In this room I received the visits of friends of the cause,
including the center. When I told them I was from Detroit, I found I was occupying the same room in which Wm. Mackay Lomasney had been hidden some time before, whose utter disappearance afterward had been a painful mystery to his family and friends.
I found that Lomasney, who was then in prison, was idolized in Cork.
I stayed in this room about 48 hours and then proceeded to Dublin, on my way to Killallon. On the train I was examined by two policemen. I told the same story. When I arrived
in Dublin I went to a public house, which had been designated, and had a messenger bring the center to me. I delivered to him information sent from New York which I had memorized. Mrs. Rossa was not there, so I could not deliver the message sent
from Captain McCafferty. Several years afterward when she came to Detroit and lectured, I had the melancholy pleasure of giving it to her. I also delivered other messages from New York to members of the fenian party.
In Dublin my quarters
were with a widow whose husband had been a barber, and who still continued her dead husband’s business by employing journeymen barbers. I stayed there about 2 days, during which I was cautioned against being thrown off my guard by detectives. She had
no suspicion of my errand.
My next experience was a curious one. I was strolling down O’Connell Street when I heard a voice behind me. –
don’t turn round.”
I held down my head so that no one could see my lips move, and answered:
“What is the matter?”
must leave the city at once.”
if you stay you will be locked up tonight.”
matter. Do as you’re bid. I’m your friend.”
“How about my baggage. I must get my traps.”
mind your traps. They will be there before you.”
“Where will they be?”
find them there as you go into the Broadstone station.”
“Why will they be at the Broadstone station?”
you must go that way to get to Kells.”
All this conversation was carried on without my seeing the man. I noticed he had an Irish accent, but that did not reassure me, because the great body of the police and detectives in Ireland and natives.
I reasoned to myself. This man behind me must be a friend and sent by friends. What shall I do?
At a corner I stopped and looked around, but took in my man with the corner of my eye. Wonderful! He wore the fatigue uniform of a British soldier! I said
noting, but slowly and unconcernedly crossed the street and walked to the Broadstone station without looking behind.
When I walked through the gate I noticed another soldier sitting on a bench with a small bundle wrapped in a red bandana handkerchief.
I recognized it as my luggage. The soldier looked at me and drew his little finger across his forehead. It was the fenian sign! As I sauntered up to him, looking another way, he rose from the bench and walked off. I dropped into the same seat beside
The stories of Irish defection in the British army flushed across my mind, and I saw they were absolutely true. The fenian leaders had realized the great importance of converting them to the cause, and John Devoy and John
Boyle O’Reilly had conceived and carried out a daring plan. They had both enlisted in the British Army as privates, and the disaffection which they had impregnated their comrades had spread to almost every Irish soldier in the service. They were both
detected, convicted and imprisoned, the former being sent to Van Dieman’s land. He escaped to America and was afterward editor of the Boston Pilot. Devey also escaped and is now on the Chicago Press. Boyle’s escape was one of
the many thrilling episodes of Irish history, which if they could be published would make a unique and sensational volume. From their very nature, however, they must remain secret, till that time when Ireland shall again be an independent nation.
the train was made up I purchased a ticket and went on board, but it was not long before I found that I had taken the wrong train. I changed cars at two junctions and at each was attested and examined by the red coasts. At the second one, while I was being
interrogated by a police sergeant, I noticed that the glanced significantly at some one behind me. Lifting my hand suddenly, as if to scratch my head, I accidentally on purpose knocked off my soft hat. This gave me an opportunity to turn suddenly
and recover it, and I then saw a peeler in the rear, with a manuscript in his hand, with which he was comparing my answers to the sergeant. I saw in a flash that the account I had given of myself at the Cove of Cork had kept me company, though changing hands.
But I was an innocent abroad’ by this time, and I had schooled myself so that an earthquake would not surprise me. So I straightened up in a second, replaced my hat on my head, and answered the questions put to me. I did not vary an iota from my first
statement, and submitted my person to search with a good grace and an occasional joke.
That night I entered the town of Oldcastle in Meath County, some 10 miles from Kells. I had no designated quarters there so I put up in a humble hostelry
where the sign read “accommodation for man and beast”.
Next morning, in my role as an American, which seemed to make every person not a policeman, polite almost to garrulity, I inquired my way to Killalon. I found an old gentleman who
had been a schoolmate of my father and obtained a description of the way to my rendezvous.
The walking was good and the buttermilk was better. Of the latter I got refreshing draughts at every farm house I entered to inquire the way. Every native I met
spotted me for an American. I asked on how he knew it. “Ah, me lad, I can tell an American as far as I can see him by the swing of the shoulders, and then I noticed that ye didn’t take off yer hat when ye met a landlord or a half-gentleman.
And then, look at the wide toes of your boots; that’s Yankee always”.
I passed several villages and clusters of huts, from which so cheerful smoke came from the chimney and no children gamboled before the doors, and I thought of Goldsmith’s
deserted village and the bold peasantry, a nation’s pride who had been forced to leave their native land by England’s misrule and oppression. Then I came to a snug farmhouse and there I beheld a scene which will always live in my memory as a bright
picture of rural life in Ireland. A girl was out doors engaged in churning. She was about 16, with dark hair and eyes, as lovely as the day – a typical Irish beauty. She was a true patriot too, for I saw that her short red petticoat was covered by a
green overskirt, which symbolized the green above the red. Sitting in a chair near by was her aged grandfather, leisurely smoking his pipe. I talked with the old gentleman about American. He had relatives over there. Like every old person in Ireland
he had no conception of the vastness of the United States, and he asked me if I knew his cousin in Omaha. I was sorry to say I did not. His beautiful grand daughter tripped into the house for a noggin, which she filled and presented to me. I drank
it with rapture, returned my thanks and resumed my way.
The melodious cry of hounds and the rush of steeds across the fields betokened a fox hunt. I stopped and became interested in the scene. A man on foot passed near me who was evidently taking short
cuts and thus getting ahead of both the horses and hounds. I stopped him with a “hello”. My hail sounded queer to his ears, and my costume, which was that of a typical “Mose, the fireman” including a red shirt and black necktie, transfixed
him with wonder.
“What is it?” said he.
looking for the Gleasons.”
“Ye are? The Gleasons? ???? an ye’ll not have to go far.”
The hait is
the Irish contraction of ‘faith and I will’.
“Will you show me the way?”
take you there”.
“Bully for you”.
expression, like ‘hello’, surprised him once more and he asked, “What’s that again?”
He was and interesting person to me in his native character, while I was an oddity to him in my foreign garb as ‘one of
As we walked along, our conversation developed the fact that he was a McGinnis and that we were cousins. We entered the home of my relatives, where I was welcomed with open arms and at the same time with suspicion. They were well-to-do
and lived in a stone house with a slate roof, which is generally styled by Irish peasants a “slate house”, and is a synonym for a dwelling place of families in comfortable circumstances. Like many people of that kind, they had no sympathy for fenianism or
national aspirations, and were totally opposed to all kinds of “disorder”.
I immediately place myself in communication with the “boys” in the neighborhood, and in 24 hours had a list of every good house and well stocked barn
and oatmeal bin for 20 miles around. This information was for the use of Capt. McCafferty, who was expected in the country, and who, in the event of a rising was to take charge of the cavalry in that section.
Meanwhile I was staying at the house
of my cousin, and was made much of with true Irish hospitality. In such small places the taking of Dublin Castle which was confidently expected was to be the signal for a general rising all over the country. I went to a wake on New Years eve, which
was attended by the prominent fenians in that section, where there was a general agreement that we would have to “wait a while”.
The sun rose on New Years mooring and went down in the evening, and no word came from Dublin.
It was a clear case of indefinite postponement, and it made my heartsick. I stayed at my cousin’s house for 2 weeks to give color to my stories and also to form plans to get of the country. Like Micawber, I was impecunious, and I waited for something
to turn up. My friends were satisfied that I would be arrested. There was small-pox too, in the prisons, and I would probably be infected with that loathsome disease if I was put behind the bars. I was in a hole. One morning a friend named Richard Brody, now
living in Jackson, Michigan, arrived at the house breathless and perspiring.
“The peelers is after you Tom” he gasped. “I heard of it beyond, and I took short cuts. Get out of here, my boy”.
There was no time
to dally. I borrowed 10 shillings and snatching up my red bundle ran over the hills piloted by Brody. A mile away I saw a body of mounted policemen leave the high road and turn into the lane that led to the house that I had just left. We walked briskly into Kells and
there despite the danger resolved to see some of the romantic places of the Green Isle. I visited the ruins of Tara’s ?????, the place of the Irish Kings. Then I went to Drogheda and viewed the scenes of the battle of the Boyne. I found a friendly fenian who
accommodated me with lodging, but in the daytime I had to be hidden. So I secreted myself in St.Magdalen’s tower which was destroyed by Cromwell, scaling the wall and hiding in an upper chamber. For 2 days I made myself invisible to passers-by
in a deserted church yard. If I had been suspected of being an American I would certainly have been arrested but Drogheda was not a very disaffected town, being in the north and there was not so much excitement as in the southern districts.
My aim was
to sail in a steam packet from Drogheda to Liverpool, but my money was short and to pay my way I sold my chenchilla overcoat for 10 shillings and took a deck passage by night. Oh. the piercing cold of that awful night. The wind blew a hurricane,
there was a tremendous storm of snow and sleet, and dozens of vessels were blown ashore and wrecked on the iron bound coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. I was the only deck passenger. In a short time I was chilled to the bone, and I begged the firemen for
permission to go down into the furnace room. One said I could go down for 5 shillings and another for 18 pence would procure me the privilege. I pleaded poverty, but they were obdurate. I had on 12 English shillings to take me to America and I resolved to
tough it out. As a last resort I laid down among the sheep that were carried on the deck and the warmth of their bodies prevented me from the freezing to death. In my gratitude to the poor beasts I almost imagined that they stood close around me as I lay on
the deck to guard me from the wintry blast. To this day I never see a sheep that I do not feel my heart warm toward him.
But day broke at last and the steamer reached its dock on the Mersey. I shouldered my way through the runners on the wharf and one
of them took me to an emigrant house where I paid one shilling a day for my lodgings. He saw I was an American, and he wanted to make a commission by my purchase of a ticket across the Atlantic. I slept at the house but could not afford to eat there, so I
went to the docks for cheaper food. There was a pile of bags of wheat labeled “Minnesota” near by, and a penknife enabled me to assuage the pains of hunger. Raw wheat is a great deal better than nothing.
Wandering round the massive
docks, which will apparently last for 1,000 years and viewing the forest of masts from every quarter of the globe, the leviathan steamships, and the enormous warehouses which showed the colossal wealth of England’s greatest seaport, I thought of my errand,
and realized the utter hopelessness of the project which I and many others had attempted under the circumstances. I was nearing my last shilling, and I began to look for the means of transportation. A short survey of the industrial field showed me that I could
not get any work. Trade was very dull and thousands were out of work. I went to the American consul confident of receiving at least a little courtesy and information, but I could not even get an interview. A truculent clerk with a strong English accent said
the consul could not see me. I demanded to see him and said I was an American citizen; that I wanted to know if there was an American ship in Liverpool on which I could work my way to the United States. But the clerk would tell me nothing.
I left the
office and went round the docks. There was not an American flag in the port. This was caused by the confederate cruisers which has swept American ships off the high seas. Realizing that I could neither swim nor fly back across the ocean, I resolved to look
for the chances of stealing my way back in a Sassenach steamer. But at the gateway of every dock I was refused admission. – Then I got desperate.
I had just 4 pence left, which was a penny for every 1,000 miles between Liverpool and Detroit. So
I went to the lodging house, took the underclothing out of my red bandana, put them on my person and set out for Detroit. As I walked down to the river I heard a voice on the other side of the street.
Johnny; how’s your dog?”
This was a slang phrase prevalent in the States, and I gave the stereotyped answer:
name ain’t Johnny, and I ain’t got no dog.”
With the free masonry of a common nationality and hard luck, the speaker came across the street to talk to me. He was a New York pressman, named James Foster,
who had been roving around England studying the natives and institutions in the intervals of jolly sprees, in other words “carrying the banner”. He was a typical Bowery boy, reckless, harum-scarum, humorous and full of gall. He told me he was going
home on the steamer Denmark, and treated me to a pot of porter. I told him my circumstances, and he showed me where the steamer lay, and promised to help me if I could stow away in her, though he said he didn’t see how it could be done. I didn’t
either but I resolved to try it.
I invested my last 4 pence as follows; 2 pence worth of blood pudding, 1 penny’s worth of bread, and 1 penny for the glass bottle. I filled the bottle with water and stowed it all away between my undershirt and
my outer red shirt. I went to the wheat pile took a hearty meal of Minnesota grain and also filled my pockets with that cereal. Then I beat my way to the dock where I met an expected impediment, “you can’t get in here” said the watchman.
“I want to go to America and I want to see what kind of a boat the Denmark is. The boat I came over here on was a mean one. Had poor accommodations. I ain’t going to pay passage till I see what kind of a boat I am going on”.
This seemed quite reasonable and the watchman referred the matter to a supervisor who was near by. The latter asked me a few questions and owing to the fact that competition for passengers was brisk and business scarce he said I might go and look at
the boat. He assigned me a man for a guide. The latter accompanied me to the boat but did not seem to like the job. I said to him that I could see what I wanted without his aid. He said he had lots of work to do and left me.
This was a piece of good
luck and I felt correspondingly elated. The boat was coaling up and about 20 Irish coal heavers were loading the black diamonds through a hold in her side. As there were few steerage passengers, the after portion of the steerage was being
converted into a coal bunker, the object being to load on enough of the cheap English coal for the return trip. I ventured a few remarks to the coal heavers and I noticed that the sized me up immediately. Two or three came to me and said quietly “I’ll stow you
away for a pound” the one or two said the would do it for 10 shillings, and the competition wen on till the price fell to 5 shillings.
“I don’t want to stow away” said I, with an air if indifference.
My declaration went for naught, and I was informed that I couldn’t stowaway unless I paid for it. I remembered the brutal inhumanity of the firemen on the packet steamer and my heart fell. Then an idea struck me. I made the fenian sign.
The change was as wonderful as the scene in the pantomime, when the dark and gloomy cavern of the Black Wizard gives place to the rosy ???? of the Fairy Queen. A big 6 foot Hibernian, with an elegant south of Ireland brogue, slapped me on
the back and said “No ????, me boy. Ye’ll have the best in the boat.” The others were no less demonstrative in their proffers of assistance and were beginning to question me as to my antecedents when 10 o’clock struck. This
was the hour for lunch, and the gang immediately threw down their shovels and went off the boat to get something to eat.
“Stay where ye are, me boy” said 2 or 3 of the gang, and one added, “It’s something good we’ll bring
you to keep the hunger and dry weather out”.
Left alone I commenced taking bearings. I had every confidence in my new friends, but I feared some unfortunate mishap. The ceiling of the steerage was traversed by iron beams about 2 feet apart, and
the coal was being thrown up till it reached the bottom of the beams. I climbed to the top of the incline and removing the coal at the top, burrowed through and closed the hole I made after me. I continued burrowing and filling in after me, and
had advanced some 30 feet when the gang returned after their 20 minute lunch.
“Where are ye” cried on. “Come back here. We’ve got ald and drinkin for ye, and a shilling or two.” This bailing was
kept up for a minute or two, and then I heard one say; “The poor soul. The bobbies have got him – bad luck to them, or maybe he’s in the coal.” I heard all this, but I thought best to remain perfectly quite and run no chances.
The coaling went on till some time in the night, when it ceased. By that time I had burrowed till I reached the boiler room bulk head. This job took me about 10 hours.
Next morning I heard sounds of departure and the throb of the engines,
and the boat swung out into the Mersey, and proceeded on here way down the Irish channel. I made as smooth a bed as I could on the coal, and ate a little, and lay down. It was a long weary wait. The darkness was impenetrable, the heat was stifling,
and I was wet through with perspiration. I placed my bottle on a large chunk of coal, after taking one swallow I fell into a troubled sleep, waking up every few minutes. After one of these naps I felt thirsty, and cautiously felt for the bottle. I found the
big lump of coal, but the bottle was gone. It startled me into excitement at once but I stopped and reflected. It couldn’t have gone far. I searched each side of the lump, then the sides, then some distance beyond. It was lost. I became stunned, but
with a great effort of self control I calmed myself and resumed the search. After several hours of persevering efforts to find it, I failed as it has worked down between the lumps of coal.
I sat down and thought of the terrible tortures of thirsty men
that I had read about, and finally came to the resolution that I would not get thirsty. I resolutely put away every thought of water that came up in my mind, and, strange to say, I succeeded.
The boat stopped. I heard the concussion of the tender that
brought aboard the mail and passengers, and I rejoiced that soon the boat would reach the ocean, and I could gain the light and air. Again the throb of the engines, and the boat left the Cove of Cork. Then after allowing time for the pilot to regain his boat,
I began to work my way to freedom.
Several times in my solitude I realized my position if the boat should sink or burn. Oh the horror of that thought! I would be drowned like a rat. As I worked my way back this thought drove all notion of thirst out
of my head, and my mental tortures were indescribable. Finally, 3 days after I had entered the boat I worked my way to the end of the coal pile. I saw then that I was on the top of a coal incline, some 8 feet in height. At the foot of the incline the coal
was confined by a temporary bulkhead, made of boards two by six inches, laid the broad way, four inches apart, and extending from the deck to the ceiling.
On the other side of the bulkhead were the quarters and bunks of the married steerage passengers.
At the foot of the incline I noticed a basket filled with some articles wrapped in paper. I scrambled down as quietly as I could, and found the parcels to contain several small loaves of bread, some fried bacon, a jar of potted ham, and some pickles. There
were 4 broken bottles, evidently caused by the falling of lumps of coal down the incline. I smelled them and found that 3 had contained porter and one whisky. It was the parting gift of my coal heaver friends.
I thought with gratitude of the kindness
of my fenian friends, but the next instant I was suddenly attacked with a maddening, uncontrollable thirst. Nature had broken down my will and determination and demanded her rights.
Two feet on the other side of the bulkhead I noticed a man
and his wife. The wife was sick in her bunk and the man was attending to her. In the bunk over head was a young woman also sick, who I afterwards discovered was their daughter. Not wishing to be discovered as a stowaway, which would be the signal for abuse
and bad treatment, I studied how I could gain this man’s friendship. I quietly crawled to the bulkhead, but dislodged some chunks of coal. The man and wife were frightened by the noise. I whispered between two of the uprights: “For God’s
sake, keep quiet, and give me a drink. I’m dying of thirst.” The man was startled, but approaching me cautiously and curiously said “In the name of God, who are you, and what are you?” His accent told me that he was an Irishman, and
I felt relieved at once. I answered “I’m an Irish stowaway. In the name of God, give me a drink.”
The woman was scared, but she recovered from her surprise first. “Oh the poor fellow” she said “Give him the cold tay”.
The husband lifted the pot from the deck, and held the spout between the planks. That was the sweetest draught I ever drank. The pot held about a pink and a half of tea, and I drank it dry. He then offered me something to eat, but I said I had plenty. I did
not feel hungry at all.
The next problem was to reach the other side of the bulkhead and get into the men’s steerage without being detected. My friend, his name was O’Brien, could not help me to do this, and I concluded to do it myself.
So I took out the knife that Charley ????, a Detroit fireman had given me as a present when I left. He said at the time that it might help me to cut my way out of some place. One of the blades was long and sharp, and I commenced cutting one of the planks
about 4 inches from the deck. I cut upwards, at an angle of 45 degrees, so that when I had cut through the ends looked like a rough miter. I had to work quietly so as not to attract the attention of the other passengers. When I had cut the board in two I had
to wait for a good opportunity, which did not occur till about two o’clock in the morning. Everything being quite, I pulled the board inward, and after fixing a big heap of coal in such a way as to press against the board, I stepped out of my coal prison.
The lump of coal closed the board up tight, so that the cut could not be discovered except by close examination. I stole noiselessly through the steerage between the sleeping passengers in the bunks, and cautiously ascended the companion way to the upper deck.
At the head of the staircase a bright lamp was suspended. Just as I reached the top, I heard footsteps on the deck. To attempt to go back and hide was useless, so I faced the music. It was one of the firemen who had just come off watch.
what the divil are ye?” he asked with a stare of surprise at my hidious black face. “A passenger! of course” said I “Why do you ask?” “A passenger! And what the divil blackened ye?”
“Am I black?” said I, counterfeiting surprise as well as I was able. “You’re blacker than 2 nagures” said he “And where did you pick it up”. Recognizing that I must be as black as Erebus from the color of my hands,
which I now saw for the first time in three days, and also wishing to secure a friend, I answered: “I have been below, passing coal, and I neglected to was myself.” “If you’re so fond of work as that” said
he “ye had better give me a hand on my next watch.” “I’ll do that” said I “if you’ll get me some water and a tower.”
My offer made him willing to help me. He got me a basin of water, some soap and a towel,
and I gave myself what I considered a good wash.
Making my way down to the men’s steerage, I passed the sleepers quietly and found a vacant bunk. My next move was to make a collection of tin pans and utensils. I robbed the steerage passengers
around me without compunction, as I realized that if I was found unprovided with these necessary articles the steward would spot me at once as a stowaway. Then I crawled into a top bunk with my tin pans, and stretching out on the bare boards, began
to feel that I had got through the worst of my trouble. Another feeling of relief was that if the boat went down I would not drown like a rat.
When the commotion of the morning commenced I decedent from my bunk hoping to see my friend Foster, the New
York pressman. I immediately noticed that I became a center of interest. Everybody started at me, and getting rather nervous I crawled back into my bunk. “I am detected as a stowaway” I said to myself; “Now I’ll get abuse and hardship
and the rope’s end”.
I caught sight of Foster, and hailed him. He came around and immediately burst into laughter. I found that my morning ablutions were an utter failure. The heat and perspiration during my confinement had grown the coal
dust into my pores, and the was had not removed it. I was still as black as your hat. Foster brought me a basin and bucket, both filled with warm water, a cake of soap and a towel. I stripped to my waist and took the wash of my life. Then I
borrowed a looking glass and saw that I was again a Caucasian.
Breakfast was announced and the steerage steward appeared with a basket of small loaves of bread. I reached down from my bunk and took one. In a short time he returned, asking each passenger
in turn if he had received two loaves. When he asked me I said “Two loaves? No sir. I would like two though. I could eat them easy.” No one acknowledged to receiving two loaves, and the steward finally charged it up to a miscount.
there was another deficiency of one loaf. This satisfied the steward that there was a stowaway in the steerage. In this emergency Foster helped me. When he came aboard he had a few shillings to spare and he had tipped the steward. This secured him better food
and also a bunk in the steward’s room. There he learned that the officers of the boat intended to make a search, and he told me of this. Meanwhile I had made friends with the fireman, whom I had promised to help with his work, and through him had formed
an acquaintance with several other firemen. I descended to the fire hole and shoveled coal into the furnace till notified by Foster that the search had ended.
I went back to my bunk, and next morning the steward was short one loaf again. Then he was
mad. I learned immediately from Foster that the officers were about to examine the tickets of the steerage passengers and check them off by the purser’s list. Again I descended into the fire-hole. My previous experience as a locomotive fireman in the
States now came in good stead, and the firemen took kindly to any one who would lighter their exhausting labor. Suddenly a voice called down into the bowels of the ship: “Is there anybody there except firemen?” “No!” was the
immediate answer. In anticipation of a visit from the owner of the voice I was temporarily passed into the coal hole and worked with the coalpassers. You bet I was solid down there.
The search over, I washed up and returned on deck. Next morning
the steward, with his assistant, carefully counted the loaves and passed them to each passenger in his bunk. Again the exasperating deficiency. In a short time my friend informed me that there had been a grand consultation in the cabin and it had
been decided to wait till the boat reached New York. The stowaway would certainly fail to show his ticket as he approached the gangway and he would be turned over to the police. The penalty in such cases would be the usual sentence of 60 to 90 days in Blackwell’s
The rigid searches made for me had unearthed 5 stowaways, all young Englishmen. None of these had hidden in the coal, but had secreted themselves in theforecastle, in the freight hold. They were nearly starved and were most pitiable
objects. From that time until the end of the trip, they were holy stoning the decks, emptying the buckets of the sick, cleaning the closets, and were kept at hard work almost continuously. If they stopped in utter weakness for a moment, a rope’s end
brought them back to work in a hurry. The officers of the boat were Englishmen and Scotchmen, the deck hands were nearly all Englishmen, and the firemen were all Irishmen. The deck hands mistreated their country-men, the stowaways, in a brutal manner, and
it made my blood boil sometimes, but I dared not interfere.
Meanwhile Foster had initiated me into the mysteries of euchre, and we played so well together that we could beat any other two in the steerage. We played with the steerage passengers, sailors
and petty officers, ???? thestakes were always bottles of porter. Foster had only a capital of one shilling when we commenced, but we won so often that we always had a reserve of one or two dozen bottles to our credit at the bar. We paid our losses in
porter, of course, and always had enough to drink. A judicious distribution of the porter in treats to the baker and the steward of the officer’s mess procured us many favors, and for the last eight days we lived on the best. This reserve fund of porter
also enabled us to invest in bread, meat, pickles, etc., so that we supplied the poor stowaways with all they could eat and drink.
The trip lasted 16 days. The experience of the first 3 days had deranged my physical condition. The strain of mind and
body made me sick, but I ate three meals every day like a horse. I was beginning to break down. The weather was very bad, and that increased my trouble.
The great problem now was to get ashore without being caught. I could not command success by any
foresight or plans, but I resolved to deserve it by improving any favorable opportunity. There was a great deal of ice in the harbor when we reached New York, and there was considerable difficulty in landing the boat. As usual, she was run stern first into
the slip. As she slowly swung round, she came close to a brig that was lying at the next main deck close to the rail. The surgeon of the steamer stood close by. I sprang on the rail, measured the distance – it was about 10 feet – and made a flying
leap into the rigging of the brig. I caught a good hold on the rat lines, and rapidly descended to the deck, on which stood the mate and half a dozen sailors, watching the steamer being warped in. “Hold that man there!” shouted the surgeon. They
looked up at him, but didn’t stir. “Hold him, I tell you” he shouted excitedly. “If you don’t, this ship will be fined for allowing a passenger ashore without being reported to the government officer.”
I had reached
the deck, and the soldiers gathered round. The mate took hold of me. “I was a stowaway on that steamer and I’m an American” said I. “It’s none of your d-d business anyhow. You’ve got to let me go if you haven’t any
authority to arrest me.”
Meanwhile there was a great excitement on board the steamer. The passengers thought there was a man overboard or a thief arrested, they didn’t know which, but the officers joined in the chorus “Hold that man!”
My friend Foster laughed loud and long from the deck of the steamer, and he shouted to the men on the brig: “That man is a stowaway!” That settled it. The men released their hold and I stepped down the gangway on the wharf – in God’s
country at last. The sailors followed me to learn the trouble. A policeman, directed by the surgeon, started round from the steamship wharf to capture me. But I heard his directions and I cautioned the sailors. When the cop came round they had entered into
the fun of the thing. They directed him to go on board of the brig and find me. He did so and I started for Park Row to find my brother, who worked in a printing office and to get money to take me back to Detroit.
Well, it’s past and gone, but
since that time when even I heard of a friend going across the Atlantic I have always made it a point to ask him to help any stowaway who might be discovered when on board.
Thomas Patrick Tuite was born in the United States in 1849 and died
on 21/Jan/1933. He had a grandson, Charles Tuite, who had two daughters Margaret and Dorothea and granddaughter Penny.