Nineteen-year-old Willie Diggin boarded the RMS Baltic at Queenstown on May 2, 1913.
The port near Cork city in southern Ireland was the main disembarkation point for the country’s emigrants since famine times in the middle of the 19th century. The Cork Examiner reported:
Having presented their tickets at the agent’s office, and their luggage safely stowed away, they have now to wile away the anxious interval till the arrival of the steamer. The time is usually spent in strolling about the streets of the town. True also to the national attachment to religion, our emigrants seldom fail to enter the church which they meet on their ramble, and offer there a rude but earnest prayer for those whom they leave behind, while they invoke a blessing on their journey.
Late 19th century image shows emigrants taking ferry boats to ships in the Queenstown harbor. National Library of Ireland
Willie was joined on his journey by 29-year-old John Stack. Both men hailed from Lahardane townland near Ballybunion in north Kerry, and each of them had family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It is unclear exactly when the men arrived in Queenstown, but the last week of April and first days of May 1913 were “unsettled, cold and rainy,” according to an annual report.
The Baltic was part of the White Star Line, which lost the Titanic at sea the previous spring. The sunken liner made its last port-of-call at Queenstown, and it surely was impossible for Willie and the other emigrants to avoid talk of the disaster so close to the first anniversary.
By 1913, conditions for crossing the Atlantic were greatly improved from the mid-19th century “coffin ships” that carried famine refugees in their dark, crowded holds. A third-class passenger like Willie slept in four- or six-berth staterooms, with access to a reading room, a smoking room and a dining room served by stewards.
Even so, the lower decks hardly compared to the “spacious, airy and exceptionally comfortable” first-class accommodations described in a 1907 White Star brochure.
Willie and John were among 468 passengers to embark at Queenstown in May 1913, joining 1,480 who boarded the ship earlier in Liverpool for the short trip across the Irish Sea. The total of just under 2,000 passengers left about a third of the Baltic unoccupied for its fifth transatlantic crossing of the year.
The manifest shows Willie stepped aboard with $50, or about $1,100 in today’s money. He stood 5-feet, 7-inches tall, with blue eyes and black hair. He answered “no” when the shipping agent asked whether he was an anarchist or a polygamist.
Tomorrow: HIS KERRY ROOTS