The Ships “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 1

Within days of one another arrived the Otilla and the Blanche from Liverpool. Both ships arrived in New Orleans in late March, 1851. Both ships carried Irish immigrants. Some 40 passengers on the Otilla suffered from “ship fever,” probably typhus and had to enter Charity Hospital. The Otilla buried at sea two adults and three children. Upon arriving in New Orleans, there were one dead child and two or three adults aboard.[1]

The Blanche was even worse. Upon arrival, 126 passengers were taken to Charity Hospital, said Prendergast in his initial report. Just a day later, the New Orleans Daily True Delta, also edited by an Irishman, John Maginnis, reported that the Blanche arrived not with 497 persons, but with more than 525. Maginnis was angry that the ship’s captain, Capt. Duckitt, did not sign the list showing 497. His crew said Duckitt was too ill from ship fever to sign the list.[2]

Charity Hospital

Upon arrival of the Blanche, the Daily True Delta reported that the Otillia sent 63 passengers to Charity Hospital with ship fever, while the Blanche sent 134 to the hospital for the poor. Charity Hospital served everyone, but mostly it served the Irish. Maginnis blamed the British government. He flat accused the British landlords and government of murder. Maginnis insisted the captain and owners of the Blanche and Otilla violated U.S. law because they did not properly care for their passengers. Maginnis allowed that many English were fine and decent. But, some Englishmen must be punished. He commended Rev. Charles W. Whiteall, Pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal church on Esplanade in New Orleans for coming immediately to the aid of these devastated Catholic passengers.[3]

But, a day later, Maginnis was furious that Capt. Dukitt did not sign the final passenger list showing 497 persons arrived in New Orleans. He was angry because Nicholas Sinnot, the New Orleans Collector for the passenger tax, acquired the Liverpool broker’s list, which was the Captain’s private list of passengers. That second list showed over 525 passengers when the ship embarked from Liverpool. Maginnis was also angry because the Captain, supposedly too ill to sign the 497 passenger list, was alert enough to make public his annoyance at the accusations being leveled against him. That means some 28 passengers died enroute. [4]

It was likely no accident that Nicholas Sinnot, the younger, located the Liverpool broker’s list. Mr. Sinnot was Irish himself and was the son of Nicholas Sinnot, Sr, a former rebel of 1798. The elder Sinnot was well respected among the Irish community in New Orleans.

Centuries of Irish Anger

Centuries of Irish anger boiled up in Maginnis and Prendergast in their respective newspapers on April 5 and 6. Maginnis described Capt. Duckitt as a “stolid” Englishman with all the “presumption, self-sufficiency and vulgarity of [his] class.” Maginnis meant Duckitt was pompous and arrogant. Duckitt explained apparently in some New Orleans newspaper that he lost only 25 passengers and not one Englishman. He even suggested the previous “debility and previous habits” of the 25 Irish passengers may have caused their death on the voyage. Today, we would describe Duckitt’s comments as complete bigotry. Maginnis thundered: “Only twenty-five deaths, says this Englishman, ‘certainly not an excessive mortality under the lamentable circumstances – and it ought to be remarked that not one English passenger died” (Maginnis quoting Duckitt). The next day, Prendergast supported Maginnis completely. [5]

Maginnis called for the District Attorney and the Port Collector to devote their attention to Capt. Duckitt and the Blanche. Maginnis reported that the Blanche was 1000 feet short of the measurements her papers claimed. Maginnis believed this was a fraud perpetrated by the owners of the Blanche with the help of corrupt officials in Liverpool. Being smaller than her claimed size, she should not have been carrying as many passengers.

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[2] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[3] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[4] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[5] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, April 6, 1851, p. 2, col. 2; New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

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