Herbert Matthews Steamship Letter

Letter from Herbert Matthews from Antwerp Belgium, September 20, 1913

Herbert wrote the following letter to his family:

To read, letter take sheet apart and read a whole sheet a time, follow number.

To my dear uncles, aunts, and cousins,

I drop you a few lines to let you know I am well and happy and still thinking of you and of those happy days I spent with a few years ago. I hope I will be able to visit you again before long. How are you and aunt Lena, aunt Alice and the children getting along these fine summer days. I hope you're all well and happy. 

I suppose you wonder how I got here so I will endeavor to tell you well the way it is. I left New York City May 30, 1913 on the SS Gordon Castle bound for South and East Africa, and India, and England via the Suez Canal. The next port will be London England. We will arrive in London the 30th September so that will be just 4 months to the day that I have been tossed about on the high seas. And believe me these are high seas I speak of. On the way going to India from Africa we met a hurricane on the Indian Ocean which swept everything off the decks, broke the doors of our rooms and and also washed them out. The waves dashed high over the bridge decks and this storm lasted for 5 days. I stood for 40 min. in the galley one day before I dare venture to cross the deck to the cabin so you can imagine how glad I will (be) next week when we will be paid off in London. But I am going to work for the company in London for about 8 weeks while our ship is in dry dock and then I shall return to New York on her. So I shall give you an address so you can write to me and I will surely receive all letters which you may send me. I shall also drop a line or two to uncle George and Aunt Helen and children. 

I suppose you are just harvesting your crop now are you not. I wish I was there to help you as I would rather harvest any day than take another servants job. My position on the ship is 2nd steward. I suppose you know what a steward is on a ship. He is a waiter and servant to Captain and officers. Now the 1st thing is we serve 3 meals a day in the saloon and there are 5 to eat in the saloon: Captain, chief officer, 2nd officer, 3rd officer, and chief engineer. Now I must wait on them 3 times a day. I must be up at 5:00 AM sharp every morning scrub out the saloon which is larger than your kitchen then I dusted every morning and rub all the brass every morning finished in the saloon at 7:00 AM. I go there to the chief officers room where I work till 8:00 AM. Make his bed, brushes carpet, change wash water, rub his brass up, spot down the white work, and so on and so etc. then from 8:00 to 8:15 every day I have to warm baths to fix up one for Captain and the other for chief officer. 8:15 AM to 8:30 AM set table, make breakfast ready, also clean myself up. Everything must be okay at 8:30 AM to ring the breakfast bell sharp. Breakfast over at 9:30 AM must help wash dishes, finished at 9:45 AM. Then go to Captain's room. Clean it out spotless, finished at 11:15 AM. Then go to 2nd officers room, clean it out finished at 12:00 PM. Then go to bathroom, clean out, rub brass, scrub floor, finished at 12:30 PM. The make table ready for 1:00 PM dinner sharp. Finished dinner 2:30 PM. Help wash dishes, clean silver, finished at 3:00 PM. Rest till 3:30 PM. Make tea for all with toast finished at 4:30 PM. Serve it to them while they are in bed. Chief officer has his tea 3:45 PM. Capt. has his at 4 clock p.m. 2nd officer at 4:30 PM. Pantry boy looks after the 3rd officer, finished at 4:30 PM till 5:00 PM. There make table, ready for 5:30 PM supper sharp 5:30 PM. Then finished with supper at 6:30 PM. The make sandwiches, cocoa, coffee, tea for midnight lunches, finished at 8:00 PM. Done for the day, go to bed and be sure to be up at 5:00 AM sharp in the morning for the same routine again. 

When ship is in port it is still worse as I must feed steadores and foremen who are working by the ship every time ship takes coal everything get black then all white work in saloon and rooms has to be washed down. We have already taken coal in about 5 ports so you know how much white work I have washed. 

In Africa native blacks carry coal aboard in little baskets on the heads and dump them in the bunkers on deck. It is wonderful to see them run up the narrow springy plank which they use and they must sing while they work. If singing ceases work ceases. There is usually a dozen or so natives with strong voices employed to jump about the coal barges singing in order to keep those working in the same humor. In India they call the ships the same only with coolie labor and they also sing while they work. In Port Said Egypt and Algiers Algeria coaling is done the same way only women are used in these places instead of men. The same here in Antwerp. The most of them working on our ship unloading is done by women. They handle bags of grain which way as high as 240 pounds each. Men and women work right along together. Women draw same pay as men. So Alice this is for you: Don't ever think of coming to the continent unless you are amply supplied with cash to keep you and also to purchase your steamship passage home again. 

Well I think I have written a long letter now of my experiences, and I hope when you read the part telling what I do you will surely feel sorry for me won't you. But it is a fact I do all of that and more too. Never again will I bite on a servant's job. Well I will close now with love to all from Herbert L Matthews.

Address over.

If you write to this address I will surely receive your letter.

Herbert L Matthews
In/c Union Castle Mail
Steamship Co. Ltd
London England

Good night

Here's the actual letter:
Matthews Herbert - 1913-09-20 - Steamship Ltr