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

Herbert Matthews Autobiography

I left home while the family lived at Clinton, Illinois.  It was adventure in Blood at the age of 13, however my stays away from home were of short duration until Mothers Death, when I was about 17 years of age.  Family Parentage on the Fathers side was Scotch Irish and dated away back to Baltimore in 17th Century or thereabouts, at any rate Fathers relatives fought in the Revolutionary war.

My mother came to America from Stockholm Sweden when 8 weeks old and settled in Mississippi from there they journeyed northward to Sheffield Indiana where my Grandparents lived several years, later moving to northern Michigan Baldwin Michigan then later to Charlevoix where some of my mothers relatives live today.

My wanderlust activities began about the [time] Pres. Wm McKinley was President of the United States, My dad took me out of school when I was in the 7th grade and forced me to work and help support a large family, but the money earned was not used the [way] dad said it would be, he squandered it in inventions and patent attorneys fees which disgusted me, and in consequence caused me to leave home and hide out a great deal of the time. I have served sometime in various capacities in Department Stores in Chicago Ills, Seigel, Coopers,  The Boston Store, The Fair Store, Cap Factory in Chicago, Rabinger Bros, and Werner, Red Diamond Overall Factory St. Louis Mo.  Sewing Machine, Tin Shop, General Factory Work, Saw Mills, Veneer Mill, RR Round House Section Hand, Teamster, Hotel Work, Bell hop, Kitchen Help, Cook, Case And Martin Pie Factory  Chicago Ills. Worked for the Van nuy News Co Chicago Ills Traveled on Trains selling wares such as Fruit Candy, Magazines, Daily Papers, etc.  Was a Western Union Boy in Chicago.   Spent a year or so in Indpls prior to the time that my folks moved here.  Places worked at then were the Van Camp Packing Co  was a Box Nailer, and General Factory Work. Worked for a Wilmington Del Firm who installed the Stokers, Turbines, and steam fittings in the Mill St Plant of the Indpls Power & Light Co  was a steam fitters helper, was employed at Nordyke & Marmon Co as Line Shaft oiler, later employed in the tin Shop.

Entered the Postal Service on Dec 4th, 1916 at Indianapolis, Indiana.  Introduced to the employees and formally accepted for duty on that date, usually worked on the pick-up table, daubed small parcels, and assisted in sacking out Parcel Post Mail, the Parcel Post Law had only been in effect then about 4 years, all of the Indiana Parcel Post Mail in those days was worked in bins about 3 tiers high and now are outside the door leading into the Inquiry Section, they only occupied about 20 square feet, we used to clean up all the mail on the Indiana Rack by about 10:00 pm the out of town mail was very light then, I mean Parcel Post Mail, there were no Mail Handlers in those days, sacks were dumped by Clerks, there were no rest bars  neither were employees permitted to use stools or lean against tubs etc., standing up was the rule at all the cases, carriers stood for inspection on the steps in front steps of the Federal Bldg., about once each year, to see if shoes were shined, uniforms clean and neat.

Demerits were levied fast and furiously in those days for mis-handling mail, outbound schemes were thrown twice a year, nothing short of 99% on exams. and 100% on junctions, the twice rule applied to city schemes.  there were very few day runs, very little choice on vacations the hourly rate was 35 cts per hr.  40 cts if you were lucky enough to work a regular run, if a regular was late to more than 15 min he was told to take WOP and a sub was assigned at 40 ct time for that tour. Special Delivery Messengers walked or rode bikes. Mail was handled to the trains by horse drawn vehicles, on a contract basis with the Frank Bird Transfer Co. Your present Gen. Supt. of Mails and I made many trips to the Terminal Station to throw off the Mails which went by Interurban in those days. I joined up with the Feds and the Mutual Benefit Association when I received my first Pay, and have been in them ever since, I still expect to maintain my membership in both.

I resigned to join the Military in Aug 7th 1917, but Postmaster Robert E. Springsteen would not have it that way so he asked the Dept to grant me a indefinite Leave during my Military Service that was later done for all employees, on Oct. 10th 1917 he informed me that I had been promoted to Regular Clerk, I was then at Great lakes Ills  Before entering the Postal Service I had served considerable time aboard a British Tramp Steamer owned and operated by the Union Castle Steamship Co of London England, I served aboard that vessel in the capacity as the Captains Stewart, and we plyed between between New York Cape Ports and India, also European ports, such as Antwerp, Rotterdam, Belfast, Glasscow, Southhampton, and London England. After making several trips to these countries I came to Indpls because my parents had located here [since] when joining the Navy they were only allowed one recruit per day from this district, when they saw my qualifications that I had from my former service they decided that I was the man for that day so they immediately dismissed 20 applicants and took me, but I was 8 lbs underweight so I was told to go home and come back the following day, the doctor Thurston prescribed what I should eat before coming back the next day, which consisted of a big dinner plus as many bananas, and Buttermilk that I could eat, I did I ate two Plates of Spare Ribs and Beans, 1 dozen Bananas, 2 quarts of Buttermilk, after arising that morning until 2:00 pm that afternoon, when he weighed me the second time, he pronounced me as one lb over the minimum, I was given Transportation

(the remainder is missing)

Here’s the actual autobiography.

Matthews Herbert L — autobiography

For more on his steamship experience, see his steamship letter.

Herbert Matthews and Goldie Reeder

For the early life of Goldie, see this post.

After Herbert’s mother died, he left home and took various odd jobs in Chicago.  He had a wide variety of jobs (see his autobiography) – traveled on trains, worked for Barnum and Bailey Circus, did odd jobs in Indianapolis, etc.  He worked on a British ship and sailed around the world.  One of his buddies on the ship was Jim Hanna.  After the trip, Jim and Herbert went to Indianapolis where Herbert’s father and step-mother were living.  Jim Hanna met Laurinda (Renie) Hatcher.  She was Goldie’s great aunt (Amanda Cozatt’s sister).  Amanda was Nettie’s mother.  Jim and Renie later married.  Herbert met Goldie at Aunt Renie’s house.

Young Goldie and Herbert Matthews

They were married on January 6,  1916 in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS NEWS - JAN. 7, 1916, p4.   Marriage License:  Herbert L. Matthews and Goldie Reeder

Newman’s daughter Iva married John Wickliff Denton in Indianapolis on June 1, 1916.

Herbert had passed the Civil Service examination on Oct. 2, 1915, and was notified by mail on April 12, 1916.  He sent his medical certificate on Oct. 8.  He was appointed as substitute clerk Nov. 25, went to work on Dec. 5 at 5:59 pm at the Indianapolis, getting a his first paychecks on Dec. 18th of $11.78, and Jan. 3, 1917 of $28.10.

He took a leave from there and entered the Navy in October 1917 for service in WW1.

Goldie and Herbert Matthews, as Herbert entered WW I service
Herbert Matthews left the postal service for WW I. The Indianapolis Star, November 14, 1917.

After the war, Herbert went back to the post office but remained in the Naval Reserve.

Their first child, James Douglas, was born at 10:00 am on Friday, February 7, 1919 at their residence at 717 E. 11th Street in Indianapolis.

In the 1920 census Newman (65) and Helen (52)  were living at 1036 N. King Avenue on the west side of Indianapolis with daughters Nellie R. (20, a typist), and Bernice E. (15), and a 13 month old boarder, Adolph Milharsie.  All had been born in Illinois but the baby (1 1/12), born in Indiana. Iva (23) and her husband, John Denton (34), were living in Indianapolis with son Glenn (15 mo.), and a Sybil Trosky (47), probably a boarder.  Mable (32) and her husband, Fred Reeder (32), were living in Posey County, Indiana.

In the 1920 census, Herbert L. Matthews (30, a postal clerk) and wife Goldie (22) were living with son James D. (11/12 months) at 450 N. Senate Avenue.

Their second child, Mary Luella, was born at 12:00 noon on Friday, May 28, 1920, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis.  Anna Louise was born at 11:00 pm on Thursday, February 16, 1922 at Methodist Hospital.

Newman lived at 537 North Capital where daughter Betty walked to Manual High School.

Glenn Denton, Newman Matthews; c. 1921

Daughter Nellie married Ralph Sidney Cox in Marion County, Indiana on August 19, 1922. They remained in Indianapolis, and were living at 340 N. Hamilton when Newman died on January 25, 1923 of cancer of the pancreas and chronic intestinal nephritis.  His age was 68y7m28d.   He was buried in the Mackinaw Cemetery, Mackinaw, Illinois.

Newman Matthews Obituary, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), Jan 26, 1923.


N. H. Matthews, a former resident of Clinton and brother of C. H. Matthews, 403 East Main street, passed away at his home in Indianapolis, Ind., this morning at 2:30 o'clock, following an illness of several months.  He was 69 years old.

Newman Matthews was born in Mackinaw, Illinois in 1853.  For several years he lived in Clinton, having been a tinner.  At one time he was in business here, selling out to Herman Metz.  He was married to Miss Anna Swanson in 1887, who preceded him in death fifteen years ago.  He was married a second time and this wife and seven children survive.  They are Mrs. Fred Reeder, Mrs. Nellie Cox, Mrs. Iva [Denton], Herbert, Ralph, and Bernice of Indianapolis, Ind., and Carl, of Ann Arbor, Mich.  He also leaves two brothers and a sister, C. H. Matthews of Clinton; G. L. Matthews of Champaign, and Mrs. B. F. Spencer, of Clinton.  The funeral services and burial will be held at Mackinaw Saturday.


INDIANAPOLIS NEWS - JAN. 25, 1923, p24

OBITUARY - Matthews, N. H., 340 N. Hamilton Ave., passed away Thursday morning, January 25, at the Methodist Hospital.  Mr. Matthews was formerly in the radiator repair business at 142 W. 10th.  Funeral services at the Ragsdale & Price Parlors, 1219 W. Alabama 2:30 p.m., Friday, January 26.  Friends invited.  Burial at Mackinaw, Ill. Saturday afternoon.

Newman’s brother, Charles Holmes Matthews, died in Clinton, Illinois on September 21, 1926.  His wife Mary died on May 5, 1949.  Their son Solomon had died in 1910.  All were buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery.

Stanley Edwards was born at 9:30 am on Thursday, May 17, 1923 at Deaconess Hospital.  Herbert Leslie, Jr., was born at 4:00 pm on Saturday, December 20, 1924 at Deaconess Hospital.

Herbert and Goldie Matthews, and their children left to right: Stan (baby), Jim, Anne, Mary

In April of 1927, for a postal promotional event, Herbert painted 3 foot postcards.

Three foot post cards. The Indianapolis Star, April 5, 1927.
Herbert Matthews (right)

Goldie, Betty, Jim, Herb “Les”, Anne, Mary, StanBetty Jean was born at 11:45 pm on Thursday, September 12, 1929 at their residence at 2837 N. Olney in Indianapolis.

Herbert and Goldie Matthews and their children. Back: Jim, Anne, Mary. Front: Betty, Herb, Stan

Son Jim also remembers the family living near the present site of the Masonic Temple.

In 1930, Herbert, Goldie, and family moved to New Philadelphia east of Indianapolis on US 40.  They moved there so they could have a garden and cow, as this was the worst of the depression.  Carl Eugene was born there at 2:30 pm on Tuesday, September 8, 1931.

Jim Matthews, Buster; 25th Street Indianapolis; c. 1924-1925

In July 2003 Anne Matthews Dillane provided the following story for the Matthews reunion:

“This is an early childhood memory while we were living in Philly Indiana. One evening, Dad decided to take the family into town to see a movie. We all piled into our old Nash and drove the 20+ miles to the big city. Upon arriving, to our surprise we had an extra passenger, Buster, our faithful little dog!! He had ridden all the way with us, lying between the hood and running board of the car. Dad put him in one of the rooms at the post office where he worked while we were at the show. Of course, coming home he had a less airy ride and many loving laps to lay on!!”

They lived there until 1934 and then moved back to Indianapolis and rented a house at 405 N. Beville.  Their last child, Ethel May, was born in the Deaconess Hospital in Indianapolis on September 4, 1934.

Herbert, Stan, Mary, Carl, Anne, Betty, Herb “Les”, Goldie, Ethel; Taken at 414 Beville, looking at the back of 410 Beville

After about a year they moved up the street to 414 N. Beville.  In 1937 they bought the house at 410 N. Beville.

Margaret “Jeanne” Reeder, Mabel (Matthews) Reeder, Janet Cox (Nellie’s daughter), Nellie (Matthews) Cox, Helen (Kilby) Matthews, Iva (Matthews) Denton

Helen Kilby, Newman’s wife, died in September 1940.

Helen Kilby Obituary, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), Sep 21, 1940

Mrs. Helen Kilby Matthews, daughter of N. L. and Margaret Allensworth Kilby, was born on the Kilby homestead south of Mackinaw June 6, 1867, and died at 2:55 pm Friday [Sep 20, 1940] at the Illinois Christian Home in Jacksonville.  She was married to Newman Matthews of Indianapolis, Indiana, at Mackinaw in September, 1913.  They made their home in Indianapolis, where Mr. Matthews preceded her in death several years ago.  After his death she returned to this community to make her home until 1938 when she entered the Christian Home for the Aged at Jacksonville.

She is survived by one sister, Mrs. Inez Bollan of Havanna, onr brother, O. B. Kilby of Mackinaw; two step-sons and four step-daughters, Herbert and Ralph Matthews, Mrs. Mabel Reeder, Mrs. Iva Denton, Mrs. Nellie Cox, and Mrs. Bernice Blase, all of Indianapolis.  There are also several step-grandchildren and a host of friends in the Mackinaw community.  Funeral services were held in the Christian home at 2:30 pm Sunday, in charge of the Reverend M. L. Pontius of Jacksonville.  Burial was in the cemetery at the Home.  Pallbearers were Glenn Kilby of Virginia, Alvin Trimble of Hopedale, Warren Trimble of Pekin, Francis Kilby of Mackinaw, Glen Denton and Mr. Blase of Indianapolis.

In 1942, Herbert was called up to serve in WW II, but was sent home after breaking his shoulder in Canada.

Herbert Matthews, WW II

Herbert was an active member of several lodges, including the Masonic Lodge, the Scottish Rite, the Murat Shrine, and the Queen Esther Chapter of the eastern Star. He was very social and enjoyed the activities. Goldie was very reserved and tolerated them.

On right, Goldie and Herbert Matthews
On right, Goldie and Herbert Matthews
On right, Herbert Matthews, unknown man, Goldie Matthews

In 1962 Herbert was installed as the vice-president of the National Association of Retired Civil Employees. In 1963 he was installed as president. His chapter had over 400 members.

Herbert Matthews installed as president. The Indianapolis Star, January 1, 1963.
Herbert Matthews

Herbert was a friendly, fun-loving man, who enjoyed being the life of the party.

Herbert Matthews

Herbert and Goldie lived at 410 N. Beville when Herbert died on September 11, 1965 in the Veterans Hospital in Indianapolis due to a failing heart caused by emphysema.  His age was 76y1m4d.

Herbert Matthews obituary. The Indianapolis Star, September 12, 1965.
INDIANAPOLIS NEWS - SEP. 13, 1965, p17.

OBITUARY - Rites for Herbert L. Matthews, 76, 410 N. Beville, will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in the Flanner & Buchanan Fall Creek Mortuary.  Matthews was a retired postal clerk.  He died yesterday at the 10th Street Veterans Hospital.  He was a member of East Park Methodist Church, Capital City Masonic Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and Murat Shrine.

Goldie lived at 410 N. Beville a few more years, then sold the home and rented a double in the 2300 block of North Elizabeth Street on the east side of Indianapolis.  A few years later she rented a small house at 129 N. 2nd Avenue in Beech Grove.  When her health started to deteriorate, she moved into Crestwood Village South Apartments.  She died in the Hospice at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on April 23, 1981 of breast cancer.

Goldie Matthews obit, The Indianapolis Star, April 30, 1981.

Herbert and Goldie were buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis.