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Old 02-08-2017, 06:53 PM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is offline
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How Dangerous Was Travel, c. 1857?

A commercial I saw recently depicts a German immigrant crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and traveling up the Mississippi River, being beset by calamity every step of the way. His ocean crossing was rough and seems to have battered him up pretty badly. The paddle-wheeler he was on also caught fire. I'm going to assume that he was also frequently at risk of being set upon by brigands who wanted to rob him.

Putting aside the matter of the seafaring portion of his voyage (which I assume was pretty consistently fraught with peril in those days), was paddle-wheel travel statistically dangerous? I know that there were several such tragedies in their era (fires and running aground and whatnot), but in terms of number of passengers carried, was a paddle-wheel voyage a statistically safe undertaking?

Also, in those days, when you were aboard a ship/paddle-wheeler, or a train, were you at risk of being set upon by bandits? Or did safety in numbers come into play? Did ships/paddle-wheeler and train companies have on-board security - perhaps even armed security - for the passengers?
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Old 02-08-2017, 09:44 PM
Chimera Chimera is online now
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http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Portal...steamboats.pdf

It is a PDF link, so some may not want to open it even though it is an Army.mil site. So I'll quote the relevant passages;

Says there were three main dangers. Indian attacks, boiler explosions and hitting snags (submerged logs or stumps) that could outright sink a ship.

One of the worst steamboat disasters ever recorded was that of the General Slocum. The General Slocumís boiler exploded killing 958 people and injuring 175. The General Slocum explosion was one of the worst recorded, but it was hardly the first or last. From 1811 to 1851, 21 percent of river accidents were caused by explosion. Because of all the dangers, steamboats did not last long. It was rare for a steamboat to last five years. In fact, between 1830 and 1839, 272 steamboats were destroyed after less than three years of travel.

Steamboats began experiencing competition from railroads as early as the 1830s. At this time there were only 23 miles of tracks in all of the United States. This small amount of tracks did not provide much competition, but by 1880 there were around 93,000 miles of tracks and the trains were taking away much of the steamboatsí business.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamb...he_Mississippi

(Mark) Twain himself worked as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi for a few years. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at any of the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for two and a half years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. While training, he convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry died on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded.

The boiler explosions and resulting fire aboard the Sultana in 1865 (near Memphis) resulting in some 1800 deaths, exceeding even the death toll of the Titanic, and is considered the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

And then looking at the Sultana's entry on Wikipedia;

Sultana was a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat. On April 27, 1865, the boat exploded in the worst maritime disaster in United States history. Although designed with a capacity for only 376 passengers, she was carrying 2,427 when three of the boat's four boilers exploded and she burned to the waterline and sank near Memphis, Tennessee, killing an estimated 1,700 passengers. This disaster has long been overshadowed in the press by other contemporary events; John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln's assassin, was killed the day before.
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Old 02-08-2017, 10:03 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Chimera's quotes are accurate, but they emphasize problems rather than ordinary day-to-day travel.

Steamboats absolutely did explode or hit debris or run aground or otherwise damaged themselves, but even if they lasted only three years, then that's presumably three years of carrying passengers without their going to fiery or watery graves. Statistically, that means that the overwhelming majority of travelers arrived safely.

People in 1857 understood that long-distance travel had multiple dangers, but they weren't completely stupid or utterly reckless, any more than people of 1957 were when almost 40,000 of them were killed in automobile accidents. Any individual traveler could have bad luck but almost everybody survived or else they would find alternate means of travel.

Oh, and bandits attacking steamboats were rare. They could hardly do so unless the boat were docked. There weren't many pirates plying the Mississippi to board paddle-wheelers mid-river. Trains in the west did face more dangers, because they could so easily be derailed or blocked. They did at times carry armed men, but mostly to protect gold shipments rather than passengers. Even so, almost all trains ventured from station to station without incident. We only remember the few exceptions. And those were from post-Civil War days, since the number of trains crossing the west were minimal until then.
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Old 02-09-2017, 02:20 AM
Banksiaman Banksiaman is offline
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1857 was the midst of gold fever - the US goldfields still going strong, Australian ones were on the up and countless people who had probably never considered leaving their home town were suddenly crossing the globe to make their fortunes.

I've read plenty of stories written by those travellers, and their journeys were overwhelmingly dull. Occasionally ships got wrecked, but more usually ran into another boat in over-packed and poorly managed harbours, and people died on the roads, but mainly from a horse being spooked and dropping the rider, or an overloaded cart tipping over, than by cut-throats, banditos and bushrangers.

Although the really unlucky ones didn't get to write a memoir, the overwhelming impression is that most of the time most people were safe. The things that killed you were accidents, and with no first aid training or medical hygiene that was often a death sentence [this is just after the Crimean War with all of its medical horrors].
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Old 02-09-2017, 10:08 AM
Corry El Corry El is offline
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"A History of Emigration from the United Kingdom to North America 1763-1912" by Stanley Johnson put the death rate of passengers on that route as around 1% in 1840, falling to 0.2% in 1863. That would include disease, etc not just shipwreck. It might have been higher for other routes, but gives a general idea. The odds were ones modern airline passengers would never accept, but death wasn't outright likely.

On crime, adventure fiction typically exaggerates it. Regular life is and was usually boring at least from the perspective of an outside viewer looking for action. A modern viewer of fiction set today is more able to correct for that by reference to the real world. And relatively speaking it's my impression more period pieces nowadays about the US in the 19th century project the very high violence rate of the frontier onto the rest of the country. Murder rates actually were astronomical in some frontier areas, in relatively very small populations. But in some other areas of the country the rate was lower than it is now. Even in big cities it was in some cases comparable and others lower than it is now. That was especially true prior to the Civil War.

Last edited by Corry El; 02-09-2017 at 10:10 AM.
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Old 02-09-2017, 05:44 PM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
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European civilians in Northern India during 1857 would very likely be well advised to reconsider their need to travel .
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Old 02-10-2017, 03:28 AM
dtilque dtilque is offline
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And people going on the Oregon Trail had a significant chance of dying of dysentery
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Old 02-10-2017, 03:57 AM
Evan Drake Evan Drake is online now
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Dangers seem to average out over the ages: general ignorance, being hit with piece of metal by random people, drunken paddies brawling changes to pollution, nuclear, and meth addicts strangling and sexually assaulting Chihuahuas. But one thing remains, life in the Old World was unbelievably slow by our standards. Bone-achingly slow. For every thing you do. And travel most of all.



Even cars in the 1950s were probably slow, and that was with the invention of fricking cars, unheard of in 1857
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Old 02-10-2017, 07:29 AM
Jackmannii Jackmannii is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martini Enfield View Post
European civilians in Northern India during 1857 would very likely be well advised to reconsider their need to travel .
Indian railway travel is still a bit dicey.

Although the great majority get to their destinations safely.
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Old 02-10-2017, 07:45 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Originally Posted by Evan Drake View Post
Dangers seem to average out over the ages: general ignorance, being hit with piece of metal by random people, drunken paddies brawling changes to pollution, nuclear, and meth addicts strangling and sexually assaulting Chihuahuas. But one thing remains, life in the Old World was unbelievably slow by our standards. Bone-achingly slow. For every thing you do. And travel most of all.
I'd be curious about actual statistics like deaths per mile and whatnot. But it seems to me the main difference back then was the slowness. According to this chart, crossing the Atlantic would have taken around 9 days in 1857. Ships probably weren't crashing into ice bergs all that often, but being stuck on a boat for a week and a half just to get to where you're going would still kind of suck.
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Old 02-10-2017, 08:49 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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Re: the immigrant in the commercial requiring stitches after getting tossed around in a boat at sea - these days we have reports of people getting injured when a jet hits turbulence. More or less the same thing. Didn't happen to everyone, but it could and did happen to some.
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Old 02-10-2017, 09:23 AM
Cardigan Cardigan is online now
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No figures at my disposal, but we know that travel back then was a great deal slower, and as a general principle it seems the longer a trip takes, the more potential and opportunity there is for something to go wrong.
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Old 02-10-2017, 10:28 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chimera View Post
One of the worst steamboat disasters ever recorded was that of the General Slocum. The General Slocumís boiler exploded killing 958 people and injuring 175. The General Slocum explosion was one of the worst recorded, but it was hardly the first or last. From 1811 to 1851, 21 percent of river accidents were caused by explosion. Because of all the dangers, steamboats did not last long. It was rare for a steamboat to last five years. In fact, between 1830 and 1839, 272 steamboats were destroyed after less than three years of travel.
Several issues with this:

1. The General Slocum blew up in 1904, so it doesn't count for the time period involved.
2. It was a fire, not a boiler explosion.
3. The ship caught fire in the East River of New York, carrying passengers to an excursion. It was not being used for general travel.
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Old 02-10-2017, 10:37 AM
Jim's Son Jim's Son is offline
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Could be worse if you were traveling across Panama to reach the west coast quicker than sailing around Cape Horn. In 1852 Ulysses Grant was assigned to an army post in the Pacific Northwest. Crossing Panama, an outbreak of chloera killed 150 passengers.
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Old 02-10-2017, 11:14 AM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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In 1970, I took the Alexander Pushkin from Montreal to London. It took 9 days, so not so much faster than in 1857, although it was 8 days to Le Havre. It would go to Leningrad a day or so later. On the other hand, in 1971, I took Le France from Bremerhaven to NY in 5 days.
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Old 02-10-2017, 11:37 AM
DesertDog DesertDog is offline
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No figures at my disposal, but we know that travel back then was a great deal slower, and as a general principle it seems the longer a trip takes, the more potential and opportunity there is for something to go wrong.
Roll for Random Encounter.
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Old 02-10-2017, 02:35 PM
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Roll for Random Encounter.
If you take forever searching rooms and looking for traps everywhere sooner or later you're bound to get a wandering monster.
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Old 02-10-2017, 04:35 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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If you take forever searching rooms and looking for traps everywhere sooner or later you're bound to get a wandering monster.
There's an Orc sitting on a chest in a 10'x10' room....
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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.
Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production.
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Old 02-15-2017, 05:35 PM
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Quoth DesertDog:

Roll for Random Encounter.
But only once.
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Old 02-16-2017, 05:37 AM
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You have died of dysentary.
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