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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

A Cruise to the Mediteranean

A cruise to the Mediteranean in 1894 from New York.
By the 1880s cruises were a popular way to see foreign places while travelling in the comfort of your floating hotel. Many North Atlantic Liners were used in the off-season to take North Americans for visits to Europe. The Holy land was particularly popular and of course the countries of the fore fathers from hence the emigrant once came.

Furst Bismarck of 1893
The Fuerst Bismarck of 1894

One such a cruise was made in 1894 by the Fuerst Bismarck, a ship belonging to the North German Lloyd. The ship, being only 3 years old, called at Gibraltar (20 hours) Algiers (58 hours (Genoa (58 hours) Ajaccio Corse (12 hours) Alexandria for the pyramids and the Nile (173 hours), Jaffa for Jerusalem (80 hours), Smyrna (24 hours), Constantinople (88 hours), Athens (33 hours), Malta (12 hours), Messina (12 hours), Palermo (12 hours), Naples (130 hours) and Genoa (16 hours). The ship left New York on 1 Feb. and returned on April 6th.

Mr Hoyt
Mr. Hoyt the cruise correspondent

We know of this cruise as one of the passengers Mr. William M. Hoyt kept a diary for a magazine back home called the “Grocers Criterion” and his articles were bundled and published in a little book, now in the collection of yours truly. He came from Winnetka in Illinois and as he wrote for the Grocers Criterion it is safe to assume that he was a grocer who struck it rich, or was at least related to the trade, maybe in wholesale and distribution.

Mr. Hoyt commented:
It will be seen that this excursion embraces the principal places of a region whose every inch of soil abounds with stirring reminiscences of ancient lore and history, regions rich with magnificent monuments of past grandeur and countless treasures of art.

On board were 264 first class guests (not counting their servants, who travelled 2nd class, or those in 3rd class for whom the ship continued to act as a regular transport between ports) With a first class capacity of 420 there was ample room for all of 264 of them. Second class had 172 beds and 3rd class 722. With a ship size of 8200 tons, and although being of the largest to date, things must have been a bit cramped on the lower decks, as a modern cruise ship is at least 4 sizes bigger. (The authors’ current command carries 1266 guests and has a size of 54,850 tons.) The ship had all the luxury that was available in that era, including electric light and running water to the cabins. Air-conditioning and stabilizers where of course things for the far future. Making the cruise in February had at least the advantage that the East Mediterranean had a comfortable temperature. It could even be quite cold in Egypt and Palestine when there was a northerly wind blowing. Perfect weather for a cruise on board a ship designed for the cool north Atlantic summers and the cold winters.

In the beginning of the crossing the weather was quite bad, North Atlantic in February, but the rolling of the ship gave room for mirth as well, when seeing guests in their chairs sliding over the deck in toboggan style due to rolling of the ship. An exciting diversion was the birth of a baby boy among the Italian emigrants in the 3rd class who were returning home. A $ 50 purse was raised and the first class ladies embarked on a project to sew and embroider clothing for the little chap. After nine days at sea the ship reached Gibraltar where a shore excursion could be made into the tunnels under the Rock. The next stop was Algiers, where the excursions were to the French quarter and to a bull fight (at US $ 2—a ticket) Although it being a Sunday, the ships Sunday service was no competition for the bull fight as all tickets sold out very quickly. Algiers was followed by Corse (For visiting the house of Napoleon) and Genoa, from where, as the weather was bad, a train trip was made to Monte Carlo and the Casino. By Feb 23rd the ship was in Alexandria for trips on the Nile and to the Pyramids. In those days you could walk right up to them or climb onto the Sphinx, something that Mr. Hoyt did. This was the longest stay of the cruise, namely in port for nearly seven days. Giving sufficient time to go by boat up the Nile to Luxor.
Much of ancient Egypt could then be seen already but many things where still waiting to be discovered. As an example the grave of Tut Ank Amon was only discovered in 1922, 28 years after this cruise took place.

Wailing wall in 1894
The temple mountain in 1894

Another highlight of the trip was the Holy land with visits to Jerusalem, reachable from Jaffa, the port, by rail. These were the days before crowds, before borders, before security checks and before political restraints became the norm. As can be seen from the photo, you could just walk right up to it and there was no Muslim and no Jewish side to it. Mr. Hoyt walked straight from the Wailing Wall into the El Aksa Mosque all the way to its very centre.

From there it went to Smyrna in what is now modern Turkey to visit Ephesus. With great pride it was remarked in the book that the other main sight of interest was the arrival in the port of the American warship Chicago, named after the hometown of most of the travellers. Next stop was Athens with visits to the various antiquities and the Acropolis. Next on the list came Constantinople where the Ladies were invited by the American consul to visit the Harem of the Sultan. Mr. Hoyt visited the painting collection of the palace and on departure the sultan sent a case of Turkish cigarettes and candy to the ship to be distributed among all. The cruise ended with calls at Messina, Palermo, Naples and Genoa. In Naples the Vesuvius was visited and an excursion made to the top. As the Volcano was active, stones and lava dropped as close as 50 feet away, but the group was not deterred and insisted in going to the edge and looking into the crater, where they saw the lava boiling down below. The guides tried to remonstrate and remove their guests quickly, but as one of the gentlemen in the group said to his wife, “we don’t have these things in Chicago, so we should have a good look as we won’t see a thing like this ever again”. Luckily all made it safely back down the mountain.

A much safer visit was to Pompeii where excavation had started in 1755 and a good deal of the town had been recovered from the ashes. From Naples to Rome it is five hours by rail and that is where the group went next. Rome and the Vatican were visited and of course the roman ruins of the Coliseum and the Forum. A disappoint-ment was not seeing the Pope, but in those days, the Holy Father was more of a prisoner inside the Vatican than the travelling church leader that we have gotten used to. Rome was the last place of visit on the cruise and the Fuerst Bismarck returned to New York on 6th of April, 65 days after it had left.
Comparing this cruise with the current day; there was less to do on board, guests had to provide their own entertainment, no bingo, no gambling and no cruise staff. Shore excursions were not so slick and abundant as nowadays, but quite of few of them the same as now. However the fact that you could just walk into anywhere and always being met in a friendly way while doing so, is something we have sadly lost. They had problems then in the world, but it seemed a gentler time when cruising.

Note: The foto of Fuerst Bismarck is from my private collection. The other fotos come from Mr. Hoyt’s booklet of 1894. It is called “A Mediterranean cruise” and can be found in the library of yours truly.

1 Comment

  1. I have two older sisters, the middle sister recently contracted Covid-19 a few days after being admitted to an Ontario nursing home. She fought bravely and won; but, the damage the virus did to a woman almost 80 was too much to withstand. My sister died and was buried a few months ago without myself and my oder sister without ever holding her hand. Of course due to the pandemic i hadn’t seen my sister for almost one year before her death. The three sisters were planning on a family visit to the Mediterranean as our eldest sister had enjoyed a visit to see the pyramids on a river cruise with her husband (recently died) of almost fifty-years. My middle sister had visited Turkey on a cruise several years’ before her death. We all adore cruising.

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