Updated: Mar 26
Þórður Árelíus Ólafsson aka Theodore Arthur Olafson (IR# I574371) wrote this story, in Icelandic, about his journey to America.
Traveling with Þórður was his sister, Kristjana Kristbjörg Ólafsdóttir, aka Christina. (IR #I574373)
Þórður and Kristjana were the children of Ólafur Ólafsson and Þuriður Guðmundsdóttir from Snæfellsnessýsla.
Theodore’s daughter, Ruth Olafson Gidcumb, had her father’s Icelandic story translated.
Any words in parenthesis ( ) were in the translated story and added by the translator. Clarifications are in brackets [ ]. Footnotes and formatting are provided by Theodore’s great niece, Christal Oliver Speer.
Journey to America
Tuesday, June 18th, 1901
We left Reykjavík for America by [the sailing ship] Laura at ten o’clock in the evening and arrived at Vestmannaeyjar the next morning, the 19th, at ten o’clock. The island was beautiful, seen from [the] sea. In one place there was a very high black cliff with a grassy slope from the top and down to the sea. Then the ship’s crew was going to sell the passengers the hot water they asked for, but the passengers complained to the sheriff of Vestmannaeyjar and he said they absolutely should not have to buy the water and then gave them hot water three times a day.
We left there at one o’clock in the afternoon [of June 19] and arrived at the Faroe Islands on June 21st at ten in the morning in Klaksvík, and later the same day we came to Tórshavn, the most beautiful part of the islands. Laura sailed on a strait between two islands, both inhabited. Most of the houses on both islands had turf roofs and the turf was nailed down with boards as if to prevent it from being blown away by the wind. The weather was bad all the way from Reykjavík and most of the people on board the ship got sea-sick.
The ship stayed in Tórshavn during the night, but at four o’clock in the morning of the 22nd they started to load the ship. We stayed on board. It was sunny in the morning and no wind but when the ship sailed at eleven o’clock, the weather had changed and the fog was so dim [thick] that we could barely see the land. The same day at four o’clock we came to Trangensvogur and stayed there till seven o’clock at night when we started our journey to Scotland.
The Faroese people we saw were rather short. They all wore rather ugly knitted hats, sweaters, and trousers that barely came down to the knee and had a slit on the outside of each trouser-leg that was buttoned together with four golden buttons. They wore brown knitted socks that reached above the knee and shoes that looked like poorly made “hamings” shoes (which we have in Iceland) except that they were deeper and tied together with a white piece of string.
On June 24th we saw Scotland. Outside the harbour our passports were taken and the people counted. 116 were heading for America and some other people from Iceland were going to Norway. After having waited for two hours for the flood-tide, Laura sailed into the harbour. It was windy and sunny at the time. We saw great buildings by the harbour and further away we could see great, tall woods. We also saw mountains, but they were very low. I then saw a steam-car [locomotive] for the first time in my life and I thought it looked long. It pulled 20 cars.
[This harbor may have been Leith, which is now part of Edinburgh, because later in the story he says their luggage had been taken at Leith and sent directly to Liverpool.]
Laura came to a stone pier which was taller than her deck and our luggage was unloaded. The customs officer asked if we had anything to declare and everyone said no and he marked every piece and did not look into the luggage at all. The ship sailed on with the people through a narrow lane that had a bridge over it and when the ship sailed under the bridge, the bridge went up and then came down again when the ship was through and people walked and rode horses over the bridge [a drawbridge]. Laura anchored on the other side of the bridge and many other ships were there.
We had to walk for 15 minutes from the ship to the steam-car [train] and by that time it was eight o’clock at night. When riding the steam-car, we saw many beautiful things; green and tall woods, flat fields. Many steam-cars passed us and they were going very fast. After two hours, the steam-car stopped and we went into a very big house by the railway-station and out of it again. After walking for 15 minutes, the people were divided between hotels because no hotel was big enough for all of us. Then we were provided with food by the Canadian government, but until then, we had to supply our own food. We were in Glasgow [Scotland].
On the 25th [of June] we stayed on and some of the travellers bought some things, for example, shoes that would have cost 5-6 krónas at home, but there $1.75, and many other expensive things. One bottle of milk cost there 28 aurar. They make travellers pay very much.
At 10:30 in the morning of the 26th, people left the hotels for the steam-car which was on its way at ten o’clock to Liverpool [England]. We saw many things, but not very well because the steam-car went so fast. Some people were cutting grass, others were herding their sheep. Their sheep were different from ours at home: they had short wool, a long tail, and no horns. We saw a lot of cattle all around and horses, much bigger than the ones in Iceland.
The car we were in was very good with small rooms and upholstered seats similar to the sofas at home. There were three windows on every side, but it was not advisable to put your head out the window because the cars were always on the move. In one place, the tracks were being repaired. In some places the car went through very big tunnels and everything got dark, but not for long because the car went so fast, just like a flying bird. Sometimes it went over very big buildings and lakes which the track went over.
We arrived in Liverpool at four o’clock the same day and it is pretty far between those two places. Our luggage, which had been taken in Leith, was already there. It was now taken to the ship that was supposed to take us across the Atlantic. People were only allowed to take along bags and small trunks with their most necessary belongings. [The remainder of their luggage was placed in the hold of the ship.]
We were put on small cars, pulled by horses, and travelled half an hour before we came to a hotel. (D…n English women walking about with their apple baskets trying to sell something.) Most of the people stayed in this hotel during the night, but the receptionist made some people sleep in a house nearby. Everyone had good beds to sleep in.
We got up early on June 27th, we were supposed to go on board the ship. We were taken to the ship and arrived at a house near the ship at nine o’clock and we were on board the Australasian at ten thirty the same day. The ship was six months old, 7765 tons, 84 fathoms long and 30 fathoms wide. Over 100 Norwegian and Swedish went with the ship but no Russians this time. The ship sailed at five o’clock on June 27th.
(On the ship.) Weather calm until mid-morning, then got windy and sunny. The ship sailed along Ireland, made a stop there to take mail. The landscape in Ireland rather similar to what it is at home except there are woods. The mountains are quite tall and there are many cliffs, but not very tall.
Weather calm in the morning but started to get quite windy in the afternoon. Then sails were put up so the ship would not rock as much.
Stormy and rough sea and very many people seasick.
Same weather and also showers now and then.
Fog in the earlier part of the day, but cleared up in the afternoon and started raining.
Dry and good weather but bitterly cold. Two ships were seen on sea, one of them a sailing ship, the other a huge steamer. During the night there was a very dim [thick] fog so that the ship had to stay still most of the time.
Foggy, rainy and windy in the morning. The wind calmed down during the day but the fog did not, so the ship did not move most of the day. Therefore, the ship’s crew were afraid of sea ice. Around six o’clock in the evening the fog cleared up a little and a very big ice-floe appeared close to the ship.
Clear and nice weather and around six o’clock in the morning we could see a land called Newfoundland. We could barely see it because it was far from the ship. That day, all the people were examined to see if they had been vaccinated. Those who had not been vaccinated before were vaccinated now.
On the sixth of July, the weather was nice and I lay in my bunk with a sore throat and lay there for a few days until it got better.
Rain and fog. The ship sailed along a very big fjord called [St.] Lawrence River. It has strong currents and comes from rivers in America. As the ship sailed along the river, it got narrower. The land was covered in woods with hills here and there and villages here and there between the hills. As we got closer to Quebec, the more and the bigger buildings we saw. At about ten o’clock in the evening, the ship (Australasian) arrived at the pier in Quebec and that was the 11th day that the people were on the ship which had been delayed more than 24 hours because of fog.
At six o’clock in the morning, people went ashore (in America). Our luggage was there. It had been kept on the ship all the way where no one could get to their clothes or anything, unless they had clothes in a bag with them. This was very inconvenient for many people who were not familiar with this arrangement and would have had their clothes with them if they had known. The luggage of those who were going to Winnipeg was put on a “car” as they call it, it belongs to a steam-car. The train we were in left Quebec at 1 p.m. and at 6:30 in the evening we arrived at a railway station and the people were made to leave the train and wait inside the station house for a better train, but it was not obtainable. Inside this [station] house there were 92 electric lights. We left again at ten o’clock [p.m.] on the same train and the people thought it bad to have to lie on hard seats.
Weather was nice but strips of fog here and there in the morning, but one could still get a good view of the country which was beautiful. At 11:30 in the morning the train stopped at a railway station and waited until 4 o’clock in the afternoon when it continued the journey around a very big lake, as big as an ocean [probably Lake Superior]. The train travelled during the night as well.
Nice weather. The train stopped early in the morning and [did] not continue until 9 p.m.
At 4 a.m. the interpreter, Vilhelm Pálsson came to us on the train. We Icelanders had been told that he should meet us in Quebec, but he did not because we arrived in Quebec ahead of schedule. V. Pálsson provided the people with food.
Weather was very nice and everyone got up early and were looking forward to being in Winnipeg by the evening. [They had left Reykjavík three and a half weeks earlier, on June 18.] But things went differently. A doctor came on the train to vaccinate everyone who had not been vaccinated three years ago. He thought that one child had smallpox and the car was locked so no one could get out while they looked for a place to keep everyone in quarantine. (The prison as some called it.) It [the place chosen for their quarantine] was in the woods close to east Selkirk in Manitoba. We walked there from the train and it took us about half an hour. When we got there, tents had been put up for us. Six Swedish men and one Swedish girl had a tent of their own. Then there was Vilhelm Pálsson (the interpreter), an English doctor, one French man and 81 Icelanders.
[Previously,] Ragnheiður from Rauðimelur was left on an island close to Quebec with all her children because two of them were sick and another family was left there, too. Then a couple was left in Liverpool with many children, some of them young who had become sick.
The place we were at now was similar to descriptions of hell. The heat was terrible, around one hundred degrees and the mosquitoes were driving us crazy and eating us alive. Our hands and faces were bleeding. There were particularly many mosquitoes this year (lucky for us). When fires were made near the tents, the situation got a little better for awhile.
In the evening, we met a man who talked to us. He was Icelandic and his name is Árni, son of Þórarinn, who used to live at Ytri-Rauði Melur in Eyjahreppur. He said he came to America 19 years ago and did not regret it despite the heat and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are only in certain places in America, mostly in the woods. He said they had a lot of snow last winter and the spring had been rainier than usual with great thunders. We heard those often during the night when it was raining, but one gets used to them quickly. They rarely do much harm.
The area we were allowed to walk around was closed off with a wire, similar to the kind used in fences around grass fields at home. The people who came to see the Icelandic people were only allowed to come up to this fence. Many Icelanders from Winnipeg came there.
Vilhelm Pálsson got an Icelandic priest to come there and say mass for us. It was outside, of course, and he had us sing psalm no. 59 before the sermon, but psalm no. 55 after the sermon. The priest’s name is Steingrímur Þorvaldson. His sermon was boring, but he said mass there later and then it was much better. All the time we were there, the weather was good, but rather too hot.
On July 28th, they started to disinfect the people’s clothes. Books and papers—which people didn’t have much of because our luggage was in Quebec—were sent to Winnipeg before us.
The interpreter made me and Sigurður Bjarnason from Arnarstapi help disinfect various things that the people had with them. We used toxic solutions and the clothes were boiled in water to get rid of all diseases, but it was a bad treatment for the clothes. When everything had been disinfected, the people were disinfected and they did that themselves. However, the authorities prepared the solution which the people were supposed to bathe in.
It was August when the people gained back their freedom after three weeks of detention in quarantine. We were told that a train would come in the evening and take us to Winnipeg, but it didn’t, so on the 2nd of August, most of the people started their journey on foot. About 60 people in all went on foot, but when we came to the railway station where the train should be that should take us to Winnipeg, it wasn’t there yet. We waited almost one hour and Pétur from Langárfoss got bored waiting and started out for Winnipeg, walking with his wife and six children. He was furious at Vilhelm Pálsson and had argued with him before about being detained in quarantine for so long and also because the train didn’t arrive when Vilhelm said it would. I think that was wrong of Pétur because V. Pálsson couldn’t make the train come when he wanted to.
Finally, the whole group [those who had left earlier], 60 people, started walking to Winnipeg and thought themselves lucky to be free from quarantine which was bad for many reasons, not least because of work loss—there was plenty of work to be had and well paid, too. When we had walked about four miles along the track, the train came, but we still kept on walking. It was lucky for the people who had stayed in Selkirk that the train came and they went with it to Winnipeg and were there long before those who walked. One of them was Guðjón from Borg. We who walked left the track soon after we had met the train and walked to a house and bought some milk. There Pétur got a man with horses and a wagon to carry the kids and the women who were most tired, but the others walked.
We got to Winnipeg at ten o’clock that night, safe and sound, and it was the night of the “Íslendingadagur” (Icelanders’ day) in Winnipeg, which is celebrated on August 2nd every year. My uncle Sigmundur (my mother’s brother) came that night to the immigrant house and took me and my sister home with him and we stayed with him for over a week. They are doing all right. Rósa is in rather good health.
[End of story. The uncle’s name was Sigmundur Guðmundsson, aka Samuel Goodman. (IR# I574277). Rósa Bárðardóttir was his wife. (IR# I574276)]
Timeline of their journey
The journey should have taken about 23 days, but there were an additional 23 days of delay, making the total time at 46 days. There was a 2-day delay caused by fog on the Atlantic Ocean crossing and a 21-day delay while in quarantine in Canada due to a false diagnosis of smallpox for one passenger. The 46-day figure for the journey does not include whatever time it took for Theodore and Christina to leave the Snæfellsnes peninsula and travel to Reykjavík to board the first ship.
June 18 Left Reykjavík, Iceland, on the ship Laura
June 24 Arrived in Leith, Scotland (7 days on board Laura)
June 26 Arrived in Liverpool, England, via train
June 27 Left Liverpool on the ship Australasian
July 5 Sighted the coast of Newfoundland
July 7 Entered St. Lawrence River
July 8 Left Quebec City, Quebec, via train (11 days on board Australasian)
August 2 Freed from quarantine and arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
By mid-August 1901 both Theodore and Christina were living in Duluth, Minnesota, USA where their brother Ólafur Kristján Ólafsson (aka Christian Oliver) was living. Their father’s brother Siggeir Ólafsson (aka Siggeir Olson) was also living in Duluth.
 Left out of the story is how Theodore and Christina traveled from their home on Snæfellsnes to Reykjavík.
 The translator used the spelling Trangensvogur, but according to the map, the modern spelling may be Trongisvágur.
 At 6 feet per fathom, the ship was 504 feet long and 180 feet wide.
 Of the Icelanders, there were slightly more than 81 on board, because later in the story that’s how many he said arrived in Canada, after a few were left in Quebec.
 According to old sailing patterns, the stop was most likely in Dublin, Ireland.
As you can see, everyone in this story changed their name. The IR Database now has 3,000 people in a special report - the AKA Report. Check it out to see the various name changes and the many reasons why.
Thanks to Christal for sharing her family story with us. This is just a small piece of the information we have on this family thanks to collaboration with Christal and the IR volunteer genealogists.
If you have a family story to share, email us. Remember, we are especially searching for stories about women and children who emigrated and children who were left behind in Iceland. The team in Iceland is putting together an exhibit and a future documentary on this topic. We hope to hear from you!