The Rudolph "Poison Ship"

See Also:
     Site Map for This Genealogy
     Rudolph - Hamburg Passenger List
     The Laborn Family

This newspaper article was copied by Joseph F. Mesker from original notes recorded in the summer of 1923 by a reporter to the Niagara Falls Gazette. Transcribed by William E. Smith in 1981. "Auntie" King died in 1925.



Lost Mother and Father at Sea

Mrs. Fredericka ("Auntie") King relates adventure of crossing Atlantic on sailboat in 1857
....Is only survivor of the family of immigrants...

   As she rested in her comfortable chair last evening and slowly turned the pages of yesterday's edition of the Niagara Falls Gazette, Mrs. Fredericka King of No. 621 Third Street, 76 years old, had a thrill which would be difficult for a second party to conceive and far more difficult to describe. She was reading an account of the greatest adventure of her life.

   Mrs. King, who lives with her daughter, Mrs. Henrietta Royce, is one of the survivors of the "poison" ship which made the fatal trip from Hamburg to New York back in 1857. The story of the trip was related to a reporter today with the same accuracy of fact and coherence with which it has been told to children and grandchildren many, many times.

   "Auntie" King's memory is remarkably perfect for her advanced years. In fact, she appears today to be more observing of detail than the average person. Her story would read after this fashion.

Her Story

   Her uncles, aunts and cousins were in America. She lived with her father in the little village of Mido (in Germany, now in Alsace-Lorraine). He was a supervisor over a sheep ranch, a master shepherd. She recalls meeting him at the door as he returned each summer from a trip to Berlin where the wool from the sheep was sold.

   She even remembers the bags of gold that he received in return for the wool, and used it to pay the shepherds and the owner of the sheep.

   School facilities in Mido were minus, it seems. It was necessary for her to go to the adjoining town, Geldburg, for her education. She recalls romping along the roadways to the schoolhouse. But this is wandering from the story of the "poison" ship.

The "Poison" Ship

   At last it was decided that the family would go to America. The first day of September, little Fredericka celebrated her eleventh birthday. On the fifteenth of September, the Rudolph, for that was the name of the ill-fated ship, sailed from Hamburg.

   There was joy in the hearts of all as the big sailboat cleared the harbor and set out for its trip across the Atlantic -- at that time a big undertaking. The weather was perfect at the start. After one day out, the seas began to roll heavily; there was a storm. Seasickness prevailed through the ship.

   There was a young man. Mrs. King does not recall his name. She says that perhaps she never knew it. She remembers having seen him. He posed as a physician and prescribed medicine for the seasickness.

Mother Stricken

   Two days out, one of the male passengers became seriously ill. He died and was buried at sea. Then Mrs. King's mother, Sophia la Bourne, was stricken. She had taken some of the medicine. Little Fredericka and her three sisters, all of whom have died since, stood at their mother's death bed.

   There was little time for ceremony at sea. Scarcely had the dear mother's life passed when the ship's officers ordered the customary wrapping in burlap. The ship was near land -- presumably an island. A red flag was displayed on the top mast. A small boat came from the shore and took the remains away. Today, Mrs. King has no idea where her mother was laid to rest or what rites were performed at the grave.

Father a Victim

   The next day, the father, Carl la Bourne, sturdy shepherd from France, paid the sacrifice demanded by the poison medicine, and was buried at sea before his daughters had a chance to view his remains.

   And so the trip continued for six weeks and three days. The unfortunate passengers who had taken the fatal medicine passed away, one by one, and were lowered into the waiting waste of sea. There was panic among the passengers. The weather was terrible and the ship was tossed about on the sea as a piece of driftwood. While the four daughters, grief-stricken and practically penniless, huddled together below the wave-swept decks and prepared to face the world alone.

Fake Doctor

   Mrs. King does not know what became of the fake doctor. She recalls conversation with fellow passengers, during which she was informed that the young man was in irons below decks and that the ship officials were going to have him punished when the boat made port. Perhaps he was missing when the boat docked, and perhaps he was on board and turned over to American authorities. Mrs. King was never informed of the disposition made of him.

   But there was one little bright spot on the trip -- two, in fact. As the boat neared port, a little boy and a little girl were born to two young mothers; the boy was called Rudolph for the ship.

In America

   Landed in America, Fredericka and her sisters, with a group of near and distant relatives and three strangers in all, made their way to Niagara Falls. Fredericka stopped at the home of her uncle, Mr. Westfall, of Swamp Road, as Pine Avenue was then called. The four girls went to work.

   March 27, 1867, Fredericka, then a young woman of twenty years, married George King, a French-Canadian. They were married in the Congregation Church at Suspension Bridge. They made their home here and in Buffalo until Mr. King died, 35 years ago. The Mrs. Katherine Hagaman of Kent, Ohio, referred to as a survivor of the "poison" ship in last night's Gazette, is a cousin by marriage to Mrs. King. Mrs. King's mother and Mrs. Hagaman's step-mother were sisters.

   It is only six years now that Mrs. King has been able to read English. For many, many years she struggled on through the many troubles in life without the opportunity of learning to read English. Now, settled down in her daughter's home, she anxiously waits the coming of the evening newspaper every day, and she taught herself after she reached the three score and ten mark. Mrs. King is very alert, has a most pleasing personality, and is an excellent conversationalist.


Note by Brian Smith, March 2002: See The Laborn Family page for more information about this family. That page explains how this article incorrectly identifies Alsace-Lorraine as the original home of the Laborns.
Note by Brian Smith, August 2000: It would be interesting to find this article, if it was published, or the one mentioned as preceding it. The Niagara Falls Gazette may be available on microfilm in several locations. I have found these sites on the internet:

Comments? Suggestions? Send a letter to Brian...