The Steamship “Orduna”, from Liverpool to Ellis Island
Bertha Roberts at about the time of her immigration
I previously have blogged about the Roberts family coming from England in 1915. They came from Leeds, through Liverpool and Ellis Island, to ultimately arrive in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1915. My great grandfather, John P. B. Roberts, brought his family to America, and wrote a journal about his experience. As part of this “Other Mayflowers” series, I thought I would let my grandmother speak. She was recorded by my uncle in the 1970’s, telling her immigration story on tape!
Bertha Louise Roberts was born on 30 September 1897 in Woodhouse, Leeds, Yorkshire, England. She emigrated with her parents, and brother, Horace, when she was only nineteen years old. They came to live with her sister, Hilda, who had come to Beverly, Massachusetts several years earlier. John Roberts had a brother living in Beverly, too. Later, Bertha met my grandfather, Donald Munroe Wilkinson, at church, and they were married on 26 November 1926 at the family home on 7 Dearborn Avenue, in Beverly. This is the house where my father grew up with his two brothers, and where I lived until I was seven years old!
Bertha’s story, in her own words:
“…. At that particular time my father was a Stationary Engineer in a brewery in Leeds. He had learned his trade from his Dad. He loved his work and he was very good at it. But at that time they had changed managements and he wasn't too happy with the new manager. So he told my sister that if she really liked it over here and if she wrote and told us all about it, he might consider the family coming out. So my sister thought it was very nice in Beverly, Massachusetts, that's where they lived and she sent postal cards and told us that she thought that we would like it over here. So my father decided that perhaps it would be good for my brother and myself and so they started selling the things gradually.
“My mother was very proud of her brass fender and the shovel and poker and those things. And I remember every week she would shine them and work with them. Well, of course we had to leave these things behind and sell all of the furniture. But people were very good to us. They told us we could keep them until it was time to come away. I remember the last night we slept with different people. And the people at the church couldn't understand why we would want to come to this country. They felt quite sorry that we were coming…
“Then when we came to this country we were treated very good. Of course, we had to come third class. The captain was very nice. My mother and I shared a room and my father and brother shared another room. But we ate at the table together and I enjoyed the voyage very much, although it was really risky because it was during the war. In fact when we were booked to go on this Orduna Cunard liner and the voyage before the Germans had almost torpedoed it. The torpedo had just missed the boat. So they were yelling out the news that this had happened. So when we went to Liverpool to go on this boat, everybody was looking at me saying they didn't think it would make it. They thought that it would be torpedoed . Well, they had a life belt drill. Oh, we waited until the middle of the night. We went down the river Mersey and it stopped there and then in the middle of the night it started up. And the only ones who know which way we were going was the pilot and the Captain. And they had a life belt drill to tell us what to do if the siren sounded. We had a life belt. Each one of us had a life belt and they were looking out all the time for submarines.
“My father wrote a diary and I gave it to my granddaughter. He had very little schooling but he was a wonderful writer and he was a smart man. Well, we enjoyed the voyage and we got there safely. And when we got here my sister had decided to meet us with a cousin of hers and the baby. But she missed us, so the guide put us on the train to Beverly, Mass. from Boston and we got off at Montserrat station. Now Beverly at that time was a beautiful city. It was called a garden city, and I thought it was just beautiful. We didn't know exactly where 60 Colon Street was, but we took a taxi and my mother was quite sick. Well, we got to the house and a neighbor came out and she had the key to the house and she said that my sister would be back again. And my sister had everything ready for us to have a nice dinner. And my uncle, the one who came when he was 18 lived in Beverly, Mass. And, of course, he and his wife and children came up to see us. Well, that night the older people talked all night, they had a lot to catch up with…”
Donald Wilkinson died at Long Beach, California in 1977 and Bertha died at Long Beach in 1990.
Please see my blog posting on July 30, 2009 for the journal John Peter Bowden Roberts (Bertha's father) kept on his voyage to America.
Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo