Sailors, Servants, and Strangers: Norwegians in the 1901 and 1911 Irish Census

Recently I set about exploring people of Norwegian origin on the 1901 and 1911 census. As you can probably imagine, when the census was taken, the vast majority of Norwegians who showed up on the census were not actually resident in Ireland at all, but crew members of boats and ships docked in Ireland on the night the census was taken.

These included people like 16 year old Lars Larsen, one of three apprentice sailors of that age, docked in Belfast.

belfast ship 1901
A ship with Norwegian and Swedish crew docked in Belfast in 1901, when the census was taken.

In total, there were 296 Norwegian men in Ireland in 1901 when the census was taken. Most of them based in Belfast, Larne and Dublin. Not all were sailors however. Some were most likely the sons of sailors. Take John Wellington, born in Norway, according to the census but living on Strand Street in Malahide and working as a boat builder. He is listed along with his wife, Margaret, from Co Dublin and a nephew, Christopher Farrell.

Or consider Olaf Haaland, married to Margretta J Haaland, daughter of John Giffard of Rathmines, a man who lists his occupation as “Dividends”. A large family, who appear from their internationalism (another daughter is married to a London man) and their address, to have been fairly well-heeled. Olaf was not the only Haaland then living in Dublin. Sixty-five year old Lars Olsen Haaland, a Scandinavian interpreter, lived on Lower Leeson Street with his two daughters, Bertha and Marie. Bertha was a shopkeeper at a chandlery, and Marie worked as a book keeper at the Singer sewing machine shop.

Another unusual family was the Stromsoe family in Queenstown, now Cobh, Co. Cork. Fredrick was a naval store labourer married to Cork-born Mary Ann with whom he had five children. The Stromsoe family werent alone in settling in Ireland in these years. In 1911, we find the Gulbransen family in Belfast. There is Ahavoh Gulbransen and his wife Elizabeth,  both Belfast natives. Ahavoh’s father Paul Fredrick, 78, and born in Norway lives with them. Son,  like father, lists himself as a watchmaker.

At the house of eighty year-old Agnes Warden in Sneem, Co. Kerry there were among her large retinue of servants (14 in total), four Norwegian men: Andreas Williamson, 43, a sailor and carpenter; Ernst Christiansen, 30, also a sailor by occupation; Conrad Christiansen, 25 and presumably Ernst’s brother who was a carpenter and Peder Johannesen, 37, and also a carpenter.

While there were in both years more men on the censuses from Norway thanks to sailors on board ships, the women who lived in Ireland from Norway were by and large young, presumably unmarried women who worked in domestic service of one kind or another. We’ve already seen the daughters of Lars Olsen Haaland,  but therec was also girls like Anna Ganda Berger send,  a 22 year old from Stange, Norway who worked as a cook for the Couser family in Armagh.

Or the Ganserod sisters who worked in a house on University street in Belfast. They worked for Anna Hunter, a 52 year old school principal.  The sisters,  Anna and Elisabeth, were 23 and 19 years old respectively. Anna, the elder of the two, had duties including being cook while Elisa was listed as a house maid.

The Wellwood family of Pottinger Co. Down had Sigrid Christiansen, 23, working as a nurse and domestic servant for them.

However, it wasn’t just young Norwegian girls employed as domestics by irish families, as the case of Nicoline Engelsen Lund illustrates.  Lund, 50 at the time of the 1901 census,  was one of four servants working in a house in Whitechurch, Kilkenny. The head of the house was Mabel Bryant, a 30 year old with a newborn son.

As ever, such discoveris raise as many questions as they seem to provide Anderson.  Through what networks were these young women in their twenties finding work in Ireland as domestic servants being key among them?  Is it sheer coincidence?

And what to make of the various Norwegian and part Norwegian dailies this cursory research brings to light? So small and scattered were they that they could scarcely be said to form a coherent group in Ireland at the time. And yet, one must wonder to what extent they maintained links with Norway as a country as it, a few years before Ireland,  became independent?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said for certain at present about these apparently anamolous Norwegian enclaves is this: between the sailors, servants and strangers to Ireland it is clear that there was some networks between the countries which are now perhaps lost to us. It is a reminder,  healthy and not a little timely, to recall that Irish life is as much a part of the world of the North Sea as it is a product of the Atlantic world. Indeed much the same point is made by Daryl Leeworthy in his work on Cardiff’s Norwegian Sailor’s Church.  It is a reminder to us that Ireland’s  historical interactions with the outside world see us not confined to our antagonisms with Britain or our emigration to the USA.

There are other stories we can tell about early twentieth century Ireland that frame us differently. An Ireland where Norwegian girls came to work as domestic servants, where interpreters lived and brought up their families, where our docksides were enlivened with the conversation and camaraderie of Norwegian and Swedish  sailors.

 

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