Putting the steer into steerage

The lowest class of human accommodation on board vessels was known as steerage, later euphemised into “third class” and, after WW1, into “tourist third cabin”. Among the passenger lists from the 1890s and 1900s, I have came across several passenger lists for voyages to USA on which there would be a group of a dozen or so “returning cattlemen”.

What had these American cowboys been doing in the shires of England? Had they been educating dairy farmers in the use of the lasso when encouraging a less docile Buttercup or Daisy to the milking parlour? Had they brought the Wild West excitement of the rodeo to late Victorian and Edwardian England? It seems that the reality was less romantic.

From around 1875 to just before the First World War, live cattle made a one-way trip from the States and, of course, cattle require cattlemen in attendance. Unfortunately, though, there appears to be no authority for young bullocks – steers – giving steerage its name…

The passenger list image shows a gang of baked-bean-eating chap-wearing twenty-something cattlemen returning to Philadelphia in 1890.



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