Olbers in New Orleans

Before I discuss the arrival of the Olbers in New Orleans on January 20, 1839, I want to tell a little tale of an artist who for a while lived in St. Louis.  His name was Henry Lewis.  After being born in England in 1819, his family came to America.  Eventually, Henry became a carpenter living in St. Louis.  Apparently, he also was able to develop his artistic skills because he became a scenery painter at the St. Louis Theater.  This was the first theater in  St. Louis and was built in 1837, and was located at Third and Olive Streets in the downtown area very near where the Gateway Arch is now found.

St. Louis Theater

Between 1846 and 1848, Henry Lewis sketched and painted many scenes along the Mississippi River.  We also know that after the St. Louis Fire which occurred in 1849, he painted that scene.

1849 St. Louis Fire – Henry Lewis

In 1857, Lewis published a book of his paintings titled The Illustrated Mississippi: From the Falls of St. Anthony to the Gulf of Mexico.  In that book could be found this lithograph depicting the port of New Orleans in the 1840’s.  It can give us an idea of the first image of America our ancestors experienced as they arrived.


I like this piece of art because it depicts both the sailing ships and the river boats that would have been present in New Orleans.

Now back to the Olbers.  As we discussed in yesterday’s post, the first immigrants arrived in St. Louis on January 19, 1839.  One day later, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, what turned out to be the last of the ships to arrive in America landed at New Orleans.  Another ship, the Amalia, was expected to arrive, but alas, it was lost at sea.

The journals of two passengers aboard the Olbers have been preserved.  One was written by Rev. Theodor Brohm, and the other by Gotthold Guenther.  Here is a portion of Guenther’s journal that describes the last few days before landing at New Orleans.  January 20th was a Sunday.  This segment begins on Friday, January 18th.

“In the early hours of Friday, January 18th the Olbers neared the mouth of the Mississippi River.  During the night the helmsman had taken the ship too far and so he had to turn it back since it would have been dangerous to proceed without a pilot on board.  Finally around 9 a.m. the pilot’s boat arrived.  The pilot jumped into a skiff and the oarsmen, sturdy black men, rowed him to the Olbers.  The pilot was a tall, gangly man with sharply defined features; pushing his pipe from one side to the other, he quickly determined the position of the ship and immediately took over the navigation.  The black oarsmen were truly a curiosity for the passengers assembled on deck.  They were treated to two bottles of wine by the captain and after they had hoisted the pilot’s valise onto the Olbers, they rowed away. — As long as he was in charge of the ship, the pilot was responsible for any damage and he was well paid for it.  Such people are quite skilled and know the channels well.

“On Wednesday [probably Saturday] around noontime the steamship “Tiger of New Orleans” pulled up along side the Olbers and the captains negotiated through speaking tubes.  Then the steamship towed the Olbers with a 5 inch thick towing rope to get it into the river.  However, before reaching this destination the rope broke and the Olbers sank firmly into the mud of the Mississippi.  All attempts to refloat the ship were useless.  The work was further hindered by a dense fog and the land disappeared once again from the sight of the emigrants.

“The Olbers had to stay there until Saturday afternoon.  The captain had brought 40,000 bricks from Germany and now to refloat the back portion of the ship, half of those bricks had to be brought to the forward deck.  The passengers in steerage diligently applied themselves to the task and with the help of the Tiger and a second ship, named the Hudson, the Olbers was refloated.  The Hudson then went on its way and the rest of the journey to New Orleans, 20 miles away, was completed with the help of the Tiger alone.

“On Sunday, the 26th [20th?] at 4 in the afternoon the passengers saw the harbor of New Orleans and Olbers reached the port at 5 pm.”

Much of the leadership of the Gesellschaft was aboard the Olbers. They would stay in New Orleans for a short time, possibly waiting for the Amalia to arrive, and then would proceed up the Mississippi to St. Louis.  The long ordeal of their journey was getting close to its end.


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