How much did it cost to travel from London to America in the 1800s?
There are some historical 1850 passenger prices for transatlantic voyages.
In the 1850s, voyage was mainly by packet ships.
Packet trade is any regularly scheduled cargo, passenger and mail trade conducted by ship. The ships are called "packet boats" as their original function was to carry mail. A "packet ship" was originally a vessel employed to carry post office mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. In sea transport, a packet service is a regular, scheduled service, carrying freight and passengers. The ships used for this service are called packet ships or packet boats. The seamen are called packetmen, and the business is called packet trade.
These were cargo ships primarily for post-office parcels (‘packets’) on regular sailing schedules but also carried some various classes of freight and passengers. These ships were the reality for most passengers and immigrants rather than the stuff in the movie Titanic (which was in the 1900s anyway).
A quick word about voyage duration:—
- In the 1900s, the average transatlantic sea voyage was 5 days.
- In the 1850s, the average transatlantic sea voyage was 10–12 days.
- For most of the whole 1700s, the transatlantic voyage was 7 weeks.
- For the whole 1600s, transatlantic voyage was 7–10 weeks.
All figures below are in original 1850 prices.
Route: Liverpool (England) to Boston (USA), 1850. Carrier: Train & Company, 118 Waterloo Road, Liverpool. Duration: 10–12 days (down from 15,5 days in the 1830s).
One-way ticket options per adult:
- Adult is age 14 years and over.
- Record cabin on deck — £5.0 per adult
- Private state rooms between decks — £4.50
- International record cabin — £4.0
- Steerage — £3.50 — “steerage” is the lowest class of ticket; it means passengers slept, ate and socialised in the same space.
The above ticket prices included the following provisions per person: bread — 1.13kg; oatmeal — 2.27kg; flour — 0.45kg; rice — 0.91kg; pork — 0.45kg; sugar — 226gr; molasses or syrup — 226gr; tea — 56.7gr; water — 23.87litres. That’s a mere 5.5kg of total provisions for the whole trip of 10–12 days — or a 456 grammes of food per voyage day. It’s not exactly comfy.
The figures above are from the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian).
To understand the context better, here are the average nominal wages in the 1850–1860:
Britain, average nominal wages, 1850–60 (from highest to lowest)
- Duke of Bedford — official taxable £300,000 per year (US$90 million)
- Duke of Westminster — official taxable £250,000 per year
- Actress Sarah Bernhardt at the Coliseum Variety House — £1,000 per week (i.e. £52,000 per year)
- Singer (Canterbury Music Hall) — £20 per week (i.e. £1,040 per year)
- Gardener, private estate — £90 per year
- Valet, private estate — £60 per year
- Cook, private estate — £50 per year
- Coachman, private estate — £40 per year
- Lady’s maid — £18 per year
- Nurse maid — £17 per year
- Scullery maid — £12 per year
- Cooks, national average — £11–£17 per year
- Housemaid, national average — £11–£14 per year