Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A New C.W. MORGAN Painting


When the whaleship CHARLES W. MORGAN was launched again in Mystic in July 2013, 172 years after her original launching in New Bedford, one of the world’s premier maritime artists was on hand to document the event for Mystic Seaport. British artist Geoff Hunt, through the sponsorship of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hamm, spent the day of the launch high atop the stairway that had been used by visitors to ascend to the deck of the MORGAN while she was being restored on the Museum’s shiplift which had been rebuilt just prior to the MORGAN’s restoration project.

While Geoff has gained a lot of notoriety for the artwork he has produced for the covers of the Patrick O’Brian “Aubrey-Maturin” novels, he has long been known in the maritime art world for his exceptional depictions of, primarily, 18th and 19th century warships. His research is impeccable and his skill remarkable.



We are happy to have the painting seen here as part of the collection at Mystic Seaport. Even better, the Museum has also acquired the watercolor sketch that Geoff produced as the draft for this painting. Now that the MORGAN is home from her successful 38th voyage around New England, we expect to see many more versions of her likeness both under sail and in port.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Selling Power of Patriotism: Clipper Ship Sailing Cards

The image seen here seems appropriately patriotic for our nation’s  4th of July celebration. EAGLE WING was a 200 foot long clipper ship built in Boston in 1853. This card was an advertisement used to attract business for the ship and its owners for passages to the west coast, as the number of days listed indicates. A mere 106 and 117 days were two of the extremely fast trips she made to San Francisco. She sailed at various times out of both Boston and New York.  Other clipper ship sailing cards can be seen at:



The patriotic symbolism in this picture is not only represented by the eagle, but also by the liberty pole it carries in its beak as well as the liberty cap that surmounts the pole. Both the pole and the cap represented freedom from tyranny. The use of the liberty cap supposedly dated back to the assassination of Julius Caesar. The senators involved in the killing held aloft a pole with the red cap, worn by freed slaves in Rome, to indicate to the people of Rome that they were now free from Caesar’s tyrannical rule. Some countries, especially the United States and France, adopted the use of the cap as an icon of their political independence, and the U.S. specifically made use of the liberty pole during the infancy of the revolution.

EAGLE WING. From Collection 112, Manuscripts Collection,
G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter Island and the Voyage of La Perouse

When Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse set sail in 1785 with the blessing and assistance of Louis XVI, he was following in the wake of Captain James Cook to discover lands unknown to Europeans. He sailed in search of the Northwest Passage and eventually made his way to Botany Bay in Australia in 1788. Along the way he made a stop at Easter Island where his expedition was enchanted with the people and expressed wonder at the richness of the soil. While there, sketches were done of the monuments on the island and the way in which they were supported, as can be seen in the following images from the 1797 edition of the Atlas du Voyage de la Perouse located in the rare book collection in the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport.


When La Perouse left Australia in 1788, his expedition was never heard from again. Luckily, he had handed over his journals up to that point to be sent back to France and they were subsequently published. Nearly 40 years later what appeared to be the remains of his ships were located on Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Islands about 1,000 miles east of Australia.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To Tucopia and Beyond!

As the 21-year-old first mate aboard YANKEE during Irving Johnson’s initial circumnavigation beginning in 1933, Fred Jackson of Providence spent much of his time as correspondent to newspapers about the activities of the young crew as they made their way from one exotic port to another.  The photograph seen here is one of many in an album that was recently given to Mystic Seaport by Fred Jackson’s son, Edward. The album also contains a number of the newspaper stories with young Jackson’s byline prominently displayed.

Tucopians aboard YANKEE. From album 2013.108. Mystic Seaport

The YANKEE’s inexperienced crew had adventures that most could only imagine. The late Francis “Biff” Bowker, long-time Captain of the Museum's sail-training schooner BRILLIANT, frequently recounted how he longed to leave home to sail with Johnson on an early voyage, but was frustrated in his attempts. If he had been on this circumnavigation, he would have met these “Tucopian wild men,” as Jackson named them. Tucopia is an island that lies midway between Papua, New Guinea and Fiji and obviously one of the many landfalls along the way.

In the grouping of photos from which this one is taken, is another that shows the crew ashore with an assembly of locals and the caption reads: “The council of war…We refused to give 100 fish hooks, two vests, three kerosene tins of tobacco, etc. The answer came – ‘We no like you. More better you go away.’ We went.” Jackson's humor and insight are remarkable for one so young.


Mystic Seaport holds a treasure trove of Johnson material from photos to logbooks to film to items collected on the seven circumnavigations done by Johnson and his wife “Exy”. A recent film narrated by world class sailor Gary Jobson was produced at Mystic Seaport using film footage taken by the Johnsons and now part of the collection at the Museum. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Unfurling the World, you can order it here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

An 18th-Century UFO?

During the course of his research for an article and book on logbooks as a source of theological thought, a researcher at the G.W Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport came across a most unusual passage in a local logbook from 1743. While sailing from Stonington, Connecticut to Suriname (located just east of Venezuela and north of Brazil), Captain Samuel Capron aboard the little sloop PRUDENCE reported the following, as transcribed (verbatim, so please note the creative spelling) by the researcher:

"About 10 Minutes after Sun Set saw a very remarkable thing in the NE the first 
appearance of it was like the shooting of a Star wt a long continued Stream of 
fire from it this continued in a streight line & of a fiery colour the space of one 
minute ten chang'd to a purple its form then alter'd to that of a Snake w. a tale at 
ye upper end having a motion like a pendat at a Vessels masthead then chang'd to 
a light blue & alter'd its form nearly resembling a W this continued in sight 15 
minutes & keeps its places wtout moveing in ye air.2"

The following image is from the actual log, the date being Sunday, July 31, 1743.

Log 692, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.
You can see Steve Berry's article in the latest issue of CORIOLIS: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies.

It is interesting to note that there were relatively few such sightings reported in the 18th century, although there is mention of an observation by a farmer and servant of an unusual flying object "in the shape of a ship" in Holyhead, England in the same year.

If you try to use the latitude and longitude listed in the log,be prepared to be confused as the standardized use of the prime meridian in Greenwich as zero longitude is still well over a century away.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Aboard the Passenger Steamer COLUMBUS in 1934

A recent gift to the Museum consists of passenger steamship ephemera of different types of materials including menus from various passenger lines from the first half of the 20th century. This illustration of a menu cover is, oddly enough, from a Mediterranean cruise in February of 1934 aboard the Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer COLUMBUS. A small selection of the delectables available at lunch included Eggs Lukullus, “Frizzled” Smoked Beef, Braised Oxtail, Semolina Crullers and Bel Paese cheese. Norddeutscher Lloyd graphics (and luncheons!) were some of the most creative and colorful of the steamship lines.

Menu, Norddeutscher Lloyd ship COLUMBUS, 1934.

The COLUMBUS was the second ship of that name built for NDL in the 20th century. The first was handed over to Great Britain after World War I and renamed HOMERIC. This, the second COLUMBUS, was begun as a sister ship to the first and when she was finished being constructed after the War, she was allowed to stay in German hands. She had originally been called HINDENBURG but was renamed COLUMBUS in 1922. During a cruise in 1939 she landed her passengers in Havana because of the outbreak of war. While attempting to return to Germany she was overtaken by the British destroyer HYPERION, and instead of surrendering to the British, her captain burned and sank her. It was an ignominious end to a beautiful ship.

Postcard of Steamer COLUMBUS, Norddeutscher Lloyd.
Mystic Seaport accession number 1951.1776
Originally from the collection of the
Steamship Historical Society of America

This link to a previously cataloged ephemera collection  is a listing of some of the other steamships and lines represented in the collections at Mystic Seaport.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Letter to a Friend, 1876. A Homecoming, 2013.

When Sallie Smith went with her husband aboard the bark OHIO in search of whales in 1875, she would have rare moments of female companionship. To make up for that lack, she kept busy in a number of ways including working with her husband, Capt. Fred Smith, on creating scrimshaw pieces, writing a journal, and corresponding with friends at home. With no local post office available at sea, she counted on the vagaries of meeting up with other ships that would be heading into port where they could then post the letters. Weeks or months might pass before the opportunity to do so arose. In one letter to her friend Minnie Chace in 1876, she included a crude illustration of a whale hunt, utilizing a whale stamp to give shape to the whale being harpooned by her crew. In the illustration of her letters below, you can see the similarity between the actual whale stamp imprint on the left and her fanciful drawing on the right (which she signs with: "drawn by Smith the Artist").  The small clutch of letters were obtained by the Museum just a few weeks ago.

Letters from Sarah G. (Sallie)Smith to Minnie Chace, 1876.
VFM 2062, Manuscripts Collection, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

The Museum has more than 150 things belonging to Capt. Fred and Sallie, including two journals from aboard the OHIO, numerous scrimshaw pieces, a newly-acquired lapdesk and much more. The following illustration is from one of the journals kept during the voyage of the OHIO beginning in 1875. This hand-written account of the voyage came to the Museum in 1941 and had attached to it a hand-carved, wooden whale stamp in the likeness of a sperm whale. The impression on the journal page from the stamp is identical to the one on the letter above. Reuniting the journal and the letters after almost 140 years, and more than 70 years since the journal arrived at the Museum is a very satisfying experience, as well as instructional as the appearance of the whale stamp on both pieces acts as historical verification for both. Not that there was ever any doubt!
Journal kept on board the bark OHIO, 1876-1878, Capt. Fred H. Smith, master.
Log 400, Manuscripts Collection, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.