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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'll Be Home For Christmas...So Don't Visit Until the New Year!

The Collections Research Center will be closed from December 23rd - January 7th. We will reopen Wednesday, January 8th. Happy Holidays

From Christmas in the Arctic Regions by J.H. Woodbury in
St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine, January, 1876

Monday, December 2, 2013

At Sea with a Clipper Ship Captain and His Wife


When Captain Alexander Winsor, of clipper ship FLYING CLOUD fame, took command of the clipper HERALD OF THE MORNING in 1868 for a passage to San Francisco from New York, it was  to be in company with his second wife, Emily Pope Winsor. Capt. Winsor's first wife, Sarah, died in 1865 while Winsor was master of the clipper ship SEA SERPENT, and before long he took Emily's hand in marriage.
From Manuscript Collection 112 in the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport.
 A recent gift to the Museum by a descendant of the Pope family consisted of a number of items belonging to Captain Winsor and Emily. A sea chest, telescope and billy club were among the items belonging to the good captain, but some of the more interesting pieces come via Emily Pope, including a lap desk with her name inscribed on it, a fascinating journal of her travels with Capt. Winsor aboard the HERALD OF THE MORNING and the following item, a handle to an umbrella belonging to Emily. The little ivory hand clutching the handle clearly bears the owner's name.


Unlike the somewhat spartan accommodations aboard a whaleship that we are used to reading about, Emily states that living aboard the HERALD afforded her, "a handsome dining room, large after cabin, with double staterooms on each side, with French bedstead, lung, etc., etc.".

Emily's journal and the artifacts that accompany it will be available for research and exhibition in the coming months.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sea Serpents Abound....

In two separate instances within the last month, giant sea creatures have washed ashore in California. See
http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/20/us/california-oarfish-mystery/ for a description of the latest occurrence. Scientists are puzzled with the spate of strandings of giant oarfish, a species that usually spends its time in the water at depths of hundreds of meters.

The picture seen above was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and was originally taken near San Diego in 1996 and shows a 23-foot long specimen of an oarfish being held aloft by a group of U.S Navy sailors.


This drawing of "Banks's Oarfish" appeared in an 1877 book entitled "History of Fishes of the British Isles" and appears online courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries' Digital Collections. Notice the hair-like frill that runs along the back of the fish.

When Captain Peter M'Quhae of HMS DAEDALUS first spotted a sea serpent to starboard in August of 1848, he was very analytical in his description of the creature. It passed close enough to the ship that M'Quhae stated that if it was a human acquaintance, "I should have easily recognized his features with the naked eye." He continued in his report that, "The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches in diameter behind the head....It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of seaweed, washed about its back." The painting below is one of two in the collection at Mystic Seaport of Captain M'Quhae's sea serpent. An engraving almost exactly representing this image appeared in the Illustrated London News in October of that year. Whether the newspaper image came first or the painting (which was purchased for the Museum in Scotland in 1960), is unknown, but M'Quhae's description of the size of the creature and the "mane" that appeared on its back is oddly similar to that of the oarfish. 

Mystic Seaport Museum. Accession number 1960.207

The current events in California have caused quite a stir as evidenced by the national media coverage. No less a commotion was in evidence in the autumn of 1848 in London. Was the good Captain's sea serpent an unknown, undiscovered relic of ages past or was it a lost visitor from the deep in the guise of an oarfish, which have been reported to grow as long as fifty feet? Unfortunately, we can only speculate.