History Has a Scent

Working in a special collections library I’ve often thought to myself, “If I just took a random book off the shelf, I’m sure it would be fascinating somehow.” Here’s a quick post to demonstrate that.

On Tuesday, while preparing for one of our twice-monthly Library architectural tours, I decided to put one of our whaling logbooks on display, so I turned to a shelf and pulled down a logbook I’d never opened before, the journal of the ship Marcus, which set out in 1844. By the time I got to the first page the volume was already proving interesting:

Marcus journal, p. 1

Look closely and you’ll see the page is encoded in some kind of substitution cypher. (According to a cataloging note, it’s a “serenade.” Anyone looking for a challenge is welcome to submit their own decryption in the comments.)

Next, after a few pages of fairly standard logbook entries (wind, weather, etc.), the volume turns into a storehouse for pressed flowers and other plants:

flower1

Some, like this lady slipper, include the plant’s root structure:
lady slipper

By my count there are 42 specimens, not counting the flying fish wings:

flying fish wingsAnd it’s all rounded out with a bit of poetry:

poetry

 

But my favorite part is that the author of this journal apparently included spices. Spices that still retain their scent after 170 years. (I think it might be oregano, but I haven’t gone through them all to find out what the spice is yet.)

Just another reminder that rare materials require the use of all five senses. (Well, maybe not taste. I wouldn’t recommend actually eating 170-year-old plants found in books.)

Portrait Double Feature

Since the weekly portrait series has been quiet recently, we’re offering two portraits today, both nautically themed.

1: “Lord Bateman”

Lord BatemanThis drawing appears in the logbook of the whaling ship Martha, during an 1838-41 voyage.

2: The mailman

page016

 

Alright, maybe not the actual mailman. But this letter-deliverer was intended to proudly decorate the bow of a 19th-century ship. The image comes from an amazing item in our Brownell Collection, the pattern book of a figurehead carver named R. Lee. You can read more about Lee in volume 2, issue 3 of Occasional Nuggets, but if you’d like to view the pattern book in it’s entirety, it’s now available online.

 

More Transcription

If the George Turner letters mentioned yesterday aren’t enough for you, you can now also read the text of a 19th-century whaler who abandoned his ship.

Back in February we had a visit from some Fulbright scholars who began the process of transcribing the Daniel Mowry letters in our Nicholson Whaling Manuscripts Collection. We haven’t yet had a chance to digitize the letters, but we wanted to make the transcriptions available, and you can now find the text of all of them on one page. These are some pretty illuminating letters telling a great story.

Arctic Stories

The latest Occasional Nugget was recently mailed to subscribers:

Occasional Nuggets 4.2

(Subscriptions start at $15 / year, and you can even subscribe online, so there’s no excuse not to. Find out more here.)

The second essay in the issue focuses on the Greely expedition, an ill-fated (cannibalism is involved, so it doesn’t get much worse-fated) arctic expedition in the 1880s. When a relief party finally arrived to rescue the survivors, one of the members of the relief party (aboard the ship Thetis) kept a journal of the events, and he transcribed the journal of Roderick Schneider, one of the Greely expedition members who died as they awaited rescue. The original of Schneider’s journal was lost, so the PPL copy is now the best record of his ordeal.

As it turns out, the release of this issue was well-timed to coincide with the addition of some arctic logbooks at the terrific OldWeather.org website. The images now available on the site include the logbooks of the ships involved in the Greely rescue, the Thetis, Bear and Alert. This page, for instance, includes the official record of the relief party’s discovery of the Greely survivors.

Fulbright, brighter, brightest

We were very lucky to get a visit last Friday from some exceptional students. They’re part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, so they were from countries around the world. One component of their visit to the US is a volunteer session, so 14 of them showed up at PPL, ready to do some volunteer transcription. (Thanks to Justin Dunnavant for the photos.)

Fulbright Students

Our Nicholson Whaling Collection is well known as one of the best collections of whaling logbooks in the country. But the collection also includes quite a few other resources, including nearly 60 boxes of manuscript materials. (They’re described in a collection guide on our website.) So after getting a brief introduction to Special Collections, they set to work transcribing one small portion, the letters of Daniel D. Mowry.

Transcription in processMowry went to sea as an 18-year-old, and it didn’t take long for him to regret the decision. We have letters from Mowry to his parents during the period from 1858 to 1861, at which point he abandoned ship in Auckland, New Zealand. He continued to write home from Auckland and Sydney, Australia for years.

Daniel Mowry letter

The Fulbright student volunteers set out to transcribe the manuscripts and help fill out the story, and in just a few short hours they made quite a bit of progress.

Students transcribing lettersHere’s a short sample (transcribed by Sylmina Alkaff), in which Mowry tells his parents that he’s abandoning the voyage:

Dear Father & Mother
You will no doubt be much surprised when you get this letter to hear that I am no longer in the Sea (Gull). I left the ship about four weeks previous to this date….
My dear Father and Mother I have done a thing which you will at first blame me for. But could you know all could you
but know what I have endured and what I have seen with my own eyes you would blame me not. Her thirty three months I staid in that ship and they were months of misery to me. I took no comfort of my life neither did any of the ships company.

It should be a great story when it’s all told. Within the next few months we’ll plan to have the images online with the transcriptions by the Fulbright students. Since they were working with limited time, many of the letters are not yet fully transcribed, so blog readers can have a chance to put some of the pieces of the story together as well by doing some voluntary, online transcription work of your own.

Thanks again, Fulbright students!

group photo

 

 

Multi-Purpose Massacre x 2

Just a quick note highlighting an image to appear in the next issue of Occasional Nuggets:

bearsAndWhales

This print (from our Nicholson Whaling Collection), depicting a simultaneous, multi-species arctic bloodbath (whales at sea / bears on land) was produced in the late 1790s for a geography book, Thomas Banke’s A New, (Royal), and Authentic, System of Universal Geography, as indicated by the title at the top edge of the illustration. With just a little editing, you have a plate that was used for Charles Middleton’s A New and Complete System of Geography in the 1770s*. The following image is hard to see, but the similarities should be clear (with the exception of the title above the image):

Middleton

And if we move even further into the past, we find the following, from John Harris’s Navigantium atque itinerantium… of 1744**:

Harris

The similarities are striking, especially when you look at it in a mirror:

Harris2

More information about these and many other images of whale-related butchery is available in Elizabeth Ingalls’s catalog of the Whaling Prints in the Francis B. Lothrop Collection.


* Image borrowed from Eighteenth-Century Collections Online.

** Image borrowed from the John Carter Brown Library, and available online.

Welcome the Newest Member of our Whaling Log Family

Back in December, I briefly mentioned a new addition to our fantastic Nicholson Whaling Collection, but now I can offer a few more details. The logbook records the 1875-9 voyage of the very ill-fated whaling ship the John Carver:

The emphasis is really on the “ill”: The voyage started with Master #1 (Aaron Dean), who died and was replaced by Master #2 (Lysander Gault), who fell ill and was replaced by Master #3 (John A. Coffin), who also fell ill and was replaced by Master #4 (J.F. Stanton). Stanton himself became ill as well, but he managed to complete the voyage.

So how unusual is a situation like this? According to whaling scholar (and one of the driving forces behind the excellent American Offshore Whaling Voyages database) Judith Lund only 27 voyages, from among the thousands undertaken, went through four masters (another 14 had even more). And that figure includes voyages in which a single master was counted twice (if he was replaced at some point and then resumed command, for instance).

Other notable features of this log:

  • It documents the mental breakdown of a sailor, John Fry, who jumped overboard and attempted to swim away from the ship.
  • It is accompanied by the voyage’s original shipping papers and an unusual manuscript contract outlining the payment to members of the crew:
  • It also includes other ephemeral materials, like these notes between Master #3 and Master #2:

    The additional materials are listed in the Nicholson Whaling Manuscripts finding aid.

The log of the John Carver is available for use now, so stop in anytime (or contact us first) to work with this newly-available piece of whaling history.

New acquisitions to the Nicholson Whaling Collection are made possible by a generous acquisitions endowment provided by the donor.

Digital Whales Take to the Open Waters

Last week I mentioned the kind of uses professional researchers and other curious people can make of collections like our whaling logs. Today I’m happy to announce that there’s more of our material online, waiting to be put to good use.

For some time now we’ve made available hundreds of whaling logs digitized from earlier microfilming done decades ago (you can find the list on our website). All told, that online cache of whaling logs represents more than 60,000 individual black and white images!

And now we’re adding 13 new logs (in full color) to the list, and you can find them online at

http://pplspc.org/whaling *

The new logs include those of the Congress (complete with the taped-in lock of hair from a crewman who died of dysentery on the voyage), the Mary Ann (whose captain went overboard), the William Rotch (in which the keeper, Henry DeForrest, recounts his reading of Melville’s Typee and the newly-published Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and many more.

I hope you’ll take a look at these brand new additions to the digital landscape (or seascape, as it were).


*Note that the site itself is still in a beta state and may see some changes, but the whaling logs are ready to use. Feel free to contact me with comments or suggestions.

What’s a special collections library for?

Aside

For anyone wondering who actually uses those old books in Special Collections, here are two examples:

I mentioned the Wondershow last month, and the team’s most recent blog post offers a nice sense of the kind of questions raised and answered by material like the Percival Collection, our collection of books and periodicals on the topic of magic. And all the research will eventually lead to a fascinating public event and exhibition.

Meanwhile, scientists are right now using special collections material like the whaling logbooks from our collections (and others) to better understand the changing climate. Check out the Historic Sea Ice Data Home Page to find out more about how PPL’s whaling collection is helping scientists better understand our world.

Whaling Photographs

The Nicholson Whaling Collection is best known for its logbooks and journals, but it includes other formats as well: scrimshaw, manuscripts and photographs. Thanks to volunteer Pat Loan, a portion of the whaling photograph collection is now listed online, described either by ship name or a location.

The images listed include a lot of whaling ships:

Bark Progress (Ser. B, Box 1, #39)

But also scenes from the whaling industry:

&

C.E. Peters Shipsmith and Whalecraft Mnfr. (Ser. B, Box 2, #71)

and images from whaling towns, especially New Bedford:

Cart with peanuts (Ser. C, Box 1, #3)

The list is available online at http://www.provlib.org/spc-whalingphotos