Isn’t it strange that all the big New York controversies of years past have gone by the way? Remember the Book Fair Wars of several years past?
Now here we are with Sandy, Marvin, and the Flamingoz all sorted out.
Or what about the “Who Will Replace Sandy?” brouhaha,
or last year’s shameful Sandy Smith/Park Ave Armory smackdown? Gone, gone, gone…
Still, these big fairs have an odd sort of gravity to them – New York and San Francisco (Oakland) certainly, and to a lesser extent LA and Boston – sort of like black holes in the way they tend to suck objects into their gravitational field.
Invariably, on the run up to an ABAA fair, interesting new material seems to come tumbling in unbidden.
It’s been no different this month, getting ready for New York. While I’ve been scurrying around wondering how I’ll fill my display cases, unexpected phone calls, emails, and chance encounters have sent some interesting things my way. I wrote about the two wonderful “Great Republic” items last week. Then a couple of magnificent bird books came in, some autograph material, some rare travels, a chart, and – most wonderfully – one of the kookiest whaling logs I’ve ever owned, courtesy of a colleague in a landlocked state.
Here’s my description of the item, though such a brief summary can’t do justice to the magnificent ineptitude of Captain Hamlin and his hapless crew. In hopes of livening things up, I’ve attempted to include some of the actual entries.
Worst Whaling Voyage Ever?
Manuscript. “Journal of a Whaling Voyage in the South Atlantic Ocean on Board the Bark Orray Taft, New Bedford, Capt Thomas B. Hamblin. Sailed May 6th, 1852. Kept by Ephraim R. Wilmarth First Mate.” Large folio. 158 pages of manuscript entries.
I’ve handled hundreds of whaling logs and accounts of whaling voyages in my career, and this one is the lamest, least productive voyages I’ve ever seen or heard of. After a twenty-six month voyage in the South Atlantic, the Orray Taft, a 176 ton bark, brought back 20 barrels of sperm oil, with 72 sent home, for a total of 92 barrels of sperm oil, plus a mere 2 bbl. whale oil. The North Atlantic fishery was slumping at this time, and meager returns were not uncommon, but this trip – the ship’s maiden voyage – was an appalling combination of bad luck, poor management, questionable equipment, fractious and ill-trained crews, and sheer ineptitude.
The voyage, which consisted of two cycles of summer in Azores – winter on Brazil Bank fishing, included mutinies,
fights, collisions with other ships,
and frequent desertions. For each lot that left newer, greener men would be shipped. They caught their first whale on August 17, 1853, and things fell apart soon after that. Low lights include – Aug 24, crew drunk,
boatsteerer nearly kills cook. Sept. 23, mutinous letter, man refuses watch. Oct 17, fight. Nov. 27, mutiny over food. Nov 30, one of the mutineers dies. Dec. 5, mutineers in prison in Rio, ship new crew. Jan 21, 1854, whale destroys larboard boat, escapes.
Mar 20, another fight. Apr 23, lose large shoal of sperm whales. May 8, boy falls from main topgallant mast.
May 18, desertion. May 23, man draws knife on mate. June 2, men refuse duty. June 14, get fast to whale but line parts. Aug 14, land two sperm whales, a paltry 28 bbl. each. Nov. 9, collision with unnamed schooner. Jan 1, 1854, fire aboard. Aug. 29, last whale, an even more paltry 18 bbl. The journal keeper Ephraim Wilmarth, made marginal drawings of whales taken, those that escaped, those that were sighted but not struck, and other forms of sea life, as well as recognition views of the Azores, and other whimsical marginalia.
Unusual and entertaining, in a perverse sort of way. Two pages at the back of the journal detail attempts at whale-catching, and supplies and oil taken onboard. Wilmarth’s writing is legible and the pages are clean and in good condition.
So, we’re off for the Big Apple tomorrow. I’m hoping for a better trip that the Orray Taft had in 1852.