Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Art of the Sea (and Harbors)

 The Little Sea Torch, published in London in 1801, was a translation of a French book of sailing directions entitled Le Petit Flambeau de la Mer. The author of the translation, John Thomas Serres, was the son of marine artist Dominic Serres and a very accomplished marine artist in his own right.


Serres the younger dedicated the volume to The Right Honorable Earl Spencer, then the First Lord of the Admiralty and one of a number of influential patrons he would have, including both HRH King George III as well as his son the Duke of Clarence. The book, as can be seen from the title page, described the coastal waters and ports of England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean region. In addition to the text, Serres illustrated many of the ports in multiple views. Below are just two illustrations among many, these showing a view of the harbor of Naples along with a chart of the Bay of Naples, both executed by Serres.


This book in the collection of the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport is just one of many illustrated works on charts, maps and sailing directions, some dating to the mid-17th century. We are fortunate to have had our own patrons over the years to donate such items to our collection and we look forward to adding more such treasures in the future for use by the many researchers who make their way to our collections.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shake, Rattle and Roll. The Ship IDA in Valparaiso, 1822.

The Museum recently acquired a logbook of the Boston ship IDA from 1821 to 1823. The IDA was built in Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1816, and at 115 feet in length and 28 in breadth, she was almost the exact size of the Museum’s own CHARLES W. MORGAN. The following events in Valparaiso, Chile in November of 1822 were the last recorded for the ship, except for a note in the back saying the ship was sold in March of 1823. The customs house in Boston lists the documents for the ship as being returned after the vessel was sold in Buenos Aires in November of 1823.

While sailing from Boston towards the Northwest Coast beginning in 1821, the IDA  was standing a mile or so off of Valparaiso on the 20th of November 1822, when : "At 11 P.M. We was suddenly alarmed by a violent shock that effected the ship as if she had struck the bottom, all hands sprung on deck and cried out the ship ashore, we tried the pumps and hove the deep sea lead, found no water in the ship, nor bottom with 50 fathoms of line, it so much resembled a ship drawing over a coral bank that I was induced to heave the lead, but on reflection knew it was impossible for her to have struck any bottom in so heavy a sea as was on at the time without bilging the bottom in. I then thought of a wreck of a vessel but lastly I imputed it to an earth quake." Prior to the earthquake, on November 18, the captain had sent a boat ashore at the mouth of the River Maipo at San Antonio, and with much relief  brought the boat back aboard on November 22. "They got on board and informed us that there had been a heavy shock of an earth quake on shore and that Valparaiso had been nearly destroyed and had lost 23 lives in the fall of a Castle.  St. Jago & several of the towns in the interior had suffered severely the inhabitants about the sea coast fled to the mountains for safety fearing that the sea would flow in upon them, animals of every kind on shore appeared to be affected by the shock."
A view of Valparaiso circa 1850 from Deck and Port, or Incidents of a Cruise in the U.S. Frigate Congress.
Maria Graham, the wife of a British naval officer residing in Valparaiso during 1822 wrote of the same earthquake and its stressful effects on animals as well in her published journal. “The house received a violent shock, with a noise like the explosion of a mine. I sat still; and Mr. Bennet, starting up, ran out, exclaiming, “An earthquake, an earthquake! For God’s sake follow me!”…The vibration still increasing, the chimneys fell, and I saw the walls of the house fall open.” She continued, “The motion of the earth changed from a quick vibration to a rolling like that of a ship at sea.” As to the animals, “Amid the noise of the destruction before and around us, I heard the lowings of the cattle all the night through; and I heard, too, the screamings of the sea-fowl, which ceased not until the morning.”

While this was one of a number of major earthquakes in the same exact area over the last 200 years, there are few recollections in English of the quake, so this particular view by a sea captain may very well be unique.


This area of Chile is regularly wracked by earthquakes and has seen some of the strongest in history. Thirteen years after the earthquake described above, another earthquake to the south of Valparaiso in Chile was described by Charles Darwin. He arrived in Talcahuano about two weeks after the earthquake and visited Concepcion, the site of the quake. The chart of Valparaiso Bay below was surveyed and drawn by officers of H.M.S. BEAGLE at that time in 1835.
Valparaiso Bay by the officers of HMS BEAGLE

Friday, April 29, 2016

Photo Gramma What??

No, this has nothing to do with sweet ol’ granny sitting for her family portrait. Rather it has everything to do with taking advantage of new technologies in imaging to give virtual (and actual) visitors a more complete view of an object than they could get seeing it laying in a traditional museum display case.

Photogrammetry is the term. Photogrammetry is a photographic technique used in measuring distances with cameras, oftentimes for aerial maps and the like, but many museums are using the process (in concert with other scanning procedures) to create visual virtual 3-D models of objects.

MSM Accession number 1941.430


If you click on the above image it will take you to a 3-D model created by the Rhode Island company named The Digital Ark. The Digital Ark did some tests using a photogrammetric method to create the image you see. They used well over two hundred images of the piece of scrimshaw and stitched them together with software to make a 3-D version of the tooth that can be spun in space and viewed from all sides, giving us the opportunity to display things in an entirely new fashion.

View the tooth in full screen mode by clicking on the two diagonal arrows. Rotate it in space by manipulating the image with your computer mouse or touchpad.

Given to the Museum in 1941 by trustee and collector H.H. Kynett, the tooth in question has on one side patriotic symbols including an American eagle, a shield and cannons with the motto "E Pluribus Unum" and some stylized roses. The other side has an anchor, a 3-masted ship with guns, and a banner displaying the words "Success to our Navy."


While we are just in the test stages of working with this time-consuming process and technology, we feel it offers tremendous opportunities to show visitors many different types of objects in their entirety that they would not otherwise be able to experience. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Music Anyone?

Growing up in a small town and attending a two-room schoolhouse as a child, I was fortunate to have some interesting, and interested, teachers. One such was an older woman born a decade or so before World War I who, along with teaching English, Math, Spelling and Geography, inspired her pint-sized students with her avid interest in music. Having obviously learned her repertoire at her parents’ knees, she animatedly played the piano to accompany her singing of a host of songs from the Gay ‘90’s. All of which we learned as well (and sing to this day). Our Miss Gliha would have loved the collection of sheet music housed in the Collections Research Center at Mystic Seaport.

There are over 1,500 pieces of sheet music at Mystic Seaport, ranging in date from the War of 1812’s The Fearless Tar to the Little Mermaid TV series in 1993. Most have been collected for their nautical content, either in the lyrics of the song or the content of the illustrations on the cover or both. Shown here are a few representations of themes included in the collection. Click on the images to get a better view.

The Three Bells Polka was written in honor of Capt. Creighton of the Glasgow Ship THREE BELLS. In 1854, the THREE BELLS was one of three ships that rescued 500 passengers from the steamer SAN FRANCISCO. Unfortunately, another 200 passengers were lost. Creighton received a medal and $7,500 in cash from the U. S. Government for his efforts in rescuing the people that he managed to take aboard. A polka seems an odd musical form to commemorate such an incident, but Capt. Creighton (or at least his remembrance on paper) now lives on in the museum’s temperature and humidity-controlled Collections Research Center. 

MSM Accession # 1993.35.5


Music for Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat was written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, popular collaborators in the 1900’s and 1910’s. The song title, best known for the song of the same name in the Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls, is a completely different song, except for the refrain “Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat!” The 1913 version seen here has to do with a young woman fending off the advances of her sailor suitor.

MSM Accession # 2002.7.8


A very colorful cover appears on the music for The Ship I Love, written in 1893 by Felix McGlennon and, as can be seen on the cover, “Sung with immense success by Tom Costello.” The heroic Captain intones from the deck of his sinking ship, “I’ll stick to the ship lads, you save your lives, I’ve no one to love me, you’ve children and wives.”  He finishes the chorus with “But I’ll go down in the angry deep, with the ship I love.”

MSM Accession # 2002.103.11

The number of pieces in the collection attests to the popularity over time of sea-related emotions to either tug at the heart strings of the public, or to entertain them with the farce and silliness. Either way, we have been diligently scanning the collection and hope to have it online in the near future if you wish to try your hand at playing and singing such greats as The Midshipman’s Farewell or The Mermaid’s Cave.




Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Launchings

A recent inquiry into the life of Massachusetts mariner Isaac Hinckley once again brought to light his charming watercolor of the launch of his first command, the Brig REAPER. The REAPER was built by Thatcher Magoun in Medford, Massachusetts in 1808. Hinckley, at the ripe old age of 25, became her master and part owner. Hinckley says of the painting, "An attempt to show the Brig Reaper as she appeared on the stocks at Medford-but it is past my Art; therefore here I leave it- Launching Day-." The painting is part of Manuscript Collection 184, the Isaac Hinckley Papers, at Mystic Seaport. From the written description of the collection: "Isaac Hinckley, born in 1783, was a shipmaster from Hingham, Massachusetts who had gone to sea as a young boy, and acquired his first command at an early age. These papers indicate that during the years 1809-1810 he was master of the brig REAPER for a trading voyage from Boston to Aden and Calcutta. He was then master of the ship TARTER, 1812-1813, for another voyage to Calcutta, and then commanded the ship CANTON for three voyages from Boston to Canton, China between 1815-1818. It was during the homeward passage of this last voyage that Issac Hinckley died (58 days out of Macao), leaving a widow in Hingham and six children, 2 to 11 years of age." Hinckley was 35 years of age at the time.

Launch of Brig REAPER, 1808, by Isaac Hinckley.
Manuscript Collection 184, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Thirty-three years later, in 1841, and again 205 years later, in 2013, another ship was launched. The site of the first launch was also in Massachusetts. The CHARLES W. MORGAN, now the last remaining wooden whaleship, must have looked very similar to the REAPER as she slipped into the water at the shipyard of the brothers Zacharia and Jethro Hillman in New Bedford. Then, in 2013, under the watchful eyes of many hundreds of attendees, she gently dipped her hull into the waters of the Mystic River to commemorate her arduous and successful  restoration. This ceremony was the culmination of years of planning and hard work and the preamble to a successful voyage the following year that would see the last of the New England whaling fleet make a peaceful visit to the whaling grounds off Massachusetts. The painting below by celebrated marine artist Geoff Hunt captured the excitment of the moment on July 21, 2013.

Launching of the CHARLES W. MORGAN, by Geoff Hunt.
Mystic Seaport accession number 2014.54


Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Whaling Odyssey

For the last five years or so, Mystic Seaport has been the temporary home for one of the most amazing murals ever painted. When Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington finished their masterpiece in the late 1840’s, the result, known as the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, was celebrated as a realistic depiction of the whaleman’s life in pursuit of the leviathan. Just recently, Mystic Seaport staff members assisted New Bedford staff in removing the second of seven rolls from our Collections Research Center for its trip back to New Bedford where it will undergo long-anticipated conservation work. The first roll was retrieved last year and the first phase of its conservation is nearing an end in public view at New Bedford under the watchful eye of the half- scale whaling bark LAGODA. This oversized painting stands nearly eight and one half feet tall and if opened up to its full length it would stretch for approximately a quarter of a mile. It may very well be the longest painting in the world.  When it was completed it was displayed in New Bedford and then went on a tour throughout the United States. Each roll stood vertically on a spindle on a stage with a take-up reel positioned some feet away. As the panels stretched and rolled between the two spindles, a narrator would describe to the seated viewers just what it was they were observing as they vicariously traveled around the world on a whaleship. You can learn more about the panorama and view a video production about it at the following link. Panorama History. Mystic Seaport is happy to have been of service to our fellow maritime museum while they endeavored to raise funds for the conservation work.


Mystic Seaport and New Bedford Personnel, along with visitors from the Cape Verde Islands,
readying a section of the panorama for travel.

New Bedford Whaling Museum Historian Mike Dyer examining
the first roll in the Collections Research Center.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Hero's Award

On March 12th, 1904, Andrew Carnegie signed a Deed of Trust in New York City to create the Carnegie Hero Fund to recognize deeds of civilian heroism. Carnegie was inspired by a mine accident near Pittsburgh to create this fund with a beginning corpus of five million dollars. One of the stipulations in the deed of trust states, “A medal shall be given to the hero, or widow, or next of kin, which shall recite the heroic deed it commemorates, that descendants may know and be proud of their descent. The medal shall be given for the heroic act, even if the doer be uninjured, and also a sum of money if the Commission deem such gift desirable.”

A recent inquiry to the Museum brought to light once again that there is a Carnegie Hero Medal in the collection at Mystic Seaport.  There are countless acts of heroism associated with sea rescues over the years, and the Museum has quite a number of lifesaving medals in its collection attesting to that fact. However, the Carnegie Hero Commission was established expressly to recognize such acts and the Commission must agree that the act recognized is worthy, making this medal of particular interest.

“Woman Lashed to the Mast in Schooner Wreck,”; “Lashed in Rigging Seven Hours, 15 Owe Lives to Brave Fishermen,”; “The Heroic Fishermen.” These are a few of the headlines in January of 1910 after the Captain, his wife and crew of 12 (not 13 as reported) of the six-masted schooner MERTIE B. CROWLEY wrecked on the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The captain of the CROWLEY sealed the schooner’s fate when he mistook the Edgartown light for the Block Island light and ran the vessel aground. Captain Levi Jackson and his crew of four of the fishing sloop PRISCILLA set out from shore and managed to brave the storm and the waves for 13 miles and then retrieve the imperiled group from the schooner using the sloop’s dories before the CROWLEY completely broke up.

The medal, as can be seen here, has a likeness of Andrew Carnegie on the front and the following appears on the back: "AWARDED TO LEVI JACKSON WHO HELPED TO SAVE WILLIAM H. AND IDA M. HASKELL AND TWELVE OTHERS FROM DROWNING  EDGARTOWN, MASS. JANUARY 23, 1910."


To see a more detailed account of the rescue, see the account by Levi’s great-grandson on the Carnegie Hero Foundation site at http://www.carnegiehero.org/awardees/profiles/jackson/.


Carnegie Medal Awarded to Captain Levi Jackson in 1910.
Mystic Seaport Accession # 1984.48.3

Blog Archive