by: Kate Mello, Photo Archivist
When I play the scenario of whaling voyages in my head, it often looks something like this: the young bride sitting at home, patiently awaiting the return of her husband, and the whalers at sea thinking tirelessly of the ladies waiting for them at home. Perhaps that is just the romantic in me, but I decided to find out how much truth there was to this scenario. I decided a great place to start would be the collection of logbooks, and my discoveries were placed on exhibit in the aptly titled “Discoveries Case” in the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Among the objects presented in this case are some logbooks that served as day-to-day records of events aboard a ship. In them was listed vital information such as weather conditions, dates of significant incidents, names of ports of call and dates visited. Also recorded were the number of whales caught, and how many barrels of oil each whale yielded. It is not always known who kept each log, but in some cases it becomes irrelevant. The authors come to represent every whaler, distant from home, and the hardships that loved ones had to endure during the voyage. Many times various items were pressed in between the pages of these important books. Everything from pressed flowers and feathers to newspaper clippings and photographs has been found within the pages of the ship logs now belonging to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. These small items would have reminded a person of a specific time or of a loved one back home. These objects were treasured for their memories: the tintype that so literally represented family members, newspaper clippings gathered at various ports of poems whose words of love and longing rang true, the clipping of hair belonging to the young woman waiting at home.
The case features a selection of six logbooks with accompanying objects that once found a home within their pages. Included are four manuscript sheets written by Captain Eber C. Almy while onboard the New Bedford whalers Kathleen (1855 – 1857), and President (1869 – 1872). Captain Almy repeatedly and obsessively wrote the names of his wife Charlotte A. Almy and his children, Eddie, Helen, and George, accompanied by the date. He obviously thought about them every day and had the documents to prove it. The case also features a lock of hair found in the whaling journal of Charles H. Perkins of Dublin, New Hampshire kept onboard the ship Francis of New Bedford (1850 – 1852). The long brown locks give the impression of a female lock of hair.
Separation was an everyday occurrence for the men, women and children of maritime communities. Whaling voyages spanned months, often years, and keepsakes became a means of remembrance for whalemen and their families. Voyages could last five years, or even longer, as ships would return only when their holds were filled with barrels of whale oil. Communication was slow, although letters were frequently written and responses painfully awaited. The objects offered in the recently installed Discoveries Case, at the entrance of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, represent the type of keepsake that reminded voyagers of their loved ones. These were found tucked away in between the pages of personal whaling journals, as one might tuck photos or notes into a diary today. They serve as the cherished reminders of people left behind when New Bedford mariners set sail, on their uncertain passages around the world.