The ship Lagoda: The Maritime History of an American Icon, 1826-1890

Detail illustration showing the Jonathan Bourne, Jr. house flag. This flag would have flown from the mainmast of his ships to identify ownership. It was taken from the New Bedford and Fairhaven Signal Book (New Bedford, 1842) the yar after he bought the Lagoda.

Detail illustration showing the Jonathan Bourne, Jr. house flag. This flag would have flown from the mainmast of his ships to identify their ownership. It was taken from the New Bedford and Fairhaven Signal Book (New Bedford, 1842) the year after he bought the Lagoda.

We catch our first glimpse of the ship Lagoda from the deck of the Bryant & Sturgis brig Pilgrim of Boston, anchored off Ballast Point, San Diego, California, trading cow hides and tallow in 1835: “The third was a large ship, with top-gallant masts housed, and sails unbent, and as rusty and worn as two years hide-droghing” could make her.[1] The Lagoda was just under ten years old when Richard Henry Dana, Jr. immortalized the Scituate- built merchant ship as a hard working cow-hide freighter in his classic maritime narrative Two Years before the Mast. It’s funny how some ships are simply destined for greatness and others languish forgotten forever. The Lagoda, oddly enough, was one of the former class. Built for the carrying trades in 1826, she was sold into the whale fishery in 1841, and so served out the rest of her days. She was 64 years old and had sailed to every ocean of the world and most of the seas as well when she was finally condemned at Yokohama, Japan in 1890.

At the time, Dana described her as a large ship, and at 340 tons, she was the largest ship that the Duxbury, Massachusetts merchant Ezra Weston had built to date. Ezra Weston II (1772-1842) known as “King Caesar of Duxbury,” and the firm of Ezra Weston & Son, built 85 sloops, schooners, brigs and ships between 1800-1856 and over twenty more in the 18th century. Weston was among the most successful Massachusetts maritime merchants whose ships traded throughout the Mediterranean, the West Indies, the Baltic, South America and particularly, the New Orleans cotton trade.

Probably built of local Massachusetts white oak and pine, spruce and hackmatack from Maine, there was nothing particularly special about the Lagoda apart from her mistaken name. A 340 ton American merchant ship really stands out very little in maritime history; hundreds of them were built from Maine to South Carolina. The only thing that brings the Lagoda to the world’s immediate attention really is her name, and by and by, her success in the whale fishery.  Long the subject of conjecture by curious people, the name “Lagoda” was evidently simply a mistake, a typo as it were, made by the painter who put the name of the ship on the stern at the shipyard.

According to Frederick Sawyer, author of the 1841 guide to commercial shipping regulations, The Merchant’s and Shipmaster’s Guide, “the name of every registered ship, and the port to which she belongs, must be painted on her stern, on a black ground, in white letters of not less than three inches in length, under the penalty of $50.00.” Further, although there was no law specifically addressing the name of a ship, or changing the name of a ship, In Merchant Sail the maritime historian and naval architect, William Armstrong Fairburn specifically noted: “For centuries it had been considered unlucky to change the name of a ship unless there was a change of ownership, when it might be deemed permissible, or unless, coupled with a change of flag and foreign registry, a change of name might become obligatory.”[2] He went on to note that very few American vessels had their names changed in the 19th century.

What’s really interesting is how the naming of the Lagoda came about in the first place. Ships were sometimes named for their intended business, where they were trading or what they were intended to do. The Levant, for instance, was intended for trade in the eastern Mediterranean, the Cossack for whaling in the Sea of Okhotsk, the Arab for whaling in the Indian Ocean, and the Alaska was intended to be a Behring Strait whaler. One classic example is the ship Ann Alexander, built at Dartmouth, MA in 1805 to the order of George Howland, Sr., merchant of New Bedford and named by him for Ann Tuke Alexander (1767-1849) a Quaker proselytizer.

The Lagoda has an interesting back story. While significant iron production was taking place in North America, much of the bog ore relied upon by early Massachusetts shipbuilders was insufficient in both quantity and quality for the growing needs of the industry. New England shipbuilding merchants traded for Russian hemp, duck sailcloth and high-quality bar iron from Sweden and Finland at St. Petersburg, Russia, specifically, from the western shore of Lake Ladoga.

This detail from Mount and Page, The English Pilot... Northern Navigation (London, 1785) shows the approaches to St. Petersburg.

This detail from Mount and Page, The English Pilot… Northern Navigation (London, 1785) shows the approaches to St. Petersburg.

A detail from and 1816 entry in the New Bedford Custom House impost book showing the cargo of the brig Benezet to New Bedford from St. Petersburg. Note the large quantities of iron, hemp and sail cloth.

A detail from and 1816 entry in the New Bedford Custom House impost book showing the cargo of the brig Benezet to New Bedford from St. Petersburg. Note the large quantities of iron, hemp and sail cloth.

 

A detail from an 1816 entry in the New Bedford Custom House impost book showing the cargo of Russian iron onboard the ship Ladoga of New Bedford.

A detail from an 1816 entry in the New Bedford Custom House impost book showing the cargo of Russian iron onboard the ship Ladoga of New Bedford.

Iron from the Ladoga Mines went into many an American ship and, according to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, was the preferred material for harpoons.[3] I’ve never actually seen such a reference myself, but a great deal of Swedish iron was imported directly into New Bedford, so it makes perfect sense. Naming ships for their general trading destination was a common practice. In fact, one ship called the Ladoga had already been built at New Bedford to the order of William Rotch, Jr. in 1816, destined specifically for the Baltic trade.

William Rotch, Jr. wrote in 1796 concerning the St. Petersburg trade:

“It has been my intention for some time to employ a Ship in the Russia Trade from this Port, but the high price of American ships at the present time has prevented my purchasing this year but being desirous of making an experiment and having had your house recommended to me for punctuality and attention to business, I have taken the liberty to request my friends Thomas Dickason & Co of London to give you Credit on them for my behalf for 4 or 5000£ Stg and to Charter A small Ship to go as early as possible to St. Petersburg for a Cargo to bring to this Port…go to St Petersburg as early as the Cargo can be ready of about 150 Tons which if a profitable Ship to load, I suppose will take 70 Tons of Hemp & 130 Tons Iron, I need not remind you of the necessity of a Strong light Ship for such a Cargo. you will please also see the Ship is well found and well manned with a good Careful Master…” [4]

Unlike most of “King Caesar’s” ships, the Lagoda was built, not on the Bluefish River in Duxbury, but on the North River at Scituate, a few miles up the coast, on the site of the old Edward Wanton Yard owned by Seth and Samuel Foster. Wanton was a 17th century Quaker convert, a witness to the hanging of Mary Dyer, who left Boston and settled in Scituate where he built sloops and topsail schooners.[5] The Foster family took over the shipyard and Elisha Foster was building ships there as early as 1811.

Weston managed the Lagoda for seven years, primarily in the European trade, before the Dorchester merchant William Oliver purchased her. Oliver was a successful Boston merchant, at least according to his numerous obituary references, although his primary mercantile interests are not easily identified. He sat on the board of the Suffolk Insurance Company in 1836 even after his retirement and in 1840 was Vice-President of the Boston Horticultural Society and donated large sums of money to a variety of benevolent societies. In 1833, however, he, along with a large number of other Boston merchants invested in a hide-trading voyage to California. The firm of John Bryant and William Sturgis had taken the lead in the California hide and tallow trade after earlier Boston merchants had identified its potential, but William Oliver and his company of investors also participated for at least the one voyage.

It appears that the Lagoda made but one voyage to California before being sold to Jonathan Cushing and Nathaniel F. Ames, dry goods merchants of Boston. Cushing and Ames owned the Lagoda for four voyages between 1835 until 1839. Newspaper records indicate that the Lagoda was engaged in the carrying trade from England to ports in the U.S. including Richmond, Baltimore and New Orleans.[6]

As far as the impetus for Jonathan Bourne to purchase the Lagoda, Morison again makes a tantalizing observation that: “Fishermen and other small vessels were constructed in Plymouth Bay at this period; and at Wareham and Mattapoisett on Buzzards Bay were more children of North River, building 300 ton whalers for Nantucket, and neutral traders for New Bedford.” With a complete lack of primary source material to support it, a hypothesis may be crafted based on patterns of genealogy that transcend coincidence, suggesting that when the ship came up for sale, Bourne evidently heard of her qualities from Captain James Townsend.

Anonymous portrait of Captain James Tonsend, circa 1830. 2001.100.4357.

Anonymous portrait of Captain James Tonsend, circa 1830. 2001.100.4357.

Townsend, a relation (father, perhaps, or uncle) of Mary C. Townsend who married into the Ames family when she married shipwright Nathaniel F. Ames of Mattapoisett in 1842 was master and part owner of the ship General Pike of New Bedford in 1837, the first whaler that Bourne invested in. The tentative relationship between Cushing & Ames in Boston and the Cushing and Ames families of Mattapoisett seems far beyond mere coincidence, especially when discussing the qualities of a North River-built ship with a thorough local history. Ames may well have recommended the stout, seasoned Lagoda for her new job in the whale fishery to Townsend, who in turn relayed that information to Bourne. At the very least, the ship had a local reputation.

Among Jonathan Bourne's first whaling investments was the 1835 voyage of the ship South Carolina of New Bedford on a right whaling voyage to the South Atlantic Ocean. Second mate William W. Taylor painted this watercolor scene of right whaling in the southern Indian Ocean while on that voyage. KWM #411

Among Jonathan Bourne’s first whaling investments was the 1835 voyage of the ship South Carolina of New Bedford on a right whaling voyage to the South Atlantic Ocean. Second mate William W. Taylor painted this watercolor scene of right whaling in the southern Indian Ocean while on that voyage. KWM #411

Jonathan Bourne, like many other New Bedford whaling agents, used the right whale fishery to great advantage. While all of Bourne’s ship returned sperm oil, over all they returned a great deal more whale oil. Bourne operated under the maxim that “brown oil is better than no oil.” So, the Lagoda, for instance, returned over three times as much whale oil over her career than sperm. The same can be said for every other one of the twenty-four ships owned by Bourne over the course of his career except for the Draco, the Adeline Gibbs, the Alaska and the Napoleon.  In the case of every one of these vessels except the Draco, their sperm oil returns came either during or after the Civil War when sperm oil reached its highest prices in history, over $2.00 per gallon.

In 1860, after Bourne sold a cargo of sperm oil at a good profit he wrote to a correspondent, “I think whaling is looking decidedly better, particularly the sperm whaling. Did you think I should be in the market buying whalers? You see I am not so badly scared at the business.”[7] Curiously, the Lagoda’s three most profitable voyages, 1850-1853, under Asa S. Tobey; 1860-1864 under Zebedee A. Devoll who died of Java Fever eight months out from home; 1864-1868 under Charles W. Fisher, were all right whaling voyages when the price of whalebone had reached over $1.00 per pound.

Bourne also hired the most experienced masters to command his ships and he put up with no nonsense. He wrote to the master of one of his ships in 1860, concerning another: “I don’t intend to have a drunken man to squander my property.”[8] He was in the habit of making diligent inquiries into the qualities of his masters and officers as can be readily seen in the below letter:

Capt James M Witherell, No Falmouth

Dear Sir. Since you left I have made some further enquiries about Mr Robinson who was mate of the “Zone” of Fairhaven

The owners give him the name of being a first rate sperm whaleman his right whaling they know nothing of but think he has been right whaling

You had better make some enquiries about him. Today I was [sic] Charles Kempton would go, who was mate of the Lagoda when you went your first voyage. Of him I need not speak as you was there and know all about his disposition, whaling qualities, habits & c. I understand he is as good as then, but of course no better. I take it his age is the only objection if there is any.

Let me hear from you what you think about him. One of the young Kelly’s who was in the “Reindeer” is here, and if you was here before he went home, I have but little doubt you would get them both. I cannot say anything to them as Mr. Howland would think I was interring with him.[9]

Of the twelve masters who commanded the Lagoda, only two, Charles W. Fisher and John D. Willard sailed the Lagoda as their first command and Willard was second mate on the Lagoda on her 1850 voyage under Asa Tobey. Fisher, who had Bourne’s complete confidence (as demonstrated through their correspondence) shipped as second mate on Bourne’s ship Stephania , 1860-1864, before being appointed master of the Lagoda in 1864.

During her career as a whaler, the Lagoda made two of Bourne’s most profitable voyages. Both came after the rig was changed from a ship to a bark. On her 1856 voyage, she sailed from New Bedford with a complement of 31 crew members, whereas when she sailed in 1860 as a bark, she had fewer men, 26. Fewer men meant fewer lays to pay, and her outfitting costs were considerably less as well. Almost every voyage thereafter made more money as a bark than when she was rigged as a ship.  The 8th voyage of the Lagoda, under command of Charles Fisher, 1864-1868 was a right whaling voyage to the North Pacific. It placed tenth on Bourne’s most-profitable list returning the owners 219% on their investment. On this voyage the Lagoda twice made port at Yokohama, Japan, quite an interesting shift in U.S.-Japan relations brought about largely through the expanding influence of Yankee whalers in the Pacific. The voyage lasted 46 months. The 7th voyage of the Lagoda, under the command of Zebedee Devoll placed fifth on the list of the ten most profitable voyages lasting 44 months and returning 363% on the initial investment.[10]

While the Lagoda is often credited with being Bourne’s “most profitable” ship, that honor could actually fall to the bark Hunter built to Bourne’s specifications by Elbridge G. Pierce at Gardner, Maine in 1851. The Hunter made 13 voyages, surpassing the Lgoda in total sales of catch but at the end of the accounting, when all of the profits were added up, the Lagoda overall made Bourne the most money. The other two most profitable ships in the Bourne fleet were the Draco and the Northern Light.

Among the more significant highlights in the Lagoda’s career were her involvement in the opening of American-Japan relations and the rescue of the 1200 seamen from the 32 wrecked whalers in the Arctic disaster of 1871.

While the ship had made port in Yokohama on her 1864 voyage, that was already six years after Commodore Perry had negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce and American ships were welcome in Japanese ports. The really important event, and one that scholars have long argued pushed the impetus for Perry’s later visit, was on her 1846 voyage under the command of James Finch, when 15 crew members took three whaleboats and deserted the Lagoda on the coast of Japan.  The Lagoda was cruising in the Sea of Japan in June of 1848 at the time and the men made landfall at Matsumae in the extreme southwest of Hokkaido. Here they were captured, imprisoned and by several accounts beaten and tortured. They were feared by the Japanese authorities to be spies, suspected of being Christians, and known for a fact to be illegal interlopers. The men were later taken to Nagasaki and held there for almost a year. There was a Dutch consul in Nagasaki, the Dutch being the only Westerners permitted to trade on the Japanese mainland. By several accounts, the deserters were treated harshly and deaths were reported, however the stories differ between the predictably bad behavior of American seamen who had deserted their ship and the stringent Japanese reactions to lawbreakers. In any event, one of the deserters, a Hawaiian Islander did hang himself, and at least one other prisoner died, allegedly killed while trying to escape.

Their treatment sparked an international incident as Dutch authorities notified the American sloop-of-war Preble, James Glynn, master, who in April of 1849 successfully negotiated their release. In a dispatch from Commodore David Geisinger commander of the U.S. East India Squadron, dated Canton January 25, 1849, it was reported that the Lagoda had run aground and been wrecked and that the crew members were shipwreck survivors. In a demonstration of just exactly how well-informed Jonathan Bourne actually was, a letter that he wrote to the wife of a crew member requesting an advance on her husband’’s pay, confirms that he had already heard from the Lagoda after the alleged date of her shipwreck. In this instance, Bourne was better informed of the whereabouts of his ship than the U.S. Navy.

New Bedford 4 mo 10 1849

Mrs. Weston A Briggs

Your letter of the 3rd Inst came to hand, & contents noticed. Inclosed please find Twenty Dollars. You may hear, or see in some of the news papers, the Loss of the Ship Lagoda, at one of the Japan Islands, but give yourself no uneasiness whatever, as it is entirely false. The Ship I know was at the Sandwich Islands Nov 20 1849, and was not then ready for Sea. Consequently could not be in the Japan Sea at the time of the reported loss. It originated from the three Boats crews who deserted her when she was there the last season. Should you have any letters from Mr Briggs, please inform me of it.[11]

The Arctic disaster of 1871 also featured the Lagoda. In this event, as we all know, 30 New England whalers along with and one from Hawaii and one from San Francisco whalers stayed a little too long on the North Slope of Alaska chasing whales in conditions that led to the ice pack moving rapidly toward shore. Several ships were outside of the ice, and the New Bedford ships Midas, Progress and Daniel Webster, owned by William O. Brownell, Jonathan Bourne’s Lagoda and Samuel Osborne’s Europa of Edgartown were able to take the shipwrecked crews onboard and deliver them to Honolulu safely. After the fleet was almost completely destroyed in the crushing ice, 1200 crewmen in whaleboats made their way south in whaleboats and were taken onboard the five waiting ships and returned to San Francisco and Honolulu. 170 of the men were taken onboard the Lagoda. The U.S. Treasury immediately granted a bounty of $35.00 gold currency per man to each to the owners of each vessel for their services and these amounts were awarded in 1872. The really interesting part of this story is that Brownell, Bourne and Osborn petitioned the U.S. Government for additional reimbursement due to lost whaling time in rescuing the shipwrecked crews. They submitted a memorial to the Committee on Claims of the U.S. House of Representatives.[12]

Abandonment of the Whalers in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 1871/ Pl. 3. By Benjamin Russell, lithograph by J.H. Bufford, Boston, 1872. Russell supplemented his earnings as a print-maker and painter of ship portraits by generating exact, detailed and authoritative illustrations of events in support of insurance claims. He produced the series of five prints documenting the events of 1871 in the Arctic to support the claims of New Bedford whaling agents to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Abandonment of the Whalers in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 1871/ Pl. 3. By Benjamin Russell, lithograph by J.H. Bufford, Boston, 1872. Russell supplemented his earnings as a print-maker and painter of ship portraits by generating exact, detailed and authoritative illustrations of events in support of insurance claims. He produced the series of five prints documenting the events of 1871 in the Arctic to support the claims of New Bedford whaling agents to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In preparation for that memorial, it appears that the New Bedford artist Benjamin Russell prepared a series of drawings to serve as exhibition documentation of the event. In 1872 these drawings were later made into the famous series of prints “Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic.” Interpretive reference drawings of events leading to insurance claims seem to have been relatively common and Russell’s prints of the Arctic disaster, as good as they are, definitely fall into the category of documentation rather than art.

Jonathan Bourne sold the Lagoda to William Lewis in 1886, and Lewis transferred the bark to San Francisco, the new center of the American whaling trade. Whalebone was driving the whaling industry in the late 19th century and Lewis had invested in a number of steamers as well as old whalers like the California , the Horatio and the Lagoda. The Lagoda made her final voyage in 1889, a cruise to Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. She was condemned as unseaworthy at Yokahama in 1890. What happened was that in 1867, the ship had struck on a reef approaching Yokohama Harbor and needed to be repaired. All of the bolt heads had stripped off her false keel and damage was done to the hull. In 1889, before sailing, she had been put in dry dock while full of 1000 gallons of fresh water in casks and the weight started the old repairs. When she put to sea the strain had weakened the hull to the point where the ship was leaking at 33,000 strokes every 24 hours. With the crew refusing duty, the Lagoda actually put back in to Yokohama, the same place where the damage had occurred in the first place.[13] Here she was finally condemned and put to work as a collier.

Bark Lagoda at wharfside, circa 1880s. 200.100.787

Bark Lagoda at wharfside, circa 1880s. 200.100.787

In many ways the story of the Lagoda is absolutely worthy of our perpetual preservation. Jonathan Bourne in his business decisions, and later his daughter Emily in her understanding and discretion of her father’s legacy, made an excellent choice with the Lagoda . What stories better represent the maritime culture of Massachusetts than that of the Lagoda? Built in the era when the U.S.A. was finally free to trade on the high seas the world round, built of native timbers to the order of a major American merchant, a ship destined for the California trade she was on the coast before California entered the Union in 1850, the Russian trade, the Liverpool trade and finally the whale fishery, she began her life at a time when American ship portraits were rare and ended her days in New Bedford with a photograph at the wharves. She was instrumental in the opening of Japan, the annexation of Alaska and traded on both coasts of Russia, from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. She made her owners a lot of money and today serves as a cornerstone in the educational programs of the museum introducing generations to the significance of Massachusetts and the U.S.A. to the maritime history of the world.

[1] Richard Henry Dana, Jr. Two Years Before the Mast (New York, 1840), p.

[2] William A. Fairrburn, Merchant Sail Vol. IV (Center Lovell, Maine, 1945-1955), pp. 2645-2658.

[3] Samuel Eliot Morison, The Maritime History of Massachusetts (Boston, 1921), p. 294.

[4] ODHS MSS 2 Rotch Family Papers

[5] Historic and Cultural Resources Survey of Norwell (Norwell, Massachusetts June 2007).

[6] Richmond Enquirer, September 17, 1839.

[7] ODHS MSS 18, Jonathan Bourne Papers, Letter book, 1860-181, “New Bedford Augt 6 1860

[8] ibid.

[9] ODHS MSS 18, Jonathan Bourne Letter Book, 1860-1861

[10] For a complete assessment of Jonathan Bourne’s whaling interests, see: ODHS Bake Papers, Vol. 2, “Whaling Statistics.”

[11] ODHS MSS 18, Jonathan Bourne, Jr. Letter book, 1849.

[12] United States. Congress. House. Committee on Claims. Owners and crews of certain American whaling vessels : July 28, 1890. ODHS #BI-411.

[13] Daily Alta California, Volume 83, Number 80, 18 September 1890

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New Bedford Harbor Towboats and the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World

Purrington & Russell show the island steamer Massachusetts towing the ship Niger into New Bedford harbor.

Purrington & Russell show the island steamer Massachusetts towing the ship Niger past Clark’s Point lighthouse and into New Bedford harbor in 1847.

In the early scenes of the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, ever the purveyors of the unique in their paintings of maritime scenes, show a whaler passing Clark’s Point lighthouse under tow of a sidewheel steamer. The whaler shown is the ship Niger of New Bedford flying the house-flag of Hathaway & Luce. Given the period in which the Panorama was painted, 1847-1848, this scene can only be meant to represent the successful return of the Niger from her maiden voyage.

William Hathaway, Jr. and Matthew Luce of New Bedford managed a growing fleet of whalers in the late 1840s including the ship Niger, 434 tons, built to their order at Rochester, Mass. in 1844.

William Hathaway, Jr. and Matthew Luce of New Bedford managed a growing fleet of whalers in the late 1840s including the ship Niger, 434 tons, built to their order at Rochester, Mass. in 1844.

The steamer shown was the Nantucket Steamboat Company sidewheel steamer Massachusetts. The Massachusetts was a ferry built for the company in 1842 to run three days a week between the island and New Bedford. She remained in service until 1858, as was described as the finest vessel of her type in service. This is the only such painting documenting an island steamer towing a whaler into New Bedford harbor. That the steamers were employed as towboats is well documented, especially at Nantucket where the Massachusetts was employed towing whalers lodged in the floating dry-dock “camels” over the sandbar at the mouth of Nantucket Harbor. Other histories indicate that both the Massachusetts and the Telegraph, another ferry in the same service at the same time, earned extra money for company as towboats.[1] Later photographs show whalers being towed out of New Bedford harbor and barges and such being towed by tugs into the harbor. By the 1890s this was common practice. The bark Canton of New Bedford was towed out of the harbor in May of 1891 and back into the harbor when she arrived home in June of 1892 (ODHS #988).  For all of that, however, this image from the Panorama is unique.

One of the earliest steam tow boats built in the United States for coastwise towing, the "R. B. Forbes" was built in Boston by Otis Tufts for the Boston Board of Marine Underwriters, at the behest of Robert Bennet Forbes, for whom the vessel was named. The first iron-hull vessel built in Boston, she measured 320 tons. Her two Ericson screw propellers were driven by a pair of condensing engines, each with a bore of 36 inches and a 32-inch stroke. A pioneer in coastwise towing, the "R. B. Forbes" was mainly used to tow newly-built sailing ships from New England shipyards to New York, where their owners would complete the fitting-out process and send them to sea. Unable to use her profitably to this end, the owners sold her, as did her subsequent owners. She was sold to the U.S. Navy in 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War. She was lost when she went aground on the coast of North Carolina, near the Hatteras Inlet on February 25, 1862, a total loss. – Erik Ronnberg

Another steamer appears in the early sequences of the Panorama and while it is prominently featured was not a steamer that saw regular use in New Bedford harbor. “One of the earliest steam tow boats built in the United States for coastwise towing, the R. B. Forbes was built in Boston by Otis Tufts for the Boston Board of Marine Underwriters, at the behest of Robert Bennet Forbes, for whom the vessel was named. The first iron-hull vessel built in Boston, she measured 320 tons. Her two Ericson screw propellers were driven by a pair of condensing engines, each with a bore of 36 inches and a 32-inch stroke.
A pioneer in coastwise towing, the R. B. Forbes was mainly used to tow newly-built sailing ships from New England shipyards to New York, where their owners would complete the fitting-out process and send them to sea. Unable to use her profitably to this end, the owners sold her, as did her subsequent owners. She was sold to the U.S. Navy in 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War. She was lost when she went aground on the coast of North Carolina, near the Hatteras Inlet on February 25, 1862, a total loss.”
 Erik Ronnberg, Curator of the Cape Ann Museum wrote the above text and it appears courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum

The Panorama towing scene offers a number of interesting points to consider. For instance, under what circumstances would a sailing ship need to be towed into the harbor? When was the steamer available? How much did it cost to employ the steamer? Some of this information is forthcoming, some of it isn’t. For instance, whaling merchant John Avery Parker kept account books that summarized each of his vessels’ voyages.

Accounts for the 7th voyage of the ship Phenix of New Bedford managed by whaling agent John Avery Parker, 1846. KWM #A-163

Accounts for the 7th voyage of the ship Phenix of New Bedford managed by whaling agent John Avery Parker, 1846.
KWM #A-163

Detail from above summary voyage account noting the cost of employing a steamer to tow the ship Phenix into New Bedford.

Detail from above summary voyage account noting the cost of employing a steamer to tow the ship Phenix into New Bedford.

In the summaries he breaks down standard outstanding costs like pilotage, wharfage, rolling and filling oil casks, night watching, etc. For a few of these voyages, “steamboat towing” is a cost listed. The cost in the mid-1840s for the use of a steamer for towing a ship “up the harbor” was about between $15.00 and $30.00 depending upon how far the vessel needed to be towed. Other times, although rarely, a vessel in distress would need to be towed. A good example is the story of the bark Courser. On September 8, 1869, the  Courser of New Bedford on her homeward passage sailed directly into a hurricane off Block Island, ran aground, and had put into Newport Harbor leaking so badly that teams of men from Newport needed to be put onboard to continuously man the pumps for three days. A steamboat was sent for and on September 11 the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company steam ferry Helen Augusta arrived in Newport from New Bedford to tow the Courser to her home port.[2] While the Courser is an extraordinary example, steamers most definitely had their place in lifesaving, wrecking, towing and other duties in addition to carrying passengers.

The majority of logbook entries for the final day or two of a homeward New Bedford voyage, however, end at or around Block Island, Nomans Island or Cuttyhunk when a Branch Pilot was taken up to guide the ship into New Bedford. As far as the log keeper was concerned, his responsibilities ended when the pilot took command of the ship and most logbooks go no further after the pilot come onboard.

This advertisement for New Bedford Port District Branch Pilots appeared frequently in th Whalemen's Shipping List and Merchants' Transcript newspaper in the 1840s.

This advertisement for New Bedford Port District Branch Pilots appeared frequently in th Whalemen’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript newspaper in the 1840s.

Artist and journalist David Hunter Strother made this drawing "Pilot takes a lunch - Whaleship BALTIC - May 23rd 1859" for an article "A Summer in New England" published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1859.

Artist and journalist David Hunter Strother made this drawing “Pilot takes a lunch – Whaleship Baltic – May 23rd 1859,” showing the famous New Bedford Branch Pilot Ben Aken, for an article “A Summer in New England” published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1859. 2001.100.4630

Branch Pilots were highly skilled, licensed mariners whose job it was (in the case of the New Bedford Port District) to cruise the waters between Block Island and Nomans Island in order to provide services to inbound vessels. Another set of harbor pilots guided the outbound ships. Some of these pilots lived in New Bedford. Many of them made their homes on Cuttyhunk Island and others lived on Martha’s Vineyard and even on Noman’s Island. In 1847, inbound pilots charged $2.00 per foot of the length of the vessel being piloted. Ship captains were not obliged to take a pilot but such a choice had its own perils. In 1844, for instance, Captain Avery F. Parker of the ship Midas of New Bedford did not like the terms under which the pilot of the schooner Superior, who was not a licensed Branch Pilot, offered to guide the ship through Quicks Hole. He finally agreed to take the pilot as the weather was worsening. With the wind northeast (a head wind), the ship ran aground twice off Dumpling Rock on the outgoing tide and needed to be kedged off the rocks. The prevailing wind on Buzzards Bay is southwest, but the wind often shifts around to the north. A north wind is one of the primary conditions under which a sailing ship would need to be towed into the harbor in order to avoid the very sort of difficulties encountered by the Midas.

On a fair wind a ship could sail in under her own power and many did just that. One such example is that of the ship Milton of New Bedford that returned from a voyage to the Pacific Ocean in June of 1873. On the day of the final log entry, the wind, predictably, was west/southwest. They took a pilot off Cuttyhunk and “at ½ past 6 PM arrived alongside of the wharf, made fast and left.”[3]

William Bradford painted this view of a whaler approaching the Fairhaven wharves under sail in 1854. 1975.18

William Bradford painted this view of a whaler approaching the Fairhaven wharves under sail in 1854. 1975.18

In most cases the final logbook/journal entry will indicate that the vessel has come to anchor off Clarks Point Lighthouse or Palmer’s Island. In some cases, like that of the Milton, the final entry makes mention of the vessel actually sailing to its berth at the wharf. Curiously, the Niger returned from her maiden voyage on November 29, 1847, a three-year sperm and right whaling voyage to the Pacific Ocean. The final entry in the logbook indicates that the ship Niger sailed into the harbor with studdingsails set on a strong westerly wind.[4] This was about the same time that Purrington & Russell were painting the Panorama. Whether the scene shown is intended as a documentary illustration of actual events, or as a representative example of potential common activities, the Niger was not towed into the harbor by the Massachusetts in 1847.

"View of New Bedford. From the Fort near Fairhaven." Lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane, 1845. 1981.6

“View of New Bedford. From the Fort near Fairhaven.”
Lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane, 1845. 1981.6

The Massachusetts itself appears in several other prints and paintings of the period. Fitz Henry Lane included a fine view of the Massachusetts as well as a whaler anchored off Palmer’s Island, in his 1845 lithograph “View of New Bedford from the Fort near Fairhaven.” In many ways, this view seems to capture much of the spirit of the later Panorama view of the harbor and perhaps it was for this very reason that Purrington and Russell chose to document the steamer in use as a towboat instead of simply as a vessel type to be seen in the harbor.

[1] Harry B. Turner, The Story of the Island Steamers (Nantucket, 1910), pp 22-28

[2] ODHS #1187

[3] ODHS #420

[4] NBWM #1279

20th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon

The 20th anniversary of the Moby-Dick Marathon was indeed a celebration of America’s greatest novel, of New Bedford’s place in whaling and industrial history, of shared heritage, and of Irwin Marks’ vision of a community event that would include readers of varied backgrounds. Our readers came from a dozen different states and from the Netherlands, our Livestream feed was followed in 26 different countries, including New Zealand and Zimbabwe, our foreign language readers added French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese to the reading, and two dozen hearty souls stayed for the entire Marathon. The second Children’s mini-Marathon kicked off with teenagers from Iceland joining us via Skype to read in their native tongue before a full roster of our own young readers read through the abridged version of Moby-Dick. The Maratona de Moby-Dick em Lingua Portuguêsa, a new event this year, was a great success that featured 46 ‘leitores’ reading from Tiago Patricio’s four-hour adaptation of the Portuguese translation of Moby-Dick. The ‘Chat with a Melville Scholar’ sessions attracted more than 40 people to each session and Michael Dyer’s presentation on the new exhibition Mapping Ahab’s Storied Waves was given to a full gallery. The Cook Memorial Theater was filled to capacity to watch Culture*Park enthusiastically act out Chapter 40, Midnight – Forecastle.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

We were thrilled to have Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Why Read Moby-Dick? and several other great stories, start the Marathon for us as Ishmael. We were honored to have three of Irwin Marks’ children, David, Rebecca and Esther, along with Rebecca’s husband, Alban, join us in the Bourne Building, in the shadow of the Lagoda, where the entire Marathon took place for the first five years under Irwin’s guiding hand, to read from chapters two and three.  We were humbled by both the full-audience singing of The Ribs and Terrors in the Whale, led by Gerald Dyck, Dwight Thomas and several docents, and by the words of Father Mapple’s sermon orated by Reverend David Lima.

Our new Harbor View Gallery (HVG) was showcased over the weekend as the primary site for the reading. The view of New Bedford Harbor from this gallery created a new connection to the setting of the story. For many of our readers, spectators and supporters it was their first visit to the HVG and the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center (WJEC). The first floor of the WJEC, the Casa dos Botes Discovery Center, became Cousin Hosea’s Chowder Hall, where participants could enjoy chowder and soup donated by four local restaurants and sip some coffee and have a snack.

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery (Arthur Motta/NBWM Photo)

But, the 20th anniversary was more than the reading and associated events that took place on Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10. We began the four days of celebration on Thursday, January 7, by unveiling a stunning photography exhibit by award-winning photographer Nuno Sá, from Portugal. Nearly 200 people filled the Jacobs Family Gallery with their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as they viewed his vivid photos of marine life in the waters around the Azores. They then packed the Cook Memorial Theater to hear Mr. Sá’s presentation and see more of his impressive photos on the big screen.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum's Azorean Whaleman Gallery.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum’s Azorean Whaleman Gallery. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

The next night began with a cocktail reception in the JFG before we moved upstairs to the former Center Street Gallery to watch the dedication of the space as it officially became The Herman Melville Room. Members of the Melville Society Cultural Project spoke on the gallery and their partnership with the Museum, before they cut the ribbon to formalize the process.

After the ribbon cutting, guests walked into the new building to check out the exhibit, In the Heart of the Sea, featuring costumes from the film of the same name before gathering in the Harbor View Gallery for a delicious dinner. Diners were then treated to an engaging presentation by our own Arthur Motta, titled “Moby-Dick: How Hollywood Changed New Bedford”.

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta photo)

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

We are grateful to the sponsors, watch officers, volunteers, trustees, readers, spectators, supporters, media outlets, staff and apprentices who made this series of events possible. Of course, we are most grateful to the late Irwin Marks for his vision and dedication, and to the volunteers in 1996 who also believed in this concept, that made this event a reality.  As popular as the event was that first year, we think he would be truly impressed with the reach of the Moby-Dick Marathon after 20 years. It has become as global as the whaling industry itself.

New Bedford Harbor Small Craft Illustrated in Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.

Albert Van Beest painted this view of shipping in New Bedford Harbor in the mid-1850s. This boat, a lapstrake open boat with stayed masts and a jibboom appears to be of the dogbody type with a square transom. The foresail appears to be of the loose-footed type without a boom, as the mainsail boom is prominently shown. Typical of Van Beest's work, the boat is an element of the larger scene and while it may be reliably interpreted as a boat type, it's activities are ambiguous. This detail is from "View of Shipping in New Bedford Harbor," 1975.17.

Albert Van Beest painted this view of shipping in New Bedford Harbor in the mid-1850s. This type of boat, or one very similar to it, appears in the Panorama a number of times and in other paintings of New Bedford waters in the 1850s as well. This boat, a lapstrake open boat with stayed masts and a jibboom appears to be of the “dogbody” type with a square transom. The foresail appears to be of the loose-footed type without a boom, as the mainsail boom is prominently shown. Typical of Van Beest’s work, the boat is an element of the larger scene and while it may be reliably interpreted as a boat type, it’s activities are ambiguous. This detail is from “View of Shipping in New Bedford Harbor,” 1975.17.

Purrington & Russel painted several versions of this type of craft. This particular one has two unstayed masts with a boom on the mainsail, a loose-footed foresail, a jibboom and head sail, a square transom and is mostly decked over. Its use is ambiguous although it appears to be ferrying people. 1918.27.1

Purrington & Russel painted several versions of this type of craft. Unlike Van Beest’s painting above, this particular one has two unstayed masts with a boom on the mainsail, a loose-footed foresail, a jibboom and head sail, a square transom and is mostly decked over. Its use is ambiguous although it appears to be ferrying people. 1918.27.1

The boat shown in this detail from William Bradford's 1854 portrait of the ship Twilight of New Bedford appears to an almost perfect example of a Block Island Cowhorn. The two men are obviously fishing and the scene is in Buzzards Bay off Dumplin Rocks lighthouse. Note the double-ended "pinky" style of hull, the open deck, unstayed masts and lack of a jibboom. 1980.43

The boat shown in this detail from William Bradford’s 1854 portrait of the ship Twilight of New Bedford appears to an almost perfect example of a Block Island Cowhorn. The two men are obviously fishing and the scene is in Buzzards Bay off Dumplin Rocks lighthouse. Note the double-ended “pinky” style of hull, the open deck, unstayed masts and lack of a jibboom. 1980.43

While much has been written of New Bedford whalers, the famous ships, barks and schooners that sailed the world round, little has been written of the small working craft of the harbor. These boats were employed all up and down the East Coast in a variety of styles and sizes, from the large double-ended “pinky” schooner to the smaller pinky “Chebacco Boat,” dogbody Hampton Boat and  little working skiff. Perhaps it’s because at first glance there seems little to say about them. As they appear in prints and paintings, they all look sort-of similar and are engaged in some activity, but seldom can one tell what that activity actually is. Obviously small boats were used for a host of purposes including everything from fishing to freighting to ferrying people. Not appearing in either the official enrollments of American vessels in the coastwise American trade or the registers of ships engaged in foreign trade, these boats are often merely adjunct details to larger art works or photographs. Yet for all of their ubiquity, these boats suggest a fundamental element of a maritime culture. People worked on the water and used various sorts of boats to do it. These boats would, most likely, have been of local manufacture and designed for the waters they would ply.

Purrington and Russell commonly drew these boats with decks. This example shows a boat around 20 feet long, with unstayed masts, a jibboom and a loosefooted foresail.

Purrington and Russell commonly drew these boats with decks. This example shows a boat around 20 feet long, with unstayed masts, a jibboom and a loosefooted foresail.

This detail of a small New Bedford boat is part of a larger painting by New Bedford painter William Allen Wall. Wall clearly indicates that these boats were rowed as well as sailed. It is a very small version of this boat but the jibboom is clearly shown and the masts appeared unstayed. 2012.26

This detail of a small New Bedford boat is part of a larger painting by New Bedford painter William Allen Wall. Wall clearly indicates that these boats were rowed as well as sailed. It is a very small version of this boat but the jibboom is clearly shown and the masts appeared unstayed. 2012.26

If the boats are challenging to identify, their users are even more so. “Boatmen” appear occasionally in the New Bedford City Directories and these people made their livelihood either renting or working onboard small craft about the harbor. As larger shipping was anchored in the stream, boatmen would move people and goods from the shore to the ship.

In this view from the Panorama, two sloop-rigged work boats transfer the crew of a whaler and their sea chests onboard a vessel anchored in the stream. 1917.27.1

In this view from the Panorama, two sloop-rigged work boats transfer the crew of a whaler and their sea chests onboard a vessel anchored in the stream. 1917.27.1

Work boats alongside the ship William Hamilton, outfitting in New Bedford Harbor in June of 1848. Note the black seaman onboard and the sea chest coming over the side of the ship. 1917.27.1

Work boats alongside the ship William Hamilton, outfitting in New Bedford Harbor in June of 1848. Note the black seaman onboard and the sea chest coming over the side of the ship. 1917.27.1

A gaff-rigged sloop approaches the ship William Hamilton in New Bedford Harbor, June of 1848. Onboard are crew members ready to join the ship. 1916.27.1

A gaff-rigged sloop approaches the ship William Hamilton in New Bedford Harbor, June of 1848. Onboard are crew members ready to join the ship. 1916.27.1

Whether or not the people can be positively identified and discussed, the boats appear often enough that one can glean much information about them. When Purrington and Russell painted New Bedford harbor in 1848-1849 they included a large number of these small working craft. Unlike the formal oil paintings by prominent marine painters, the boats in the Panorama are not adjuncts, they are integral to the interpretation of a busy seaport. The Panorama was intended for audiences nationwide, and by showing the full array of busyness, the artists created an effective interpretive sequence. Among the more easily recognized are the larger two-masted schooners and single-masted sloops. These often appear as pilot boats in marine paintings. The larger ones were undoubtedly coasters as well trading domestic goods coastwise.

Here a large topsail schooner is shown standing down New Bedford harbor before a following breeze. 1918.27.1

Here a large topsail schooner is shown standing down New Bedford harbor before a following breeze. 1918.27.1

Purrington & Russell painted this view of three men in a long skiff jigging for squid or mackerel in New Bedford harbor opposite Palmer's Island. They are probably jigging for squid to use for bait. 1916.27.1

Purrington & Russell painted this view of three men in a long skiff jigging for squid or mackerel in New Bedford harbor opposite Palmer’s Island. They are probably jigging for squid to use for bait. 1916.27.1

In this curious detail, Purrington & Russell show two men in a rowboat towing a raft of logs up New Bedford Harbor. 1918.27.1

In this curious detail, Purrington & Russell show two men in a rowboat towing a raft of logs up New Bedford Harbor. 1918.27.1

The smaller boat close-by the larger is among the more common aspects of ship portraiture. But who was sailing these pilot boats? Who were the pilots? Where were the boats built and by whom? Why did they look the way they did? These questions are difficult, if not impossible to answer because these small craft are seldom the subject of the painting. The pilots were listed in the New Bedford City Directories and thirty-five appear in 1852 along with five named pilot boats. As these boats are seldom identified by either flag or by name their actual appearance is merely circumstantial.  The artists seem to include them as necessary decoration; evidence of the full range of complexity involved in an active seaport, but small craft often only appear as elements in the arrangement and structure of the composition.

William Bradford painted this scene of a merchant ship hove-to for a pilot off Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard in 1850. Note the small craft in the foreground and the pilot boat, a schooner, off the stern of the ship. 2005.20

William Bradford painted this scene of a merchant ship hove-to for a pilot off Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard in 1850. Note the small craft in the foreground and the pilot boat, a schooner, off the stern of the ship. 2005.20

Detail from William Bradford, "Hove-to for a Pilot," 1850. This boat has a pinky hull, two stayed masts and a jibboom. It is obviously a fishing boat with two men engaged in fishing in the waters between Cuttyhunk Island and Martha's Vineyard. The cliffs of Gay Head are in the background. 2005.20

Detail from William Bradford, “Hove-to for a Pilot,” 1850. This boat has a pinky hull, two stayed masts and a jibboom. It is obviously a fishing boat with two men engaged in fishing in the waters between Cuttyhunk Island and Martha’s Vineyard. The cliffs of Gay Head are in the background. 2005.20

Likewise, another small craft commonly seen, especially in New Bedford scenes, is a two-masted work boat with a small jibboom, the hull of which is either double-ended (a pinky) or with a square transom (a dogbody). These boats seem to have evolved from the much earlier 17th century European “shallop,” often around 25 feet long, two-masted, fore and aft rigged, simple to sail and very weatherly, used for fishing and other work. On these New Bedford boats, the main sail is rigged with a boom and the fore sail is loose-footed. The short jibboom may have been removable. (See John Gardner,  “The Elusive Hampton Boats,” The Small Boat Journal (November, 1979). Sometimes the boats are ¾’s decked over with a passenger cockpit aft. Sometimes the masts are stayed and sometimes un-stayed. They appear in a variety of lengths.

William Bradford drew this pencil sketch of a Block Island Boat in the 1850s. The lines are a perfect Cowhorn but it is unclear if there is a removable jibboom. There is certainly an anchor on the starboard bow and tit has an after deck. 1960.7.9

William Bradford drew this pencil sketch of a Block Island Boat in the 1850s. The lines are a perfect Cowhorn but it is unclear if there is a removable jibboom. There is certainly an anchor on the starboard bow and it has an after deck. 1960.7.9

This craft is commonly shown with two men on board, and whether they are fishing, or doing something else is often ambiguous. The context of their appearance, especially in the formal marine paintings of artists like William Bradford and Albert Van Beest suggests that these are fishing boats. Boats of this type were built in a variety of sizes all along the New England coast. On Block Island a similar craft was called a “cowhorn.” In Gloucester there was the Chebacco boat, on the coast of Maine and New Hampshire there was a similar craft called a Hampton Boat. The New Bedford boats appear to be a kind of Hampton or Hambden Boat (see Chappelle, The National Watercraft Collection, Washington, 1960, pp. 254-257). Chapelle reports that these “two-man” boats were common as fishing and lobster boats on the coast of Maine in the late 19th century but the frequency with which they appear in New Bedford paintings suggests a much broader geography of use. In 1845, there was at least one lobsterman in New Bedford, Joseph Crapo, (City Directory, 1845, p. 80) and while no individuals are listed as fishermen in the Directory the Bartlett family operated a fish market at the Ferry Boat Wharf, so presumably someone must have been providing them with fish.

In the below list there are doubtless a number of builders who specialized in whaleboats. This was a major manufacturing sector of New Bedford’s whaling industry. Most, if not all of the below list of boat builders could and probably did build other sorts of working craft but the full extent of that production remains to be researched.

List of New Bedford boat builders from the 1845 City Directory
Alexander Wall, boat builder, 1845 Ray Street
Joseph Warren, boat builder, 1845, Ray Street
Daniel Wardsworth, boat builder, 1845, rear, 32 South Water Street
Lawrence Wardsworth, boat builder, 1845, rear, 32 South Water Street
Robert C. Topham, boat builder, 1845, Foot of Griffin
William H. Smith, boat builder, 1845, rear 98 South Water St.
Sprowell Pease, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Calvin D. Macomber, boat builder, 1845, no address
George C. Lewis, boat builder, 1845, 214 Ray Street
Ebenezer Leonard, boat builder, 1845 works for D. Wardsworth (possibly whaleboats)
Joseph Irish, boat builder, 1845, no working address
John D. Hillman, boat builder, 1845, 214 Purchase St.
Alvin Hinckley, boat builder, 1845, no working address
George Hart, boat builder, 1845, rear 94 South Water St.
Samuel E. Gabriel, apprentice to Robert C. Topham, 1845
Samuel A. Enholm, boat builder, 1845, works for R. C. Topham.
James M. Cranston, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Joseph W. Cornell, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Edmund B. Coffin, boat builder, 1845, no working address
Shubael C. Coffin & Co. (Edward F. Slocum), boat builders, 1845, Rotch’s South Wharf.
Henry Butler, boat builder, 1845, no working address.
Frederick F. Bunker, boat builder, 1845, works for T.N. Allen, lives on Ray Street.
Charles Bosworth, boat builder, 1845, house and shop 61 South Water St.
James Beetle, boat builder, 1845, 214 Purchase St.
John G. Bailey, boat builder, 1845, 20 Elm St.
Rhodes G. Arnold, boat builder, 1845, South Water St.
Thomas N. Allen, boat builder, 1845, 94 North Water St.

“An Excellent Thing of its Kind”: The Culture and Context of Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.

Apart from its intrinsic appeal and importance as a document speaking directly to the American whale fishery of the 1840s, Purrington and Russell’s “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World” serves to contextualize New England’s maritime culture within the larger American experience of the day. Whaling was a specialized industry prosecuted by a number of active ports in New England and the Long Island. While America’s maritime trades were widespread and globally influential, whaling, while equally influential on a global scale, demanded skills, financing, hardware and other expertise far outside the normal activities of America’s trading ports. Obviously, Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), erstwhile New Bedford banker and leading citizen turned whaleman  artist, sought to earn cash from his traveling panorama picture show of the New England whale fishery. Although it was a large and demanding, labor-intensive industry worth over $8 million dollars per year to the national economy, the significance of whaling was little known or appreciated outside of its immediate geographical management sectors.

Ship India of New Bedford bound in, 1848.

Ship India of New Bedford bound in, 1848.

Russell included an accurate representation of Abraham H. Howland's house flag flying from the India's main peak. Under Howland's ownership the India was a Northwest Coast right whaler. William Tallman Russell owner her from 1827-1840 when she was primarily an Indian Ocean right whaler.

Russell included an accurate representation of Abraham H. Howland’s house flag flying from the India‘s main peak. Under Howland’s ownership the India was a Northwest Coast right whaler. William Tallman Russell owner her from 1827-1840 when she was primarily an Indian Ocean right whaler.

 

Detail of the starboard bow of the ship India of New Bedford. Characteristically, Russell painted the crew hard at work on the foredeck. Note that the ship has her anchor at the bow which the crew are probably securing prior to her arriving home at New Bedford harbor.

Detail of the starboard bow of the ship India of New Bedford. Characteristically, Russell painted the crew hard at work on the foredeck. Note that the ship has her anchor at the bow which the crew are probably securing prior to her arriving home at New Bedford harbor.

Panoramas in general were very popular in the 1840s and 50s, and Russell and Purrington certainly went all-out to create a stunning documentation of the whaling experience for the intended audiences. The New York Morning Courier in July, 1851 noted: “Ever since the great success of BANVARD with his panorama of the Mississippi River, the public have been overrun with panoramas and dioramas of every conceivable river and land known to the civilized world—panoramas of the North Pole—panoramas of the South Pole—dioramas of the Creation—dioramas of the End of the World—panoramas of California, of Oregon, of Asia, Africa, Europe and every part of America have been painted or daubed and, like every dog, each one has had its day, blazed awhile in the streets and in the newspapers, and then are gone—nobody knows whither.”

The same editorial then went on to praise the high quality of Russell’s panorama: “of all the gems we have seen, RUSSELL’S great panorama of a Voyage Around the World is, on the whole, the best.” It then went on to describe the “magnificent” and “sublime” scenes, but significantly noted that Benjamin Russell himself was the “lucid” narrator of the show which he based on his own sketches and experiences as a whaleman.

New Bedford whaling merchant John Avery Parker owned the ship Trident, which was among the most successful whalers sailing out of New Bedford at this period. The Trident landed many thousands of barrels of sperm and right whale oil at both Bremen, Germany and New Bedford. She made seventeen voyages between 1828 and 1873 when she was finally lost on the coast of Panama in the Pacific.

“The illustrations of ships at sea in every possible situation of the process of taking the various species of whale and the mode of preparing the oil, are sprightly, lively and very interesting…” (New York Morning Courier, July, 1851)  In the above view, the ship Trident of New Bedford is shown cutting in a whale at sea. New Bedford whaling merchant John Avery Parker (176901853) owned the ship Trident, which was among the most successful whalers sailing out of New Bedford at this period. Under Parker’s management the Trident landed many thousands of barrels of sperm and right whale oil at both Bremen, Germany and New Bedford, between 1828 and 1855. She made seventeen voyages total between 1828 and 1873 when she was finally lost on the coast of Panama in the Pacific. Parker was among Benjamin Russell’s creditors and throughout the Panorama Russell shrewdly identified some of the most successful ships of New Bedford’s most important merchants.

Russell scheduled an ambitious line-up of venues. Cities like New York and Boston seem obvious choices. Other sites, however, such as Buffalo, St. Louis,  Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky really do raise some significant questions as to the viability of the scheme as a money-making venture. While these were   fairly large cities and towns for middle-America in the 1840s and 50s, the specific appeal of such an alien subject matter as pelagic whaling to the farming and urban-dwelling citizens of the hinterland was undoubtedly a gamble. However, New Bedford did have business interests in all of these cities and towns, so Benjamin may been counting on an interested populace. Oil refiner and candle manufacturer William Tallman Russell (1788-1872) of New Bedford, for instance, sold his products to retailers in Buffalo, St. Louis and Baltimore.

View of Buffalo, New York, 1853.

View of Buffalo, New York, 1853 where Russell visited with the Panorama in November of 1849.

By 1850 Cincinnati had a population of 115, 000, St. Louis, 63,000, Buffalo, 40,000. New Bedford itself only numbered about 17,000 people. While, if the press accounts are any indication, the Panorama was wildly popular in New Bedford and elsewhere in New England, it’s popularity in the mid-west seems to have been moderate at best. In Buffalo in November, 1849, the press really did approve heartily of the show: “[it] is one of the most interesting and attractive exhibitions that has been witnessed in Buffalo. It presents views of some of the loveliest islands in the world, and shows how man plays with and conquers the leviathan of the deep. Come and see it. It will give you more real information than can be gleaned from books in months. The view of the beautiful city of New Bedford alone is worth the price of admission.”

Advertisment for the Panorama from the Buffalo Daily Courier, November 24, 1849

Advertisement for the Panorama from the Buffalo Daily Courier, November 24, 1849

 

Benjamin Russell however, complained of competition from other panoramas and attractions almost everywhere he went in the mid-west. Most of these cities and towns had large halls especially devoted to exhibiting panoramas. In Boston it was Amory Hall, in New York is was at Stoppani Hall, Broadway and in Buffalo is was Clinton Hall on the corner of Washington ands Clinton Streets.

Maro at Huaheine

For this view of the fabled islands of Polynesia, Benjamin Russell chose a scene based on the lore of the whale fishery in the Pacific. In March of 1825, the Nantucket Inquirer newspaper then the New Bedford Weekly Mercury in April 1, 1825 published a letter. The letter was written by the Nantucket whaling master Richard Macy of the ship Maro dated Coast of Japan, August 16, 1824 “I steered first to the Society Islands, where I proposed to stop in order to procure wood and water – the island I selected for that purpose is called Eimeo, and lies 20 miles west of Otaheite. I entered a harbor on the north side of the island, which is not to be surpassed for access and safety by any harbor I this ocean. I took my ship 2 miles up this beautiful harbor (entirely landlocked) and tied her to an old tree.” Such a romantic and undoubtedly beautiful location was guaranteed to entice landlocked young fellows into the whale fishery.

Russell may have had an ulterior motive, such as labor recruitment by visiting these inland cities and towns. These places were potentially full of young men hungry for adventure. It may be a mere coincidence but in the same New York paper where a glowing advertisement for the Panorama appeared, the New York Morning Courier, October, 1851,  a lengthy story appeared about the success of the American whaling industry with a paragraph specifically highlighting that the New Bedford fleet needing 4000 young men to man its ships.

Among the more fascinating questions about Russell traveling with this enormous painting and, presumably, the apparatus necessary to work it, is how did he get around? Between 1848 and 1851, railroads were rapidly connecting America’s mid-west cities and towns. Russell had even included a picture of the railroad in New Bedford at the extreme beginning of the Panorama.

panorama railroad picture

In what may be the earliest picture of the railroad in New Bedford, Russell and Purrington drew a locomotive, coal car and other cars on the line passing north behind Wamsutta Mills.

Even at their best, however, these railroads were not quite up to scratch. John Avery Parker described his journey to Buffalo from Albany on the railroad as particularly arduous:

“Take it from Albany to Buffalo the road with some exception is more like riding in an old stage coach than on a railroad and the worst managed road that I ever rode over and the slowest road by about one half of any road in Massachusetts and about 75 percent higher fare 12 or 13 miles is all you go per hour. On our great Western Railroad from Boston to Greenbush they go over 20 miles per hour including stops. Very seldom more than 5 minutes is taken to land baggage and passengers, on your road from 10 minutes to 30 are generally taken up and no punctuality observed in starting. I will give you some facts which I was an eye witness to and could give you two hundred more witnesses for there were about that number altogether. We reached Utica from Troy in good time no complaint. Stopped all night at a good house first rate (Brag’s Hotel) next day two o clock was the starting hour our ladies got seated in the cars at ¼ before two at 3 oclk we started after backing & filling one whole hour. @ 3 oclk along we went for Auburn where we were told we should arrive by 8 oclk in the evening which was the hour we arrived at Syracuse which was the time my company wished to stop. Could not get our baggage because it was put in for Auburn in fact it was as much as a man’s life was worth to get in the neighborhood of our baggage so I took my seat in the cars thinking that the safest place. In the course of an hour we started and soon brought up and found they had wood & water to take in, after getting a supply as I supposed we backed up again as I judged nearly to Syracuse from thence we started ahead. Soon after the cars began to move at a slow pace all hands were called on to get out and push at the wheels to keep her moving. Finally got started and rode off 8 or 10 miles an hour, got on a few miles farther. We brought to a stand again and finally got to Auburn—12 oclock same night. Next morning we were told the cars left at 9 oclk we of course were to the depot in time. At about half past ten we started from Auburn and got on after that with the usual delays.” (MSS 14, John Avery Parker Papers, Letter book, October 9, 1847).

Russell must have encountered very similar challenges in his travels to those described by Parker, even more when one considers that there was no railroad to St. Louis from Louisville, Kentucky in 1850. Russell must have come to St. Louis via steamboat.

St. Louis, Missouri, waterfront, 1849 from a wood cut by Julius Hutawa.

St. Louis, Missouri, waterfront, 1849 from a woodcut by Julius Hutawa.

By the time that Russell had actually made into the American interior with his fascinating pictures of the adventures of world travel in the whale fishery, gold had been discovered in California. Men were leaving the old ports of the East Coast and traveling westward by whatever means they could.

Josephine gold rush

In this 1849 New Bedford broadside, the ship Josephine is advertised as leaving New Bedford for the gold fields of California. The Gold Rush was a major drain on skilled mariners and others who had hitherto spent their careers, or hoped to, in the whale fishery and maritime trades.

Visualizing Whale Sounds

From Woods Hole Currents Magazine

From Woods Hole Currents Magazine

As we get better acquainted with the sounds cetaceans make, researchers look for innovative ways to analyze and interpret what is being heard. Recent articles, including this one by Science News for Students, based on a recent publication in Science Communication, a recent interview by NPR featuring Katy and Roger Payne, as well as the article featured below, indicate that language has structure and can be learned.  This then drives research into whale culture and social structure. Hal Whitehead, from Dalhousie University, has been studying sperm whale social structure for decades (see Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean, published in 2003). He will speak on this topic here on Tuesday, November 10, during our Whales in the Heart of the Sea lecture series.

One of the most interesting facets of this research is the use of spectrograms to visualize the sounds being made. Being the sight-focused species that we are, this visual representation of the sounds enhances our ability to recognize patterns, if indeed there are any.

What is a Spectrogram

This recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, featuring the work of David Rothenburg in Medium, combines spectrogram, sound and art to depict recognizable audio patterns as colorful shapes. We still don’t know what the male humpback was trying communicate with these vocalizations, but it’s clear that the sounds are not random meanderings.

The legacy of marine mammal sound recording started by William Schevill and William Watkins 60 years ago continues with new technology and new interpretive techniques. We will continue to follow these trends as the new stewards of the William A. Watkins Collection of Marine Mammal Sound Recordings and Data.

A Scoop of …. with Your Ice Cream

Whaling became a global industry because there was a need, and thus a market, for the products derived from blubber and baleen. Lamps, lighthouses and streetlights were all lit with one form or another of whale oil. Spermaceti candles were a valued commodity because they burned cleanly without smoke. Lubricants were made from the blubber and jaw pads of toothed whales. Corset stays, collar stiffeners, leaf springs and other products were sliced out of baleen. But, perhaps the most unusual source of a whale-based product is the black, tarry substance secreted by the intestines of male sperm whales. This unusual biological creation is known as ambergris, French for gray amber.

Beak of giant squid (Architeuthis dux). Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Beak of giant squid (Architeuthis dux). Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Sperm whales eat lots of squid. Squid digest well, except for their beaks. If the whale doesn’t vomit the beaks they will pass through the three stomachs into the intestines. The sharp edges of the beak most likely irritate the inner walls of the intestines. Thus, some sperm whales, apparently only males, secrete the ambergris to coat the sharp edges of the beaks. Eventually the lump of beaks, ambergris and other digestive tract material find their way out the back end of the whale. Once in the water, which is colder than the inside of a whale, the ambergris becomes much more of a solid. Exposure to air and salt can oxidize the lump and lighten its color to gray rather than black, hence the name.

Ambergris and Scrimshaw Tooth from Capt. Harry Mandly of Valkyria

Ambergris and Scrimshaw Tooth from Capt. Harry Mandly of Valkyria

Some of us here have wondered who first figured out that a substance (a protein called ambrein) could be extracted from these lumps and used in perfumes as a fixative for color and aroma. What types of experiments were he/she/they doing? Did they know the source of this ambergris? Were they searching for something else?

We do know that ambergris has been used in food, burned as incense and used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. However, I think it may come as a surprise to learn that the first known recorded recipe for ice cream would include ambergris, or ambergreece, as it’s written in the recipe, as a potential ingredient.

The story of the origin of ice cream is a fun read anyway. You can listen to a podcast on Gastropod or read their article. But, to know that a substance that comes out of the back end of a whale was part of the original recipe is amusing. People have mixed it into their eggs and shaved it on top of their port wine. But, if it finds its way back into ice cream, it will have to happen in another country. Use of ambergris, and all other marine mammal products has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1972 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect.

Panorama Conservation Project Reveals Hidden Content.

One of the great treasures of the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection, Caleb P. Purrington and Benjamin Russell’s 1848 painting, Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, is currently receiving conservation treatment. Concerns with the 1,285 foot long painting include flaking paint, wrinkling and tears in the fabric. The entire composition consisting of tempera on cotton sheeting, even after being bundled around from city to city 150 years ago, remains in a remarkable state of preservation. It  is nonetheless in need of attention. The painting is stored on rolls, as it was originally, and abrasion has caused some paint loss. For its treatment, the painting has been separated into a series of padded spools. One at a time, the spools are mounted on a custom-fabricated steel table outfitted with cogs, cranks, swivels and other apparatus necessary to maneuver the giant paintings safely and effectively. Its location in the Bourne Building, just adjacent to the model whaling bark Lagoda, gives visitors the opportunity to witness the ongoing treatment firsthand. One goal of the treatment is to minimize the loss of paint as it flakes away from the cotton sheeting. Using a combination of liquid spray consolidates and targeted forensic triage the conservators are systematically stabilizing this important artifact of American maritime history. Another goal is to repair any damage to the fabric.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

One ten foot section of the Panorama is treated weekly to consolidate the fragile and powdered paint layer, in order to prevent it from falling off the cotton substrate. First, the section is examined for minute particles on the surface that are carefully  removed with tweezers. Particulate commonly found are lint, human hairs, dirt and other debris. Once the surface is free of such materials, the section is sprayed with a superfine mist of weak-gelatin solution from a dahlia-sprayer. The solution (.75% conservation grade gelatin in deionized water) serves a dual purpose: as an fixative for the powdering paint, and to humidify the cotton sheeting substrate and reduce wrinkling. 

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores. Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores.
Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

While the conservators examine and treat the painting for its forensic issues, the curators and historians seize the opportunity, while the painting is flat on its bed, to examine the great whaling document for the details of its content; and this painting is replete with fascinating historical details. Everything from flags to geography, to the rigs of ships and boats, is documented in varying degrees of detail and accuracy. Benjamin Russell (1804-1885) was a self-trained artist and himself a whaleman. He is a fascinating figure in New Bedford history. As a young man his prospects were great. His family were successful merchants and he sat on the board of directors of the newly formed Marine Bank. The national banking crisis precipitated by the Andrew Jackson administration, however, caused a constriction of credit and Russell’s assets were insufficient to cover his debts. So, like many in desperate straits, he sought his future at sea and went a’whaling. He sailed on at least one whaling voyage onboard the ship Kutusoff of New Bedford, a sperm and right whaling cruise to the Indian Ocean and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1841-1845. While on the voyage he is said to have kept a sketchbook to record the exciting events and scenes of the hunt intending to use the experience to further his career as a whaling artist. By the 1860s he had firmly established himself in New Bedford and was working as a ship portraitist and print maker, but after he had returned from his whaling voyage he and local sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) undertook this traveling panorama picture show to take whaling to a broader American audience.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer take a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping shown in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer takes a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

For anyone interested in whaling history and especially for those conversant with the  limited quantity of published American artistic production documenting the whale fishery of the 19th century, any picture offering details of the period of the 1840s is naturally of great interest. The panorama, however, was never meant to be studied as a fine work of art. It was meant to be viewed by a mass audience from a certain distance; hence the artists emphasized broad details for maximum impact and painted the rest with just enough definition to be seen and understood by the audience but not to be examined in detail. Several good examples demonstrate their working style in the creation of this painting where scenes are included but are later painted out entirely or changed significantly.

For instance, as the voyage leaves the Azores, actual whaling begins as sperm whales are seen, boats are lowered and the chase is on.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination. These include the house flag at the top of main mast (the tall one in the middle), the set of the sails, and a large-scale sperm whaling scene, barely visible and easily overlooked.

However, the artists, probably Russell himself, were not content with the scene as it was originally drawn. The sails of the ship, which is shown hove-to with its main topsails and topgallant sails aback, indicate that the wind is blowing from one direction. The American ensign and the house flag at the main also show that wind direction. The original house flag flying from the top of the main mast was originally painted flying the wrong direction and was later painted out completely. Not only was it flying the wrong direction, but the entire design of the flag was changed. It appears that originally, the house flag could have been that of T. & A.R. Nye, it being a blue swallowtail with white lettering, but it was changed to a completely non-descript and unidentifiable design.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

Likewise, the artists changed the foresail which, originally shown as being set, is shown clewed up. This presumably reflects Russell’s practical experience as a sailor and a whaleman, where “having determined from the known quality of the ship, what sail would be best to heave-to under,” Russell made the changes that he thought necessary.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

The artists made other changes in this scene as well. Whether the pictures did not effectively mirror the accompanying narrative or vice versa, that the painting was not following the narrative, the artists eliminated and changed two sperm whaling scenes. It may well be that the painting and the narrative were in a state of creative evolution together and that the artists were making it up as they went along in order to produce a better product in the end. In the below scene, as it was originally painted, a whaleboat is shown on the flank of a very large sperm whale which has been lanced and as shown by its bloody spout, is dying. This could have been the point in the narrative where Russell describes the whaleman’s language “his chimney’s a’fire,” to indicate a whale that has received its death wound.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene and leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the below scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the even more faint outline of the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

As the process of conservation on the Panorama goes forward, doubtless many more new observations will come to the fore regarding the process of its creation. Such observations will fill gaps in the sparse historical record of the Panorama and make for an exciting new narrative about it and its place in American whaling history.

Sources:

William Brady, The Kedge-Anchor; or, Young Sailors’ Assistant (New York, 1850), p.173, entry #308.

The Mystery of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company Models

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

As the community debate continues about whether a casino should (or should not) be built on New Bedford’s waterfront, the old New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company (NBG&ELC) buildings  stand at the heart of the latest proposed reuse of the site. Also known as the Cannon Street Power Station, the last redevelopment effort, launched in 1997, desired to transform it into a “world-class” aquarium. Turbine Hall, the 1917 monumental structure at the center of the site, once again figures prominently as an architectural centerpiece in the early conceptual drawings of a proposed casino complex.

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

I will not elaborate on the remarkable history and importance of the company, the building or its many additions constructed over the decades in order to deliver power to the region. It has been well documented by research historian Peggi Medeiros, for its nomination in 2002 as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places (an effort led by the Waterfront Historic Area League and its former executive director, Tony Sousa). Peggi also recently reviewed the site’s history in the Standard-Times in light of the casino proposed by KG Urban Enterprises.

Instead, my focus is to ask the public’s help in solving a mystery regarding a very unusual group of large wooden models of the old NBG&ELC complex, rediscovered recently in the Whaling Museum’s collections.

Now, you may be wondering: How does the Whaling Museum not know about these objects? The answer is: We do know a little about them, but not the maker or makers, when and where they were made and for what purpose. With more than 750,000 objects in the Museum’s collections, the curatorial staff continues its unending quest to preserve and interpret it all, and on rare occasion, is presented with mysteries such as this one, which any latter-day Sherlock Holmes would relish solving.

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

What we do know is that it was part of an exhibit by NBG&ELC at the New Bedford Armory for the City of New Bedford’s Centennial celebrations of 1947, and thus, it may be the only extant display of the New Bedford Centennial Industrial Exposition, which touted the city’s major business concerns. The model includes several hand-lettered labels explaining the functions of the buildings.

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947.  Photo: Arthur Motta

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947. Photo: Arthur Motta

Under the headline “Thousands Visit Centennial Industrial Exhibit at Armory,” a two-page feature article in the New Bedford Standard-Times remarked only briefly how “Miniature old and new plants, gas tanks and a model freighter were combined to make the novel display of the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company” (July 4, 1947). Despite its many photos, the feature article did not include one of the exhibit.  So it may be that the models were fabricated expressly for the exposition, however, this has not been confirmed with research to-date.

The models came to light relatively recently, when reallocation of all storage space was necessitated in advance of construction of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center. Stored deep in the recesses of Johnny Cake Hill’s labyrinth of storage rooms, the models’ presence predate the living memory of the longest-serving staff member, Barry Jesse, who recalls it being in the attic in 1971. Even Eversource spokesperson, Michael Durand and Dana P. Howland, a former director of the company – both men with the longest institutional memories of the utility around – didn’t know of the models’ existence.

D. Jordan Bernson, collections manager, with the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with some the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

Recently, collections manager D. Jordan Berson and me committed to laying out the sprawling 24 models to see what we could see. It required more floor space than we had anticipated. Constructed of fir plywood, metal and wire, the models are of an undetermined scale, perhaps a quarter inch to a foot. The largest, Turbine Hall, is about 6 feet in length. Several of the models will require careful repair if the entirety is ever to be exhibited again. Indeed, Dr. Christina Connett and her curatorial staff debated the models’ inclusion in the recently opened exhibition, Energy and Enterprise; Industry and the City of New Bedford. However, without its full history, the models were deferred for perhaps a future project and the “Energy” narrative of the current show was related through other objects and images from the collection.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company complex, 1897.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, 1897.

Using among several references an aerial photograph of the NBG&ELC complex reproduced in the Centennial “Official Souvenir Book” of 1947, we managed an approximate assembly of the plant, sans the missing freighter model aforementioned in the newspaper account. Mr. Berson indulged my request that he be photographed with the models in order to relate scale, although upon inspection of the photos his presence in them recalls for me some distant Christmas morning scene with a Lionel train set!

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company,  New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

The insides of the models are hollow; no internal details were meant to show. Only the exteriors are treated; all ofwhich are painstakingly hand-painted to include dozens of mullioned windows, entablatures, smokestacks, chimneys and vents.  It should be noted here that actual interior of NBG&ELC’s Turbine Hall is amazing, designed by the renowned engineering firm Webster & Stone – designers of the MIT dome in the same year – Turbine Hall’s interior looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel, with its colossal steel girders, massive bolts and riveted crossbeams. Only one of  four soaring smokestacks still stands at the site. The aquarium designers of 18 years ago took full advantage of these imposing elements, and it is hoped, any new project will, too.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

So please contact me about what you may know of the origin of the NBG&ELC models. My email address is: amotta@whalingmuseum.org.

Perhaps a late, great uncle built it upon retirement. Or a great grandfather worked in a carpentry shop that was hired by the company to build a miniature of the power plant at a scale sufficiently large enough to create an impressive display in the Armory’s sweeping Drill Hall.

Many of the smaller models in the group have metal eyelets screwed in along their bases, it is assumed, in order to fasten each building to a very large base-board, probably painted to delineate the plant’s grounds and also to hold them in position. Unfortunately, the base is missing. To add to the puzzle, some of the models look like structures from an earlier era in the company’s history, as can be inferred from an 1897 illustration of the complex. Could it be that the models as originally exhibited were intended to show the company throughout its history?

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Also, without the base we could not surmise the location of the mysterious so-called Lake Trinidad, noted in historical accounts of the site. As the Standard-Times reported “In 1924, a looming coal strike inspired the installation of an oil-gas generator. This inspiration had drawbacks – the oil-gas generator suffered from a bad case of by-products. The set yielded tremendous quantities of tar and lampblack. The tar was finally run off into a large puddle where it grew to be 3 feet deep and won the name of “Lake Trinidad!”” (Oct. 29, 1950) This was a mocking reference to one of the world’s largest natural asphalt lakes.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

In closing, we need to learn more about the models and hope someone may know something about their creation. They represent a considerable slice of history for an always-strategic site on New Bedford’s central working waterfront – first, as a simple landing place for the native Wampanoag and then the earliest European explorers; then settlers; then colonial burying ground; then wharves and piers; then iron foundry; then illuminating gas manufactory, then electric lighting company; then New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company; then a wholly-owned subsidiary of New England Gas & Electric Association; then CommElectric; then NSTAR; then a proposed aquarium; now Eversource; and perhaps, a future casino.

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

SOURCES:

Ellis, Leonard Bolles. History of New Bedford and its vicinity, 1602-1892, Syracuse, N.Y: D. Mason & Co., 1892.

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20150328/NEWS/150329366

KG Urban Enterprises

New Bedford Free Public Library (newspaper microfiche collections)

New Bedford Semi-Centennial and Industrial Exposition Official Souvenir, Providence, R.I.: Journal of Commerce Company, publishers. 1897.

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

World Oceans Day

In honor of World Oceans Day, we would like to share links to two video clips featuring the most acrobatic of all whale species, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).

Humpback whales feeding at the surface. Photo courtesy of Whale and Dolphin Coservation, taken by Karolina Jasinska.

Humpback whales feeding at the surface. Photo courtesy of Whale and Dolphin Coservation, taken by Karolina Jasinska.

The first, from BT.com, features a calf trying unsuccessfully to emulate its mother. The second is a clip from the Huffington Post from 2014. It features drone footage, a research tool growing in popularity because of the access it affords in watching whale behaviors.

As you view these clips please think about the whales’ habitat and how the actions of all us impact, positively or negatively, where they live. The simple action of properly disposing of trash so that it doesn’t get into waterways protects all ocean animals.

The oceans regulate planetary chemistry, dictate weather and climate, are the ultimate source of our drinking water (think water cycle) and cover nearly 3/4 of the planet’s surface. Despite the name ‘Earth’ we really are the water planet. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be stewards of our global ocean.