Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Tale of a Spoon (Part 3)

"Eothen" Log (courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum)
When last I wrote, I'd held out hope that the log book of the whaleship "Eothen," which Thomas Barry swore would vindicate him, would -- or would not -- do so. Alas, it does neither, although it does give us some wonderful insights into the daily routine of life aboard such ships.

The vast majority of the notations in the log focus on the weather, the sighting of other ships, and other routine matters. Thomas Barry did not write the log himself, but delegated the task to one Frederick Merrill, a thorough man but somewhat challenged when it came to spelling (he spells his own name "Merel"). He rarely gives details of any shipboard doings, though at a couple of points he finds them worthy of note. On 28 July he writes that "Tonight the first Esquimaux came aboard: men, women, and girls. They gave us whale bones and deer, seal, and bear skins." When it came to the vessel's task in bringing Schwatka and his men north, there is a similarly brief note: "Franklynn [sic] Arctic Search Party," which seems to have been meant as a header for the journal as a whole. Somewhat later, around September, are several stanzas from a whalemen's alphabet song, with lines such as "I is the iron on the staysail-boom fit / J is the Jib that neatly did sit / K is the kelson that lies in the hole / L is the lanyards that take a good hold." There are many other versions of this song -- here's a common one -- it may be worth noting that in the place of the traditional "G is for Gangway," the version recorded by Merrill has "G is for grog, that seldom came 'round."

There's an extensive notation of personal supplies, including an accounting of the tobacco used by Captain Barry -- but no enumeration of the stores meant for the Schwatka group. The log ends before the voyage does; it's likely that it was continued in a succeeding volume, which is not presently available. And there's nothing -- alas -- about spoons. As to the honesty of Barry, we have no further indication here, although it's interesting to note that, despite his claim of having sent the mended spoon to Sophia Cracroft, he apparently didn't. In her own personal copy of Gilder's Schwatka's Search, Sophia added a note on the page where this claim was made: "This is not a correct statement. Barry never sent me a spoon." According to her note, once she read of this claim in the Times, she contacted the firm of Morrison and Brown and "after some negotiation" obtained one spoon -- apparently the mended one -- through the help of Professor Nourse (whose name is familiar to us today as the editor of Hall's account of his second voyage). This doesn't seem to speak well in support of Barry's overall honesty, but without any further information, it's hard to say how this misunderstanding came about. I'm continuing to research the history of these spoons -- I have at hand some papers from the Schwatka family that may prove to be of assistance -- if I find anything more, there'll be a part four.

With special thanks to Peter Collins and Michael Lapides of the New Bedford Whaling Museum for their assistance in searching and scanning the logbook of the "Eothen."

1 comment:

  1. I and other sea song enthusiasts would like it if you would post the full text of the "Whalemen's Alphabet" just as it appears in the Eothen journal.

    The lines you've given differ from those in other versions.

    ReplyDelete

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