Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The ACUSHNET--Perils of Whaling--December 1847

Image Credit: Brooklyn Museum
At Fragments from a Writing Desk, Hershel Parker has transcribed a sobering news story headed "Perils of Whaling." This May 1848 item relates a fatal encounter with a sperm whale by Melville's old ship Achushnet on December 22, 1847--four years before the publication of Moby-Dick (1851):

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The ACUSHNET--Perils of Whaling--December 1847

Versions of the story circulated widely in May 1848. Found so far, in addition to the May 23, 1848 report in the Louisville Daily Courier:
  • New Bedford Mercury, May 12, 1848
  • New York Evening Express, May 13, 1848
  • New York Herald, May 14, 1848
  • Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, May 15, 1848
  • New York Evening Post, May 15, 1848
  • Boston Herald, May 15, 1848
  • Troy Daily Budget, May 16, 1848 [from the Boston Traveler]
  • New Bedford Whaleman's Shipping List and Merchants' Transcript, May 16, 1848
  • Philadelphia Inquirer, May 16, 1848
  • Salem Register, May 18, 1848
  • Alexandria Gazette, May 18, 1848
  • Portland [Maine] Weekly Advertiser, May 23, 1848
  • Sag Harbor Corrector, May 24, 1848
  • Pittsfield Sun, May 25, 1848
  • Milwaukee Sentinel, May 27, 1848
Below, the story as it appeared in shipping news under the heading "Whalemen," in the New York Herald, May 14, 1848.

"Captain Rogers, of the Acushnet, of Fairhaven, writes from Talcahuano, January 26, that on the 22d of Dec, a boat was stove by a whale, and John Taber, 3d officer, Henry Johnson, boatsteerer, and Manuel Francis, John Pease and John Locket, seamen, either killed or drowned. The A[cushnet] had lost three boats, and had two others badly stove within a month. Would sail on a cruise as soon as the men could be replaced."
And below, the same item as it appeared in the New York Evening Post Marine List (May 15, 1848), under the heading "Disasters. &c.":

Both items identify seamen "John Pease" (instead of John Pearce) and Manuel Francis, who is not named in most "Perils of Whaling" versions of the story.


  1. Thank you, Scott! I just took a moment to look for Henry F. Hubbard beyond what is in the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry edition of MOBY-DICK. In his death notice the Sacramento Record-Union on 26 March 1887 identified him as "a capitalist, who was worth about half a million." He "owned valuable property in San Francisco." Well, there is a certain redundancy now in the last five words. Half a million--and not even counting his autographed copy of THE WHALE, which might have been worth $45 or $50 then.

  2. I was curious to see whether these deaths would have made their way into the Fairhaven vital records, but it turns out Fairhaven was not covered in the early 20th century spree of VR publishing, and the relevant volume didn't appear until the 1980s, so is not readily available online:

    There were a lot of Tabers in New Bedford, though; they appear alphabetically right above "Jack Tahite," who might have made it onto the Pequod had he lived a little longer: