Thursday, November 17, 2016

Abstract of a cruise in the frigate United States

via Boston College University Libraries
Now available in the online Special Collections of the Boston College University Libraries, the manuscript Abstract of a cruise in the frigate United States for the years 1842-1844. Melville joined up at Honolulu, Oahu on August 17, 1843 for the cruise which ended when the United States reached Boston on October 3, 1844. Homeward-bound harbors included Nuka Hiva, Tahiti, Valparaiso, Callao, Lima, and Rio de Janeiro. Melville gives a fictionalized account of his experiences on this cruise in White-Jacket.

This abstract is highly compressed and obviously selective. It seems related and possibly indebted to (though not identical with) the anonymous Journal of a cruise to the Pacific Ocean, edited by Charles Roberts Anderson and published in 1937 by the Duke University Press. Hershel Parker in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Biography lists three additional manuscript journals of the cruise, by Midshipmen William Sharp (National Archives), Alonzo C. Jackson (Library of Congress) and William H. Wilcox (U. S. Naval Academy Museum).

The ledger of "Ships Boarded during the Cruise" lists the whaler Elizabeth on August 6, 1843, visited the day after it arrived on the island of Oahu.
"August 5. Whale Ship Elizabeth came in from a cruise having lost her Captain and a boat's crew, in taking a whale."  --Abstract of a cruise, page 8
Here is the page on Nukahiva...

Abstract of a cruise in the frigate United States
via Boston College University Libraries


On the 6th of October we made the Island of Nukahiva. The Harbor is not visible from Seaward on account of Intervening Rocks. it is completely Ironbound and near the entrance of the Strait or Gut, which leads to the Harbor, are two immense Rocks, called the Sentinels, one of which has a streak of White Sandstone and the other a cross of the same which points to the Harbor. Heading in and sailing for about 3/4 of a mile you came suddenly in one of the safest harbor's in the world. It is in Shape of a Horse Shoe, the entrance being very small in going in we could almost throw a biscuit on Shore from either bow. The view of this Steep and lofty Island is truly Sublime and Beautiful, it is completely covered with the brightest verdure and enlivened with numerous hills.

We found the French in possession of the Island having built a Fort on the Site Chosen by Commodore Porter the remains of which are being used in building theirs. They are sending their Convicts from France and peopling the Island, they take a Wife from the Inhabitants, with or without their Consent, and at this rate in a few years they will speak the French Language altogether. They live in Tents, pitched around the Fort, and it is not safe for them to venture outside the limits of their Sentries. The Inhabitants are Cannibals and are Continually at war with each other, the Prisoners they take they eat. Their appearance is terrific and they are tattoo'd from head to foot. On the 7th of October we got underweigh with the French boats ahead, and stood out to Sea, bound to the Society Islands, and on the 12th of October, dropped Anchor at Matavia Bay, Island of Otaheite.
The description of Tahiti is mostly copied verbatim from a piece in the Army and Navy Chronicle for December 17, 1840 titled Notes of a Circumnavigator—No. I. Otaheite. Interestingly, the abstract supplies information about the naming of Point Venus that the 1840 article lacks. Where the "Circumnavigator" parenthetically admitted ignorance ("whence named I know not") the Abstract informs:
"so named by Captn Cook, as it was the only Planet he could get a correct Observation of from that Point."
For future reference and study, links below are to "Notes of a Circumnavigator" in the Army and Navy Chronicle:

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