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Thursday, December 7, 2023



Capt. James R. Huntting was born in Bridgehampton, NY, on January 21, 1825, a son of Deacon Edward Huntting.  He was a well-known figure in his home town, partly because of his commanding height (six feet, six inches), partly because of his full-lunged voice (he could be heard from one end of the main street to the other), but mostly because of the flamboyant stories told of his dash, strangth, and courage. 

According to the sea reminiscences of William M. Davis in Nimrod of the Sea, Captain ‘Jim’ was perfectly unfazed when a man who had been tangled up in a whaleline was brought on board more dead than alive:

‘… it was found that a portion of the hand including four fingers had been torn away, and the foot sawed through at the ankle, leaving only the great tendon and the heel suspended to the lacerated stump … Saved from drowning, the man seemed likely to meet a more cruel death, unless some one had the nerve to perform the necessary amputation … But Captain Jim was not the man to let any one periash on [such] slight provication. He had his carving knife, carpenter’s saw and a fish-hook. The injury was so frightful and the poor fellow’s groans and cries so touching, that several of the crew fainted in their endeavors to aid the captain in the opeation, and others sickened and turned away from the sight. Unaided, the captain then lashed  his screaming patient to the carpenter’s bench, amputated the leg and dressed the hand.’

Though he went to sea first at the age of 16, little of Jim’s early seafaring career is known, in contrast to his flamboyant record as master. He first went out in command of the Nimrod, sailing in September 1848 and returning exactly two years later, and then took out the Jefferson on two voyages, the first in November 1850, and the second in October 1853. After getting home in March 1857, he took over the General Scott of Fairhaven, sailing in October 1858, and returning in May 1862. His last command was the Fanny of New Bedford, which he took out in September 1864, and getting home to retire in April 1869.

 He married Martha White, the daughter of Deacon John White, who had been born on May 15, 1828. She sailed with him, despite the certainty of grisly sights.  On the Lexington, June 26, 1855, Eliza Brock noted that Capt. Manchester of the Coral ‘reports the loss of ship Jefferson of Sag Harbor, lost in Cape Elizabeth two days ago in the Fog ... all saved, Mrs. Hunting, Captain’s wife, was with him. So much bad news makes me feel sad.’ Unnecessary in this case, for the report was wrong: it was the Jefferson of New London, Captain James M. Williams (who carried his wife and family), that was lost. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023



Volunteers fight fast fashion
In New Zealand, Far North volunteers are breathing new life into donated clothing.

FIXation, based in Russell, Bay of Islands, is a group of up to 20 local volunteers who fix and resell clothes, with all profits going back into the community.

The initiative began shortly after the 2020 lockdown, when the Russell St John’s Opportunity Shop received 125 bin bags of clothes.

“It was chaotic,” volunteer Lynette Cooper said.

Through the work of the volunteers, just three bags went to landfill. The rest were repaired or repurposed, then sold.

“A lot of the items were polyester, but we decided if they’re not made of natural fibres, we should prolong their lives, because that’s the only way to keep them out of landfill,” Lynette said.

The repairs varied from fixing a hem, darning a hole, sewing a button, or simply giving it a wash. Items beyond repair were repurposed into “rag rugs” or turned into yarn.

“It’s the way we used to live,” she said. “In our day, our mothers made dresses with large hems, so that they could hem them up or down before giving to the next child in the family.

“Then fast fashion took a hold on everyone. Now we’re trying to bring [our mothers’ philosophy] back.”

Most of the clothes are sold, but there are also “koha bins” for people to take as needed.

FIXation also contributes to the community with initiatives such as a fashion show with repaired clothing that donated the profits to the local school. The volunteers also help to teach school children to repair their own clothes.

It also sent 30 pillowcases full of clothing to Vanuatu last year.

While the group is mostly older women, there are also teenagers and a person with a disability who volunteer.

Lynette encourages others to get involved in their community.

“It doesn’t have to be sewing, it could be a community garden.

“I live out of town, and I got used to staying at home, but I decided I needed to go out and be involved in the community.

“The great thing about a small town like Russell is there’s a lot of DIY and people offering to help one another, and doing what needs doing.”

Friday, December 1, 2023



How come I have never heard of this wonderful film before?

An Indie production, Before Sunrise was filmed in Vienna in 1995. It tells the story of two kids, both 23 years old, who meet on a train.  She is French, with excellent English, and he is a broke American, and they are both travelling on a Eurail pass.

She is heading back to Paris, where she is at the Sorbonne; he is heading for Vienna, to catch a plane back home. The plane leaves the next day.

She is seated close to a German couple who are having a massive fight.  Tiring of it, she moves to another seat, across the aisle from the American boy.  They get into conversation, find they both have crazy ideas about the world and life, find they are really compatible. So, the train arrives at Vienna, and he gets off.  Then he has a thought. He rushes back on board, and talks her into spending the night walking about Vienna, and catching the train again in the morning. 

And she agrees!

From then on it is a glorious discovery of Vienna.  The camera does the wonderful old city proud. And its people, too.  There are the two German students who are staging a play.  One is the cow. And then there is the palm reader, who tells them they are strangers on a voyage of discovery. And there is the bar tender who falls for the American's romantic story, and gives them a bottle of wine. And of course they drink it in the park.  And ride a gondola at Prater Park. And dance in the Vienna woods.

I did all that, aeons ago when I was that age, and I went to the opera, too.  Vienna is intoxicating.

The film itself is even more so.  As one prominent reviewer wrote, it is impossible to pick out one magical scene without doing an injustice to all the other magical scenes. The directing and minimalist script  are just perfect. Believe it or not, it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And the ending is perfect, too.  Apparently it is the first in a trilogy -- Before Sunset and Before Midnight being the next two.  I am not sure I will watch them, as I most passionately do not want to risk spoiling the magic of this one.

Watch it.  I saw it on Netflix.  The best offering this year -- and there have been some good ones.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

The wreck of L'Uranie


This is a rather long post.  But 22-year-old Rose de Freycinet is one of my favorite heroines of the sea.

Gentle young Rose was not even supposed to be there.  Back on September 17, 1817, she had dressed up in a suit of blue frockcoat and trousers, and just after midnight she had sneaked on board the corvette Uranie. This was not because she was naturally daring, or a cross-dresser, but because she wanted to accompany her beloved husband, Captain Louis-Claude de Freycinet, on a discovery expedition to the Pacific.

Rose remained hidden in the captain’s cabin until the vessel was well away from the French coast.  Then her husband made her presence public by inviting the officers, chaplain, and the expedition artist to a tea party where Rose, still in male attire, presided.  According to her, it was a happy occasion.  “I received them with a great deal of pleasure and I had a good laugh listening to the various hypotheses which each one had formulated about my identity.”  And the officers did not seem to mind, either, agreeing one and all that the dainty little lady with the charming manners and very agreeable appearance was a fit companion for her aristocratic husband—though some people said that during mess dinners the conversation about the dining table was more sharp-edged with brilliant wit than it might have been without a woman to impress. 

When the news broke in France, reactions varied wildly.  On October 4, the editor of the Monitor Universel declared, “this example of conjugal devotion deserves to be made public.”  Reportedly, Louis XVIII was amused.  The Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, the first official to receive visitors from L’Uranie, was not, and neither was the French Ministry of the Navy.  Women were not supposed to travel in ships of the State, and yet Madame was there—in male clothing!  It was unsupportable. 

One result of this was that every now and then the artists of the expedition painted the same scene twice, one work being true to life, and the other sans Madame.  This subterfuge was necessary for the official record, Voyage autour du Monde … exécuté sur les corvettes de S. M. L’Uranie et La Physicienne, which was prepared by de Freycinet and published between 1827 and 1839.  Madame herself was embarrassed that her presence was against the rules.  She was not comfortable in men’s clothing.  The only time she was glad of it was when the corvette was pursued by an Algerian corsair.  The prospect of being enslaved was bad enough, but “the thought of a seraglio evoked even more unpleasant images in my mind, and I hoped to escape that fate thanks to my male disguise.”  Luckily, the corsair veered off after counting the corvette’s cannon, and the possibility of the disguise being penetrated was averted.  Then, after a disastrous meeting with the scandalized Governor of Gibraltar, it was decided that she should abandon male dress altogether, much to her relief.

But then, there was the crew.  When Rose first arrived on deck the men were deferential, leaving the lee side of the ship so she could walk in reasonable privacy. They did their best to refrain from swearing, too, but inevitably their self-imposed discipline lapsed, a curse slipped out, and Rose was forced to concentrate her troubled gaze on the water.  This, once noticed, was considered a very good joke, and so from then on the men would swear and sing rude ditties just loud enough for her to hear, while the boatswain tried to shut them up by making violent signs behind her back. 

In the end, Madame was forced to keep out of sight as much as possible.  As the Dictionnaire de Biographie Français remarked afterwards, this was an admirable display of “moral superiority over the crew,” but it did have the disadvantage that it made life on the rolling wave very boring—though Rose herself denied this, declaring she was happy enough with her guitar, her journal, and her sewing.  She revealed herself more frankly when, on September 12, 1819, on departure from Oahu, she noted ruefully that “this part of the voyage will be greatly prolonged.”  Louis had made the decision “in order to collect data on the magnetic equator.  However much I respect science, I am not fond of it,” she complained; “nor am I likely to be reconciled to it by Louis’ prolonging of the voyage, which holds nothing terribly exciting for me.  It is true that this work is one of the main objectives,” she allowed, but it was inescapably boring.  “If only, like so many travelers, we were fortunate enough to discover some new island.” 

Louis had promised her that if they did find an unclaimed dot of land, he would name it after her.  And lo, two months later, in latitude 14º 32’ 42”, they did indeed find an atoll that was so insignificant that it did not seem to have a name—and so Rose had her wish, even though she was not supposed to be there.  “Let’s see, what shall we call it?” the artist, Arago, mused in a letter to a friend, his tongue firmly in his cheek.  “Let it be a flowery name.  Shall it be Green Island, Red Island, or … No, I suppose it will be Rose Island.”

At other times, Rose was terrified to the point of biting her fingers until they bled.  And yet, she never regretted her decision to defy custom and sail with her beloved husband.  She had sailed to be with him, and to care for him when he was sick or weary, and no one could nurse him as she could! In ports (with the exception of Gibraltar) La Jolie Commandante —as the officers dubbed her—was an asset, too, for Madame was a marvelous ambassador, being most loyally French and a natural diplomat. 

While her husband navigated his ship at sea and measured eclipses on shore, with equal élan she threaded her way through colonial jealousies and strange points of etiquette.  When Rose decided not to attend a ball at Government House in Mauritius (because she did not think the expense of a new gown was worth it), she developed a migraine to avoid the social blunder being seen at a dinner party staged by her host that night.  She was equally adept with native peoples.  Rose was amused when the Caroline Islanders burst into roars of laughter every time the corvette’s officers politely raised their hats to each other—”We must, indeed, appear as strange to the natives as they are to us”—and only a little taken aback when a woman in Guam, after complimenting her on her curly hair, offered to come on board and seek out her head lice. 

Dietary customs fooled her completely, especially when Moslem guests left the table in horror after pork was served, but a Papuan pirate chief who “became very attached” to her chairs was immediately presented one.  Another Papuan inhaled all the pepper on the table, ate all their pickles, and asked for “the plate, the glass and the bottle” he had used.  These were gladly given (though she refused him the napkin), for Rose found him such excellent company.  She even maintained her poise when some of the Hawaiian men startled her by throwing off all their clothes, layer by layer, as they got hotter and hotter while working their way through enormous meals.

Her descriptions provide a view of the early nineteenth century that is as feminine as it is French. There was, for instance, the celestial singing at a religious festival in Rio de Janeiro, in which the voices, “though far too sweet and melodious to belong to men, had a virile force and a vigor which were not characteristic of women’s voices.  I was overwhelmed,” Madame declared, and took the first opportunity to ask details.  “The answer”—that the singers were castrati—”conjured up a cruelty I could never have imagined before that day!”  Quelle horreur!  What a waste!  More amusing were the native girls whom a party from L’Uranie surprised bathing in the Marianas, who screamed with embarrassment and flew to cover themselves, but were more concerned with veiling their backs than their breasts.  “Methinks the gentlemen were not tempted to take issue with them on this matter!” And only a Frenchwoman, surely, would slyly remark, as Rose did, that a certain Australian was not just “very pretty,” but had “a ravishing ankle, or so Louis noticed.”


Departing from Sydney on Christmas Day, 1819, the corvette took the deep southern route around Campbell and Auckland Islands. She had developed a leak, but instead of stopping on the way, de Freycinet carried on. They saw their first iceberg on January 21, 1820, and land was sighted on 7 February—spiked with black rocks, and covered with short, dense shrubbery. The following day they rounded Cape Horn in mild, calm weather—”Was this really the notorious Cape?” she asked. As the ship steered north the weather deteriorated, and so they dropped anchor in the Straits of Le Maire. Then, while the naturalists were gathered at the rail, contemplating the lush vegetation and the thousands of birds, the order was shouted to cut the cable. The current was dragging the corvette onto the rocks.

Getting back to sea was no improvement, as the gale rose and tore at the rigging until the last sail was in shreds, making it almost impossible to steer. The ship lunged north for two stormswept days, until the Falklands were raised. Louis decided to head for French Bay (now called Uranie Bay) on the northeast coast of East Falkland Island, where repairs to the ship could be made. They were slowed up by a thick fog, but on February 14, the headlands surrounding the sheltered bay were sighted, and the corvette sailed toward them.  All seemed calm and promising, but then they hit a rock. 

  As Rose described it, they were sitting at the table when the ship stopped in her wake a moment, and then sailed on.  The shock was so slight that nothing was upset, but shortly afterward, water started rushing into the holds.  The gentle blow was fatal, for a rock had pierced the hull. As Rose wrote, it was a dreadful, suspenseful moment—the bay where they had intended to anchor was still some distance away, and the coast around it was studded with sharp rocks.  If only the ship could be kept afloat as far as a sandy beach, then the equipment and natural history collections could be saved before she foundered, so de Freycinet ordered the entire watch to man the pumps, while the others steered the ship and managed the sails.

The operation took ten arduous hours, and all the time Rose was abject with terror.  She shut herself in her cabin, “overcome by the horror of our situation,” and for a while she and the Abbé—the ship’s chaplain—knelt together in prayer, but then she rallied to help the crew bring all the ship’s biscuit to the poop, to save it being soaked.  As the artist, Arago, put it, la pauvre petite “arranged it all with the minutest care.”  Every now and then she could be seen at her window, vainly searching the faces of passing sailors for a sign of hope.  And all the time the men labored at the pump, shouting out crude, wild songs to keep up their strength and spirits.  When Rose cried out that they must put their trust in the holy Virgin, Arago retorted, “In the holy pump, Madame!”

Whatever the focus of their prayers, it worked.  At three in the morning a faint, kind breeze wafted them up onto a sandy beach.  The barren sandhills that dawn revealed did not look promising, but the company took the ship’s altar ashore and said a Te Deum.  Luckily, the expedition carried an abundance of tents, so that a village soon took shape on shore, though in the meantime the company still lived on the steeply canted ship. The next task was to discharge all the scientific material from the holds and cabins of the corvette, and stow it in tents according to order. Providentially, the weather stayed fine.

Four days later, though, the skies blackened, the gale rose, and it poured with rain. The beached ship was battered constantly, and settling further on her side, so that Rose had to go in and out of her deck cabin through a window, as the door was completely submerged. It was time to go on shore, and live in a tent. The canvas house had not been set up properly, however, and so the first night was a torment of being soaked in bed.  When day dawned the first job was to secure the tent, but no matter how tightly it was secured the canvas leaked and their bedding was constantly damp—”We shall be most fortunate if we are not afflicted with rheumatism in our old age.”

It was now that de Freycinet felt very thankful that he had shipped tradesmen in his crew, for he had the necessary carpenters, sailmakers, blacksmiths, and ropemakers to turn the ship’s longboat into a seaworthy craft.  They called the little vessel L’Espérance—Hope.  Hunting and fishing parties were assembled to go foraging in the hinterland, to save as much preserved food as possible.  However, fresh provisions soon became scarce.  For the hunters to track down a wild horse was an occasion for joy, as otherwise their diet was limited to penguins or seal meat, roasted or stewed in water with biscuit crumbs for thickening.  A wild snipe was a special treat.

Incredibly, the scientific work went on. With wonderful single-mindedness, the scientists built an observatory in preparation for an eclipse of the sun on 15 March. The naturalists determined which of the local wild herbs was safe to eat, and so Rose and the Abbé collected celery and purslane for salads to go with the horse meat that the hunting parties carried in.  With joy, Rose found a sack of flour that the Abbé had intended to use to powder his hair, and so the cook was able to bake bread. Some essence of hops that had been procured in Port Jackson was also salvaged, and so Rose took up the role of expedition brewer, making beer by adding sugar. Then a box of 66 cheeses was found, making the occasion for a party. But, as Rose privately admitted, religion was her only real source of consolation.

On March 19, 1820, the sound of “extraordinary shouting” was the signal that a ship had been raised.  Everyone rushed to the top of the sand dune that was closest to the sea, to see nothing at first, but then a sloop coming into the harbor.  Three guns were fired, and a white flag raised, and in due course the sloop arrived—when, with French hospitality, the impoverished settlement offered the newcomers food and drink. “Imagine our joy at the thought that our exile would soon be over!” wrote Rose.  However, they were to be gravely disappointed.

The sloop, it seemed, was the tender of a whaler-sealer that was anchored twenty leagues away.  They had been hunting seals for the past eighteen months, and needed another ten months to fill their lading. Louis de Freycinet told them that he pay the captain well for passage to Rio, but the man in charge of the sloop refused to go back to the ship—he had been given orders to fish for eight days, and he dared not return until he had his catch. Showing him a document from the United States government that enjoined all American ship captains to render any assistance needed had a better effect; grudgingly, the sloop-captain agreed to go back, carrying an officer from the Uranie who would convey de Freycinet’s message.

So off the sloop went, but in no great haste. Frustratingly, the longboat was now ready for voyage, but departure had to be postponed until the American captain’s decision was known. Meantime, too, men were falling sick with colic and diarrhea, probably because they had been eating penguins. Getting desperate as the days dragged by with horrible weather and no news from the sealer, de Freycinet planned how to capture and commandeer the sealing vessel, while Rose agitated about the violence that this would involve. “May God preserve us and bring back the sloop bearing good news!”

A ship finally arrived on March 28—but it was not the whaler-sealer. Instead, it was the 280-ton American merchantman 
Mercury, en route to the Pacific. According to the captain, a man named Galvin, she had struck a leak, and he had turned back for repairs.  And would he carry them to Rio? Of course he would!  But he would need help with fixing the leak first, if the French could assist? That was easy, too.  Louis de Freycinet sent twelve of his best shipwrights on board.

When Rose learned the nature of the Mercury’s cargo, she should have become suspicious—it was cannons, for the Chilean rebellion. Which made matters somewhat inconvenient, as Captain Galvin mused aloud, as he revealed his actual mission.  While it was convenient for him to carry the French to Valparaiso, on the Pacific coast, Rio was out of the question, being an Atlantic port.  Louis offered to pay enough money to cover that loss as well as expenses, but the master only agreed to think about it—though, as the shipwrights reported, Galvin needed help even more than they did, as the weight of the cannon in the hold was forcing the planks of the American ship apart.  And, what’s more, the Americans were short of food. Within days, the American captain was begging for rum, as well as the game that the French hunting parties were bringing in. On the other hand, he was able to give them some medicine.

Then, at last, the sloop arrived, with the news that the sealer-whaler was in the outer harbor. The whaler was the General Knox of Salem, and the captain, named Orne, was willing to carry them to Rio, probably because his voyage had been so poor. The problem was that his ship had been unrigged to make a clear platform for flensing the whales that the sloop brought in, and it would take time and labor to get it seaworthy again. 

And, of course, Orne wanted money—50,000 pieces of eight, or piastres.  Arguing hard, Louis reduced it to 40,000 piastres, telling him at the same time that he had another offer, from the captain of the Mercury. Waving a casual hand, Orne declared he was glad of that, because he did not want to miss out on the whaling season, but nevertheless he kept on bargaining. At the same time, the captain of the Mercury was threatening to leave without them, ignoring the fact that the French shipwrights were still working on his ship.

And so the double blackmail from the two captains continued. Galvin swore he would sail next day unless some cable was sent on board; Captain Orne demanded permission to salvage whatever he liked from the wreck of the corvette, though de Freycinet staunchly refused, saying that it was the property of the French government, and Rose was perfectly sure that the crew of the General Knox would steal everything they could. Then Galvin agreed to take them to Buenos Aires—only half the distance they wanted to go—on the payment of 10,000 piastres.  After another bout of argument, he grudgingly offered to take  them to Rio de Janeiro for 15,000, but then abruptly changed his mind, asking eighteen thousand. “This is an enormous price to pay for the minor inconvenience we shall cause him.  But he is a rogue who is trying to profit from our present predicament,” she angrily wrote.  Meantime, Rose packed boxes, and suffered from the wet and cold, scarcely able to walk because of the agony in her frozen feet. 

Finally, after a great deal of insult and shouting, the company boarded the Mercury, two months to the day since the wreck of the corvette.  “Uranie!  Poor Uranie!  You who were my abode for so long … we must now forsake you for ever!”  Rose’s cabin on the discovery ship had been small enough, but here she was in a cubby hole with much of the scientific collection packed around her, lit only by a small round of glass in the deck overhead, which went abruptly dark every time someone stepped onto it.  Worse still, all her painfully gained courage seemed to be flooding away—just three months ago, she kept on thinking, she was comfortably housed and very well fed, and the voyage was about to come to an end. But now she and Louis were in a tiny cramped room on a miserable foreign vessel, “eating indescribable food with strangers to whom one has to be pleasant and whom I would often like to send packing.”  Little wonder that she could not stop crying.

Fate, yet again, was ironic. The commander of the Scottish brig Jane, a 120-ton whaler that had been at anchor in Berkeley Sound (present day Port Stanley), just along the coast, arrived to declare that he would have been glad to rescue them all at no cost.  This was Captain James Weddell, a man whose naval career had been interrupted by the end of the Napoleonic wars, and who went on to become a distinguished Antarctic explorer.  He was delighted with the “extreme vivacity” of Madame, “who was young and very agreeable.”  Louis presented him with the longboat that the French seamen had worked so hard to turn into a seaworthy cutter, and Weddell christened her Rose.

Finally, on 27 April, the Mercury set sail, still rife with dissension.  Galvin kept on altering his demands, while first the passengers and then the French company threatened to seize the ship.  Finally, the dilemma was settled by buying the ship in the name of the French government, for the same amount of 18,000 piastres that had been bargained for the passage to Rio.  “All this is preferable to coming to blows,” sighed Rose. 

The vacillating, blackmailing Galvin and his unpleasant passengers were set ashore at Montevideo, along with their traps, and the French company sailed on to Rio in their new possession, renamed La Physicienne.  Here, Rose became reacquainted with friends made on the outward passage, listened again to the castrati (this time without a tremor), rejoined society, and refurbished her wardrobe. 

La Physicienne was being repaired and refurbished too . It took over two months, but Brazil’s gallant Minister of Marine would take no payment for it. They sailed from Rio at dawn on September 13, 1820.  And finally, on November 13, three years and fifty-seven days since the night Rose de Freycinet had crept on board, the expedition anchored in Le Havre.  It was a moment that Louis and Rose both welcomed and dreaded, for now they had to face the consequences of their actions.

Louis was court-martialed for the loss of his ship.  The deliberations lasted exactly one hour and a half.  Captain Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet was completely exonerated of all blame, the court finding unanimously that he had done all that prudence and honor demanded.  Rose’s name was not mentioned, her presence being tactfully ignored.  The ordeal seemed behind them.  Rose, who had been pale, yellowish, and sunken-eyed, was once again able to dance all night, and Louis, who had been sick and racked with worry and pain, was back to noticing elegant ankles.  

The voyage, however, was yet to take its tragic toll.  In 1832, when Louis fell ill in a cholera epidemic, Rose was struck down while nursing him, dying within hours at the age of thirty-seven.  Heartbroken, Louis survived for another ten years, but, as a friend remarked, it could not called “living,” for he “only languished.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

"A Fate Worse Than Death"


c. Ron Druett 2000

 The new bride of Captain Alonzo Follansbee got quite a shock when she first viewed the furnishings of the captain’s cabin on his ship. It was May 1837, and she had just boarded the Boston merchantman Logan for her honeymoon voyage. This was where she was to live for many months —and there, facing her as she walked into the cabin, was a complete wall “lined with muskets, pistols, cutlasses and boarding pikes.” 

When she gasped in stunned surprise, her husband merely remarked in a casual fashion that the weaponry was necessary, as they were bound to the South China Sea.  And that was all the explanation necessary. Having read the journals and shipping lists, Nancy Follansbee knew exactly what that destination implied. So, being a practical woman, she took precautions—which turned out to be no good at all.

She found this out, much to her discomfiture, just eleven months later. The Logan was lying becalmed in the Straits, the wind having died. The sails hung as limp as washing on a line, and the ship rolled slowly in the mirror-like turquoise sea. If danger threatened, it was impossible to take any kind of evasive action.  Therefore it came as a most unpleasant shock at dawn on April 22, 1838, when the lookout suddenly hollered that a pirate prahu was bearing down on them.

Pirate vessel in sight!” he shouted. And when they all looked, it was to see the pirate prahu coming up with astonishing speed, paddled by lines of powerful native seamen. “Our cannon, swivel guns and pistols were soon got in readiness,” Nancy Follansbee wrote; “swords, cutlasses, boarding pikes and ammunition hustled on deck ready for them.”

By five in the afternoon the ship was still becalmed and helpless, and the pirates were less than a mile away.  Nancy, however, allowed herself to feel a measure of self-congratulation, because, as she wrote, she “had practiced loading and firing guns and pistols at targets all the way out.”  But that, sadly, was also the moment when she learned it was unlikely to do her any good whatsoever. Her husband grimly informed her that her marksmanship “would be of little use.” Even more depressingly, he went on to meditate in remarkably Victorian terms that once she fell into pirate hands, her fate “would be worse than death.” 

But, by the grace of God, she was spared that melodramatic fate—”a good breeze sprang up, and we were soon out of their reach,” and Nancy sailed on, to become the mother of the first American baby born in the Celestial Kingdom.

"Madam" Nancy Follansbee

The Logan

A transcript of Nancy Follansbee’s journal on the Logan 1837-39 is held at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Nantucket Cook


Any woman who stepped aboard a ship that was bound to exotic Pacific destinations must have felt a fair number of qualms, shipwreck being one of the foremost.  Death by drowning was dreaded by mariners of both sexes, but being cast away on a tropical island ― where, as was popularly known, free love was practiced ― held particularly dire implications for a decent lady. Cannibalism was another ghastly prospect.  If shipwreck should indeed happen, the best she could hope for, perhaps, was that the island where she was cast up by the sea was uninhabited. 

According to an old sea captain, Roland F. Coffin, this last is exactly what happened to an unnamed seafaring woman.  His story started in the whaleboat where he was one of the oarsmen, at the moment when everyone realized that they’d got lost after being towed a long way off by a fighting whale. After thirty-six hours of sailing and rowing about in a fruitless quest for the sight of a sail, the six men were faint for lack of food and water, so the captain ordered his boat’s crew to abandon the search and head for the distant islet that one of the seamen had glimpsed on the horizon. 

It took all night to work up to the island, so they did not land until dawn. Too small to be charted, it seemed quite deserted, but at least it offered the chance of a drink of coconut milk, if not fresh water. Then one of the boys—a Nantucketer by the name of Tom Bunker—let out a yell that he had scented a spring, and when they followed his lead, they found a pool of beautiful clear water in among some rocks and trees. They drank their fill, then finally straightened to look around.

“Odd thing that there ain’t no birds,” said Tom Bunker thoughtfully. “Uninhabited islands always have thousands of birds”—and, while the others were digesting this strange statement, a solitary figure rushed out of the coconut palms, and then stopped dead, wavering back and forth in obvious uncertainty and disbelief.

“It’s a native,” said the captain. After waving to the others to keep back, he approached the figure in a friendly fashion, doing his utmost with gestures to demonstrate that he meant no harm, and finally the figure allowed the captain to come close.  At which, to the seamen’s surprise, both the captain and the native let out a yell of amazement, and the native began to caper about.

It was then that they found it was a tattered and weather-beaten American female—and a female from their home port of Nantucket, at that. “It ain’t no dream; you are real,” she cried, according to Coffin. “Thank God, I am saved!”

She was the wife of the captain of a whaleship that had foundered on the reef. After being washed ashore, she had found to her horror that she was the only survivor.  Being a resourceful soul, though, she had managed remarkably well.  She had scavenged the wreck for materials for a cabin, and then, having built it, she had settled down to wait for rescue.  She had been waiting, in fact, for five years—but now, by the grace of God, she was saved! 

“Well, as to that, ma’am,” said the captain, and hemmed and hawed a bit—while of course, he said, they would do everything in their power to help her, whether she was saved or not was a matter of opinion, because they were in great need of being saved themselves. Not only had they mislaid their ship, but they were starving, it being a number of days since their last meal.

Though naturally disappointed, the castaway rallied fast.  First, she took them to the little hut she had built, and then she told them to sit down outside and relax while she cooked them some breakfast.  “Of course I didn’t expect company,” she said, so it would take a little while to get things together, but all they needed was to be patient.

And off she went into a grove of coconuts, where Coffin, to his mystification, saw her running back and forth with a lump of wood, hitting the ground every now and then.  He, like the others, did not wonder about it very long, however.  All six men were exhausted after their many hours of pulling at oars, and so they stretched out on the sand for a nap.  And then, as Coffin reminisced, they woke up to “one of the finest smells of cooking I ever smelt.”

Breakfast was stewing in a pot she had retrieved from the wreck five years before, and which was now steaming over a fire. “And if you don’t say it’s a good stew,” she said, “then call me a bad cook.” And then she served out the stew in coconut shell bowls, and it was brown and rich and smelled very savory indeed. 

The men fell upon the food, Coffin reminiscing, “The woman looked on quite delighted for to see us eat, and a-fillin’ each chap’s dish as fast as it was empty.” Finally, she couldn’t persuade them to eat a scrap more.  Then, as she took the coconut bowls away, she observed, “I bet you don’t any of you know what you’ve been eatin’.” 

“Well, ma’am,” prevaricated the skipper, and admitted that he couldn’t rightly guess, though, as he added, “it was a powerful good stew, and shows that you’re a first-class cook, but that of course you would be, coming from Nantucket.”

“Well,” said she, “that there was a rat stew.”  The ship rats had survived the wreck and bred on the island, and because they had destroyed all the birds’ nests on the island, she had been forced to live on those rats for all the five years she had been here.    

Unfortunately for the men, they had to do the same.  Being so resourceful, she gave them a varied menu, of “roast rat, broiled rat, fried rat, rat fricassee, and rat stew,” but, as Coffin concluded, relief was general when their ship found them, and they sailed away, leaving the rats in full possession of the isle.

A version of this story was published in Mains’l Haul, the journal of the Maritime Museum of San Diego, v. 42, no. 4, Fall 2006. The anecdote originally appeared in An Old Sailor’s Yarns, by Captain Roland Folger Coffin (Funk & Wagnalls, 1884) and was retold in The Story of the New England Whalers, by John r. Spears (NY: Macmillan, 1908) pp. 265-272. It is the first yarn in the book of similarly hair-raising yarns about seafaring wives in trouble, Lady Castaways.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Murder on the steamboat to New York


The victim in this story is a little known whaling skipper.

Named, Gerardus Post Harrison, he was born on September 2, 1819, to John and Harriet Wood Harrison. His father and brother were both painters, according to census records, and Gerardus was the sole mariner in the family. He was first recorded on the Braganza in 1834, aged just fifteen, giving his birthplace as New Bedford. He was a little fellow, just four feet, six inches, and by the time he shipped on the Waverley in 1842, at the age of 23, he had not grown any taller.

But, despite being vertically challenged, he was talented and strong enough to be promoted to the command of the Mars in 1852, and then again in 1856. It was then that he married Caroline Ophelia — known as Ophelia — Beaman, who had been born in Brooklyn, New York, on 2 December 1824. Her parents were Joshua and Mary Martin Beaman. After Joshua’s death in September 1834 her mother, Mary, had married a banker, John Bird.  

As a new bride, Ophelia sailed with her husband. According to the log of the Mars, August 21, 1856, ‘At 6 o’clock Capt Harrison & lady come aboard...’ Ophelia also connected with other whaling wives. On the Merlin, August 24, 1856, Henrietta Deblois noted that ‘Capt. Harrison & lady came on shore’ at Fayal. In 1858 Elizabeth Marble found Mrs. Harrison on shore at Geographer’s Bay, Western Australia: ‘She has ben on shore boarding one year but expects the ship in a few days and she will go the next Cruse … she is very well and has a fine boy.’ 

By the time of the 1860 census, Captain Harrison and Ophelia were living in New York with their two little sons, Orlando, aged three and Oscar, aged one, both born in Australia. Gerardus was registered as a shipmaster, and worth $5000, no small sum at the time. There was also a 16-year-old domestic, Susan Warner, who had also been born in Australia, so may have come to America with the Harrisons, to help with the small children.  

Five years later, when the 1865 census was taken, Gerardus and Ophelia were still in New York, but little Oscar had died back in 1860, and another boy had been born. Orlando was eight, and his new brother, Charles, was four, and had been born in Brooklyn. They were living with John Bird and his wife Mary, who were listed as Ophelia’s parents, and also as grandparents of the two boys. And, Gerardus was in fact, dead, though his family did not know that at the time. According to his gravesite, Gerardus had died on voyage in June 1862, in theory a whaling voyage. The reality is that he was murdered on the steamboat passage to New York.

Many years later, on September 4, 1878, Orlando filed an  affidavit at King’s County, New York, first of all testifying that he was the son of Gerardus Harrisson, deceased, and that ‘said deceased came to his death by violence at the hands of some person unknown, in or about the month of June 1862, as this deponent is informed, and believes, that [it happened] on the steamboat “Bay State” between the City of New Bedford in the State of Massachusetts and the City of New York.’

His information had come from Francis Harrison, the brother Gerardus had visited in New Bedford, and was confirmed by a letter that had been written by Francis on August 28, 1878, and was presented to the court. According to this, ‘In the month of June 1862 said Gerardus P. Harrisson was at my house in said New Bedford on a visit and on the twentieth day of said June he left my house saying he was going to the office of Chas. R. Tucker & co., who were at that time the agents of bark “Mars” to collect the balance of money in their hands due him and that he was going to Brooklyn that night and had telegraphed his wife to that effect as he had to attend to important business there on the 21st. He left New Bedford that afternoon of the 20th on the New York train via the Fall River boat for New York and I have never seen him since.

‘About two weeks after him leaving New Bedford I received a letter from his wife residing in Brooklyn N.Y. enquiring after him, to which I replied that I knew nothing about him except as herein above stated. Thus for the first time did I learn of his disappearance and immediately commenced to make search for him and enquiring as to his whereabouts, but with very disappointing results.

‘Several years afterward I was at Groton Junction … and while there a person by the name of John Keyes sitting near me heard my name “Harrisson” called, and after I had gone away said Keyes asked Mr. Ross, who kept the house where we were “what Harrisson is that” and on hearing who I was he said “I sailed with his brother Gerardus P. Harrisson”  … then told me that Gerardus P. Harrisson was dead, that sometime in the month of June 1862 he was murdered on his way to New York in the steamer “Bay State” halfway between New York and New Bedford and his body was thrown overboard. Mr. Keyes saw all this and named some of the parties who participated in the murder but he had never told this to anyone before because he was frightened and did not dare to.’

John Keyes is not in any of the crew lists of Gerardus Harrison’s ships, and during the last voyage of the Mars he was a seaman on the Active, so it appears that by saying he had ‘sailed with’ Captain Harrison he meant that he was on the Bay State at the time of the murder. If it was a brutal group attack and he was a helpless witness, keeping silent for so many years would be understandable. As he said, he was frightened.

According to Orlando’s testimony, Ophelia had been left with just $25, so it seems that the family was depending on the rest of the money from the Mars voyage. If Gerardus was carrying a lot in cash or bonds when he left the agent’s office, robbery and murder are plausible.  Whatever the facts, Ophelia was left impoverished and baffled by her husband’s disappearance. Her state of mind can easily be imagined.  

Ophelia passed away on 10 October 1896, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, New York, alongside much of her family. Gerardus has a memorial there, too, but there is no body in the grave.

(The discovery of the murder was made by genealogy sleuth Kay Vincent, and the details of the affidavits are on; the whaling details can be easily found on

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Cooking in America


One of my most vivid memories of first setting up house on Long Island is my desperate search for cornflour.  In most countries that is the powdery stuff that is mixed with a liquid and then added to a stew or whatever to thicken the gravy.  Luckily, I seemed exotic enough for people to notice me, or perhaps it was just that I looked so puzzled, because a woman trotted up to me with her trundler, and said, "Are you looking for something?"

"Yes! Cornflour!"

"Corn starch," she said with a broad grin.  She had lived in England, and knew what I was talking about.

Maybe I became well known in that supermarket, because a total stranger came up to me one day and said, "You have to buy the Hoagies!  You have to buy the Hoagies!"

Well, I did admire the enthusiasm.  It turned out to be a kind of hamburger bun. The sort you put hot dogs (chipolatas) inside. They are larger versions of sliders -- small buns (dinner rolls) that you put little weenies (Cheerios, cocktail sausages) inside, and serve with pre-dinner drinks. 

And kosher salt wasn't kosher at all.  It was what we call flaky sea salt, and is apparently called that because it is the best salt for drying out the blood from meat. 

And lox looked just like smoked salmon, only more raw, being translucent.  Tried cautiously, it tasted the same, only more moist.  And fattier.  As I found out, most prized (and expensive) lox salmon is taken from the belly of the fish.

Everything is very, very sweet. All kinds of processed food had to be taken with great caution. Pumpkin ravioli sounded fun, but the pasta turned out to be filled with pumpkin pie mix, complete with sugar (or molasses) and cinnamon. Rather odd on your dinner plate. And pecan pie, to my Kiwi tastebuds, was too sweet to be edible. Key lime, the same. Desserts, on the whole, were to be avoided. Puddings, being smooth and creamy, like our custards or mousse, were more fun. And corn pudding, served with the main course, was wonderful.

Gabanzo beans had me totally fooled. It wasn't until I got back to New Zealand that I understood that the canned ones were just our ordinary chick peas. 

Romaine lettuce looked like cos, and so that was easy, only American supermarkets sell them in a bunch of three, just the hearts.  I miss that a lot.

Menus at restaurants could be baffling, too. What we call an entree is entirely different from what they call an entree.  Here in Kiwiland it is a starter.  In the US of A, it is the main course.  Why? I never, ever, found that out.

There were great discoveries, though.  Collard greens, oh, I so fell in love with collard greens. Cheap as chips, and could be used in stews and soups and casseroles (cooked, by the way, in a Dutch oven), or as a creamed vegetable.  But I was truly staggered one day when the supermarket checkout operator leaned over the counter, and whispered, "You really shouldn't buy collard greens, dear."

"Why on earth not?"

"They are meant for the colored folks."

"Well," said I, totally gobsmacked, because she was not meaning to be racist, just very helpful. "I am sure they don't mind sharing."

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The perils and pitfalls of a newspaper book reviewer


The throttling of the books review section of your local newspaper or magazine is a tragedy, not just for publishers and their authors, but for book stores, too.  That is why online marketers have space for buyer book reviews on their websites.  And a lot of those amateur reviews are well-written and thoughtful.  There is also a terrific lot of rubbish.  And Algorithm Isaac (AI for short) is a looming threat, too.

But what about the book reviewers?  They are a hardworking lot, as I know from long experience.  

Trying to cast my mind back to the first book review I wrote isn't easy, as it was so long ago -- back in the 1980s.  I had a note from the books review editor of the New Zealand Herald suggesting that I was the perfect person to review a certain book -- a maritime book, perhaps.  I was flattered, and he was such a pleasant, affable, and kind person that I was hooked.  I read the book, flicked off a review within the strict 300-word limit, and felt happy when I saw it in the newspaper.

Alas, as he loved the review, he loved the speed I had produced it, so wanted me to do more.  Other newspaper editors got into the act, for here was a reviewer who actually produced! And that within the 300-word limit! With the quotable 12-word phrase that publishers loved to put on the jacket of the author's next book, what's more. Magazines, including internationals, were sending review requests, so that added to the pile. Not long after that I was flying to the United States and back on a regular basis ... and absolute cartons of books were following me.

What to do with the books, once read, turned into a problem. Long flights were useful, as I could read a book or two, write down my review in a notebook (reviews were typed and posted to the editors, back then), and leave the book or two on the plane. My stepsister lived in a small seaside town with a small seaside library, which welcomed my books with huge enthusiasm.  Some books I kept, which often meant having to post them back to New Zealand.  It was then I found out the US Postal Service's "M-bag" option, where you could stow up to 11 kilos of books in a bag that had been made by prisoners and pay a set price. Those bags were regarded with great curiosity by the NZ Postal Service, but they worked.

Many books were not the usual kind of reading matter for me. Mega-bestsellers, for instance.  But there were some marvelous discoveries -- a biography of Marilyn Monroe by Donald Spoto, Fatal Passage, by Ken McGoogan, Pierre Berton's Arctic Grail are just three that come to mind. And then there were the review requests that came in from top magazines and newspapers, which allowed a 1200-word review -- bliss! -- and published the review as a full-page item. And, because they paid by the word, the money was unusually nice.

There are bad books, inevitably. It was impossible not to feel sorry for the publisher, editor, and author, but objective reviewing is essential.  Otherwise it isn't fair.  I haven't had death threats.  Yet. But there have been people who have let me know that they don't like me.

There is also the problem of time-lag. Often months elapse between the submission of the review and its publication, though this has improved with the internet. But with non-fiction studies, the book could be out of date before the review got into print. Worse, for me, is when reviews I had written for new authors appear long, long after those few crucial weeks after publication.

There have been funny moments.  There was the time when a box of Harlequin romances arrived.  Now then, no one reviews Harlequin/Mills & Boon, but I had snuck in a nice review written by a romance author who was actually an extremely good writer, and also an extremely nice woman, and I guess they had heard about it.  So I left the open carton on my doorstep, and the books vanished, not just one by one, but at startling speed.

But then there were what are called in the trade, "Sadistic Subbies."  They are the people who place your review and give it a headline. 

A book had arrived by a mega-selling author that I hated. Let's call him "X". So my extremely lukewarm review ended by saying that only the author's most ardent fans could enjoy this latest offering.


Wednesday, October 4, 2023



Samuel Gavitt was born about 1812 in Rhode Island, the son of Arnold and Mercy Rodman Gavitt.  He married Rebecca Babcock on April 1, 1841 -  In the 1850 census for Westerley, Rhode Island, Samuel Gavitt, mariner, was 32, and his wife, Rebecca, was thirty, meaning she was about 21 when she wed.  

On 23 March 1851, the Daily Alta California reported him in command of the Ellen Morrison, a merchant bark at the time. How long he had been commanding merchant ships is unknown, but later that year he went to Stonington, Connecticut, to take command of the whaleship Tiger. It was apparently not a happy move. The Tiger left Stonington Septermber 19, 1851, and shortly after that six of the crew mutinied and were sent home for trial. The ship was not reported again until February 18, 1852, when Gavitt made port at Valparaiso. Then he was at Lahaina on April 26, to cruise, and at Maui on November 10. That December, the ship was declared full and headed home; arrived May 21, 1853. A short and profitable voyage. Unsurprisingly, Gavitt was given another command, this time of the Rebecca Sims, and while it is not known if Rebecca sailed on the merchantmen or the whaleship Tiger, she was certainly with him this time.

One of the boatsteerers, Alonzo D. Sampson, who published his whaling memoir, Three Times Around the World in 1867, had a great deal to say about her. Sampson thought Gavitt (he spelled it Gavett) ‘was the best man I ever sailed with. He was too good. He spoiled such of his men as good treatment could spoil.’  By contrast his wife, ‘who sailed with him, was not so popular. In the first place,’ he elaborated, ‘sailors have a prejudice, pretty generally justified, against women on board a ship. They think a woman there is always in the way of somebody, and the Captain’s wife is generally in the way of everybody. For the want of something else to do, she is constantly meddling with matters that she does not understand, and influencing her husband to neglect his duty for her, to shirk the danger and exposure inseparable from a faithful discharge of his office, and instigating him to acts that annoy and irritate the crew.

‘Mrs. Gavett was a fine lady, and a fine-looking lady — all the worse, we thought, for a woman in her position of a sailor. She was unnecessarily haughty, or rather supercilious, towards the men, going out of her way sometimes to intimate her contempt for them. On the other hand we did not lack for ways in which to make her understand we considered her more of a nuisance than otherwise.  We had a story among us, with a great deal of truth I believe, that she was fast, and that the Captain brought her along to save her character and his purse.

‘During the beautiful weather that favored our run to the Cape Verdes, she passed most of the daytime on deck, where a chair was set for her, she not having, in sailors’ phrase, "got on her sea-legs," if it is not irreverent to suppose that the Captain’s wife possesses these members.’ (pages 78-79)  And, when they arrived at St Vincent in the Cape Verdes, she had the pleasure of being entertained on board the American sloop of war Dale, which was nice for her, and a good augury for the voyage. Despite this the ship was storm beset when doubling Cape Horn, and at one stage ‘the whole ship’s company, the Captain’s wife not excepted, were gathered on deck expecting the worst.’ She watched as energetic seamanship saved the ship, and apparently approved when Captain Gavitt treated the crew to as much grog as they could drink. 

It was not the last emergency, by any means.  The officer on watch mistaking a landmark on entering the harbor of Lahaina in the dark, the ship was ‘brought up all standing’ when it crashed on a sandbar. The shock was tremendous, all the lanterns went out, dunnage clattered everywhere, and everyone rushed up to deck — ‘Among the crowd that stood dumbfounded around the captain was his handsome wife. She seemed to be even worse affected than she had been under far more fearful circumstances in the Strait of Le Maire ... "Oh! Samuel," she cried in tones of despair. "Oh! Samuel, what shall we do?" To be ready for the worst,’ in case the bottom of the ship was broken, the boats were cleared away.  More energetic seamanship got the ship off the sandbank with no harm done, and by daybreak they were anchored off Lahaina.  

Then there was more excitement, as Captain Gavitt raced his ship against the Vesper, having laid a bet with Captain Edward Howes that he would beat him to the ‘fishing’ ground, a race that he won by one day. There, in the Ochotsk Sea, Rebecca endured snow storms where the ship pitched madly, and an anxious night when the ship was driven by the ice, with the loss of all her anchors. There were bears to watch, too — bears that came to eat the carcasses of the whales after the blubber had been removed. There was much to watch that was grisly.

In November 1854 they dropped anchor at Hilo, where they stayed two months, and Rebecca could marvel at the current eruption. ‘A stream of lava from one of the many craters started in the direction of the town, but Mr. Coan, the missionary there, went up to the mountain and prayed, and soon after the lava stopped flowing that way.’ From there they sailed to Honolulu, laying off and on outside the port instead of dropping anchor, to deter attempts to desert that ship. As Sampson casually mentioned, there were attempts to swim ashore, but it was often a doomed venture, because of the sharks.

At this stage Samuel Gavitt was rather keen to leave Rebecca at the islands, according to this raconteur, but she flatly refused to leave This meant that she was on the deck when they called at the island of Ascension (Pohnpei), where the natives who came on board to trade ‘were dressed in suits of cocoa nut oil, only without a rag of anything else about them, [and] the captain’s wife voted them a great curiosity, and gave them considerable of her attention.’  And then there was a racy encounter with an immense sea serpent, described by Sampson with relish. The huge, writhing beast had first been raised by the whaleship Monongahela, and the Rebecca Simms, according to the boatsteerer, arrived in time to witness the great battle between the whaler’s boats and the harpooned monster.  The head, he said, was like an alligator’s, and eleven feet long. This, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, as it was an old story, dating back to 1852, and he was utilizing a current craze for monstrous sea serpents to spice up his yarn.

 Easier to authenticate is that the Rebecca Sims then called at Guam, where Captain Gavitt found himself in a quandary. ‘Of course it was absolutely necessary that his lady should visit town, and at the same time it was equally impossible to get any other mode of conveyance except on ox-back …’ wrote Sampson. ‘Mrs. Gavett, with a bravery that distinguishes her sex when the result sought is a visit, declared her ability to ride an ox, and her willingness to "try it on." So she went on shore where quite a number of these horned steeds were quietly waiting … An animal was selected rather with reference to steady going than to speed, and a small mountain of folded blankets, which gave him quite a poetic resemblance to a camel, at least in the hump, was strapped onto his back.

‘To this eminence the lady was elevated, not exactly “by a turn of the wrist,” but by pure muscle, and bos was solicited to propel in the direction of town. On the contrary he began a rapid “advance backwards,” until the rider was brought into contact with certain cocoa nut trees … [and] she was wiped off at imminent risk of limbs and neck. The stupid brute, unaware and probably unworthy of the honor intended him, then trotted off for the bush.’ Rebecca Gavitt, though bruised and humiliated, was still determined to go to town, so a couple of poles were fetched and a chair slung from them, and four natives took up the burden and ‘Mrs. Gavett was borne in state, if not in triumph, to town.’

Captain Gavitt needed a new first mate at this stage, but the one he hired in Guam took a strong dislike to Mrs. Gavitt, and left. Then, thought without a first officer, Gavitt carried a theatrical troupe to Manila, and there he hired a Frenchman, Lavalette by name, on the recommendation of Mrs. Gavitt. ‘He may have had any possible number of qualities fitting him for the place, but none of us ever discovered them. Lavalette’s heels [had] turned Mrs. Gavett’s head, and she exclaimed in an ecstasy of admiration, "Oh! Captain, do ship Mr. Lavalette, he is such a splendid dancer!" and that decided the matter.  The dancing master, as we called him, was shipped.’  He turned out to be totally incapable of harpooning a whale, which disappointed Mrs. Gavitt greatly — ‘She was probably at a loss to imagine how a man who danced so well could fail to be a good whaleman.’

Gavitt headed for the Hawaiian Islands after another season in the ice, and then sailed from Honolulu on Christmas Day, 1856, to cruise on the way home, arriving at New Bedford May 23, 1857.  The voyage was over, and ‘Alonzo’ Sampson was headed for another ship.  As for Captain Gavitt, as Sampson meditated, ‘I hope he was able to live in some other occupation [as] I certainly think he deserved it.’ And that is what must have happened, as there is no records of Gavitt whaling again. Or of what happened to Rebecca.

So, how true is all this?  There is no Alonzo Sampson on the Rebecca Sims crewlist, but there is a William Sampson shipped as an ordinary seaman, and authors, like sailors and ships, often sail under false colors. The crew of the ship changed constantly, so Sampson could easily have become a boatsteerer (harpooner) as the voyage went on. The dates mentioned in the book are mostly confirmed, too: April 28, 1854, at Lahaina; October 18, at Honolulu from Ochotsk Sea; March 17, 1855, at Lahaina after a cruise; at Shantar Bay October 1855; at Hilo November 9, from the Ochotsk; cleared December 14, to cruise; at Guam in March 1856, then the Ochotsk; took oil from the wreck of the Alexander; Honolulu November 17, also December 12, then home, arriving May 31, 1857. (Dennis Wood abstract)

So, while William Sampson was a born raconteur who embroidered his yarn, his humorous stories of Mrs. Captain Samuel Gavitt are probably based on reality.