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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wrecks and bad luck


Sally Allyn, wife of Captain Gurdon Allyn, was an amazingly dutiful wife  who featured as a minor character in her husband’s memoir, The Old Sailor’s Story ...   
On page 11 of this book, he writes—“On the 13th of November, A.D. 1822, I was married to Miss Sally S. Bradford, of Gales Ferry”—as a kind of footnote in his remarkably varied career as a sea captain.  “Having a mind to make a guano voyage,” he writes on page 61, “... I sailed from New London June 20th, A.D. 1844, bound to the island of Ichabo, on the southwest coast of Africa.  My wife and little daughter, five years of age, accompanied me on this voyage.” 
The experiment in wife-carrying must have been successful, for when Allyn was offered an Indian Ocean and North Pacific whaling voyage in the ship Charles Henry of New London by the owners, Perkins & Smith, he not only accepted, but concluded to take along Sally as well: “My wife and daughter accompanied me on this voyage for the benefit of their health,” he notes (page 64), “to which the owners made no objection.”

The voyage was not a lucky one.  They crossed the South Atlantic, entered the Indian Ocean, and proceeded to the Prince Edward Islands for sea-elephant oil, where the ship dragged at the end of an anchor and 90 fathoms of chain in a heavy sea.  After that unnerving experience they took just one whale, and steered for the Crozet Islands and Desolation (Kerguelen), managing to take only two more whales, one of them a “dry-skin” , yielding no oil. And so continued the story of hard seas and hard luck, first about Tasmania and New Zealand and then in the North Pacific before returning south.   Then, “on the twenty-third of December, A.D. 1846, my forty-seventh birthday, we proceeded towards Cape Horn, which we doubled in January, taking one whale on the passage, which owing to boisterous weather we were unable to finish cutting in, and lost him when he was only partially stripped of his blubber” (page 70). 

Finally, after some months of banging and beating about on the Patagonian coast, on June 20, 1847, “having filled up, we started for home,” he wrote.  “But,” he elaborated, “the old Charles Henry never reached New London. ‘On the tenth of August, after the usual pleasures and vicissitudes of a long ocean passage, we sighted Long Island.  The weather became moderate and foggy, and guided by soundings we proceeded to feel our way along the shore. ‘Leaving the ship to my mate, with directions not to get in nearer than fifteen fathoms, I lopped down “all a standing,” and contrary to my expectations fell soundly asleep.  The mate, wishing to be extra smart and being in a hurry to get home, disregarded my orders ... and the consequence was the ship was cast away ...” (page 71).

‘The ship Charles Henry, Allen, of and for N[ew] London, with a cargo if 1800 bbls oil and whalebone, from the Pacific Ocean, struck the bar nine miles West of Montauk point last Monday evening at 10 o’clock,” reported the Whaleman’s Shipping List of New Bedford, for August 17, 1847; “at 4 AM on Tuesday beat over the bar and brought up on the beach.  At 9 AM the ship’s company landed without difficulty, Mrs. Allen and two children among the number.”  As Captain Allyn remarked, “After sailing around the world, and cruising among coral reefs and rocky islands, weathering gales and surviving the perils of different oceans, lands and climes of both hemispheres, having obtained a full ship, and almost arrived at home, to be cast away in moderate weather ... was, to say the least, very annoying.” 

However, the ship, while unsalvageable, was insured, and the whole of the cargo was saved, and so in 1852 Perkins & Smith, having lost no money by the voyage, invited Allyn to take command of a new ship, the Nathaniel S. Perkins, on a whaling and sealing voyage.   Allyn departed from New London in September, steering once more for the Indian and North Pacific Oceans, and—also as before—carried his wife, along with “Mrs. Pinkham, the wife of my mate.”   Again, it was not a  happy voyage: in October 1855, at the end of the third whaling and sealing season in the Ochotsk, they arrived at Honolulu to learn that their youngest son, aged 25, had died on the Isthmus of Panama. This may have had some bearing on Captain Allyn’s decision to leave the ship in Honolulu, giving over the command to Captain Asa Fish.  He took the New London ship Brookline home, arriving April 30, 1854, after a dull passage from Honolulu of 180 days.

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