Search This Blog

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Using social media to promote your book

Digital Book World has a fascinating piece dissecting the usefulness of social media.

Well worth reading.  Personally, I had no idea that twitter hid financial claws.  And YouTube has never proved very successful, as the people who follow the videos don't appear to be readers.  But YouTube is a wonderful research source!

Facebook is a good place for publishers to brand themselves corporately and for authors to interact with readers.
“Authors don’t have to be on everything, but Facebook is one of the easiest for them,” said Open Road Media’s chief marketing officer Rachel Chou, adding, “If you’re posting on Facebook and not putting money behind it, they’re [Facebook users] not seeing it at all.”

The panel debated whether Twitter actually helps publishers sell books.
“It’s a tough question,” said Houghton Mifflin Harcourt director of culinary marketing Brad Parsons said. “It’s more about awareness.”
Chou said that Open Road has had success using Twitter to disseminate content like images and videos. Chou and Kristin Fassler, director of marketing at Random House Publishing Group, both experimented with advertising on Twitter, but warned that caution was needed because it can get expensive quickly.

The panel agreed that Tumblr was good because its users skewed very young and the platform made it easy to share images, videos, infographics and quotes from books.
Following along with the panel’s conversation on Twitter, Tumblr’s head of literary and nonprofit outreach and of the new Tumblr book club Rachel Fershleiser added that Tumblr can also be used for “in depth discussion,” citing the new Tumblr book club; the spreading of long-form stories, citing a Tumblr “recommended reading” site; author branding, citing Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr blog; and publisher branding, citing Penguin Teen’s Tumblr blog.

Pinterest might present legal issues for publishers, depending on the images being pinned. Further, it may not help sell books.
Pinterest is a “big time suck,” said Chou. “You have to be active and re-pinning and not just doing your own board and if you have a couple people who can spend a few hours a week doing that for you, good for you.”

While not all publishers and authors have created video content or have the ability or plans to do so, YouTube could be a powerful social platform for having meaningful connections to readers.
“YouTube is great for advertising, both for the targeting you can do and the information you get back,” said Houghton’s Parsons.

Historic Naval Fiction reviews Alaric Bond's latest

Created on Friday, 27 September 2013

By David Hayes
Turn a Blind Eye

Alaric Bond's new novel, Turn A Blind Eye, moves away from his 'Fighting Sail' series and the Royal Navy to the world of smuggling on the South Coast of England. It follows Commander Griffin and the crew of the Revenue cutter Bee as they battle to rid Newhaven of an entrenched gang of snugglers who hold sway over the town.

Bond is a master storyteller and he weaves a well written plot that explores the divided loyalties of the townsfolk who support small scale smuggling but are fearful of the gangs strength. The narrative vividly recounts life in a small fishing town where the Revenue men seek to combat a practice that is draining the country of money to fight the war against France and even sometimes supplying the enemy, whilst their fast agile cutter is often outgunned by the smugglers.

As usual Bond's research shines through as he subtly educates us about smuggling in a fast paced hard to put down book. Highly Recommended.

Description of: Turn a Blind Eye
Author: Alaric Bond

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jane Austen ring to stay in UK

The BBC also reports that the loss of one of Jane Austen's few pieces of jewellery has been thwarted.

US singer Kelly Clarkson has been thwarted in her bid to take a ring which once belonged to Jane Austen out of the UK.

She bought the turquoise and gold ring for £152,450 at auction last year, outbidding the Jane Austen's House Museum.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey put an export bar on it until 30 September.

After worldwide donations the museum has since raised enough money to buy the ring and its bid has been accepted.

Contributions to the Bring the Ring Home campaign, set up by the museum in Jane Austen's former home, included an anonymous donation of £100,000 in August.

The museum, in Chawton, Hampshire, was given until December to raise a further £49,000.

Mary Guyatt, curator of the museum, said it had been "stunned by the generosity and light-footedness" of those who had supported the bid.

Mr Vaizey added: "It's clear from the number of people who gave generously to the campaign just how admired Jane Austen remains to this day."

Orwell's bloodstained scarves for sale

It's the week for odd author-related news items

From the BBC

Scarves stained with the blood of 1984 author George Orwell, are to be auctioned in London.

Orwell was wearing the anti-fascist scarves when he was shot in the neck during a battle near Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War in May 1937.

He described the experience of being shot as "very interesting... roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion".

The scarves are expected fetch up to £1,200 when they are sold on 3 October.

Writing in his Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's personal account of the war, he said he had been "about 10 days at the front when it happened".

He continued: "Webb, our stretcher-bearer, had brought a bandage and one of the little bottles of alcohol they gave us for field-dressings. The doctor re-bandaged the wound, gave me a shot of morphine, and sent me off."

The scarves were saved by Hugh Patrick O'Hare, who treated Orwell in the aftermath of the shooting and was a fellow member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

He, in turn, passed them on to another member of the ILP.

Orwell's experiences fighting fascists would shape his work, including the allegorical Animal Farm and the nightmarish vision of totalitarianism in 1984.

Max Hasler, of auctioneers Bloomsbury, said that Orwellian memorabilia was rare but "to have something that relates to such a significant part of his life is especially unusual".

"I think it is a really interesting item. George Orwell was such a private person, very few examples of his signatures and photographs exist."

Although Orwell survived the neck wound, it ultimately contributed to his early death, at the age of 46, in 1950.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bizarrely sexual Hemingway letter for sale

 So Hemingway was in love with femme fatale Marlene Dietrich ... and had sexual fantasies about her.

Even more interestingly, he wrote them down.  And the letter describing them is up for auction.

For at least $US54,000 in an upcoming auction, you could be the proud owner of a love letter from American author Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich.

Hemingway’s letter, dated Aug. 28, 1955, begins “Dearest Kraut” and goes on to picture a bawdy theatre act that includes her “foaming at the mouth,” while they “break into the Abortion Scene from ‘Lakmé’..."

“It would probably have something novel like having you shot onto the stage, drunk, from a self-propelled minnenwerfer [sic] which would advance in from the street rolling over the customers,” Hemingway imagined. “As you landed on the stage drunk and naked, I would advance from the rear, or your rear, wearing evening clothes and would hurriedly strip . . . to cover you revealing the physique of Burt Lancaster.”

Then turning more serious, Hemingway writes, “Marlene, darling, I write stories but I have no grace for [bleeping] them up for other mediums,” and, “I love you very much and I never wanted to get mixed in any business with you . . . neither of us has enough whore blood for that.”

“The duo reportedly met aboard a ship in 1934 and shared 30 flirty letters over the years, which were made public in 2007, and most are at the JFK ­Library in Boston,” according to The New York Post.

“But the passionate relationship was never consummated because, Hemingway had said before his 1961 suicide, that the starry duo had ‘unsynchronized passion.’”

Whatever that means.

If you feel inclined to read the letter in its entirety, hit the link embedded at the top.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Cross-Dressed Whaler

I can't resist telling this story, so a remarkable character joins my short throng of whaling wives.

In the fall of 1862, a young fellow, who called himself George Weldon, but whose real name was Georgiana Leonard, signed Articles on the whaling bark America, Captain John Luce.  No one asked any questions, for this was the time of the Civil War, and whaling hands were very hard to find.  George looked likely enough, being tall, strong, and sturdy, though only about twenty years old.  S/he claimed that she had served in the Confederate cavalry, and explained a newly healed cut on his/her cheek as a wound sustained during hand-to-hand combat.  S/he had been taken prisoner, and sent to a Union hospital, and then had been released.

Once at sea, George proved a capable and well-liked member of the crew.  S/he danced the best jig, and had a good fund of ballads, sung in a fine tenor voice.  It was a quick temper that got her into trouble first, because she got into a ruckus with the “big black cook,” and won the fight.  “If he wasn’t such a mean hard cuss I’d say he was a woman,” Jethro Cottle, the third mate, observed at the time.  All he got, according to his recollection, was a general laugh, but then, on Friday, January 6, 1863, everyone abruptly remembered what he had said. 

The boats had been off a-whaling, but had returned to the ship, because George had attacked Robert G. Smith, the second officer.  After several hours of rowing she had decided it was time for a rest, and when Smith decided to punch some sense into her head with a paddle, she pulled a knife on him.  The rest of the boat’s crew had subdued her after a lively struggle, and then returned to the bark, so Smith could report to the captain.  Luce ordered a flogging, which involved stripping to the waist.  Sullenly, George forestalled what would have been a riveting sight for the assembled crew, by letting on that she was female.

The laconic log entry for that day, apart from the usual seamanlike notations about weather and whales, reads, “This day found out George Weldon to be a woman, the first I ever suspected of such a thing.”  The chatter did not stop, however, neither then nor later.  Harriet, seafaring wife of whaling master Captain David E. Allen, of the bark Merlin, noted on August 25, 1869, that Captain John Adams Luce came on board “to pay me a visit and entertained me with a story about a woman who once went to sea with him, in men's clothing.”

George was not put on shore for another six months.  Luce was a practical sort of fellow, and instead of worrying his head about getting Georgiana into skirts, he merely ordered her to swap jobs with the cabin boy.  He didn’t care about the proprieties, and as it proved it didn’t signify, anyway.  As Jethro Cottle frankly admitted, “We couldn’t think of her as a woman at all—

She still wore her sailor togs, and besides, when you have come to look on a chap as a tough fellow, smoking tobacco and dancing jigs, and fighting with the cook, it’s hard to change your mind and regard her as a woman. 

The crew, however, treated her well, no doubt regarding it as a capital joke, and were quite sorry when the America sailed into Port Louis on the island of Mauritius and Georgiana left the ship. 
At long last she had adopted woman’s dress, Luce having organized a job for her as stewardess on a home-bound clipper ship that was also in port.  John Luce was displaying his practical streak yet again, for this meant she worked her passage home, and he neatly avoided being stuck with a bill.

For some reason, the episode was the making of young Georgiana.  By sheer coincidence, both the clipper and the whaling bark were back in Port Louis on June 14, 1864, exactly one year later, and Georgiana was still serving as stewardess.  She had done her job so well that the captain of the clipper had signed her on for another voyage.  She came on board and visited all her old shipmates, and they all highly approved of her, finding her a “neat, prosperous looking woman.”   And, what’s more, there was romance in the air, for she confided to Luce that she had fallen in love with the second officer, and that they intended to marry. 

The America got home on May 4, 1865, to the accompaniment of a great deal of public interest, this story having got around, and a New Bedford pub, “The Sailor Boy,” was promptly dedicated to her name.  Georgiana herself did not drop entirely out of sight.  Years later, after John Luce had retired to a Martha’s Vineyard farm, she and her husband paid a call on him, which went so successfully that they repeated the visit several times in the following years.
Most of this story came from old newspapers, including the New Bedford Sunday Standard April 1, 1917, and an undated clipping from The Evening Standard of an item "Romance on a Whaleship, America's Murderous Mutineer Proved to be a Woman in Disguise" by Ellis L. Howland.  These were kindly located for me by Catherine Mayhew at the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society. The story, along with other yarns about cross-dressed sailors, was published in my book "Hen Frigates."


Friday, September 20, 2013

Viola Cook's nine winters in the Arctic

By the 1890s, overwintering in the Arctic had become routine.

Instead of leaving the Arctic in September, when the nights were getting long, the whaleships were anchored together in "winter berths" at Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea, and everyone settled to surviving a long, long winter while they waited for spring and the migration of the bowhead whales.

Obviously, it was a weird existence.  What is most amazing about it, though, is that so many captains decided to take their wives, and that their wives agreed to go.

Or maybe they were given no choice -- which was certainly the case with Viola, wife of Captain John Atkins Cook.

When Viola spent her first winters in the Arctic, on the Navarch in 1893, the story put about her home town of Provincetown was that she had sailed for her health. When she left she weighed 93 pounds, and when she came back, on 23 November 1896, she weighed 130 -- which says a lot about the dire effects of lack of exercise.

Then, when Viola sailed again, and again, and again, the reporters liked to say that she went along "to please her husband, cheerfully abandoning the pleasures of home life to give companionship to her husband and to share and brave all dangers to which he might be exposed." 

The truth, however, was that John wouldn't take no for an answer.  He was a tough old customer with strong views about the duties owed to men by women.

He wasn't wonderful to his seamen, either, John being what they used to call "bucko," meaning the kind of captain who slapped his men about.  One day in the Arctic, after a multiple flogging, Viola's sense of wifely duty snapped. She mutinied.  She shut herself in her cabin and refused to emerge for nine whole months.  When they got home and the story got out, John told everyone that she'd had a nervous breakdown as a result of scurvy, and Eugene O'Neill wrote a play about it called "Oil."

And Viola mutinied some more.  When John told her to get ready for the next voyage, she flatly refused.  She declared her firm intention never to sail again.

So John resorted to stealth. He built a brig and named the vessel Viola, and Viola fell for the compliment and changed her mind.  She voyaged again (her tenth outing), and became very ill with beri-beri, a food deficiency disease.

So, when she got home, she reverted to her original decision, to never, ever, ever sail again, and stuck to it.

Which, as it happens, was lucky for John Cook.  He sent out the brig under the command of Captain Joseph Lewis, who sailed with his wife and five-year-old daughter.  The brig was never seen or heard from again.  It was 1917, and the usual theory is that it was sunk by a German submarine.

The story about Viola and the flogging comes from a book by Pat Amaral, called "They Ploughed the Seas," while other stories were published in The Boston Globe (e.g., Christmas Eve, 1905), which followed Viola's strange existence with great attention.

NBH highlights

What on earth is (or was) a NEF?
Find out the really fascinating answer on Prue Batten's Nautical Blog Hop contribution:

Black Men & the Black Flag
J.M. Aucoin's equally swish-looking site features stories of blacks under sail, an echo of one of the best books in my shelves, W. Jeffrey Bolster's Black Jacks, African-American Seamen in the Age of Sail..  It has been a topic close to my heart since researching In the Wake of Madness, the story of a whaling captain who murdered one of his crewmen, 18-year-old George Babcock, a runaway slave who had found refuge in New Bedford, and thought he had gained freedom for life by going to sea.  Instead, his captain beat him to death, after months of ill usage.  Go to:

Pirates and their ships
Brian Boren has a look at pirate ships ... go to: to enjoy a really well designed site that gives you ship rigs and ship terms in a nutshell.  He has also provided neat little biographies of most of the contributors to the Nautical Blog Hop, so if you are curious, have a sneaky peep. And he is giving away books, as well!

By the sea, by the beautiful sea
The lyrical Anna Belfrage at: is also giving away a book.  She describes the challenges faced by the emigrants, who crossed the stormy and scary seas to find a new life in a new land.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sarah Gray and the cask with her husband's corpse

The Nautical Blog Hop post today is about one of my favourite whaling wives ...


 Sarah Gray, of Liberty Hill, Connecticut, wife of the rather oddly named Slumon Gray, sailed first on the Newburyport of Stonington, leaving in June 1844, at the start of a remarkable sailing career. 

            Her exploits were first noted by the third mate of the Charleston, Daniel Baldwin, who wrote in his private journal on August 17, 1845, that his ship had spoken the Newburyport: “Capt. Gray had his wife with him and a husky boy born since they came from Home.  He first saw the light in Talcahuano in South America.  He was born on board the ship and Christened by a Roman Catholic priest ... Success to him.” Mary Brewster (wife of the captain of the Tiger of the same port) met Mrs. Gray at Lahaina, October 7, 1846, writing, “Called on Mrs. Grey with whom I was very happy to meet she was a sister sailor had been [out] about 27 months saw her little boy who born on the ocean in Talcahuano harbor.”  Mrs. Gray must have been good company, for Mary Brewster visited her each of the three days after that.  
The Newburyport  arrived back in Connecticut on March 5, 1847 ... and William, the little boy who had been born in Talcahuano, died just five weeks later, on April 11, aged two years, three months.  It was a tragic Spring.  His sister, Josephine, was born on May 7th, and died on the 21st, aged exactly two weeks.
In August Sarah sailed on the Jefferson of New London. Slumon left her on shore at Honolulu (pictured above) while he took the ship into the icy north Pacific. And there she met Martha Brown of the Lucy Ann of Greenport, Long Island.  Martha was “in circumstances’, and “Mrs. Gray was with me dureing my confinement and did for me and my child, as an own sister would have done,” as Martha noted in her journal a month after the event, in her entry for September 27th.   The Jefferson arrived back in Honolulu a couple of days after that, and the Grays took Mary Ann, the young daughter of Captain Cornelius Hoyer of Honolulu, with them when they sailed for the States, on October 16th.  “Mrs. Gray felt very bad when she left,” wrote Martha Brown. “When we left the ship, she stood waving her pockethanderchief and crying.  She is a nice woman—has one of the kindest hearts a human being ever possesed.  The least I can say of her is I love her like a Sister, and if I am ever permitted to meet her at home I am sure it will be pleasent for both.” 
The Jefferson arrived home in March 1849, and in September that same year Mrs. Gray embarked on the Hannibal of New London, along with a six-week-old daughter, Kate.  So, counting back, it seems that she was pregnant during her passage home on the Jefferson.  It is remarkable, considering the sad deaths of her first two children, that she consented to take the infant along.  But she did.  
Not only did little Kate survive infancy on board a rough whaler, but Sarah kept up her reputation for sociability.  According to a journal kept by the steerage boy, Nat Morgan, the Hannibal spoke many vessels, quite a few of them petticoat whalers, for the fashion for taking wives to sea a-whaling had taken a hold by then.  Nat portrays Mrs. Gray as the timid, weak stereotype of a Victorian woman, weeping when her husband (who was the stereotype of a rough, foul-mouthed master) lowered alone in the Arctic and disappeared in the fog, and agonizing when Captain Gray fell ill and imagined himself dying for a while.
However, the image seems wrong, for Sarah Gray's deeds were remarkably doughty.  On the way home, in January 1851, Sarah not only went a-fishing off the Falkland Islands, catching the crew a fresh mess, but went a-shooting at the same time, bagging a number of ducks.  Then, one month later, in February, she presented Captain Gray with a son, named Asher after her brother-in-law Asher Atkinson of Ellensville, New York.
The Hannibal arrived home in March 1851, after a most profitable voyage.  Captain Gray invested the profits in buying ten acres of land in Lebanon, Connecticut.  On April 5, 1852, he was admitted in Lebanon as an elector.  Tragedy had struck in the meantime, however: the little boy, Asher, died on January 30, 1852, two days short of his first birthday.  Of four children only one - Kate - had survived.
In September 1853 the Grays sailed again, on the Montreal of New Bedford, taking Kate with them.  Again, Sarah was pregnant, and a little boy, Slumon junior, was born off Cape Horn.  Again, it was a very successful voyage, completed in April 1857.  The Grays settled in Liberty Hill at this stage, Captain Gray buying property worth $1,600 from William Irish on May 5, 1858, taking on a mortgage that was finally paid off on July 17, 1863. 
The Gray house was a substantial one, set in ten acres.  Curiously, a recent researcher found fragments of broken tombstones about the grounds, bearing the names of various Gray children.  A large number of the window panes have been scratched with dates and initials, most noticeably the name "Kate" on one of the upstairs bedroom windows - so it seems that the children had access to diamond rings.
It is possible that Slumon Gray intended to retire permanently from the sea, for in the 1860 census he described himself as "gentleman," and he certainly lived the life of a gentleman farmer.  In the meantime another daughter was born, on September 25, 1857, and named Tryphosa.  She was delivered by Dr. Ralph E. Green, and died on April 6, 1860, aged two years, six months, no cause given in the records.
Then Nellie S. was born, on October 31, 1861.  She survived.  The Grays' eighth and last child, Sarah Frances, was born on November 5, 1863, and died of consumption on April 13, 1864.  And so five of the Grays' eight children died before the age of three.  It was by no means an uncommon story, back then.  Life was precarious, and particularly so for children. 
Six weeks later, the Grays embarked on their final voyage, on the James Maury of New Bedford, leaving June 1, 1864.  In retrospect, it is hard to understand why Gray made up his mind to go back to sea.  He had a comfortable life in Liberty Hill, and was apparently much respected, for back in April 1863 he had been appointed as one of the two local representatives to the General Assembly.  Additionally, the Civil War was raging on the sea as well as the land. 
Whatever his reasons, it was a bad decision.  On Wednesday March 22, 1865, about 400 miles east of Guam, Gray fell ill of inflammation of the bowels.  Two days later, he died. The log for March 24, 1865, reads, "Light winds and pleasant weather.  At two PM our Captain expired after the illness of two days at 5 PM." Refusing to allow him to be slid into the sea like an ordinary man, Sarah insisted on pickling the corpse, and so the log for the following day reads, “Light winds from the Eastward and pleasant weather, made a cask and put the Capt. in with spirits.”

As maritime historians know, putting bodies into spirits was not unusual.  Being buried at sea was not considered romantic then, and the higher the rank of the corpse, the more effort was made to preserve the body for burial at home.  Many of us have heard ghoulish stories of straws inserted into bungholes and members of the crew getting mysteriously drunk: it was for this reason that after the Battle of Trafalgar rum was jocularly known as "Nelson's blood."  There is no evidence that this happened in this case.  Instead, the ship was taken by the Confederate raider Shenandoah.
Sarah Gray was still on board with her children, not having been able to get a passage home.  According to the various accounts kept on the Confederate ship, when the James Maury was boarded she was in a hysterical state - and who can blame her?  The ship was bonded instead of burned, purportedly because of Southern gallantry towards the widow, but probably because Captain Waddell of the cruiser had taken so many prisoners from the whaling fleet - 222 of them, to be precise - that he needed somewhere to put them.  Then he sent the grossly overcrowded ship off to Honolulu.
It is not known how Sarah, Kate and Nellie got back to Connecticut, but they had certainly arrived by April 17, 1866, when Sarah Gray first appeared in the probate court.  She was granted $400, to live on during the settlement of the estate - a paltry amount, considering that she was accustomed to spending freely. 
It took a full year for probate to be settled, but finally she got the money to pay the various bills she owed, one being eleven dollars for the carter who had hauled her husband's remains (presumably still in the cask) from New Bedford to Liberty Hill.  The total debt that had to be repaid out of the legacy was just over two thousand dollars - quite a substantial sum for one woman to spend in one year, in those days.  Thus, one imagines - she was able to settle down to a life of reasonably affluent widowhood. 
In March 1868, intriguingly, Sarah Gray handed over the guardianship of her children to George Spencer, town clerk, dry goods merchant, storekeeper, and local entrepreneur.  It is interesting to look for a reason for this, and it may be very relevant that he sold off the rest of the property - including the house - just nine days later.  So perhaps it was a device, so that the children's share of the legacy could be sold, while they were still minors and could not sell in their own right.  As we have seen, Sarah was extravagant, and she might have needed the extra money in a hurry.
That is one theory.  Another, much more popular one, is that Sarah did not give up custody of her children of her own free will, but was forced to hand them over, for the most ghoulish reason possible ... but we shall come to that in a moment or two.
What Sarah did after the house was sold is unknown, but it seems very likely that she was already settled in Ellensville, New York, where her two sisters were married to substantial citizens.  Kate had gone to school there - a very select school, considering the fees, which were well over three hundred dollars - and Katie died there, of a protracted and painful illness, in June 1869.  Her body was shipped by train to Willimantic, and she was buried by her father and sisters and brothers in Liberty Hill, the top of her headstone bearing the evocative little phrase "Our Katie." 

Sarah died on November 10, 1892, and duly joined the little group in the Liberty Hill cemetery, next to "Our Katie," and alongside the five small stones commemorating the deaths of the five children who died in infancy, each one surmounted by a lamb.  Her name was added to her husband's headstone ... but the sensational yarns lived on.

That encounter with the Shenandoah is fertile ground for journalistic imaginations, for a start.  "Capt. Gray was a privateer - a kind of licenced pirate," exclaimed the "Willimantic Daily Chronicle" in August 1970, getting the facts completely back-to-front. 
The rest of the account is correspondingly dramatic.  When he encountered the Shenandoah a peppering contest with cannon balls ensued, and Gray was hit and mortally wounded "as he barked commands from the bridge," the tale continues.  According to the narrator, the bereaved widow instantly assumed command.  How Sarah escaped the Shenandoah was beyond even journalistic imagination, but much was made of the problem of preserving the body.  "However, the ship had recently taken on a large cargo of rum - as ballast!  Thus, Sarah's problem was easily fixed.  And so Captain Slumon Gray's corpse was carried to Connecticut, and buried cask, rum and all, in the graveyard at Liberty Hill."

But that's not the only sensational myth that has lived on...
There's the mystery of why Sarah gave up the guardianship of her children.  And, as already hinted, an equally thrilling theory has been propounded for this.  Sarah's children were removed from her care, it seems, in order to save their lives. 
"It is said that Kate joined her father on most of his whaling trips," begins another account in meaningful tones, "while Mrs. Gray sailed less often, remaining in Lebanon where she was better known for her domestic accomplishments." 
Further along in the story, the insinuation is made abundantly clear. "Daughter Kate outlived her father by only four years and was buried next to him and her five brothers and sisters!!!  It seems the siblings had all died under mysterious circumstances before or around their second birthday while they father and Kate were away!  No one knows the cause of the deaths, but it is believed that Mrs. Gray's cooking was a major factor and that Kate survived as long as she did because she was always at sea.  The suspicion of mysterious doings strengthened when Kate died four years after her father, Captain Gray.  Mrs. Gray outlived everyone by twenty years and the legend and strange tale lies with them in the Liberty Hill Cemetery."
And so this sister sailor is popularly supposed to have murdered her own children -- and the house where she lived, and her little children died is popularly considered to be haunted. (I have been told tales of strange sounds and ghostly spectres, myself.)  Nowadays, we are so accustomed to modern childcare and modern medicine, that the idea of losing five children in infancy seems so incredible that infanticide seems a plausible answer ... but is this just a modern theory? 
Did people in Liberty Hill, back in 1867, whisper that the strange woman who had sailed off a-whaling just as easily as her neighbors crossed Long Island Sound to Long Island had murdered her own daughters and sons?  After all, those Pacific Islanders that Sarah Gray had hobnobbed with were famous for infanticide, along with all other kinds of pagan practices! 
And it's much more fun to think that Sarah Gray was a murderess, rather than merely extravagant.

My eternal thanks to Alicia Wayland, of Lebanon, Connecticut, who became so fascinated with my early stories of Sarah Gray that she hosted us several times so we could explore the graveyard and visit the Gray house (where, interestingly, I found a visiting card-portrait of herself and Edwin, left there by Martha Brown), and also researched every possible detail of her life, finding not just the genealogical details, but the sensational newspaper stories, too.

Nautical Blog Hop highlights

The Best Bit (of Research) I’ll Never Use...
Want to win a copy of E.V. Ulett's Captain Blackwell's Prize?  Visit her NBH page at and post a comment, and you might just be lucky.  While you're there, read about diaries kept by naval families.  One that she mentions is the gossipy and candid journal kept by Betsy Wynne Fremantle, who sailed with her husband on the frigate Inconstant (pictured above), and nursed Horatio Nelson after he lost his right arm.  Betsy is definitely one of my favorites, so enjoy.

On Smugglers, Free Traders and other Fake Heroes...
Alaric Bond, author of the stirring Fighting Sail series, writes about smuggling and smugglers.  Read the racy details of this over-romanticized trade at

One Long Blast - Vessel Getting Underway!
Want to win a copy of James L. Nelson's very well-received Viking blood-stirrer, Fin Gall?  Hop over to his NBH blog at   To tell the truth, and just between you and me, I am not quite sure what he is talking about on his post, or why his address is "uk," either, as I know perfectly well that Jim lives in Maine, because I have visited him there, but as always, he's well worth reading because he is hugely entertaining.  Actually, it encapsulates an excellent piece of advice --  If you think, "Boy this is going to be boring," before you start writing, don't write it.  Your audience will be bored, too.  And Jim is never, ever boring.

The Wonders of Bronze Age Shipwrecks
If you would like to be fascinated, and learn something too, hop over to Judith Starkston's page at  Beautifully illustrated, and very informative.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The whaling wife who was marooned

Today's Nautical Blog-Hop seafaring whaling wife is ....


Martha first met her future husband, Edwin Peter Brown, when she was about 16 years old.  According to family legend, he was visiting Brooklyn, and looked out the window to see a girl crossing the street to the pump, carrying a pail to collect water.  "By Jolly, she's my wife, if I can get her," he said, and chased her relentlessly after that.  She did her best to spurn him, but finally consented to be courted after he consented to sign a temperance form and give up the demon booze for life, and they were married on May 23, 1843, when Martha was 21 years old. Then he went off on voyage, while she stayed with his family and hers.  In 1844, Edwin was home long enough to buy a two-story house, in Orient, Long Island, and father a daughter, who was born the following year. Then he went back to sea.
In 1847, Martha's life changed ... for the worse. She sailed with her husband on the Lucy Ann of Greenport, Long Island, leaving home on August 21, 1847 — because Edwin had told her to do it. Going on voyage wasn’t her idea at all. 

Almost every entry of her journal makes it apparent that she would have much rather been home with her little girl, Ella, whom she had been forced to leave behind.  Conditions on board might have been even grimmer than on the usual whaler, too, for Captain Brown's standards of health and hygiene were low.  My evidence for this is based on the fact Captain Brown prided himself on a voyage he had made in 1843, when he was in command of the bark Washington of Greenport.  Because he was so newly married, he had sworn to get home within the year.  And he did accomplish this remarkable feat, circling the world in 363 days without ever dropping the anchor.


Which means that the crew of thirty-odd men (one of whom painted the picture of the ship above) existed almost entirely on the salt provisions and fresh water that had been put on board in Greenport.  Some livestock would have been carried, but they would have been used up pretty fast.  Brown sent boats on shore in the Azores near the beginning of the voyage for fruit and vegetables, and ten months later he sent a boat on shore at Pernambuco to "smuggle 100 oranges on board."  Otherwise he took on no fresh provisions at all, and certainly never any fresh water.  It was a remarkable feat, worthy of some kind of pride.  It is even more amazing that his crew survived the ordeal.  It's a medical miracle that they didn't all die of that horrible diet-deficiency disease of the sea, scurvy.

So, Martha was risking more than shipwreck when Edwin decreed she should sail.  Nevertheless, she made the best of it, for she certainly loved her husband.  Being with her Edwin made it all reasonably worthwhile — but then, in April 1848, he left her on shore at Honolulu, to spend the summer there while he went off a-whaling in the Arctic.  She was marooned.

Edwin Brown did have what he thought was a very good reason, for Martha was pregnant.  Martha, on the other hand, did not think that this was a good reason at all.  Instead, she felt angry, extremely lonely, and very frightened about how she would cope. "This is not my home and I do not know of one here that I can call my friend," she accused Edwin in the journal she kept up while on shore. 

Worse still, Edwin was tight with his money, and didn't leave her with enough to get along in any degree of comfort.  Martha was forced to board some distance out of town, past the city slaughter-yards up Nuuanu Valley.  As Martha complained in her journal, it made it difficult for her to get together with her "sister sailor," Sarah Gray, whom she first met early in July, and found "a very agreeable companion."

Martha Brown and Sarah Gray had been left in very different circumstances.  "Capt. Gray told his wife when he left her to try to take comfort and enjoy herself, and as far as money and credit would go, not to scrimp herself," wrote Martha. 

Sarah took Slumon at his word.  Within ten days of arriving in Honolulu she had bought herself five new dresses — two of them costing five dollars, fifty cents each! — and that was just the start of a buying spree as she outfitted herself in handsome silks for balls, parties, and the King's levee. "She knows that her husband would wish it, so why should she hesitate?" wrote Martha, who was frankly envious. 

However, when the time for the baby's birth arrived, Sarah Gray gave up her fun for two whole weeks, delivering the infant and "doing" for Martha "as an own sister would have done." 

Naturally, both women "felt very bad," when the Jefferson sailed from Honolulu for home, Captain Slumon Gray having returned from the northern whaling ground in October. "The least I can say of her is I love her like a Sister," wrote Martha, and it was a friendship that endured after the women got home. 

In October 1848, after Sarah Gray had sailed away from Honolulu, Martha had to wait another month for her husband to come and collect her.  Captain Edwin Peter Brown was in no hurry at all, getting back so much later than the rest of the whaling fleet that Martha entertained grave fears of his safety. 

Altogether, it had been a pretty horrible experience. Little wonder, then, that on the homeward passage she wrote in a space she found in the ship's logbook, "Adieu to Whalegrounds and now for home and right glad am I.  And now my Dear," she added, "alow me to inform you that this is the last time you are to leave, or visit these waters which to you have become familliar according to your own assertions.  Martha."

Predictably, Captain Edwin Brown paid not a mite of attention.  He disobeyed her at least once, taking command of the New York California ship Amelia in 1852.  Martha did not go with him.  From correspondence, it seems as if she was so furious when he left that she threatened not to write any letters.  However, she could not have gone even if she wanted to.  She was far too busy. 

First, she seems to have been eternally pregnant.  The little boy, Willie, who had been delivered by Sarah Gray in Honolulu, died of croup in 1851, but in the meantime Martha had borne two more babies, and in the following years increased the number of living children to nine - ten pregnancies in all. 

You might remember a passing mention of a two-story house that Edwin had built in Orient in 1844.  It was a large residence - which was lucky.  Remember, too, that Edwin was tight with his money, though it has been estimated that he made over a hundred thousand from his nine voyages a-whaling.  Martha was told to run the house as a boarding house, which she managed so successfully despite her large brood, that in 1856 he added a handsome third story to the house, so that Martha could take in even more guests.  And then — guess what! — he retired from the sea.

I like to think, however, that Martha had a kind of revenge.  Edwin Brown died in 1896, leaving written instructions concerning his grave.
"To my wife & Children," he wrote:

"I wish the following epitaph put on my tombstone.  Also the anchor, harpoon & lance." 

"Anchored beneath is Captain E.P. Brown
Who four times sailed the world around
363 days one voyage was made
And not once was the Anchor laid."

Obviously, this referred back to his voyage on the Washington of Greenport, when he somehow beat the demon scurvy to circle the world within a year, without ever dropping the anchor.  And did Martha follow these instructions?  No, she did not.  As you can see, there is not even the usual fouled anchor on his stone, and certainly no poetry.


Martha's journal has been published. You can read it as She Went a-Whaling, edited by Anne MacKay, and produced by the Oysterponds Historical Society. I have also written about her in Hen Frigates.

Nautical Blog Hop


"Who wouldn't sell a petticoat and go to sea?" asks Linda Collison.  Hop over to her blog at and find out what it was like for a cross-dressed woman at sea.

Says Richard Spilman:  On the Old Salt Blog, we are celebrating the "Weigh Anchor Nautical Blog Hop" as "Windjammer Week." Our first post - why windjammers are not dead, nor even past.

Julian Stockwin, author of many thrillers about the sea, writes about summoning the maritime muse:

Want to win a copy of Antoine Vanner's novel Britannia's Wolf?
 If you add a comment on any item in his new blog up to 22 September 2013 (the end of the Nautical Blog Hop) then you're in the running for winning one of two signed hard-copy copies he's giving away. He'll be picking the winners at random from those who comment in this period.

It is not just America's Cup yachts that get into trouble. "Nautical novelists are forever looking for ways to convincingly describe things going wrong at sea," comments Seymour Hamilton.  Head over to to read all about maritime glitches in his contribution, "The Hourglass Gybe."

Helen Hollick is still amazed that she, a landlubber, ended up writing a number of pirate-based novels.  Blame it on Johnny Depp and "Captain Sparrer," she says.  Read all about it at


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pioneering whaling wife

In this, my first Nautical Blog Hop post, I reveal the story of a young woman who blazed a trail for the hundreds of "sister sailors" who followed her ...


On November 4th, 1845, a whaleship sailed out of the port of Stonington, Connecticut, with a woman on board.  This was the whaleship Tiger, and the woman was 22-year-old Mary Brewster, wife of Captain William Brewster.  And Mary’s foster mother was so angry when she saild that she told her never to darken her door again. 

If Mary felt any doubts about her eccentric decision to sail on a whaler, she certainly did not admit it.  "In coming my own conscience tells me I was doing right," she wrote, "so what do I care about the opinion of the world?"  Her reasons were plain - in four years of marriage she had spent just five months with her much adored husband - and for her, those reasons were sufficient.  Much of her journal, in fact, is devoted to how much she loved and admired him. And indeed, when you look at his portrait, he was a very attractive young man.

She had plenty of chances to regret her decision to sail. Mary's territory on board the Tiger consisted of a narrow stateroom to share with her husband, a narrow stern cabin to sit and sew in, a cramped mess cabin where she shared meals with four rough and clumsy male strangers, and the after part of a cluttered deck, because ladies definitely never visited the forward part of the ship.  Add the smell of bilge and the wild tossing of a stormy passage about Cape Horn -- or being becalmed, which was almost worse -- and the picture is about complete, lacking only the hostile natives, uncharted reefs and pugilistic whales that awaited.
Little wonder, then, that up until that year of 1845, very few whaling skippers had asked their wives to sail. In fact, the whaling captains who met Mary during the mid-ocean visits that whalemen called "gams" were very impressed -- so impressed that when they got back home they ordered their wives to come along the next voyage.  William Tower, for instance, was "very much surprised to see a lady on board," according to Mary's journal -- and next voyage he carried along his Betsy.  One can imagine him saying, "If Mary Brewster can do it, so can Betsy Tower."

Meanwhile, though, there were very few wives on the water, and so it wasn't until October 7th, 1846, almost a full year after departing from home, that Mary Brewster met another whaling wife, Sarah Frisbie Gray - the wife of Captain Slumon Gray of the Stonington whaleship Newburyport. 

It was in Lahaina, Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands - which were called the Sandwich Islands, back then.  "Called on Mrs. Gray," wrote Mary.  "Whom I was very happy to meet.  She was a sister sailor," she said, and so a phrase was coined, one that the "sister sailors" themselves liked to use. 

The Tiger sailed away from Maui to whale in the Californian lagoons, but in March 1847 was back in Maui, and this time William Brewster left Mary on shore for a six-month marooning, while he took the Tiger to the North-West Coast without her assistance.  No reason was given for his decision, and Mary was both offended and angry.  She had sailed to be with her husband, not to wait about on a farflung Pacific island while he suffered all kinds of lonely privations chasing whales! 

 On August 24, however, her beloved William was back at Lahaina -- "Oh, the joy of such moments will never be forgotten," exclaimed Mary in her journal, and her heart was truly rejoicing. "Whilst absent he has enjoyed good health, all well on board and the ship full [of oil]. What could I wish for more..." 

It was quite a shock to return on board, however, because her little cabin where she sewed on deck had been "given to the mates," her rocking chair was in a sad state on deck, "looking as if it was no stranger to weather," and her table was in the main top! "What works, says I -- Never mind, is the answer, the ship is full--"

But it meant that for the homeward passage Mary was confined to the mess table below, where we see her dutifully sewing (a job she absolutely hated).

The Tiger returned home in April 1848, and fourteen weeks later was off again, still with Mary on board.  She was horribly seasick, especially when the ship was becalmed, rolling sickeningly on a heavy swell, but she never regretted her decision to sail with her adored William ... and because of her pioneering example, hundreds of her "sister sailors" took up the same strange existence, spending years on end at the mercy of the calms and gales and the nauseating waves.

Mary Brewster's journals are held at Mystic Seaport Museum.  They were also published, as "She Was a Sister Sailor," edited by Joan Druett (me).

Those Yachts

I can't resist posting this ...

Hopeful thinking, because it definitely was an oops!, but still very funny -- even though I am probably the only Kiwi in the world who isn't all worked up about That Cup.

The trouble for me is that they don't look like yachts.  Where are the beautiful mothlike craft designed by men who could make fast-moving small vessels look lovely?  What about the original racing schooners, which were gorgeous?  Why in heavens' name did they go and change the rules?

These vessels look like trailers.  They look like airplanes that are taxiing rather fast.  What does intrigue me, though, is their sails.  They remind me of the sails of Tahitian pahi.  Tupaia, the great Tahitian star navigator, informed Captain Cook that a fast voyaging Tahitian pahi could cover 1200 miles in just ten days -- rather galling for the commander of the Endeavour, which struggled to reach six knots, and would take at least twice the time to sail that distance.

So those modern designers have got the sails right, it seems. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

BIKINI is the name of an atoll

Or is it?

It's interesting, you know ... you can hit "google images," and type in "bikini" and get thousands of pictures of tiny scraps of cloth semi-wrapped about boobs of varying sizes.

But, if you want a picture of the atoll where tests of atomic bombs were carried out, you have to add "island" or "atoll" to the search phrase.

It's a mystery ...  a mystery with a fascinating answer.

When the string bikini was launched in 1946, it became an instant sensation. Katya Foreman explains in the BBC magazine how the tiny garment became a design icon. 

"Who would have thought that the name of a remote Pacific atoll, site of atom bomb testing in the late 1940s, could have become wedded in the public mind to one of the sexiest and most enduring clothing items of the summer? Marking an atypical career trajectory, French mechanical engineer-turned bikini designer, Louis Réard, known as the godfather of the garment’s modern-day incarnation, is said to have come up with the moniker in a wink to its tiny size yet explosive impact, with the term ‘bombshell’ adopted as a popular reference for the ladies in these revealing swimsuits.

"The story goes that Réard, who had taken over his parents’ lingerie business in Paris, entered into competition with fashion designer Jacques Heim to produce the world’s smallest two-piece, having observed women on the beaches in Saint-Tropez rolling up the edges of their swimsuit bottoms while tanning. (The first functional two-piece is said to have been invented by swimwear designer Carl Jantzen in 1913).

"Harnessing his technical skills to reduce the proportions and fabric of the fledgling two-piece, in 1946 Réard launched the string bikini, honed from four triangles of fabric and fastened with spaghetti ties. He recruited a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris to model the creation, causing a cultural explosion. For the first time, radically, bikini bottoms dropped below the navel.

"Réard’s skimpy design cut a stark contrast to the cumbersome tunics and bloomers worn by women at the beach only decades earlier. The shrewd marketer’s less-is-more advertising campaigns for the creation claimed that a two-piece bathing suit wasn’t a bona fide bikini 'unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.'"

So that's how the word "bombshell" came into being.  Wow, I didn't know that.