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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Guest post: Bessie and the whales

Wonderful guest post from Lesley Walker's blog

Bessie and the Whales

Detail of zoologist Charles Haskins Townsend's world map complied in 1931
Detail of zoologist Charles Haskins Townsend’s world map complied in 1931. New Bedford Whaling Museum.
It is now exactly twelve months since I joined theCharles W Morgan at Vineyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts in June 2014 to sail to New Bedford, the ship’s home port. Since then through research and writing, I have been pursuing the story of my great-great grandparents on Sunday/Raoul Island and of whalerman, master mariner and Charles W Morgan crew member Parkins Christian. I have also discovered a fascination with the extraordinary (if abhorrent) history of whaling and whales themselves. My research has included visiting museums with whaling-related collections in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Sydney and Eden, NSW, Australia and Lajes da Pico, Pico and Horta, Faial in the Azores. I decided it was time to return to my blog!
Zoologist Charles Haskins Townsend’s world map complied in 1931 used American whaling records to plot every single recorded whale taken by American ships in the 19th century. Red dots are sperm whales, blue dots baleen whales such as humpbacks and right whales. Sunday or Raoul Island is almost completely obscured by red dots. The Kermadecs lie between the Vasquez and French Rock Whaling Grounds, the red dots stretching from New Zealand in the south to converge and overlap with blue dots to Tonga and almost to Samoa. Another thick line of red dots connects the Kermadecs with Norfolk Island in the west. As a 38th Voyager on the Charles W Morgan in 2014 I had the extraordinary opportunity to actually sail on the only remaining whaling ship of the many that whaled off and visited Sunday-Raoul Island.
Despite the decline of whaling in the Pacific by the time my great great grandparents, the Bells, were living on Sunday Island, American and colonial whaling ships were still hunting whales and provided much needed supplies, equipment and new faces when they anchored off the island. The ships also took on firewood, fresh meat (goats had been left on the islands from the early years of whaling, a fact which undoubtedly saved the Bells from starvation in the first year after they landed) and water although the weather and heavy surf in Denham Bay meant more often than not they couldn’t anchor and go ashore. These visits are recorded in the ships’ logs from the early 19th century.
Raoul or Sunday Island
Raoul or Sunday Island – aerial view. The Bells lived first on Denham Bay (the long beach in the south of the island) then moved to North Beach across the ridge. Later they moved back to Denham Bay.
In December 1878 the California’s log reported that the ship was laying off Sunday Island for three days, sending boats ashore for firewood. In March 1880 the log of the Canton records that “during the day we have very light winds and some times calm. Ship under all sail drifting towards Sunday Island which we saw at 9am”. The California was off Sunday Island again in April 1888 and February 1889. In March 1889 its log reports sighting the Sydney whaler the Costa Rica Packet, whaling off Curtis Rocks.
George Parkins Christian served on several whaling ships including the Sydney-basedCosta Rica Packet, the California and the Canton before he joined the Charles W Morganwhen she called at Norfolk Island in 1894. Many years later My great-grandmother Bessie remembered his visits and that “it was always the American whalers who were our best friends”. Her father Tom told them the story of the mutiny on the Bounty, of how Christian’s great grandfather Fletcher had fallen out with Captain Bligh. Parkins told them nothing of this but regaled them with stories of the Great White Whale, Moby Dick, “that bit whaleboats in half and crunched them to pieces in his awful jaws”.
From the island the children watched the whales’ annual migration from the Antarctic waters past the Kermadecs to the warmer waters of the tropics and back again with calves in the autumn. Bessie remembered the humpbacks off Denham Bay and the northern shores of the island, and the children watched their antics in delight, fascinated by the fountain-like spouts. Sometimes a whale would leap out of the water, “its huge body vertical between sea and sky and visible for one enthralling second from snout to tail flukes”. She recalled a special moment when, with sisters Hettie and Mary, she witnessed a cow whale feeding her calf. The girls climbed down the cliff to get a better view, looking directly down on the cow rolled on her side ejecting milk directly into the mouth of her twenty-foot long calf.
Sunday or Raoul Island, the Kermadecs. Bessie and her father and brothers were between Sunday Island and Meyer Is. when they were nearly overturned by a whale.
Sunday or Raoul Island, the Kermadecs. Bessie and her father and brothers were fishing near Meyer Is. to the north-west of Sunday Island when they were nearly overturned by a humpback whale.
Another encounter with a school of humpbacks during a fishing trip with her father and brothers to nearby Meyer Island was more frightening. The whales appeared from behind the island, broaching and sounding, leaping high and swimming in wide circles around the rowboat, disturbing the hitherto calm waters. When one leapt out of the water and then crashed back down very close to the boat, their father Tom yelled for them to row for their lives. Bessie suddenly realized one was diving under the boat, and felt the bow of the boat heaved up out of the water, then rolled on its side until the gunwale was under the water. The huge shape slid out from underneath and with a violent swirl, turned and flung itself out of the water a few yards away. The flukes towered over the boys’ heads and they threw themselves into the bottom of the boat. Parkins Christian told them later that they were lucky, that when whales swim round and round a boat like that, they mean mischief. The boat could well have been smashed and the occupants “sent down to Davy Jones’ locker – and the sharks”.
With many thanks to Lesley for allowing me to repost.  I look forward to another guest post before too long.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Two contrasting book launches

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Open 7 days from 10am; Thurs & Fri ‘til 7pmONLINE SHOPPING
Dear Joan

starlight peninsular small.jpgBOOK LAUNCH -

Join with us & Penguin Random House to launch Charlotte Grimshaw’s latest brilliant novel Starlight Peninsula. When Eloise’s life is suddenly turned upside down she seeks answers - & encounters an odd-eyedcharlotte grimshaw.jpgpolicewoman, a charismatic obstetrician, a German psychotherapist, & a flamboyant internet pirate wanted by the US government!
One of NZ’s most cleverly satirical writers, Charlotte has won numerous awards. Come & celebrate with us!

Thursday 2 July 6pm in the bookshop
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Published first in the USA, Bianca Zander’s marvellous second novel The Predictions delightfully captures life at Gaialands, an ‘alternative lifestyle’ commune in thebiance zander small.jpgCoromandel in the late 70s. Poppy & Lukas, who have grown up there, must face the less idealistic realities of life in the heady music scene of 80s London.
Join us, with Bianca & Hachette NZ, to celebrate the New Zealand publication of this lively, tender story of mistakes & finding your place in the world.

Wednesday 15 July 6pm in the bookshop
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Publication date announced!
Rowing to Eden: Collected Stories - Amy Bloom    $25 
Due September!

For those of you who missed out on purchasing Amy Bloom’s marvellous short stories at the Auckland Writers Festival, we are delighted to announce we will have stock of this stunning collection of her remarkable stories in September.

Phone or email us to order your copy now!
STAFF VACANCY – For Weekends
We need a permanent person, for Saturdays & Sundays, who reads widely, has good computer skills & is warm & friendly with customers. Email us for more details.
Enjoy your winter reading, check out our fabulous new books in store and online.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quilled ship

This gorgeous card featuring a quilled ship was sent to me by a dear friend in Vineyard Haven, on the beautiful and historic island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.  She knows it is a hobby I love, and knew I would treasure it.

What is quilling, you ask?  It is a paper craft, where long, narrow strips of paper are coiled with a quilling tool and then the coils adjusted into different shapes.  It is an ancient art, with a religious background. Though it dates back to the ancient Egyptians, it was popularized in monasteries and abbeys, where nuns and monks would take the gold paper left over from book binding, trim it into strips, and roll it into shapes to decorate illuminated manuscripts.  Later, it became a pastime for European ladies, who would use it to decorate cards and boxes, just as we do today.

And why is it called "quilling"?  It is because the original quilling tools were birds' feathers, where the groove in the quill held the end of the paper strip.


You can make simple little yachts (great for little boys' birthday cards), or use the same strips of paper to make flowers to decorate a card, or a little box holding a few choice candies. Or a rabbit (for an Easter card).

The card pictured at the top, the one Kay sent me, is really exceptional. The outlines of the masts, hulls, and sails have been delineated with fine strips of card, and then the delicate coils have been slotted neatly into the shapes.  Note the simple coils that depict the waves.  It has been created by a Vietnamese artist with very nimble fingers.

Amazon to pay authors by the page

Amazon is to begin paying royalties to writers based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than by the book. This means that if the reader abandons the book quarter way through -- and we have all done that, my own benchmark being 40 pages; if I am not hooked by then, I turn to another book -- the author gets just one quarter royalty.

What makes me curious is how Amazon knows that you have dumped the book before getting even halfway.  Is there a secret little chip in the Kindle that sends info back to the robots of  It's like the "ratings" you hear about with TV programs.  How do the TV people know how many are watching?  There are flaws, such as the obvious one where the TV has been left on with no one in the room (I know a family that turn on the TV just to amuse their cats) and then there are all those rows of TVs in electronic stores, flashing all kinds of programs just so that passing customers can admire the definition. And how do know that the Kindle in question hasn't been lost, or broken down, with what had been an enjoyable book left unfinished.

However, Amazon claims that it is fairer for people who write long books, but get the same royalties as those who write short ones.  But isn't there a difference in the price of the books?  Long books tend to be a bit more expensive than your average novella.

"We're making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read," the company said.

Well, the word "feedback" equates to the word "poll" which equates to the word "statistics," in my book.  And we all know about lies, damned lies, and statistics.  And does the buyer of the dumped book get three-quarters of the paid money back?

That is the Question.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Unity Best Bookseller of the Year

From the Dominion Post

While the future of bookshops remains uncertain, one of Wellington's leading independent stores has proven there is still life left in them yet.
Unity Books in Willis St won Bookseller of the Year at the Book Trade Industry Awards show on Sunday night.
But while Unity is very much alive after 48 years of trading, other notable bookshops in Wellington have shut their doors during the past two years, including Parsons in Lambton Quay, Quilters in Ghuznee St, and Capital Books in Featherston St.
Unity co-owner and manager Tilly Lloyd admitted the future of bookshops was uncertain, but said:
"We have a good, long, strong history as a literary bookshop and there are enough literary people in Wellington to keep us going strong.
"A lot of people are reigniting their loyalties in independent bookstores, so this award is a big vote for the Wellington booklovers – for the buying public – who support us.
"We are thrilled. It was such a vote of confidence ... it means a lot to us."
The win comes in a tough year for Unity, which lost about a fifth of its stock in late January when water started pouring through its ceiling, caused by workers stripping out a shop on the level above.
Customers quickly ralled to help, and Lloyd said the store's success was in part because it was a very social bookshop. It hosted up to 60 author events every year, which attracted hundreds of people.

"That is really, really important to the spirit of the shop, because they bring in such a wide variety of people."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Rebutting your own death notice

Back in 1849, Shakespearean actor George Buckingham read the notice of his own death in the Sydney Morning Herald.  And, forthwith, quoting freely from the Bard, he wrote a rebuttal -- which must be one of the cleverest and most funny I have ever read.

Here is how it went:

To the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.


HORATIA -- Look, my lord, it comes!
HAMLET -- Angels and Ministers of grace defend us! Be thou spirit of health or goblin damned. O, anser me. Why, the sepulchre, wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd, hath op'd has ponderous and marble jaws, and cast thee up again!

RESPECTED SIR -- A report of my decease having appeared in your paper some few months since, the perusal of which caused my hair to bristle "Like quills upon the fretful porcupine," I beg to denounce the same as "a weak invention of the enemy." I assure you, sir, this announcement of "So much for Buckingham," has created quite a Tempest in my family, therefore I would say with Miranda, "if by your art, my dearest editor, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them."

"Be off then, let me be."

By your insertion of this, I would say with Au olicus, "Softly, dear sir; good sir, softly!"

Happy in concluding that this Comedy of Errors has turned out Much Ado about Nothing, and that All's Well that ends well -- I now beg once more to make my exit, and say "I have hope to live and am not prepared to die" and, like Hecate, in Macbeth,  I can say "Hark! I am called; my little spirit, see, sits in a foggy cloud and stays for me."

Or perhaps this would be more appropriate --

Show his eyes, and grieve his heart,
Come like shadow, so depart

Mr. Editor, I remain yours,
Sans everything,


Auckland, New Zealand
June 13, 1849.

The picture is of the Olympia Theatre in Melbourne, where Buckingham appeared.  He was one of the very earliest actors/stage managers in New Zealand and Australia, and I have been unable to find any images of either him, or his family, or of the Royal Victoria Theatre and the Fitzroy Theatre that he built and/or managed, the first in Melbourne, and the second in Auckland.

The letter was published in the New Zealander, 13 June 1849.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mystic Seaport International Exhibition

The Thirty-sixth Annual International Marine Art Exhibition

The 36th annual International Marine Art Exhibition is a comprehensive juried show that showcases recent works of more than 100 award-winning marine artists from around the world. This exhibition is a commemoration of our maritime heritage with intricately researched historical scenes and contemporary images that document man’s relationship to the sea. Represented in this show are exceptional paintings, drawings, sculpture, scrimshaw, and ship models depicting tall ships, sailing yachts, working craft, commercial vessels, warships, and scenes of the shoreline, beaches, harbors and wildlife that inhabit our seafaring world.
The exhibition will open to the public at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 27, with an Artists’ Walk at the Maritime Gallery. The walk is an opportunity for the public to meet some of the participating artists and listen as they share how they created their works in the International and what inspires them to produce their art.
The exhibition runs through December 31, 2015.
Ron Druett was very pleased to have a painting accepted for this very prestigious exhibition.
Pictured above, it is called "The Kids' Dinghy".

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lusitania Letter

Nellie Huston was one of the 1,198 people who died when the ocean liner was
sunk by a German U-boat as the liner from off the coast of Ireland and sank
within 18 minutes on May 7, 1915.

She told of her fears in a seven-page letter to a relative during the
crossing from New York to Liverpool and in it she described passengers' fear
of being attacked.

Germany had declared the seas around the UK a war zone and the German
Embassy in the US had placed a newspaper advert warning people of the risk
of sailing on the Lusitania.

Nellie’s seven-page, water-stained letter was discovered in her handbag
floating in the Atlantic six days after the sinking. It has been in her family ever since and is now being sold at auction in London.

The letter, written on Lusitania-headed notepaper, is a rare first-hand
account of life onboard the ill-fated ship and Nellie’s final words penned
the day before the sinking reveals the sense of fear.

She writes: “If it wasn’t just for the worry I could say we’ve had a lovely

Written like a diary to “My dear Ruth”, Nellie wrote about her trip each
day, including amusing anecdotes about needing a steward to help her into
her top bunk and seeing some of the distinguished first class passengers.

But the letter also hints at a more ominous atmosphere.

Nellie wrote: “I feel rather twichy [sic]. We’ve had three days on the boat
and we’re just about half way over.”

In her final entry on May 6 she said: “We’ve had a splendid passage up to
now... This morning we have all the lifeboats swung out ready for

“It’s awful to think about but I guess there is some danger.”

The line about the lifeboats was later cited in the press to help exonerate
the ship’s captain, William Turner, from charges of negligence as evidence
that they were readied for an emergency.

Nellie also mentions that the liner was crowded after taking on passengers
from the Cameronia - a ship taken over by the British government as it was
about to leave New York on - which also hampered attempts to escape.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Optimistic whaleman

From the Pacific Commercial Advertiser September 21, 1859

The Advertiser was a Honolulu paper, so many of the readers were whalemen, who always enjoyed a story from the fleet. And here is one that would have raised a hearty laugh.

The life of a whaleman is full of hardship and danger; and only a strong hand and a stout heart can secure advancement in the profession. A great proportion of those who embark in home ports, know little of the trials that lay in the long cruise before them. But a few weeks since, we published an account of a whole class, just graduated in one of the northern New York colleges, embarking together for a three years cruise in a whaleship, before the mast; and we are now told of another young gentleman who, satiated with all the pleasures that a comfortable home could afford, resolved to seek a new variety of pleasure, and a quicker way of making a fortune, by shipping as a greenhand on board a whaler. "It's of no use," said he, "to dissuade me. My decision is irrevocable; and I would even go if I was sure of never catching more than one whale a day!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Clever old advertisement

From the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (Honolulu), 24 September 1859.

Considering that the designer was working with frames of lead type, this is amazing!

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Ghost in the Forecastle

From the Honolulu Commercial Advertiser, 18 November 1858

Extract from a whaling journal kept in the Arctic Ocean

July 8 -- This morning died Wahineoholoa, one of our foremast hands, a native of Hawaii.  The poor fellow had been sick for a month or more from a disease that resembled pleurisy, but which seemed to be out of reach of any remedies our limited skill could suggest. There being no place on shore where a grave could be made, except right in the village, the corpse was sewed up, and placed at the gangway.  Permission was then given to the kanakas to perform any ceremony they wished, and I was much surprised to see one of them produce a Catholic prayer book, and after devoutly crossing himself, read a portion of what I presumed to be their burial service. The rest stood around with hats off, and when the reader had finished he made the sign of the cross on the body, and it was then launched overboard. As usual the lighter spirits of the crew had been restrained while the corpse remained on board, but in five minutes after its disappearance beneath the waves everything was as before -- no one would have supposed that we had been witnessing the burial of a shipmate.


July 9 -- Some of the crew have got it into their heads that the ghost of the seaman who died yesterday was in the ship last night.  I have not taken much pains to investigate the facts concerning this supernatural visit, but have learned that during some time in the night (which was unusually dark for this time of the year) the dog "Tow" set up a most strange and unaccountable howling, and the conclusion of the watch on deck was that he was terrified by the presence of the spirit.  Some of the kanakas, I hear, actually saw the apparition.  Here we have an instance of the superstition which is so prevalent among sailors of every nation. The cause of their belief in the supernatural I will not attempt to analyse, but if sailors, as a class, were as well educated as most occupations are on land, ghosts and apparitions would be less often seen on shipboard.    

Monday, June 1, 2015

Robber Crabs, A Wiki Coffin Mystery Story


Having enjoyed short stories of late, and taking note of Kernick's The Debt, which appears to be working very well, I thought it would be fun to have a go of my own.

The Wiki Coffin mystery series, variously published by St Martin’s Minotaur, Allen & Unwin, and Old Salt Press, is set on the first, great, United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, crewed by 246 officers and men, and with seven scientists and two artists on board, which on Sunday, August 18, 1838,  set sail from the Hampton Roads, Virginia, headed for the far side of the world. 

The Wiki Coffin short stories, published in The Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, feature Wiki’s adventures in his early youth, after he ran away from the college in the forests of New Hampshire, where his stepmother had sent him to learn to be a missionary. Sailing away from New England as a greenhand on the elderly Nantucket whaleship Paths of Duty, he learned the skills of seamanship, found an aptitude for picking up foreign languages by talking to Portuguese shipmates, and solved one mystery after another.

Then, anxious to rejoin his Maori mother’s family, he jumped ship in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, where he solved a couple more mysteries before signing onto a ship that was bound for the East Indies, where his adventures recommenced.

This short story was written to link the two, by getting Wiki back into the Pacific and onto a New England whaleship, on the verge of his adventures with the Exploring Expedition. 

And here is the premise:

Wiki had been enjoying life in the East Indies and the South China Sea.  He could speak the local language, so had sailed happily on coastwise craft in the company of Bugis rogues and pirates. But then George Rochester had arrived on the Potomac, and while it had been delightful to get together with his old college friend, it had also ruined Wiki’s current existence.

Because of that twice-damned dog....

Not only did I have fun writing it, but the first part of the setting took me back to a really exotic visit Ron and I made, to a dot in the Indian Ocean, just south of Java, called Christmas Island.  The wildlife is amazing, and yes, there truly are robber crabs.  The photo on the front was taken by Ron.

But I definitely wanted to make it free, along with a preview of the fifth in the book series, The Beckoning Ice.  This was easy enough on smashwords, and courtesy of Draft2Digital, it was also easily made free on Kobo and so forth. And smashwords is amazing.  Even though I haven't mentioned this story being online until now, more than 40 were downloaded in the first few hours.

But can I persuade Amazon to make it free?  No.  They (or their robot) insists that the lowest price must be 99 cents.  So how did Kernick's publishers manage to get The Debt listed for nothing?  There must be a trick.  So far, I am doing my best by clicking "tell us about a lower price" and pasting in the URL for one of the other internet book sites, but so far, it isn't working.

So, in the meantime, find it on another site, such as smashwords or nook.