Description

    [Herman Melville]. Ship Acushnet Whaling Journal Kept by W. Bowles Cooper, spanning the period July 18, 1845 through November 5, 1847. A total of 40 pages of entries, preceded by 3 pages of drawings, all executed on unlined paper in various sizes, pasted into a book of "Tables of Discounts or Interest." Although the journal was likely compiled after Cooper's return ashore, it is unclear when or where the actual entries and drawings were made.

    The Acushnet has the legendary fame of having been the whaling ship on which Herman Melville signed on as a crewmember for its maiden voyage in 1841 out of the port of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Melville abandoned his post eighteen months into the voyage. It is commonly held that he modeled his experiences on the Acushnet to set the tone of his novel Moby Dick. The whaling voyage detailed in this journal would have been directly after Melville's excursion.

    A color illustration of a ship appears at the start, beneath which is written: "Log of the Whaling Ship Acushnet Capt. Wm. B. Rogers out N.B. 2 yrs. Voyage by Resolve W. Bowles Cooper." The facing page is titled "Sperm Whales Taken on Board of the Acushnet" and depicts 14 whales, with many of the whales including such information as date killed and gallons of oil drawn. The last two pages list the names of crew and officers, listing their rank and town of origin.

    Entries vary in length from a few lines to a full page depending on the ship's activities. Although Cooper's entries provide the standard information regarding the business of whaling, his entries are at times sardonic in tone when writing about his shipmates, as well as highly descriptive of the places he is visiting.

    On page 4 of the journal he draws two whales in order to illustrate the difference "in shape also the spouts" between a "Right Whale" and a "Sperm whale", and noting that "Sperm whale oil [is] most valuable" The facing page begins a long two page entry dated October 1, 1845: "Ship Acushnet bound South... This morning light breezes from the East, several of the Cape deverde Islands in sight amongst the rest of the Island of Fuego one of the most beautiful Islands of the Atlantic there are few more magnificent and interesting natural objects to be found in the world than the several mounting peals which distinguish the principal cluster of the Islands..."

    His entry on January 6th [1846] notes as follows: "Strong breezes from the S steering N by West... crew employed in mending the old fore topsail and rather poor encouragement to work for we have nothing to eat but salt horse and bread such is the living on board the good ship Acushnet. The Hon. W.B. Rogers master, but thank god it will not last... We are now about 6 months out with 14 brrls of oil and I know for one that if the crew and the boatsteerers had been satisfied with the proceedings we should had 10 times the quantity of oil now, so much gained by using the crew like so many hogs..."

    The following month Captain Rogers becomes ill. Cooper records: "Thursday Feb 19 Capt Rogers taken sick Capt. Robertson of the Lydia came aboard to see Capt. Rogers. Capt. Robertson said the old man's complaint was the Nervous Fever. Sat and Sunday, Squally Capt. Rogers remains in a deranged or crazy state..."

    "Sunday June 7, 1846. At 10 A.M. raised whales lowered away and the L boat struck and killed him along side and made preparation for cutting, but the wind was blowing so fresh it parted the flube chain a large 9 inch Manilla rope and the whale went to the devile, this luck is enough to make a minister sware for this makes 10 whales that we have struck 5 of them we cut from, and 5 we killed and sunk them or let them go off spouting blood, so ends these accursed 24 hours."

    Additional entries make note of desertions, illness, and unusual events. On April 7, 1846 Cooper records that a crew member from the ship Tuscarora has come on board and told the crew "that one of their foremast men had made an attempt to kill one of his fellow men by drawing a Razor across his throat wounding the fellow dangerously if not Mortally."

    In February of 1847, Captain Rogers abandons command of the ship saying to the crew "Men, I am going to leave you for about a month to see if I am a Jonah and if I am I will leave you altogether..." Cooper comments: "We all come to the conclusion he is sick again and we do not wonder at it. But I wonder that we are not all sick, for it is enough to make the strongest man under the Heavens crazy to see the rascality that has been carried on since we left the Harbour of Fairhaven, Mass."

    Cooper ends his entries on page 31, following with six pages of seaman's poetry: "The Wanderer's Return", "I'll Think of Thee", "the Old Seaman", and more. Pages are fragile, and spine is very loose, with a few disbound pages.


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