Autograph manuscript, 124 pages, including a list of useful Eskimo words, and 4 handdrawn maps (12 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.; 312 x 188 mm), being a log kept by the Trading master of the Bark Harmony, on its whaling expedition from Honolulu to the Arctic Ocean and back, 2 March–30 October 1858, log actually commencing on 8 March; a few leaves expertly repaired. Modern half blue morocco over cloth, original blue wrappers (with various ciphers and diagrams) laid down and bound in.
A sailor's unvarnished story of his 8-month whaling voyage from Honolulu to the Arctic Ocean. The Hawaiian Islands became the preferred supply and rest stop for American whalers, possibly because of its central location in the Pacific and climate. According to Samuel Clemens, in his 23 May 1866 article for the The Sacramento Daily Union, whalers were spending $1.4 million a year in Honolulu by the 1840s. In 1853, the whalers brought in 4,000,000 gallons of oil and 2,020,264 pounds of bone. By 1858, oil production had dropped one million gallons and bone amounted to 1,614,710 pounds. The Civil War finally ended the height of whaling, with confederate naval ships targeting the whalers and trading vessels.
Benjamin Denham writes that Captain Austin plans on returning to Honolulu with 1,500 barrels of oil, but the voyage of the Harmony is anything but serene and harmonious. The ship is beleaguered constantly by heavy weather with gale-force winds, ice, and sparse hunting grounds. On 14 June, Denham writes: "This is the first day since April 22nd . . . that we have had clear water. Fifty one out of the fifty-three days that have elapsed since that date we have spent with ice around us; a longer period of ice navigation, no doubt, than any other vessel in the fleet has had, Twenty one days of this time we have been blocked up by ice as to prevent our making any progess whatever. "
On 14 May, the Harmony takes its first whale, which Denham indicates by sketching a whale fin in the margin with the initials of the boat that brought it in (i.e., "L.B." is the larboard boat, "W. B." is the waist boat, and "S. B." is the starboard boat). On 17 May they caught their second whale at noon and spent seven or eight hours cutting up the blubber. The following day all hands were employed boiling blubber and scraping bone. The two whales yielded 190 barrels. They would take nine more whales before the end of the cruise, including one they found dead in the water. There is a gruesome account of the whale hunt for the one taken on 28 May: "The whale made for the thick ice as soon as struck and soon parted the line, but the bomb lance was fatal and when he came up he was blowing out masses of thick blood."
Although he hailed from Pennsylvania, Denham had apparently lived on the islands long enough to feel the effects of cold, even at 49 degrees. The officers' cabin gets a stove in mid-March, and less than a month later, it has set fire to the ceiling of the cabin twice. The native Kanakas also feel the effects of the cold more acutely given their poor clothing. His entry for 21 July remarks that: "[N]early all the foremast hands have, for many weeks, been almost destitute of shoes or stockings, and that it was too hard for them to wash the decks in this cold weather when they had so little protection for their feet. . . . I do not exaggerate the matter when I say that for nearly three months more than half the crew have seldom known what it was to have dry feet."
The bad weather and ice also caused the loss of one of the boats and oars, one anchor and 60 fathom of chain, and Dehham himself was nearly swept overboard when one violent wave engulfed the deck. Wood becomes scarce by mid-June, and they are forced to cut up spare spars and forage for driftwood to keep the cookfires going. Ultimately the Harmony got a relief supply of wood and coal from some of the other whalers they encountered. They would also put out casks in rainstorms to continue that essential resource. Fresh food is also a luxury. In late September Denham writes that he has indulged in a raw potato. "I regard this as a proof of the felicitty and comfort of a sailors life, that they can find enjoyment in such a simple thing as a raw potato, an article that our Yankee farmer would scarcely think of feeding to the swine."
Along their journey to the hunting grounds of the Arctic, they meet Eskimoes and other tribes. Of the Eskimoes, he describes the women as being "tattooed on the chin with lines about a quarter of an inch apart extending from the lower lip and the corners of the mouth to the base of the chin. Their dress is exactly the same as the mens, and they can be distinguished only by their unshaven heads . . . Their faces are not unpleasing, but their short stature make them look like children." He also compares their dwellings and domestication of dogs to those of the Hawaiians: "The dwellings do not display so much ingenuity and workmanship in their construction as those of the Hawaiians, but, as regards, cleanliness, they are about on a par. They also answer the double purpose of a domicile and doggery, to which, as the dogs perform the labor of horses might be added that of a stable. This is a custom they have in common with Hawaiians who not only domesticate their dogs in their houses, but very frequently their pigs." He describes the body piercing practiced by tribes in the Behring Straits: ""[T]heir personal appearance is not much improved by a fashion they have of wearing large buttons of ivory on each side of the lower lip, fastened into a hold reaching through the lip and large enough to thrust the tongue through."
Encounters with other whalers also brings the opportunity for news, letters, and an exchange of books. Although Denham had pledged with the captain to read the Bible all the way through, he looks forward to other books. On 17 July he writes: "This evening have been aboard the Agate and returned enriched with a whole armful of books loaned me by Capt. Lawton and Mr. Goddard, not the trashy novels that generally constitute the literature to be found on board whaleships, but works that are both useful and entertaining . . ."
Toward the end of the long voyage, Denham marvels at their long seclusion from society. "Deprived for nearly eight months of participation in, or knowledge of, the doings in the world at large, it is not strange that one should feel an impatience to get back again amongst 'mankind' and to learn the events that have taken place during this seclusion. He mentions the transatlantic telegraph, which had been completed in August, 1858. As the Harmony rounds the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, Denham concludes his log, and his career as a trading master. He had put in at least four or five journeys to the Arctic, and had no desire to visit the region again.
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