2020 has been a rocky year but humor has definitely helped me along the way. So when I stumbled onto this print and couldn’t stop laughing, I knew that I had to share it. The print is titled “The Success wedged on a Rock, being at the same time between the fire of the Spanish Fort at Umata and a Ship in the Harbour.” Irony anyone?
With such a hilarious title I dug deeper and just laughed more. The captain of Success was John Clipperton, a British sailor who was born in 1676 and joined Captain William Dampier on Saint George for an expedition to the Pacific from 1703-1704. This voyage gave Clipperton knowledge of the Pacific islands, which he put to good use when he led a mutiny against Dampier and left in a prize ship. That didn’t end well: the Spanish captured and imprisoned him in Panama for four years under Juan Antonio Rocha Carranza, Marquis de Villa-Rocha.Read more
Last month, I reported on a set of 3 ballot initiatives to change the city charter of Key West (https://blog.marinersmuseum.org/2020/10/a-maritime-issue-on-the-ballot/). Those initiatives sought to establish limits on the size and cleanliness of ships visiting the port of Key West, Florida. As you’ll recall, there were good, valid arguments on both sides of the issue. And during the campaign, as in all American campaigns since the early days of the Republic, passions flew a little high and a little mud got thrown. Americans are a pretty rough-and-tumble bunch!
Well, as I said, the residents have cast their votes! Bonnie Gross of the Florida Rambler reports that all those ballot questions passed by about 60% in favor of the changes. That means that, if the changes are allowed to stand, the City of Key West will limit the total carrying capacity of ships to 1,300 people.Read more
Welcome to one of the Interpretation Department’s obsessions! The Edwin Tappan Adney collection at The Mariners’ Museum and Park include 120 canoe models. Adney lived from 1868-1950. He was from the United States but fell in love with canoes when he was on vacation in Canada at the age of 19. For Adney, building canoe models was not a hobby. He felt that it was his duty to document as many of the boats as he could. The models were made ¼ sized and sometimes ⅕ sized. He learned some of the building methods from Native builders. For example, Frank Atwin, Passamaquoddy, was one of his teachers. This is an outstanding photograph, showing the size of the models.
Adney’s plan was to use the models to illustrate a book about the canoes. Unfortunately, the Depression meant that there were no backers for his idea. He then attempted to sell the models to several different museums, but again, he had no takers. Adney ended up using them as collateral for a $1,000 loan. The Museum’s buyers heard about this, paid off the loan and the $424 interest (!). Upon his death, Adney’s son donated all his papers, notes, sketches, and writings to the Museum.
From Erika Cosme:
This Adney model from our Collection was built in 1931 and represents the birch bark canoe, used in the Athabascan culture for hundreds of years. The Athabascan Indigenous culture extends from Alaska into parts of Canada and the Northern United States where birch trees are native. Birch was a great boat building material for the native people.
The bark was used as the outer skin of the canoe. The boatbuilders would cut down birch trees, and shave off long strips of the bark, which would be attached to the ribs and hull of the canoe. The ribs holding the boat together were often made from cedarwood. The final look of the design is a long, flat bottom, with wide sides that sharply narrow at the bow and stern. To help keep them waterproof and prevent any water from getting into the canoe, the seams of the boat would have been sealed with pitch, a tar-like substance made from the tree sap of a spruce tree.
This side view is a great angle to show the gunwales. This portion of the boatbuilding was typically done by the women, as was patchwork and repairing. Although a popular and useful type of canoe, Adney notes that his model represents an ancient and long discontinued form. As better manufacturing materials became available, and a higher demand for these canoes was made as Europeans moved into the Athabascan territory, the Athabascan people could not keep up with production.
From Emily Clause:
Adney’s model of a Tête de Boule canoe showcases the type of birch bark canoe that the Tête de Boule people used in their daily lives and constructed for French fur traders at the height of the fur trade in North America. Similar to the Athabascan people, the Tête de Boule lived in an area where they had access to superior birch bark. This, in combination with the high demand for canoes from French fur traders, meant that many of the Tête de Boule were experts in the construction of birch bark canoes.
The Tête de Boule, or Atikamekw as they are also known, lived in the upper Saint-Maurice River Valley of Quebec. The area they inhabited is ancestral land they called Nitaskinan, which translates to Our Land. The Tête de Boule people still live in this area today with about four to five thousand living on the three reserves: Manawan, Opticiwan, and Wemotaci. The name Tête de Boule originated from French fur traders who recognized that these native people cut their hair short, unlike other native people who traditionally kept their hair long. Thus Tête de Boule, meaning round head or ball head, came about.
The construction of Tête de Boule birch bark canoes is similar to that of the Athabascan birch bark canoe. The reason that birch bark was the best material for canoes is that it is flat, hard, lightweight, and could be waterproofed. The frame of the canoe was built from planks of cedar, joints were sewn together with roots from pine or spruce trees, and the outside skin of the canoe was made from birch bark. In comparison to the canoes of other native people, the Tête de Boule canoe was generally narrower on the bottom. The bottom of the canoe was mostly flat with an upwards curve at the stern and bow of the canoe.
Historically, the Tête de Boule canoe played a significant role in fueling the North American fur trade. Beginning in the 17th century the French began to hire the Tête de Boule people to both build and paddle canoes. Canoes became so important to the fur trade that the French even established the world’s first canoe factory at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, in 1750. When the fur trade began to decline in the 19th century, the use of the canoe lessened, but native people were continually hired by fur trading companies like the Hudson’s Bay Company.
From Marc Nucup:
The Beothuk of Newfoundland used their bark canoes in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The canoe, or japathuk, had tall sides that allowed it to weather Atlantic swells and waves. The cut-outs at the front and rear of the boat still allowed for two paddlers to reach the water with ease. The 20-foot V-shaped hull, however, required ballast stones to keep it steady. Besides hunting marine birds, seals, and dolphins, the Beothuk could chase and harass small whales to the beach. The ancestors of the Beothuk may have been the skraelings of Norse epic, meaning they could have inhabited Newfoundland for more than 600 years before European settlement in 1610. The community struggled as colonization forced them away from the coast. The last documented member of the tribe died in 1829.
From Lauren Furey:
The Wolastoqiyik, meaning “people of the beautiful river” in their own language, have long resided along the Saint John River in New Brunswick, Maine, and the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Historically, the Europeans referred to the Wolastoqiyik by a Mi’kmaq word, “Maliseet,” roughly translating to English as “broken talkers.” According to the Mi’kmaq, the Wolastoqiyik language was a broken version of their own. Their language is considered part of the Eastern Algonquian language family which also includes the Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, and the Penobscot.
The Maliseet included three different types of canoes in their culture: birch bark, canvas, and moose hide. Canvas would have been adopted after contact with the Europeans. This model is actually constructed from deer hide, as Adney found it was easier to work with because it wasn’t as bulky as moose hide would have been. Rawhide was used for attaching the hide to the gunwales. This model is 32” long, 10” wide, and 6” deep. On the actual canoes, the hide was “frost tanned” using soap and water, freezing, and scraping while frozen.
Today there are six Wolastoqiyik Maritime communities in Canada and one in Maine. In the 2016 census, 7,635 people identified as having Wolastoqiyik ancestry.
From Wisteria Perry:
Mi’kmaq (pronounced “meeg mah”), also known as the MicMac, were among the first peoples to interact with European explorers and traders and were the original inhabitants of the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Today, the Mi’kmaq live throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland, Maine, and the Boston, Massachusetts, area. They were known to have several different types of birch bark canoes — some made for navigating rivers and lakes, while others were meant for sea-going, capable of traveling long distances.
Mi’kmaq Restigouche Rough Water Birchbark Canoe is an example of one of those river traveling canoes. Based on a Mi’kmaq canoe at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in New Brunswick, this model was built in 1926. It is 50.5 inches long or ⅕ the size of the actual canoe. The use of birchbark made the canoe light, seaworthy, and easy to repair. The Mi’kmaq hunted seals, moose, caribou, beaver, bear, smelt, herring, migratory birds, eels, and shellfish. These boats are still used today on the Restigouche River, which is known for salmon.
You can learn more on our website! Just follow the link and search “Adney”. You’ll be able to see many of the models as well as some of the sketches, smaller pieces, and books in the Museum’s Collection. https://catalogs.marinersmuseum.org/search
I’m aware that lighthouses serve a practical purpose, where land and water collide, but symbolically, they offer a message of hope and determination when facing adversity.
There are times when the ocean is not the ocean-not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. ― M. L. Stedman
It’s because a lighthouse is two-faced, and this is how she feels each time she visits. A lighthouse is both an invitation and a warning. A lighthouse says Welcome home. But next to that, right after that, it also says Danger. ― Nathan Hill
Knowing when and how to change course is important to success. Self-doubt is a lighthouse that will keep you from running aground. Don’t become shipwrecked on the rocks of time. Be willing to rethink your decisions and change course. ― Harley King
Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining. ― Anne Lamott
By spreading knowledge you can live forever. You can be the lighthouse that guides people to safety; a light in the darkest of times. ― Zachariah Renfro
Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other. ― Virginia Woolf
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ― Edith Wharton
Don’t stand in the shadows of the past move into the LIGHT of the future. ― Syed Sharukh
If you cannot change the course of a storm, be the lighthouse. ― Ronn Daigle
These photographs of British lighthouses were purchased for The Mariners’ Museum Collection in 1936 from Bertram M. Chambers, an admiral in the Royal Navy.
Francis Frith took up photography in the early 1850s and was one of the first to photograph in Egypt and the Middle East. He maintained a successful business throughout his life.
Gibson & Sons are best remembered for their photography of shipwrecks along the British coastline in the mid to late 19th century .
It’s time for me to admit something—I have a sick fascination with historical disasters—especially those related to natural phenomena. I don’t know why. I just do. Some of the prints and engravings we have in the collection are really unique so I thought I would share one of my favorites: The February 1846 “rollers” at St. Helena. This image has fascinated me for years! The first time I saw it my immediate question was—what the hell are “rollers.” Now obviously they are waves but why did these particular waves deserve a different designation? (And no, they are not related to an earthquake or tsunami.)
The islands of Ascension and St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in the South Atlantic are periodically plagued by waves that seem to occur for no readily apparent reason–one moment the seas are calm, little waves start rolling ashore and before long waves big enough to surf are hitting the north facing side of the island. One source described the waves as “the rollers for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated.” Really? I find it hard to believe anybody was celebrating after looking at this image because in this instance the consequences of the “rollers” were so catastrophic the event was recorded for posterity.
At the time of this particular roller event, February 17th, 1846, St. Helena was actively used by the British Royal Navy for the adjudication, condemnation and sale of captured slave trading vessels. So, along with the normal trading and working vessels there were eighteen condemned slave trading vessels anchored before the town. The catastrophe started, inconspicuously enough, at sunset the day before when little waves started rolling ashore even though the sea around the island was described as a “millpond.” The waves gradually increased in size and by dawn James’ Bay was described as a “mass of foam” broken only by the huge waves rolling through it. By 10:00 AM the waves had reached such a height that vessels anchored within their reach could no longer withstand them. Astoundingly, vessels anchored a mere five or six hundred yards from shore were completely unaffected.
As the waves increased in height shipkeepers aboard vessels within the “roller zone” deployed as many as four anchors in an attempt to hold their charges in place. It seems many recognized this roller event was going to be more extreme than normal so after securing their charges they headed for the safety of the ships anchored beyond the effects of the rollers (getting to shore was impossible). Those ships also provided refuge for many of the island’s fisherman who had headed to sea in the days before ignorant of the approaching disaster.
The first vessel to succumb was the English schooner Cornelia. Anchored a little farther from shore, she was completely buried by the raging waves and a little while later was thrown against the curtain wall of the James Line (the fortress that protects Jamestown). Spectators stated she became “a mass of splinters” in just a few moments. Hot on her heels was the 127-ton Brazilian brig Descobrador. Unfortunately the shipkeeper, Robert Seale, his wife Florella and two others had not managed to leave the vessel before it was driven ashore. As wave after wave crashed over the ship the shrouds gave way, the masts fell and the ship began to break apart. During a brief lull the two men jumped overboard and swam to shore leaving Seale and his wife hanging onto the rigging in the raging seas. When Seale and his wife appealed for help to those on the shore Descobrador became the scene of a desperate rescue effort.
Rescuers tried to use a rocket to carry a rope to Descobrador but it fell short of the wreck. Another rescuer (the master’s assistant from HMS Flying Fish) attempted to swim to the ship with a spar attached to a rope but upon reaching the vessel he was overwhelmed by the tremendous surf and washed ashore—alive but exhausted. An attempt was also made to launch a whale boat but the moment it touched the water it was dashed to pieces.
The rescue was finally carried out by American sailor Joseph Roach who swam to the vessel with a rope, pulled a length of it onto Descobrador, tied one end around Mrs. Seale and leapt overboard so rescuers could haul them to shore. Mrs. Seale arrived completely insensible but was soon revived. Upon seeing his wife safely ashore Mr. Seale tied the rope around his waist and was hauled to shore. Amazingly, all of this occurred in just ten minutes. While the rescue from Descobrador was underway another slaver parted her anchor cables and headed for shore “as if propelled by steam.” She landed against the hull of Descobrador and within just moments of the Seale’s departure both vessels broke apart.
Around noon the Brazilian schooner Acquilla and the brigantine St. Domingo lifted their anchors and drove ashore.
An hour later a wave so huge that it blocked out “all behind it, almost even the very light of the sun” began rolling towards island. The enormous wave lifted the 230-ton storeship Rocket into a vertical position with her bow up and her stern down and flipped her completely upside down. When the wave passed, Rocket and all of the small boats lying around her were simply gone.
That same wave caused destruction all along the shoreline: it tore apart the large iron tanks that provided water to the ships; it ripped a large iron crane off the lower wharf and carried it more than fifty yards into the coal yard which was also destroyed; it swept away a verandah built at the back of the wharf to shelter captains and others waiting transport to their vessels (luckily the spectators had abandoned it for a safer location just a few minutes earlier); and much of the lower wharf and landing place were destroyed.
The next ships to go were the schooner Eufrazia and the brigantine Esperanza which were both buried by huge wave. Eufrazia disappeared instantaneously while the Esperanza was dismasted and eventually drifted out to sea a complete wreck. The final losses occurred around 5:00 when the brigantine Julia and the brig Quatro de Marco were lifted from their anchors and dashed against the West Rocks. Upon hitting the rocks Julia was instantly smashed to pieces while the Quatro de Marco was lifted by an enormous wave and thrown on top of a large old anchor that had been embedded in the West Rocks in 1734 as a shore fast for ships. As the Quatro de Marco broke up the sea carried the large anchor away.
By sunset, eleven slave trading vessels, two merchant vessels, fourteen passage boats and four fishing boats had been driven onto the glacis and curtain wall of the James Line or the rocks around the town and “dashed to atoms.” Along with the infrastructure damage I already mentioned many of the islands defensive fortifications were also damaged. At Rupert’s Valley the sea rolled inland a distance of 216 feet and destroyed everything in its path. The tremendous waves split the wall of Lower Chubb’s Battery (it was six feet thick!) and swept the parapets to either side of it and a 24-pound carronade (about 1500 lbs) into the sea. The fortifications at Lemon Valley (to the west of Jamestown) were also damaged. By the time the waves subsided the outer curtain wall of the entire James Line had been destroyed and the glacis in front of it was completely impassable. Astoundingly, there were only three fatalities.
So exactly what causes St. Helena’s infamous rollers?
There have been many theories regarding their origin over the centuries. The rollers are seasonal, primarily occurring in October and February, so that rules out things like earthquakes and tsunamis. Cleveland Abbe, stationed aboard USS Pensacola at Ascension Island during the 1890 United States Scientific Expedition suggested the rollers were caused by strong trade winds and the deflection of the waves they produced by shoals. As I looked into the many theories I discovered an article by researchers J. M. Vassie, P. L. Woodworth, and M. W. Holt in the Journal of Atmospheric and Ocean Technology that pretty firmly established the cause of the roller events. They had studied data collected by tide gauges at Ascension and St. Helena Islands after a roller event on October 26, 1999 and determined it was caused by an unusually large deep-ocean swell generated by the remains of Hurricane Irene in the North Atlantic one week earlier. Irene had remained stationary for two days in the central North Atlantic which had enabled the sustained, strong, unidirectional winds to generate the deep-ocean swell that hit the islands a week later.
If the roller events are caused by storms in the North Atlantic I began to wonder about what the weather was doing in February of 1846. It must have been pretty severe considering the height of the waves that hit St. Helena (the worst that have ever occurred). Newspapers from the time indicate the weather along the east coast was particularly ugly and a number of ships reported experiencing severe gales at sea.
For me, one story in particular stood out from the rest. On February 4th the ship Brooklyn left New York for Yerba Buena on the West Coast [the city that would be renamed San Francisco less than a year later]. Although New York newspapers reported the ship was carrying “immigrants,” it was actually carrying around 235 Mormons trying to flee persecution in the United States (many others were traveling west overland with Brigham Young). Ironically, by the time Brooklyn arrived on the West Coast the territory had been acquired from Mexico so the people who thought they were “escaping” the United States ended up right back in it!
About four days after clearing port the ship ran into a terrible gale that lasted for four days (February 8th to 12th). Passengers described “mountain high” waves breaking over the decks and stated they were “tossed about like feathers in a sack” below decks. The seas were so rough women and children were lashed to their berths at night so they wouldn’t be tossed out of bed. Even the ship’s captain, Abel Richardson, described the storm as “the worst gale I have ever known since I was a master of a ship.” Just a few days later, on February 15th, what may have been the same storm hit the east coast driving twelve or more vessels ashore in New Jersey and New York including the packet ship John Minturn. There were hundreds of fatalities among the lost vessels.
Although this isn’t definitive proof that this particular storm caused the roller event on February 17 its location, long duration, severity and the timing certainly seem suspect!
Interested to learn more? Check out these articles and publications online.
Modern research on the cause of rollers in St. Helena: