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“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts”*…


 click here for zoomable version

This crew list for the whaler Acushnet, filed with the collector of customs in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in December 1840, incudes the name and physical description of the 21-year-old Herman Melville. The list marks the beginning of the epic trip that was to provide the author with material he used to write his maritime novels Typee (1846); Omoo (1847); Mardi (1849); Redburn (1849); White-Jacket (1850); and Moby-Dick (1851).

Although he had signed up with the Acushnet’s captain Valentine Pease for a journey of four years, Melville deserted on the Marquesas Islands (now French Polynesia) 18 months into the voyage. Eleven of 26 of the Acushnet‘s crew and officers were to do the same before the trip was over. Desertions like these were not uncommon in the 18th- and 19th-century maritime world. Historian Marcus Rediker writes that desertion was one way for sailors, whose labor was often coerced or abused, to protest poor conditions on ship: extreme punishments, poor rations, voyages that were extended involuntarily.

Before he returned to Massachusetts, Melville was to live with the indigenous Taipi people; ship aboard an Australian whaler (the Lucy-Ann) where tough conditions also prevailed; be jailed for mutiny; sign onto another whaler (the Charles & Henry); spend some time in Hawaii; and return to the mainland via a stint as an enlisted seaman on the USS United States.“

Besides providing content for his future writing,” Carl E. Rollyson, Lisa Olson Paddock, and April Gentry write, “Melville’s Pacific travels also shaped the intellectual and philosophical perspectives that would mark his later work.” His complicated relationship with discipline and hierarchy, his sensitivity to the trials of the working man, and the cosmopolitan perspective that led Melville to make Queequeg one of the most sympathetic and interesting characters in Moby-Dick were all gained on this voyage.

* Herman Melville


As we go down to the sea in ships, we might note that this is Chaos Never Dies Day– a day of recognition of the turmoil that surrounds us.  Chaos Never Dies Day is an annual occasion to admit that the perfect, quiet moment for which so many of us strive doesn’t – and likely never will – exist… and to celebrate unruly reality.



Written by LW

November 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

Getting the picture…

“AmStar 7,” by Wollex

Your correspondent makes lots of use of Wikimedia Commons, “a database of 8,052,028 [as of January 2, 2011] freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.”  Most (Roughly) Daily use is in the almanac section, memorializing each date’s honoree.  But the Commons contains a wealth of other, less archival photos as well…

The Commons Picture of the Year is a competition that was first run in 2006. It aims to identify the best freely-licensed images from those that during the year have been awarded Featured picture status.”

See the photo above, and 2010’s 22 other winners at Web Urbanist.

As we adjust out f-stops, we might recall that it was on this date in 1841 that Herman Melville shipped out to the South Seas on the whaler Acushnet.  The ship anchored near Tahiti, where Melville was jailed for his part in a mutiny; he escaped, and wandered around the South Sea islands for two years. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, based on his Polynesian adventures. His second book, Omoo (1847), also dealt with the region. Those two novels were popular successes, but his third, Mardi (1849), more experimental in nature, failed to catch on with the public.  In 1851, Harper & Brothers published Moby-Dick— at first another flop… it wasn’t recognized as the classic it’s become for many years.

The Acushnet, hunting (source: Columbia University)


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