Friday, January 5, 2018

"A Sailor's Life for Me"

Skectch of naked sailor being hauled on board ship with a shark leaping out of the waterIn 1840, a fourteen-year-old boy from Kent County, England, went to sea on the whaler Sussex, which sailed from London on January 20, for the South Seas Fisheries under command of Capt. Hammer. Twenty-five years later the sailor sat down to write “his yarn” as a means of “guiding” his children through “many a shoal and quicksand.” In his account, he describes the voyage with all the trials and tribulations such a journey entailed. There were the islands of Trinidad and Galapagos and Honolulu, the description of hunting and catching a whale, encountering natives, and the storms the Sussex had to endure. He peppers his story with ink and watercolor sketches of some of these events. For example, there is the time that he was almost eaten by a shark.

We had been boiling out blubber which generally attracts them [the sharks] about the Ship. At 4 pm I left the helm and being rather dirty I thought I would jump overboard and the Cook (who on a previous occasion had saved my life) out of fun hauled my rope in so that I could not get back on board, when suddenly the cry from aloft was a Shark is coming! I swam for the rope immediately, and finding it hauled in I screamed with fear, as the shark was drawing very close to me. … The mate seeing the monster and knowing that I was overboard threw a rope which was very greasy so that I could not pull myself up, and they hauled in the rope still slipping through my fingers, when providently there was a knot in the rope which enabled me to hold on while they hauled me up, the shark following me out of the water.
Page from the diary with sketch of native people
To read more of his story ask for Codex 003385, “The Reminiscences of a Sailor's Life.” It will be in the catalog soon!