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The Mystery of the Seaman's Journal

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Front Piece of a Seaman's Journal

The Mystery of the Seaman's Journal

Recently rediscovered in the archives of the Storrs House Museum is a journal stored in a box labeled “Seaman’s Journey 1852-1853” by an earlier museum curator. The journal, 13¼ inches by 8¼ inches in size, dutifully records the wind, knot speed, and weather of three ocean voyages:

- Entries from May 21, 1852–October 17, 1852

- Entries from November 2, 1852–January 18, 1853 on a trip from San Francisco to Calcutta

- Entries from March 3, 1853–June 10, 1853 on a trip from Calcutta to Boston

Many of the pages are stained, possibly by ocean water during the voyage. Even more interesting than the notations in the journal, perhaps, is the information that the book does not contain – the identity of the author, the name of the ship that he traveled on, and how the journal came to be in the collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society. Board members of the Longmeadow Historical Society have been working together to try to answer these questions.

What ship was the author on?

There were several commercial vessels that sailed the Boston–San Francisco–Calcutta route in the 1850s. By comparing the dates recorded in the journal with ship lists documented by Massachusetts newspapers of the period, we determined that the author was sailing on the barque Kate Hastings.

The Kate Hastings left Boston for San Francisco on May 21, 1852 and was in San Francisco around October 17. It then left San Francisco on October 19, stopped in Singapore for repairs, and was in Calcutta on January 21, 1853. The Kate Hastings then left Calcutta around March 1 and returned to Boston June 28, 1853.

Daily Atlas, April 21, 1852

From the Journals of the Bostonian Society, we learned that the barque Kate Hastings was built in Newburyport in 1847 by W. & B.W. Picket. What is a “barque”? According to Webster, a barque is “a three-masted vessel, having her foremast and mainmast square-rigged, and her mizzenmast schooner-rigged.”

Barque sail plan, from Wikipedia

Who is the author of the journal?

Now that we knew the name of the vessel, we were perhaps able to narrow down our search for the name of the sailor. The author of the journal left a few breadcrumb clues as to his identity. In addition to the strict observances of weather and speed, the author often made notations in the journal that were directed to his mother, who he evidently anticipated reading the journal at some time in the future.

-Seventeen days into the first voyage, he mentioned that he had finally learned the name of the ropes. So, this was likely his first adventure at sea. “I have learned nearly all of the names of the ropes and hope to be able to say, that I have learned all by next Sunday.