A Whale of a Book, A Whale of A Sale
Personal journal of whaling 1833-6
Submitted by John Renjillian on behalf of the C.H. Booth Friends of the Library
Beginning on July 9th and continuing through July 13th the C. H. Booth Friends of the Library are holding their annual book sale to raise money for the library. This year the marquee item is a hand-written whaling journal that dates to the early 19th century. This and other books in the rare book room will be sold at fixed prices on a first in basis. Admission is in number ticket order and tickets go on sale at 7:00 am on the first day of the sale. In prior years it has been necessary to line up the previous night to get an early number. The show/sale opens at 9:00 am.
About the book, about the sale.
You never know what will come in the door when a library friends group collects items for a book sale. Most items are mundane, an occasional rarity crosses the threshold, and once in a great while a mind-blower arrives. Such was the case at the C. H .Booth Library in Newtown, CT, where the Friends collect for the annual summer book sale throughout the year. A month or so ago, an item arrived with seemingly no connection to any other books in the donation, a hand written journal of a whaling voyage. It arrived in an otherwise unremarkable box, so unremarkable, in fact, that no one can even remember which donation it came in with. It was passed along to the “specials” department, where it was quickly determined to be a journal of a Pacific Ocean voyage in the whale ship Samuel Wright, of Salem, MA, from 1833-1836.
The journal was kept by the second mate, William E Percival. Percival was a native of Sandwich, MA, 30 years old, five feet, ten inches tall, with light complexion and hair. He did not make an entry for every day, but he did cover the entire voyage of 39 months.
John Pitman, a whaler of longstanding who commanded several ships over his career, was the captain of the Samuel Wright. Directly under Pitman was the first mate, Thomas Nickerson. Nickerson, born on Nantucket, also had a long career as a whaler and merchant mariner, beginning at the age of 14 when he shipped out on board the ill-fated whaler Essex. In 1820, the Essex was rammed by a giant white whale and sunk, providing the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic story of Moby Dick. Young Nickerson had the good fortune to be placed in the boat of first mate Owen Chase, which was rescued after an open-boat ocean voyage of 90 days. The Samuel Wright was later wrecked on another voyage off Bunbury, Australia, and its timbers were salvaged for a building that eventually became St. Mark’s Church, the second oldest church in Western Australia, which still stands.
As mentioned, the voyage recorded by Percival was a successful one, but it was not all an easy voyage. Rounding Cape Horn was always difficult, and the ship lost considerable rigging and a whale boat in the transition. Other storms while patrolling the Pacific for its prey also caused frequent damage to the ship, and all sails often had to be reefed, a dangerous process requiring sailors to climb the masts, crawl out on the yardarms, and roll up and tie the sails down to prevent complete destruction, usually while the storm was raging.
A Whale of a Book, A Whale of A Sale
John Renjilian and the first person whaling account 1833-6
Thirty-nine months at sea is a long time, and Percival expresses his homesickness more than once. By December, 1835, he was counting the months: “we shall get home in the course of 12 months.” There is a three-year break in the journal, and then Percival began an account of another voyage, again under Captain Pitman, this time on the ship Congress.
The Congress had its own connections to Melville’s great novel. The book Herman Melville’s Whaling Years states that on April 1, 1841, a whale towed a boat from the Congress far out of sight. After cruising in search of the boat for two days, Captain Pitman decided the boat had been sunk, and continued his voyage. However, the boat managed to make a 1,500 mile voyage to the Marquesas Islands, where the crew were rescued some months later, shortly before Melville was at the Islands and undoubtedly heard the story. The same book also locates Melville’s Acushnet and the Congress together with other ships at the Galapagos Islands in 1842, where they would certainly have spoken and perhaps visited with each other.
Percival inexplicably stopped writing in his journal, with his last daily entry made on January 28, 1840. We do know the fate of the second ship, however: as reported in the New York Times for October 4th, 1867, the Congress was frozen in the ice and crushed in the Anadir Sea on May 19th; her cargo of oil and whalebone was transferred to the bark Nautilus, and was apparently saved.
You can find this whaling journal as well as other books of interest in the Rare and Collectibles Room at the Booth Book Sale, such all six volumes of the signed collector’s limited edition of Astronaut Library by astronauts Lovell, Aldrin, Carpenter, Glenn, Borman, Shepard, Schirra. All Easton Press, each signed by the authors and with Certificates of Authenticity; and Marlborough .His Life and Times. By Winston Churchill, NY: Scribner, 1933. Six volumes. Red half leather. Additionally there attractively priced collectibles such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway, First edition; Primitive Physic: or, an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases by John Wesley (1772) and an extensive collection of pristine Easton Press publications, some still in original cellophane wraps, many limited editions and autographed works donated by the estate of a private collector. There is also an extensive selection of very good condition adult and children’s books signed by author and/or illustrator: Drawn from New England. Tasha Tudor by Bethany Tudor (New York: Collins, 1979), likely 1st edition, signed by Tasha Tudor and inscribed by Bethany Tudor, her daughter and David the Dreamer. His Book of Dreams by Ralph Bergengren, illustrated by Tom Freud (1922), first edition with illustrations by Sigmund Freud’s niece, Tom Freud, who used a male pseudonym, and was known for her eccentricities, and a wide selection of fine and very good condition comic books in protective sleeves.
The sale will be held July 9 through July 13, at the Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane, in Newtown, CT. A $5.00 admission is charged on Saturday only, with other days being free; numbered admission tickets will be on sale beginning at 7.00 AM on Saturday. Hours for the sale are 9.00-5.00 Saturday and Sunday, 9.00-7.00 Monday (half price day) and Tuesday ($5.00 per bag day), and 9.00-noon on Wednesday (free day). Further information can be found at www.boothbooksale.org, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 203-426-4533.
Proceeds go to the general library fund.