Books of the Sea from Ten Pound Island Book Co.
Frances Sorcho and her diving equipment on the cover.
The Ten Pound Island Book Company has issued their Maritime List 203. It offers 75 seaworthy books and ephemeral items. Located in Gloucester, Massachusetts, it is only natural that Ten Pound Island Book Co. sell either nautical books or fish, and since it uses "book" in its name, the former seems more logical. This collection includes tales of shipwreck, crime at sea, naval encounters, piracy, yachting and the America's Cup, shipbuilding, deep sea diving, exploration, and more. For those who thrive on the other 71% of the Earth's surface, this catalogue has a selection of fascinating material. Books ahoy!
The picture you see on the cover of this catalogue is that of Frances Namon Sorcho, deep sea diver/showman. Born Frances Charlton, she married Louis Sorcho, a noted diver/showman himself in the 1890s. Where the "Namon" came from is unclear. Perhaps it was a corruption of "Nemo." Mrs. Sorcho took up her husband's profession of underwater diving plus entertaining audiences. Louis Sorcho made a name for himself performing in New York. He claimed to have located over 100 bodies from the sinking of the Maine, the event that touched off the Spanish-American War. Frances learned from her husband, and at the time was labeled the only woman deep sea diver in the world. That could be true as diving was a dangerous occupation at the time. There were no air tanks, just air hoses running to the surface, operated by hand pumps. The suits they wore were bulky and heavy. Item 68 is a pamphlet entitled Life and Adventures of Frances Namon Sorcho, the Only Lady Deep Sea Diver in the World. It was published by the "Captain Louis Sorcho Deep Sea Diving Co." The piece is undated, but it would have come from the late 1890s or, possibly, early 1900s. An 1899 article in the New York Herald finds Mrs. Sorcho performing in a water tank at the Electrical Exhibition in that city, displaying that recent invention, the electric light, in a searchlight she carried. We don't know what became of Mrs. Sorcho. Her husband continued in the business and later remarried, but we have not been able to follow Frances Namon much beyond the turn of the century. Priced at $2,000.
Item 43 is a manuscript log from 1805-06 of the ship Hantonia, kept by Ichabod Rollins. There are about 47 pages of entries, including an unusual and undoubtedly upsetting incident. The ship was at one point overtaken by pirates. On December 6, 1805, the pirates captured the ship, locked up the crew, stole everything they could pry loose, and feasted on the ship's food and drink. Notes Rollins, the pirates were "behaving in a shocking manner breaking & tearing & taking every thing they could lay their hands on." They also attempted to make themselves look like Spanish pirates, but Rollins was convinced they were French. He writes, "The pirate captain said his vessel was call'd the Queen of Spain he had Spanish colours sett but they were all French men on board of her." $5,500.
Books of the Sea from Ten Pound Island Book Co.
Nicholas Fernandez and his cohorts paid dearly for their drinking.
Of course, there were Spanish pirates too, case in point, one Nicholas Fernandez. By his own admission, Fernandez brutalized, tortured, killed, and whatever else awful he could think of to his victims on the ships he seized. Although claiming to be of respectable origin, and writing like a well-educated man, he was still no gentleman. Item 2 is the Dying Declaration of Nicholas Fernandez, who with Nine Others were Executed in front of Cadiz Harbour, December 29, 1829… It was published in 1830. Supposedly, while awaiting execution for his crimes, Fernandez penned this confession. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all he says, as this booklet is something of a temperance tract, and those in the movement at times tended to speak in hyperbole. Fernandez blames his and his men's misbehavior on being drunk, and goes on to cite statistics on English financial losses caused by use of alcohol, information one might not expect the average Spanish pirate to possess. $2,500.
Piracy wasn't limited to the French and Spanish. No, there were some good old Americans involved in the trade as well. Samuel Tully and John Dalton were two such individuals, but they were not the standard, board, kill and steal type. They were mates on the schooner George Washington. The George Washington had picked up some wine and cash in the Cape Verde Islands when the two seized control. At some point they threw a man overboard, leading to an indictment back in the U.S. for piracy, larceny and murder. The two were convicted, but Dalton, being just an accessory, was pardoned by President Madison. Tully was not so lucky. Item 12 is a broadside, The Last Words of S. Tully, published in December 1812, at which time Tully was strung up before a crowd of 10,000 in South Boston and sent to his eternal reward or punishment. Tully was properly chastened in his last words, asking God's forgiveness and wishing others heed the warning of his terrible fate, but he was hung anyway. $3,500.
In 1852, Capt. Robert Jenks published a system of providing ship-to-ship (or on land) signals that could be seen as far as a telescope can see. He called it The Brachial Telegraph, an Original Method of Conversing and Signaling on Land and at Sea, by Means of Human Arms. The arms would be held in different positions to display the letters of the alphabet. Think of the YMCA dance. Additionally, there were various brachial (pertaining to the arm) positions that spelled out common phrases. It was sort of the earliest form of wireless communication. Item 29. $500.
Perhaps the greatest of all French explorers was Jean-Francois de La Perouse. His voyage to the Pacific brought him along the west coast of America, to Japan, Russia, China and Australia. At various points, he sent his commentaries back to France overland. It was a good thing, because after departing Australia, he and his two ships disappeared, never to be seen again. Missions were dispatched by his concerned compatriots, but none was successful. It would not be until 40 years later that remnants of his ships were accidentally discovered on an isolated Pacific Island. His official account is a highly collectible work, but here is an obscure La Perouse item not so often found. It comes from the centennial observance of his death, in 1888. Published by the French Societe de Geographie, it is titled Centenaire de la Mort de La Perouse… Item 67. $250
Ten Pound Island Book Company may be reached at 978-283-5299 or email@example.com. Their website is www.tenpound.com.