Friday, December 23, 2011

Curious Remarks, Or Very Disagreeable Sitting

We found some interesting tidbits in The Mariner's Chronicle; or Interesting Narratives of Shipwrecks, published in 1825 (frontispiece above). They sure don't write headlines like these anymore! Two centuries later, the "Curious Remarks" are

From Losing his Vessel at Sea, December 23, 1768.

CAPTAIN KENNEDY and his crew, being twelve in number, sailed from Port Royal, in Jamaica, on the 21st of December, 1768, bound for Whitehaven; but on the 23rd, having met with a hard gale at north... they could scarcely get into the yawl, before the vessel sunk; having with much difficulty been able to take out only a keg, containing about sixteen pounds of biscuit, ten pounds of cheese, and two bottles of wine…

Between the seventh and fourteenth days of their being in the boat, they were most miraculously supported…having nothing to eat or drink. The wild sea-fowls, hovered over their heads in the evening, and lighted on their hands when held up to receive them. Of these the sailors at the flesh, and drank the blood, declaring it to be as palatable as new milk. The captain ate twice of the flesh, and thought it very good….

During this distressing voyage, Captain Kennedy, had recourse to the following efficacious expedients, which he had learned from the perusal of a treatise written by Dr. Lind, and which beneficial circumstance should certainly be known to all sea-faring people in case of similar calamities—this was soaking his clothes twice a day in salt water, and putting them on without wringing. It was a considerable time before he could prevail upon the crew to follow his example; but when they witnessed the good effects which this measure produced, they afterwards practiced it twice a day of their own accord; and to this may be attributed the preservation of their lives.

There is another remarkable circumstance, which is, that they daily made the same quantity of urine, as if they had drank moderately of any liquid; this must be owing to a body of water having been absorbed through the pores of the skin. The saline particles remaining in their clothing, became incrusted by the heat of their bodies and that of the sun, which cut and wounded their posteriors, and from the intense pain, rendered sitting very disagreeable….

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lost in Alaska: Only Castles Burning

Sitka in 1867. Baranof Castle is between the peaks at far right.

Baranof Castle, as it came to be called, was the only Russian lighthouse transferred to the United States when Alaska was acquired in 1867. The light was deactivated in 1877; the massive building burned down in 1894.

The below passage is from Appleton’s Guide-book to Alaska & the Northwest Coast (1893) by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1856-1928). The first female trustee of the National Geographic Society, who made several trips to Japan, is best remembered for hatching the idea of planting Japanese cherry trees in Washington, DC.

Sitka & Vicinity: Makhnati (Rugged) Island is the landmark for ships from the ocean. It was chosen for a light-house site in 1867, and Captain Beardslee’s wooden beacon on the seaward bluff is often taken for a shaman’s grave. Signal Island was the place for bonfires to light and lead ships in Russian days. The firing of a gun caused the beacon on the citadel roof to flash out, and men were in waiting to light the signal-fires that marked the course into the harbor. Departing ships were blessed by the Russian bishop in full canonicals, and deck, mainmast, flag, and boats rowed three times round, singing a farewell, and nine cheers sped the ship as the sails filled….

A long flight of steps leads to the Castle, as Americans have called it since 1867, crowning a rocky eminence 80 ft. in height. Baranof first occupied a leaky two-roomed cabin at the foot of Katlean’s Rock, where the barracks of jail kitchens stand. Later he built a block-house on the height, which was burned. Governor Kupreanoff built a large mansion, which was nearly completed at the time of Sir Edward Belcher’s visit, 1837. It was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1847, and rebuilt on the same plan….

Castle Hill in 1827, from Old Sitka, Alaska by Postels.

It is a massive structure, measuring 86 x 51 ft., built of cedar logs, joined with copper bolts and riveted to the rock. It is three stories in height, with a glass cupola, which was formerly the light-house of the harbor, the lamp standing 110 ft. above the sea. It was richly furnished and decorated when transferred to the U.S. military commandant in 1867, but after the departure of the troops was looted of every belonging, wantonly, stripped, and defaced. No repairs were made until 1893….

Detail of Russian Castle (undated), from Univ. of Washington Libraries.

Two young officers of the U.S.S. Adams and the purser of the Idaho manufactured a ghost story to meet the demands of the first pleasure travelers in 1883, who insisted that the deserted and half-wrecked castle must be haunted. A Lucia di Lammermoor, condemned to marry against her will, killed herself, or was killed by a returned lover, in the drawing-room, the long apartment on the second floor, north side, adjoining the ball-room, where she walks at midnight.

Baranof Castle burning, from Univ. of Washington Libraries.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 1861: The Occupation of Ship Island

A sandy barrier island sited about 15 miles SW of Biloxi, Miss., offered the only deep-water anchorage between Mobile Bay and the Mississippi River. Thus Ile aux Vasseaux, or Ship Island, had great commercial and strategic importance. The US built a conical brick lighthouse (left) there in 1853. Its pyramidal wooden 1886 replacement burned down in 1972. A reproduction of the latter was dedicated in 1999, only to be washed away--along with the eastern half of the island--by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fort Massachusetts, begun in 1859, still stands.

Harper's Weekly
(via described what happened at Ship Island, Miss., 150 years ago this week:

The United States steamer-transport Constitution, Captain A. T. Fletcher, arrived at Fortress Monroe on 15th, where she called for orders, on her return from Ship Island, Mississippi Sound, having safely landed at the latter place, December 4, the two regiments (Twenty-sixth Massachusetts, and Ninth Connecticut), which embarked on her at Boston, the 18th and 21st of November. In this southward expedition, after proceeding to Portland for the Twelfth Regiment of Maine, which did not embark on her, the Constitution proceeded to Fortress Monroe, November 23, where she arrived on the 26th. She coaled, and left on the 28th, and, after a pleasant passage, arrived at Ship Island, Mississippi Sound, December 3.

Her arrival here was as gratifying as it was unexpected by the little fleet and small garrison which have been holding the place against constant threats, and occasional attacks from the rebels. By the assistance of two large river steamers, which had been captured in Mississippi Sound only a short time previous to her arrival, the troops and material of war, and subsistence stores, were landed between the 4th and 8th of December—a single accident only occurring, by which one of the steel rifled guns belonging to Captain Manning's Light Battery was lost overboard. The two regiments were comfortably encamped on the island, near the light-house, and the Salem Battery near the fortification. On the 8th the last of the cargo was landed on the beach, and was taken charge of by Commissary Butler, brother of Major-General Butler, who will probably join the expedition in a short time with a large accession to the force.

Learn more about Ship Island--the "Plymouth Rock of the Gulf Coast"--and Fort Massachusetts at and Wikipedia.