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Guide to the Meridian Logbook

MSN/EA 4704-01-B


Collection Summary

Title: Meridian logbook
Dates: 1839-1840
Collection No.: MSN/EA 4704-01-B
Creator: Unidentified
Extent: 1 volume
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A logbook documenting the 1839-40 voyage into the Atlantic of the American whaler Meridian.

Selected Search Terms

Whaling -- Atlantic Ocean
Whaling -- Canary Islands
Whaling -- United States -- History -- Sources
Whaling -- Gulf of Mexico
Whaling -- North Carolina
Meridian (Brig)
Whaling -- Brazil

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: Meridian Logbook, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Meridian logbook was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame from Historical Collectible Auctions of Burlington, North Carolina (23 April 2009, lot 416). Arranged and described 2009, by George Rugg and Jacob Baska. Finding aid 2009, by Jacob Baska.

Biographical Note

The keeper of this log is unidentified.

Scope and Content Note

The Meridian logbook is one volume (33 cm.) of 36 leaves, with 70 pages of manuscript entries in what appears to be a single hand. The keeper of the log is unidentified. The book recounts the 1839-40 voyage into the Atlantic of the 73-ton whaling brig Meridian (James H. Ricketson, master; M. S. F. Tobey, agent), of Wareham, Massachusetts. Entries were made on a daily basis, from 1 October 1839 (the date of Meridian's departure from Wareham) to 27 July 1840 (the date of her return). Typical entries are brief, somewhere between 30 and 50 words: they note wind and weather, the ship's bearing, location, and landfalls, and actions of the crew, including the hunting and killing of whales (this latter content is limited by the fact that Meridian took but four whales in the course of her ten month voyage). An example is the entry for 11 June 1840: "Commences with fresh Breezes from the N. E steering S. E at 1 P M hauled By the wind to the Eastward at 4 P. M tacked to the N. N. W. middle part the same latter part to S E at 7 A M saw a Breach and run for it at 8 saw them Blow [illeg] sperm whales Down Boats and pulled on and missed so Ends Latt 27.50 N Long 79.26".

Records show that Meridian was constructed in Rochester, Massachusetts in 1835. The voyage recorded in the log appears to have been her first offshore whaling venture; there would be two more, in 1840-41 and 1841-42. Meridian's course took her west to the Canary Islands (November 1839); south to the coast of Brazil (January 1840); northeast through the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico (May 1840); and home up the east coast. One whale was taken in the Canaries; two in the Gulf of Mexico; and one off North Carolina. The weeks off Brazil, though, were not without incident. An extended entry for 19 January 1840, when Meridian was refitting at São Sebastião Island, describes a confrontation between Capt. Ricketson and the brig's drunken cook. While "in liquour" the cook "dam and swore and told Capt Ricketson he would not be cow hided nor struck by Any man." The man was eventually subdued, with Ricketson maintaining his authority. Meridian returned to New England with 60 barrels of sperm oil and 40 barrels of whale oil. As a brig, she was a small vessel for a prolonged whaling voyage; her capacity for storing oil was obviously limited.

There are several other points of interest. First, as is common in whaling logs, a stamp shaped like a sperm whale was used to highlight particular entries. Only twice, however, was it used in the customary fashion, to indicate days on which whales were taken (it does appears on three other occasions, including the day of the cook's insubordination). Second, the recto of the log's final leaf includes a tabular "Account of the Provisions Expended on Board the Brig William of Fall River" for July to November 1838. The verso of the leaf contains figures for barrels of oil stowed down. This material evidently pertains to a whaling voyage undertaken by William (Elisha Cudworth, master) from June to December 1838. A sheet of undated notes that accompanied the log when it arrived at Notre Dame indicates that the Meridian material and a "journal of the brig William" were once discrete parts of a single volume. The two have since been separated, obviously, perhaps to be sold independently (the Meridian log is in fact in a modern binding, which retains only portains of the original canvas cover). The current location of the William journal/log is not known. It is possible that the unidentified keeper of the Meridian log was aboard William in 1838, and kept a log for that voyage in the same volume.

Container List

  • Meridian logbook, 1839 to 1840. (MSN/EA 4704-01-B).