Bye Mary Mitchell
Hard Lucky Craft"
Captain Samuel Joy's Journal, 1835-38
By Leslie W. Ottinger
I try not to but my Anxiety for a voyage to be enabled to Quit the Seas and live with my family causes me many times to think o that Providence would bless me with the same good fortune as some others but the Lords Will be done.
In the vault of the new NHA research Library there is a collection of nearly 400 logs and journals that chronicle the daily events of individual whaling voyages. Logs were official records, maintained for the perusal of the ship's owners at the end of the voyage. Sometimes kept by the captain, more often they are in the hand of the first mate or some other officer. They record each day's events, typically by watches-the eight-hour-long shifts that make up the daily routine of duty aboard ships. They are factual, and seldom does one actually catch a glimpse of the keeper himself. By contrast, journals were intended for the personal interest and future use of the keeper, and not the ship's owners.
For the 1835 voyage of the Nantucket whaleship Mary Mitchell, the NHA is fortunate to have both the log, kept by the first mate, Joseph McCleave Jr., and a journal kept by Samuel Joy, the captain. The log is a model of precision and legibility, the work of the officer who succeeded Joy as captain on the next voyage of the Mary Mitchell. There are only a few entries that reflect his interests and impressions. The journal, however, is a much different kind of document. It gives a remarkable picture of the duties and responsibilities of a whaling captain, and, as well, Samuel Joy's worries and distress as events unfolded on a voyage that he hoped would be successful enough to free him from the necessity of ever making another whaling cruise.
Two weeks into the voyage, on July 28, 1835, Samuel Joy recorded, "my birthday-begins my 41st year." He was the third of the eight children of Reuben Joy, himself a famous Nantucket whaling captain, and Mary Swain Joy. Samuel (1795-1843) had married Betsy Turner (1795-1885), probably in late 1816 or 1817. By 1835, the time of this cruise, they had three children: Samuel Jr., 18, Susan, 12, and Elizabeth, 6. The holdings of the NHA record only a few facts about Captain Samuel Joy. At the age of ten, he is listed as a member of the crew of the whaling ship Atlas; the boy, with a lay of 1/65. The master of the Atlas on this cruise was his father. In 1815 he was a member of the crew of the Ruby, under Captain Albert Clark. In 1817 he sailed as the second mate on the Essex. On this voyage the master was Daniel Russell and the mate George Pollard Jr. Pollard commanded the Essex on her next voyage, the one that ended when she was wrecked and sunk by a large sperm whale in the central Pacific Ocean, but by then Samuel was no longer a member of the crew. In 1823, he was now the master of his own ship, the Indus, whaling off Brazil. Between 1824 and 1827, he was captain of the Peru on a cruise to the Pacific Ocean. The next cruise of which there is a record is that from 1835 to 1838, the subject of this journal. In addition to the span of eight years between 1827 and 1835, there are two other periods, each of four years' duration, that are unaccounted for. Near the end of the journal there is a note that at some time previously he had spent three years on the Mary Mitchell, and perhaps he was at sea during all three. It does seem that the 1835 cruise was his last. Finally, George H. Gardner's "Sketch Book," a diary kept between the years 1841 and 1844, has the last bit of information about Samuel. The brief entry reads,
Jan. 3, 1843-Capt. Samuel Joy died very sudden this afternoon-dropped dead going into his house.
Samuel Joy's gravestone
is found in the Old North Cemetery.
It is difficult for us now to imagine the demands to be met by a whaling captain in the years that Samuel Joy commanded his ships. There was supervising and directing the crew in maintaining, repairing, and sailing the ship. And there was the critical issue of navigation, often with charts that were not entirely accurate. His central task was to find whales; and when he did, he was responsible for directing those who killed them, brought them to the ship, cut them in, ran the tryworks, and stowed the oil. A whaleship was self-sustaining, and the captain had to find ways to replenish the supplies of food, water, and wood as they went along; and to recruit new men, since desertion was common and the death of a member of the crew an occasional fact. While anchored in New Zealand, he wrote:
a lad during the night swam away by name of Owin Getchell so we cant go to sea today, and then, at 6 spoke Chris Mitchell [whaleship Christopher Mitchell, Nantucket] informed us one of Our deserters named Getchill was found dead on shore in the bay of islands after our departure.
The captain was responsible for maintaining discipline, usually administering punishment himself. Finally, he was the ship's doctor and surgeon when the need arose and no other help was at hand. Although the captain usually could rely on the support of his three or four officers, the important decisions were his own and even the officers could not always be counted upon to execute his orders and follow his leadership. The crew included twenty-five or thirty seamen, many with little experience of whaling. Some were natives of Nantucket or New Bedford, but others were gathered from the farms and towns of New England and from islands touched during the cruise. Many signed on for the adventure or to escape events or places even less desirable than the life they would have on a whaleship. Usually absent was a passion for the sea, or for whaling itself, with its long cruises and uncertain pay at the end. Obviously, whaling captains were resolute and capable men. They had prepared for their duties through many years of service as seamen and officers, and had succeeded in the selection process that ultimately led the owners, with the hope of large profits, to entrust them with a ship and its crew. Perhaps those captains were not an overly introspective group. The few journals that they kept tend more to record observations and events and say little about their own personal feelings. Captain Joy's journal represents a notable exception. The cruise itself was actually remarkably successful. The Mary Mitchell returned in just under three years, a short cruise for the time, and so laden with oil that some barrels had to be lashed down on deck, there being no space for them below. Most whaleships were not nearly so successful and continued to hope for at least one more whale on the voyage home. Captain Joy notes, while off the coast of New Zealand on November 12, 1837,
finished boiling and hove the tryworks over board.
The entries of the captain throughout his journal nevertheless record his impatience and distress at the pace, and at every delay and temporary failure. In addition, he frequently describes his thoughts related to the difficulties presented by his duties and responsibilities-from dealing with the crew and maintaining discipline to navigating, from finding whales to confronting leaking oil barrels and a leaking ship, and from setting broken limbs to getting supplies. The daily entries also record the usual details of a whaling cruise. Weather, management of the sails, whales sighted and not, stove boats, and other events all have their listing. And there is the usual sprinkling of colorful phrases and observations. With respect to the sea and weather, he notes,
a hobgoblin Sea all round and, thick Burgoo weather.
As to whales,
if there were Whales thick as Blackberries they would be of no use here the weather is to bad and, Saw 3 haglets on this Glorious ground it is as barren as tho swept with the besom of destruction . . . at 9 saw whales struck one run like a dog out of a smoke house.
When the wind failed,
calm got up fiddlesticks.
But it is comments on the trials and challenges of accomplishing a successful voyage and his reactions to them that make the journal unique. For example, there was the matter of navigation. In 1835 Captain Joy would have had many fairly accurate charts, even of the South Pacific islands, but the challenge was to plot the ship's exact position while at sea. Equipped with a set of Bowditch tables and a sextant, and barring long episodes of foul weather, determining latitude was quite satisfactory. Longitude was another matter, for then there was the additional requirement of knowing the precise time, which depended on the accuracy of the chronometer. Early in the cruise, just after leaving the Azores, where its performance was verified, he wrote,
Our Chronometer Careful Observations is right to a minute nothing more exact.
And six weeks later,
at 7 passed by many schools of fish and resembling shoals or reefs Quite sufficient to alarm a person in a dark night but we have an excellent timekeeper with good observations and I know our Situation exactly and also know that no reefs or shoals are Known to exist in our vicinity it is a great Satisfaction to know a ships place and our Chronometer has hitherto indicated precisely and I place the utmost reliance in her correctness.
Islands sighted allowed a check on the accuracy of the chronometer. Thus, a year later, now off the coast of New Zealand, he records,
Our Chronometer gives I think about 25 or thirty miles too much Easting that is to say the Ship is that much further West than the Chronometer indicates.
An error of thirty miles was no small problem in those unfamiliar waters, especially in stormy weather. And it was navigation along with a scarcity of whales that had led him to write two weeks before,
I hope to be pardoned for all my repinings but I can stand no more my hopes are exhausted my wishes frustrated by adverse circumstances and none to hear a part of them with me nor offer the least word of Encouragement but appear perfectly unconcerned about our good or ill Success may they in their turns experience my feeling tis all the harm I wish them.
On June 28, 1835, the Mary Mitchell had been towed over the bar by a steamboat and anchored off Brant Point. Supplies were brought out by lighter, and on July 17 the captain came on board. Bound on the instructions of her owners for the Indian Ocean and the whaling grounds off New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific, she set a course for the Azores, then south toward the Cape Verde Islands and the Cape of Good Hope. In October, the Mary Mitchell reached the Tristan whaling grounds off the west coast of Africa. Captain Joy wrote,
sent up our cutting tacks in hopes to have a use for them Soon may the lord grant it,
but a week later he records,
Saw finbacks but nothing else the ground is terrible barren and I am fairly tired and, I expected to have had 300 bbls. Now by others talk of this ground I am however disappointed no unusual thing for me my life had been a tissue of disappointment the Will o the Lord be done.
Joseph McCleave wrote in the log:
Having looked over the Tristan ground thoroughly and seen no whales we concluded it best for the interest of all concerned to make the best of our way round the Cape of Good Hope.
The Indian Ocean grounds were little more productive, and it was here that Captain Joy entered his remarks on blackberries and the weather, even though four whales were eventually taken. After five weeks, Captain Joy wrote,
heavy gales and hard squalls with a Tremendous sea cut up our blubber put it into casks and got Some Oil between decks Ship labors hard and the scene above and around us beggars all description let no man ever talk to me again about whaling in this Country.
A course was set for New Zealand. During the months from April through September the Mary Mitchell was anchored in Cloudy Bay, New Zealand. Eleven whales were taken. The remainder of the cruise was spent in the South Pacific. Despite what could have been regarded as considerable success, the spirits of the captain seemed never to reflect it. He wrote a month later,
just 12 months Ago there was Abundance of Right Whales in this Precise spot but We were not here and now we are here there is no Whales-let us head where we will there is sure not to be any Whales or else a gale of wind I am heart Sick and Know not which way to head but I must go some where for we see nothing here I desire to have Patience Granted me for all my trials.
In a rare departure from his usual practice, and perhaps reflecting the captain's despair, Joseph McCleave about this time wrote,
we have 5 dollars up on the Miz'n mast as a bounty to any one that will raise Whales if we get a horse piece but it appears as if the very heavens were league'd against us and, I wish it would rain Sperm Whales as it appears we shan't see any unless some such phenomena doth happen.
Toward the end their luck improved. After Captain Joy's, "5 Weeks since seeing Whales Be patient Samuel," there was, in November of 1837, the joyful note that
it now remains for us to be thankful to Providence which has crowned our Endeavor with Success and enabled us to fill our ship at last.
In November 1835, in the Indian Ocean, when the first whales were taken. Joseph McCleave entered in the log,
Saw Right whales At 10 AM lower'd our boats and soon struck 2 large ones they work'd together bad and got the Larboard boat stove slightly and David Mitchell got his left arm and right leg broke.
British whaling, merchant,
and naval ships all had a
surgeon in the crew, but on American whaling ships, serving as ship's physician was one of the captain's duties. Samuel Joy was not one who felt confidence in his doctoring skills. With respect to David Mitchell's fractures, he wrote,
Set our Wounded mans limbs as well as we were able Had the assistance of Captn Fitch of the ship Boston of N London We did as well as we were able. All did not seem aright, though, and ten days later he wrote, I dont like the looks of Mitchells leg I am afraid all is not as it ought to be I pray we may fall in with some Ship having a surgeon.
The next day he was able to record,
at 7 spoke British barque Lord William Bentinck from London to Sydney Monro master his surgeon obligingly came on board and visited our wounded pronounced him in a fair way of recovery and bones well set.
In the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, he had a French doctor reduce a seaman's dislocated shoulder and on other occasions was able to get help from the whale-ships Navy and Asia. Still, he described having to care for cases of scurvy, clap, rupture, consumption, "hypo," and, on himself, "a bad boil on my right hand, and twice dysentery"-perhaps never with much confidence, for in December of 1835 he reports,
tried to speak a Large English ship but she would not and tho we set our Colors she would not answer them he was so proud perhaps of his freight of white thieves he was carrying to Port Jackson but I wished to speak him on account of our third officer who is laboring under some disease.
And there were matters of discipline to tax the resolve, wisdom, and sometimes even the arm of the captain. Some were minor:
All hands employed setting up Rigg'n to Pay for their Quarreling-the rascals.
Others were not:
at 4 James Burns was Brought on board by a Canaka in a canoe he had been absent 8 days had shipped another man in his room I tied him up and gave him two dozen put him in the canoe again.
Joseph McCleave wrote of this incident,
at 2 PM J. Burns was brought aboard by the Canakoos after being absent 7 days. the Capt. gave him 24 lashes with a cat and he went off again in a Canoe.
Some other infractions were straightforward and dealt with very directly:
John Wood left ship without leave got drunk I flog'd him and put him in irons . . . let the prisoner out of irons on promise of amendment, and, at 7 broke the cook's head for getting rum from the Shore contrary to the law.
Other problems with the crew could not be so directly resolved. One was the case of Mr. Lawson, the fourth mate.
Lawson wished the ship on the rocks this he repeated to the Second mate as he is rather underwitted and the most useless piece of furniture I ever saw on board the ship I am determined to unship him after due consideration on the subject for I do not mean to do any thing in a hurry to be sorry for hereafter but from my opinion after calmly discussing the case.
Mr. Lawson was eventually discharged to another whaleship at his own request, his share of the oil taken to that time going with him. And,
I have been obliged to Suspend our Second officer from duty for repeated acts of Neglect, Disobedience and instigating and encouraging others of the Crew to do the same Contrary to my Repeated advice and Orders . . . Put M on duty again [2 days later].
Impatience, despair, and frustration are common themes throughout Samuel Joy's journal. He writes,
my hopes are small compared to my Wishes, and, in short things must soon grow Better for Worse tis almost impossible for them to be, and, verily if patience makes Saints or trials make them We are in a fair Way of earning that honor.
His religious beliefs
do not seem to have provided him with consolation or
Our time is going I am wore out may God forgive my repining I am nearly destitute of hope Oh for wings to fly from this horrid country [the N. Z. coast] any person looking at this journal can enter into my feelings it seems Sometimes as though all nature conspired against us I try to bear it patiently but I cannot and to think how hard we have to strive against adversity is Sickening to the Soul but I have been taught that God is merciful and he only can help us we can do nothing of our selves and if it is his pleasure I should be thus afflicted his will be done may he strengthen me to bear it and may all these trials work for my good.
Weather, especially the wind, was a constant theme in his distress and impatience. When the ship had a full cargo of oil and turned west toward New Zealand for final provisioning before sailing home, he wrote,
fresh SW wind and heavy sea from the NW don't go an inch I never expected such weather or I would have steered East but Whenever we start to go any where we are twice as long as any other Ships and generally have 3 days head wind calms or gales to one fair this has been the fate of this ship for six years that I have been in her and I verily believe was we bound East the wind would come there before 24 hours had elapsed and I am wore out with Such trials.
The Mary Mitchell sailed for Nantucket on January 2, 1838. The feeling of toiling against a pitiless fate persisted through the four and a half months it took to sail east around Cape Horn, and north to Holms' Hole, Martha's Vineyard, where the Mary Mitchell at last came to anchor on May 18, 1838. There had been only one stop, at Pernambuco, Brazil, where they put in for water, bread, beef, and molasses. With respect to Cape Horn, Captain Joy wrote in February,
So We get along No Western or Southern winds off Cape Horn to speak of I have watched Clouds I have walked deck I have done everything man could do but no good comes of it I have doubled the Cape 12 times before and Never saw the Match of this nor did I ever hear of it before I try not to murmur for perhaps all will work together for good but the prospect is as dark as ever and Sometimes I almost despair may Providence in its Mercies help us for no other can avail us in the least and, if I ever get away from here and get home again I am almost determined never to come again my mind is in a deranged state cares and Anxieties sweep over me.
In March and again in April he mentions his wife:
Calm calm all night and all Latter part and I cant get home to Betsy . . . by 4 a lovely sunset . . . Course NNW for my dear Betsy God Bless her.
And a last note a week before home,
begins calm and I suppose the middle and latter the Same this ship never made so quick passage and where as any other Ship or vessel in fact we must always allow 1/3 or 1/4 more time for her passage than others. Since we passed the Diegas 3/4 of the time the wind had been ahead or it has been Calm and it will always be so with her I am wore to the bone and will sum her up in these words after a person has had as much of her as I have they ought to Quit her and I mean to as soon after she arrives as I can get my foot on land Which I pray the Lord may soon be
Good Bye Mary Mitchell
hard Lucky Craft
Long Passage Ship
But it was a successful whaling cruise. Thirty-four months after sailing, the Mary Mitchell returned with 1,974 barrels of whale oil and 596 barrels of sperm oil, the product of the fifty-seven whales that had been taken, and Captain Joy did not find it necessary to go out again. Sadly, only five years after he returned, he died at the age of 47. In his obituary in the newspaper the Islander, of January 7, 1843, he was described as a "most excellent man . . . of strong mind, of great sagacity, and extensive reading . . . a man of excellent conduct." Betsy was to live another forty-two years, and die in 1885 at the age of 90.
Leslie W. Ottinger, a physician, retired to Nantucket in 1996. He has been a volunteer in the Research Library since February 1999 and previously contributed "Fine Times on the Old Three Brothers" for the winter 2002 issue of Historic Nantucket.