Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyCaptain Winsor and "The Passengers"

  • Sun, 02 Dec 2012 07:58:48    Permalink

    Its been a month since my website was hacked and poisoned with malware. Since then, the tech guys have been working valiantly to du-bug the site, fix broken code, and move to a new host. Somehow, all this activity disabled my email and, for an exciting couple of days, I was dead in the water.    Now, I am happy to report, my email capability has been restored, and the website is clean and healthy. You can go to without fear.    The bill for all this has yet to arrive, and the cost of having a toxic website in terms of lost business and bad PR is impossible to calculate. Fortunately, I was able to limp along by conducting business the old fashioned way by telephone and in person. I can only imagine how catastrophic such an attack would be to someone whose site was completely dedicated to e-commerce.     On a happier note...

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I found the clipper ship card Audubon. I knew it was rare, but I had no idea, until many years later, just how rare it was. I have never seen another example, and probably never will.
    Imagine my delight, then, to come across the captains journal for a voyage in this very ship. Not only did it supply missing information about the Audubon, it also provided a personal introduction to Captain Alexander Winsor, who achieved fame as skipper of several clipper ships, most notably the Flying Cloud

    A good deal was known about Winsor, but there was a gap in his biography. As it happens, the information in this journal fills that gap.
    Better still, it is beautifully illustrated by Winsor, who turns out of have been quite handy with pen and paintbrush.

    And best of all is the Audubons cargo on that voyage. Here is a description of the journal:
    SEA JOURNAL OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER WINSOR, SHIPS AUDUBON AND GERTRUDE, NOVEMBER 1850 - APRIL 1854. Folio, lined sheets. About 220 pp manuscript entries.
    Alexander Winsor was a well known clipper ship captain who commanded, among other notable vessels, Sea Nymph, Flying Cloud, Sea Serpent, and Herald of the Morning. This is his personal journal chronicling four years of his sailing career, and it is notable in several respects.
    In the first place, it documents a voyage of the Audubon, a very early clipper ship - built in Fairhaven in 1846 - about which, according to Forbes and Eastman, little is known. Winsors journal of his voyage from New York to San Francisco in 1850-51 insures that we know a great deal more about this ship, her sailing qualities, and her crew.  I cannot beat this packet to windward, he grumbles, although she is generally advertised as a Clipper. Indeed, the period between 1850 and 1854 seems to be a lacuna in the record of Winsors career. Bradford Swans monograph, published by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, closely documents Winsors sailing days, but leaves a gap between 1847 and 1854. This journal fills much of that gap.
    The 1850 Audubon voyage is also of interest because this ship was his first clipper ship command and, as Winsor himself tells us, it was his first attempt at rounding Cape Horn. He had a rough time of it, and we are treated to a blow by blow description, ending This day I consider myself safely around Cape Horn this being my first appearance in this country & God knows I have no particular desire to ever visit it again. As his subsequent career demonstrates, he did not get his wish.
    Perhaps this journals most compelling feature, however, is the Audubons cargo. Winsor was carrying a ship full of women to San Francisco in the early days of the Gold Rush. He gives frequent and charming reports of his cargo of females (to whom he invariably refers as the passengers), beginning with an incident that troubled him a great deal - in this case of difference with the passengers I must acknowledge myself wrong but cannot bring my Indian disposition low enough to confess it... it is complete hell to be at variance with the passengers we were all on good terms & nothing has occurred to mar our comfort & happiness till this foolish act of mine & I find it affects them all for I can notice a kind of stiffness & coolness toward me. Eventually, however, the passengers come to accept him, and he takes great pleasure in observing them and recording vignettes of their behavior. This day there has been a general overhaul of baggage among the passengers. Ladies getting out their Bonnets & trimming them anew, removing all the spots of mildew on their dresses & asking one another if they think it will ever come out again in the world & making all other necessary preparations for going on shore in Valparaiso, if we ever get there.
    As an added fillip to this droll and informative account, Winsor has illustrated the Audubon journal with twenty handsomely executed ink and watercolor illustrations of ships sighted, as well as colored recognition views of several landfalls. Aside from being an intelligent observer and excellent writer, Captain Winsor was also an accomplished artist. His delicately rendered and accurate ship portraits carry this journal into the realm of folk art. 

    The Audubon reached San Francisco in a safe but pedestrian 155 days, then proceeded to Manila, and was home in New Bedford by March 1852. The remaining half of the journal documents Winsors voyages to Calcutta, Macao, and Canton in the ship Gertrude, August 1852 - April 1854. Not having as fascinating a cargo as the passengers on these voyages, he restricts himself mostly to navigational matters, ships spoken, and sights and phenomena of interest. This section contains an additional eight ink and ink/watercolor drawings of ships and landfalls. It ends with a penciled note, Is there any more happy feeling then to arrive safe home after a long voyage & find wife, children & friends all well. Sturdily bound in polished calf over tan cloth. Illustrations clear and bright, text clean and legible. $17500

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