These diary letters were written aboard the Arthur
Sewall. Maria Higgins Murphy's husband, James, was the
captain. These diary letters were written to her family in
Bath and are typical of diary letters written from families who
spent many months at sea in the 19th century.
Diary Excerpts from Maria Higgins Murphy
Excerpts courtesy of Maine Maritime
May 28th, 1899 Lat 34.40. Long. 62.
Our second Sunday on the ocean, and we
have not made much progress, as you will see. One solid week of
head gales and strong winds, with big seas. To day the wind is
now in our favor, but just now, in the afternoon a rain squall
seems to have killed the wind.
Sunday, June 25 Lat. 2.14 N. Long. 29 4 p.m.
It has been most discouraging for a
Last Sunday morning, the pilot left us
off the Cape, with a light N.W. wind and fine went into the east
that night. Monday was pleasant, so Jane and I did the washing,
and we brought considerable of the Phila. evil on our clothes.
Tuesday it was blowing E. to N.E. gale, and rainy. Wednesday
was full moon, and a heavy gale with rain - plenty of water
everywhere - cleared up Thursday, but blowing fresh, and a big
sea - could not do much but read - and so each day has been -
yesterday was moderate enough to do a little ironing but one
irons under difficulties, the galley is so far away.
We have just come in from
the top of the house, where we have been entertained by our crew
in honor of a visit from "Neptune" and wife. We are not across
the "line", but expected to be, if we had had favorable winds -
but as the men had made their preparations, it was thought best
to go on with them.
Lat. 44. Long. 5.7. Sunday, July 16
Well, it was the funniest sight I ever
witnessed on board ship - of course Neptune came up over the bow
with a shout, and after a little converse with those who took
part, joined his bride, and the processional started aft - first
came the police, with big badges - then Neptune and wife -
followed by the barber, with a razor about a yard long - then
the doctor, scribe, etc for music they had a guitar, mandolin,
banjo, concertina, triangle, and harmonica. Neptune of course
had a long beard of oakum, with a high hat of canvas, trident -
but the bride was too funny for anything. I laughed til I cried
- Belle gave me an old lavender lawn wrapper - so I ripped the
tucks out of the yoke and made the whole thing broader - then I
made a veil of cheesecloth, with some old pink roses on top. A
short German boy was the bride, and he had a wig of oakum that
hung to his knees - it was so funny the way he came dancing
along, tossing up his ringlets. After the march, they went to
the main hatch where the ceremonies were held.
Before this, they had suspended a sail
and had about four feet of salt water in it for the bath. There
were seven victims tied to the rail, and each was taken in turn -
first Neptune questioned them, as to their name and home -
besides several other questions I could not hear - then they
took their victims and sat him on the edge of the sail while the
barber lathered his face with some preparation made of tar and
grease. After the shaving, he was ducked over backward into the
water. We stood on the top of the midship house, to see the fun
- after it was over, they marched aft, then seated themselves on
the mizzen hatch and followed out the program already prepared
by some of the boys.
Eight weeks out, and our ninth Sunday.
Sunday, July 23 - Lat. 57.10. Long. 69.10
The past few days have decidedly
changed the temperature - 40ƒ on deck - and the past three days
have the cabin fire - one feels the cold after so much warm
weather. Wednesday had a heavy blow - feared we might be going
to have a Pampero, as we were off the river Platte - but we
escaped - in the evening, the water was wonderful - every wave
was full of fosforescence - I never saw any thing like it before
broke an English ship "Beacon Rock", London to San F.
Here we are in the Cape
Horn region - cold and blowy - the first of the week, had
remarkably fine weather, where we were having heavy gales three
years ago. Saturday morning, made Staten Land, and saw the
light at Cape St. John - fresh gale, N.N.E. We passed the
Island as near as six miles in parts - and it looked so cold
with all the hills covered with snow - the wind increased and we
have come down flying - have come to the Southward of Diego
Ramirez, for Jim thought the wind would come into the Southwest
so did not want to get jambed on the coast. We were under
three lower topsails - and the same to day, with the addition of
the foresail. It blew hard last night and a big sea. Water
rolled on board in quantities - it is moderating some, and the
sea going down a little. Jim has been on deck the past two
nights, the greater part of the time - it is cold, but so far no
snow nor hail. The ship is remarkably easy and not as wet as
the Shenandoah. If the wind will come into the South, are in a
fine position to go on our way into the Pacific - have seen few
vessels - Saturday or Friday an English ship and bark were in
company - but have not seen them since - the tide rips off the
land were very strong - like a boiling cauldron. We are so
thankful to have a man for the endless nights from three until
eight would be so hard. I hope by another Sunday we will be in
jifly South Pacific - if so, will have had an unusual chance.
Jim is taking a much needed nap.
Portions that appear in the program.
"Our second Sunday on the ocean, and we have not
progress, as you will see. One solid week of head gales and
strong winds, with big seas. Today the wind is more in our
"No one slept that night - Jim was on deck all the time - there
great seas would board the ship ten feet above her taffrail, and
ran forward to midship, submerging the decks five feet below the
rails - This big sea was south and the wind s.w. We would have
to shout at each other on deck to be heard. By four o'clock
Monday morning it began to moderate."
"I have not mentioned the loss of our dear kitten "Scrappy".
Tuesday night after tea on the 2nd he got outside the rails in
the whaleback and fell overboard - James heard the splash, so
father and second mate went down a rope over the stern and the
poor little thing got onto the rudders but was washed off, and
was swept away. Jim ordered out the boat, and they rowed a long
way astern, but I suppose the eddies drew him down."
"June and I try to keep occupied so the time will go faster -
she does very nice embroidery. We have not seen a vessel with
one exception since we came around the cape - so don't know
where our companions are."
Portland Museum of Art Exhibit
The Portland Museum of
Art is showing an exhibit entitled, "The Only Woman on
Board: The Legacy of Seafaring Wives" from April 24, 1999
through June 27th. This exhibit features the photographs and
words of Alice (1861 - 1915) and Sumner (1859 - 1942) Drinkwater
of Yarmouth, Maine. Twenty photographs from their seafaring
journeys will be shown to the public.
Sumner Drinkwater was captain of the barque Grace
Deering from 1897 - 1903, and his wife Alice accompanied to
sea for several voyages that took them around the world. Both
of them kept diaries of their longest trip and also recorded
several voyages with photographs.
During the 19th century it was common for a captain's wife to
accompany her husband to sea. As "the only woman on board",
these women had to balance the pressures of being both loving
and devoted wives while observing the strict rules that defined
gender roles during the Victorian age.
This installation will include photographs, diary excerpts and
other historical artifacts related to the Grace Deering.