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Maria Higgins Murphy

Diary Excerpts from Maria Higgins Murphy

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.

Excerpts courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum.

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.

    It has been most discouraging for a start.

    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.

Sunday, June 25 Lat. 2.14 N. Long. 29 4 p.m.

    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.

    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.

Lat. 44. Long. 5.7. Sunday, July 16

Eight weeks out, and our ninth Sunday.

    The past few days have decidedly changed the temperature - 40 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.

Sunday, July 23 - Lat. 57.10. Long. 69.10

    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 made much progress, as you will see. One solid week of head gales and strong winds, with big seas. Today the wind is more in our favor."

"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.

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HOME: The Story of Maine on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network was made in partnership with the Maine State Museum. Major funding was provided by the  Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency committed to fostering innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning. Additional funding provided by Elsie Viles.
Major funding for previous seasons of  HOME: The Story of Maine was made possible by a grant from Rural Development, a part of the USDA. Special support is provided by The Maine State Museum and Northeast Historic Films.