Feb 04, 2016 - Sale 2404

Sale 2404 - Lot 284

Price Realized: $ 4,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 4,000 - $ 6,000
(WHALING.) Fisher, Mrs. Parnell Smith. Diary of a whaling captain's wife in the South Pacific. [62] manuscript diary pages with more-or-less weekly entries, plus 5 pages of memoranda and a lock of hair pinned in. 4to, original cloth-backed boards, minor wear; front hinge split, several leaves torn out without apparent loss of diary text. Vp, 2 September 1885 to 22 December 1887

Additional Details

Parnell Smith Pease (1855-1925) was born into an old Martha's Vineyard maritime family (she inherited her unusual first name from her great-great-grandmother). On 25 March 1885 she married an older widower, Captain Charles Williams Fisher (1835-1905), master of the whaling bark Alaska. Three months later he embarked on a whaling cruise expected to take several years and, as whaling captains occasionally did in those days, he brought his wife along on the journey.
Mrs. Fisher's diary begins in September of 1885, a few months into the voyage, with the Alaska already far south and preparing to enter into the South Pacific. She had apparently never spent much time at sea before, and found herself seasick almost constantly. The first stop she records is at the Tristan da Cunha, a South Atlantic island considered one of the most remote places on earth. She wrote "The people there are very poor. There are 107 on the isl and they all want to leve" (16 September 1885). She also describes her anxiety during a recent storm: "I was frightened during the gale . . . It makes me sick to be so frightened, and it makes it so hard for my husband. I have been so much trouble to him since I left home. Some times I think he is more than good to have so much patience with me." Next stop was the similarly remote Kerguelen or Desolation Island.
Mrs. Fisher's health declined as her anxiety increased, and her husband left her with a white family at New Zealand's Chatham Islands to recuperate: "I have been here almost four days. The first place we stoped on the isl was Owange. Stoped there three days and got recrutes, then my husband brought me here and left me. It was hard to have him go, but he says he will be back in a few months, and I must try and get well" (24 January 1886). She remained there for more than five months before her husband collected her. She would make two more recuperation stops over the course of the cruise, both times at Norfolk Island east of Australia. Norfolk was rough: "There are only four families of white people in the island. There are a great many kanacks there and climate very hot. I did not like it" (9 September 1886). She also stopped with the Alaska at Russell's Island, Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, the Marquesas, and Tahiti.
All this time Capt. Fisher and his men were hunting for whales, and very rarely finding them. Two years into the cruise, though, Mrs. Fisher had learned enough to offer a vivid description of one that got away: "We took a whale . . . the largest one this voyage. They call it a hundred and fifty barrel one. Mr. Francis got stove when he first went down but afterwards came back and took the low boat and went down again. . . . It was dark when the whale was along side, and today is a gale of wind, so bad they have not done much. I do hope it will be good weather tomorrow so we can save it. . . . We lost the large whale we took on the 18th in the 20th in the morning. It was the hardest gale since we left home. On the 19th it blew so hard only the jaw was out in, and that night it parted two chains & in the morning of the 20th the fluke chain and got away." (18 and 21 May 1887). Mrs. Fisher's diary ends in December 1887, although the ship's log at the New Bedford Whaling Museum shows that they remained at sea for another two years. Additional notes are available upon request. Extracts from the diary were published in the 1953 book Whaling Wives (pages 239-252) along with a photograph of Mrs. Fisher. A rare and vivid account of a woman at sea in some of the most isolated corners of the globe.