American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

JOURNALS AND LOGBOOKS. The terms “journal” and “logbook” are often used interchangeably to describe chronological accounts kept during the course of a sea voyage, but important differences distinguish them. A logbook is the official record of a ship’s whereabouts and activities, required by law and surrendered to the owners at the end of a voyage. Journals are personal diaries and as such can be kept by anyone on board; they often contain material extraneous to the ship’s business, including descriptions of shipboard activities and ports of call, illustrations, poems, song texts, and scientific observations.

The publication of shipboard accounts began in earnest in England in 1697 with the buccaneer William Dampier’s A New Voyage round the World. Two influential shipboard journals penned by Dampier’s associates followed: Woodes Rogers’ A Cruising Voyage round the World (1712) and Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and round the World (1712). These three works inspired Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift in the development of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Gulliver’s Travels (1726), both of which claimed to be actual shipboard journals.

The official “narratives” of British Naval Expeditions to the Pacific Ocean in the late eighteenth century were among the best-read books of the age in England and America. These works, though based on shipboard accounts and preserving their chronological format, were substantially edited before publication—a process that made native people of the Pacific more exotic and English sailors more heroic. The appearance of Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s* Two Years before the Mast* in 1840 introduced not only an American perspective of shipboard life but the point of view of the forecastle rather than the quarter deck. Extremely popular, Dana’s book inspired a rush of sailor imitators, among them Samuel Leech with his Thirty Years from Home, or A Voice from the Main Deck (1843) and Twenty Years before the Mast (1845) by Nicholas Isaacs. The manuscript that Dana kept aboard the Pilgrim and the Alert disappeared with his sea chest on his return to Boston and was painstakingly reconstructed after the voyage, but, in fact, few sailors presented their shipboard accounts to the public without some retrospective editing. Defoe even has Robinson Crusoe explain that portions of his narrative will be more interesting with some postvoyage reflection and gives an example of before and after editing to prove his point. The influence of Dana reached into the world of fiction as well, and James Fenimore Cooper,* Herman Melville,* and Edgar Allan Poe,* among others, experimented with fictional accounts of voyages presented as journals. Melville did not discourage the readers of his early novels from thinking of them as autobiographical shipboard accounts rather than well-researched and elaborately crafted works of fiction.

A number of voyage accounts were published to introduce young men to either the folly or the glory of seafaring, and some became religious treatises. An example of the latter is Mary Chipman Lawrence’s journal of a Pacific Ocean whaling voyage with her husband, which was edited by Mrs. Helen E. Brown into A Good Catch: or, Mrs. Emerson’s Whaling-Cruise (1884). In the middle of the twentieth century, with their authors long dead, a number of journals and logbooks began to be published from manuscripts in museum and library collections. Generally presented without the heavy editorial hand that romanticized the sea voyage for the eighteenth- and nineteenth- century audience, these works describe in detail the daily repetitive tasks and cyclical nature of shipboard life.

The publication of such manuscripts has made available for the first time the perspectives of numerous women, including the aforementioned Mary Chipman Lawrence, whose journal was published as The Captain’s Best Mate (1966), with valuable additional material provided by editor Stanton Garner; this work is substantially different from Mrs. Brown’s 1884 version of Lawrence’s experiences. A large number of unpublished manuscript journals and logbooks survive, the most numerous being whaling journals, of which more than 5,000 are held by maritime museums and libraries. [See also VOYAGE NARRATIVES; WHALING NARRATIVES; WOMEN AT SEA]

FURTHER READING: Forster, Honore. The South Sea Whaler. Sharon, MA: Kendall Whaling Museum, 1985; Forster, Honore. More South Sea Whaling. Canberra: School for Pacific Studies, 1991; Sherman, Stuart. The Voice of the Whaleman. Providence, RI: Public Library, 1965; Sherman, Stuart, et al. Whaling Logbooks and Journals. New York: Garland, 1986.

Mary Malloy