Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer: An Old-Time Sailor of the Sea

This is a thoroughly hagiographic and somewhat jingoistic account of the American sealer and whaler many have considered the discoverer of the Antarctic continent. There is little about any extracurricular reading on Palmer’s voyage, but there is an emphasis on journals and log books, navigational manuals, and hydrographic charts.

p. 51-52—Since I’ve not seen a good description elsewhere of the typical ship’s log book, I include Spears’ extensive account here: The ordinary log book used by whalers and sealers, in those days, consisted of a few hundred large sheets of soft writing paper folded once, sewed with a stitch or two of sail twine to form a book, which was then bound with a piece of canvas cut from an old sail. The log of the Hero was a blank book manufactured for the purpose. It was something like an old-fashioned diary. The leaves of this book are made of a soft writing paper, each being 8 x 13 inches large. Ruled spaces at the top of each page are provided in which to write the date, the course made by the ship, the character of the weather and the latitude and the longitude, each as determined by observation and by dead reckoning….

p. 114: More important still was the insistence upon the humiliating fact that American seamen were absolutely dependent upon charts by British surveyors whenever a deep-water voyage was to be made. However loudly the Yankee sailor might boast of the superiority of his ship over all others, the British sailor always came back with a quiet query as to where that ship got her charts.

p. 122, quoting from the New York Enquirer: We visited the Annawan on Thursday. She is a fine vessel and a very fast sailor. She is furnished with an excellent library, and all the instruments necessary for such an expedition.

p. 156-57, an interesting description of Palmer and his relative lack of fame: Of Captain Palmer’s life as a captain in the Liverpool trade few stories re remembered…because he never had any trouble with his crews or his adventures. His ship went to sea, made her passage, discharged her cargo, took on another and returned home. Passengers and cargoes were delivered in excellent order. He was highly esteemed because his voyages were uneventful. He earned the highest praise bestowed by ship owners and other alongshore people when it was said of him that “he never cost the underwriters a cent.”