Pursuing the Whale: A Quarter-Century of Whaling in the Arctic.

Semi-autobiographical homespun yarns by a Provincetown whaleman and his career from 1868 to 1916, aboard many vessels including the Charles W. Morgan. They are interesting stories but not too revealing of the author. Cook’s wife often accompanied him on his journeys. In 1894, he was Captain of the bark Navarch which wintered at Herschel Island during that year in company with other whalers and other women.

Volume I: p.58: As often as once a week we would be invited to a supper or dance aboard some of the vessels. The was especially fitted for entertainments, having a house fitted for theatrical performances. We were entertained often by companies whose performers were found among members of the several ships. [The book has several references to theatrical performances but no specifics as to what was played. E.g., p. 61 on December 25, Christmas: At 7.30 P.M. all went aboard the Beluga to witness an entertainment given by the ‘Herschel Island troupe.’ At midnight all returned home feeling they had witnessed a fine entertainment. On December 27th two men from the Thrasher and one from the bark John and Winthrop deserted, taking a number of dogs and a sled.]

On December 31st we danced the old year out and the new year in aboard the Beluga. The thermometer was 25 degrees above, and the weather very warm. January 1, 1895, New Year’s Day, was passed in making calls on the different ships. In the evening an entertainment by Gay’s celebrated opera was largely attended and pronounced very good. The thermometer was 10 above.

p. 85, a theatrical play on New Year’s on Beluga.

p. 88-89, leap year party was “the chief and grandest of our Herschel Island entertainments.”

p. 102-03, describes amputation of Mr West’s arm near the shoulder, with Cook as boss and Captain George Leavitt as surgeon and anesthetist. June 19, 1895: Captain Leavitt and I then went aboard ship and studied surgery with what books there were at hand to give light and instructions on these matters.

p. 209: Quitting Washington, I went to Alexandria, and got on board a brig, called the Isabella, bound to New York, at which port we arrived

in due time. Here I obtained the rest of my money, and kept myself pretty steady, more on account of my wounds, I fear, than anything else. Still I drank too much; and by way of putting a check on myself, I went to the Sailor’s Retreat, Staten Island, and of course got out of the reach of liquor. Here I staid eight or ten days, until my wounds healed. While at the Retreat, the last day I remained there, indeed, which was a Sunday, the physician came in and told me that a clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church, of the name of Miller, was about to have service down stairs, and that I had better go down and be present. To this request, not only civilly but kindly made, I answered that I had seen enough of the acts of religious men to satisfy me, and that I believed a story I was then reading in a Magazine, would do me as much good as a sermon. The physician said a little in the way of reproof and admonition, and left me. As soon as his back was turned, some of my companions began to applaud the spirit I had shown, and the answer I had given the doctor. But I was not satisfied with myself. I had more secret respect for such things than I was willing to own, and conscience upbraided me for the manner in which I had slighted so well-meaning a request.

p. 211, records death of a shipmate: We never were able to diagnose his case, but tried everything that our books prescribed for sickness such as his, but none did any good. He faded gradually away and we buried him at East Cape, Siberia.

p. 220-21, in winter at Baillie Islands aboard Cook’s Bowhead: About thirty [snow houses] are to be seen now around the ships, all occupied by families, with the exception of the large one which is used exclusively for dancing, or it is their theater, dance-hall, and play-house combined.

Judging from other parts of these stories, baseball was the preferred entertainment during winter-overs, whenever possible at the turn of the century. E.g., p. 263, April 17 1903 at Herschel Island: The sailors challenged the officers [of Bowhead] to a game of baseball. The officers won the game.

p. 291-93: Cook’s encounter in August 1905 with Amundsen completing the NW Passage. On this final three-year Arctic trip, Cook’s wife had a nervous breakdown when they were stranded with other ships at Herschel Island.