Olmsted was a passenger aboard the whaler North American [a temperance ship] in 1839, a trip taken as a kind of rest cure for his chronic nervous debility. He returned to Yale for medical school and in fact graduated but died in 1844 after a second voyage.
p. 52-53: The forecastle of the North American is much larger than those of most ships of her tonnage, and is scrubbed out regularly every morning. There is a table and a lamp, so that the men have conveniences for reading and writing if they choose to avail themselves of them; and many of them are practicing writing every day or learning how to write. Their stationery they purchase out of the ship’s stores, and then come to one of the officers or myself for copies, or to have their pens mended. When not otherwise occupied, they draw books from the library in the cabin, and read; or if they do not know how, get some one to teach them. We have a good library on board, consisting of about two hundred volumes, and a good proportion of sperm whalers are also provided with them. Sailors, as a general thing, are ready to avail themselves of any opportunities for mental improvement; and I have no doubt the efforts of the benevolent in supplying ships with good books and tracts, will be attended with great success. Notwithstanding the immorality that is to be so much deplored among seamen, they have generally a respect for religion and its observances. It is very gratifying to take a look at the forecastle upon the Sabbath in pleasant weather. Perfect stillness prevails aboard the ship; no loud talking is allowed, while the ‘people,’ after washing and dressing themselves neatly, are seated around the forecastle, or upon the windlass, poring over the Bible or some tract.
p. 76: Having always had a penchant for medical studies, I brought among my books for the voyage, several works upon medicine, which have been studied with great interest. In several cases of sickness that we have had, Capt. R., has had confidence enough in me to consult me, and very fortunately, in every instance my suggestions have proved successful; so that I have become a sort of doctor on board; and having a medicine chest of my own, containing some medicines not found in the ship’s chest, I have had no small run of practice as a tyro.
p. 128: With the name of fisherman we are apt to associate idea of rudeness and ignorance; but as a general fact, the crews of our whalemen are fully as intelligent as the average of seamen…most of the crew of whalemen are young men, with whom the stirring scenes and dangers of the whaling business have a romantic charm, which comports well with their adventurous spirits. Their officers are many of them scientific navigators….
p. 152: Mr. Freeman’s recipe for duff: “To a quantity of flour, more or less, (more would be preferable in Mr. F’s opinion,) wet up with equal parts of salt and fresh water and well stirred, add a quantity of “slush” or lard, and yeast, the mixture to be boiled in a bag, until it can be dropped from the top-gallant cross-trees on deck, without breaking, when it is cooked.”
p. 177, while ship is sinking: To improve the little time that might elapse before the ship should begin to go down, I descended into the cabin, and with a sigh over my books and other valuables, proceeded to select my most durable suit of clothes and put them on as well as I was able, while each shock of the ship almost threw me from off my feet. [The ship was “providentially” saved.]
p. 254, at Sandwich Islands: In 1822, the printing press [Honolulu] was first put into operation, and since then a great variety of publications of a religious and moral character have been issued, as will be seen by consulting the statistics of the Hawaiian Mission. Within a few years, the entire scriptures have been published at Honolulu, in the Hawaiian language, in a style highly indicative of the improved state of the arts among this people. Nor have the mere rudiments of knowledge been taught…. Suffice it to say, that the engravings of maps and landscapes on copper, executed by the pupils of the high school, are among the most astonishing proofs of the progress of the nation in civilization, and of their capacity for improvement. [Concludes paragraph with praise of the printing and bookbinding facilities and products on the island.]
p. 258: One of the most interesting things at Honolulu, is the Institute, a society for the promotion of scientific investigation of every kind. Belonging to the society is a museum of curiosities, and also of specimens of natural history. There is also a library in the same room, consisting of several hundred choice books.
p. 289-90, on Tihiti, in its Seamen’s Chapel: The hymns were sung in that primitive style, which obtained when hymn-books were a rarity, the preacher reading two lines to be sung by the congregation, and then two more, and so on through the hymn. The music was tolerably good, but widely different in style from our own church music, the general tenor of which is more plaintive and possesses a higher degree of sentiment than theirs, which is more rapid, but less expressive. Upon the whole, I was well pleased with the exercises, and the audience appeared to be so, by the attention they manifested.
p. 313: The American missionaries have been far more enterprising in printing tracts and books in the native language than their brethren in the south Pacific, who have published nothing upon any scientific subject, and had but just received a complete edition of the scriptures in the Tahitian language, a day or two after we arrived at Papeete.
p. 335-36, at sea in South Atlantic near Christmas 1840: It may not prove uninteresting to take a sketch of the manner in which we spend our time. In the morning, before eight o’clock—the breakfast hour—the missionary families hold prayer in their respective state-rooms. As to myself, I seize upon this time, as the most quiet period from sunrise to sunset, for reading or writing…. From ten to twelve, I read in some favorite author to Mrs. Bingham upon deck, who is usually joined by the young ladies and others.