Published: May 23, 2017
By Laura Beach
NEW BEDFORD, MASS. – “Spectacularly well-illustrated whaling journals are rare, and John Martin’s, kept on board the ship Lucy Ann of Wilmington, Delaware, 1841-1844, is among the greatest in American history. Not only does Martin capture the profiles of the islands he visited… he also captures the hair-raising events of the hunt in a detail seldom seen in other whaling journals,” Michael P. Dyer writes in his preface to Around The World in Search of Whales: A Journal of the Lucy Ann Voyage, 1841-1844, published by the New Bedford Whaling Museum late last year. Dyer, the institution’s senior maritime historian, calls Martin’s observations and illustrations “second to none in their historical, anthropological and biological value.”
How the book got published 175 years after it was begun is itself a story, one that begins with the volume’s editor, Kenneth R. Martin, no relation to the whaleman. Around The World recounts 31 months aboard the Lucy Ann, built in Bath, Maine, in 1831. The ship made several trips between 1835 and 1841, the year she departed from Wilmington with a captain and officers from New Bedford, Mass. When the original captain left the ship a few days into the voyage, First Mate Henry F. King assumed his post. Born in 1819 and from Philadelphia, John F. Martin was a veteran of two previous trips when he joined the crew of the Lucy Ann. In his sea chest, Kenneth Martin writes, were two blank journals, one destined to become Martin’s masterpiece, a “profusely detailed, exquisitely illustrated daily record of shipboard life…”
Now retired, Kenneth Martin has known about John F. Martin’s personal journal for more than four decades. In the collection of Chicago candy manufacturer Charles F. Gunther before the Chicago Historical Society acquired it in 1920, it was purchased by the Kendall Whaling Museum, where Kenneth Martin was director, in 1976. The journal passed to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2001 when the institutions merged.
“Over the next few years a plan was gotten up to publish the journal – none is as good as this one – but I changed jobs and nothing happened,” Martin recalled from his home in Maine. The project was revived in 2011 by a group of whaling enthusiasts who saw the journal’s relevance to scrimshaw and a host of related subjects. The late collector Ernest M. Helides offered financial support. Still, it took a serendipitous discovery and the dedication of Richard Donnelly to bring the project to fruition.
Donnelly lives in Barrington, R.I. He became a dealer in nautical art and antiques after retiring from a career in media and marketing. In 2014, after running an advertisement in the Sakonnet Times, he got a call from a man who had inherited three whaling journals, all of which had belonged to Lucy Ann’s captain.
“I had never heard of John F. Martin or the Lucy Ann, so I went to the library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where I volunteered. Michael Dyer happened to be there and he knew the story of the Lucy Ann very well,” says Donnelly, who had inadvertently stumbled upon the second of three works by John Martin pertaining to the ship. Martin made the first journal, the one owned by the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the subject of Around The World, for himself. Apparently impressed by his work, Captain King commissioned the second volume, which contains entries by King and Martin, along with Martin’s illustrations. Martin’s third, abbreviated journal belongs to the Delaware Historical Society.
After Donnelly’s discovery, the publishing project took on new urgency. Donnelly supervised the book’s production and printing. Martin and Donnelly were able to compare their two volumes. Kenneth Martin listed the illustrations that are unique to the Captain King journal in an appendix in Around The World.
Donnelly brought John F. Martin’s manuscript for Captain King to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Nautical Antiques Show on May 12, where, accompanied by several other whaling relics that descended together, it made a stir. Martin and King’s journal has since sold to a private collector.
It is the rare whaling journal that rises to the level of art. Dyer likens John F. Martin to the other great chroniclers of America’s whaling era, from Francis Allyn Olmsted (1819-1844) and Benjamin Russell (1804-1886) to Herman Melville (1819-1891). To the scholars’ delight, John Martin and Benjamin Russell met, at sea, while Martin was aboard the Lucy Ann.
“Editing Martin’s journal for publication has for me been a pleasant pastime,” writes Kenneth Martin, who annotated the original with details about whales and whaling drawn from his own research.
The unexpected appearance of John Martin’s journal for Captain King prompts the editor to wonder if more records by this maritime master may yet surface. As Kenneth Martin writes, “If practice makes perfect, that is very likely. But, if so, where are they? Let us hope that this publication will bring them to light, a reward well worth waiting for.”
Around the World in Search of Whales: A Journal of the Lucy Ann Voyage, 1841-1844 by John F. Martin, edited by Kenneth R. Martin, contains 125 color illustrations. To purchase the hardbound, 236-page book, go to www.whalingmuseum.org.
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