Log of the William Rotch, 1852-1853

Dublin Core


Log of the William Rotch, 1852-1853


Whaling--Pacific Ocean.


Diary of Henry DeForrest, on a whaling voyage from 3 January 1852 to 15 March 1853, while Second Officer (later First Officer) on board the William Rotch of Fairhaven, Massachusetts (Cromwell Morslander, Captain). A detailed, clearly written, and introspective account of a whaling mate’s life, by an experienced and articulate seaman who had rounded Cape Horn five times before this voyage, and passed eleven birthdays “in the whaling service.” DeForrest records incidents, landmarks, and ports of call (including Pernambuco, the Falkland Islands, Cape Horn, islands and cities of the coast of Chile and Peru, and the Galapagos Islands), and notes with varying stamps or sketches the ships spoken and some 120 whales struck — whether “saved” or lost — and the quantity of oil rendered. For the ships, he records the name, length of time at sea, and frequently the number of barrels stowed.  He sailed with a chest of books, quotes Spenser on the first of May, reports on his reading, and how “the reading part of the crew” will exchange books when they speak other whalers. “The man has become all ‘romantical’ as my boatsteerer calls it, and it is all owing to these ‘Novellettes’ of which the ship is full” (6 October 1852).  While De Forrest persuades the captain to read the occasional book, Morslander’s attitude to reading is contemptuous: “The Captain sets here damning books and reading, I understand him perfectly, but care as much as I would for any old dog barking” (11 January 1853). Not three weeks later, however, he writes, “The old man has taken to reading, he is now perusing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he says he likes it because it is a nigger yarn”  (6 February 1853).  As Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published after the William Rotch sailed, DeForrest can only have obtained it during one of these exchanges of books. 


DeForrest, Henry

Date Created



Bound manuscript






Wh W7183 1852j


Nicholson Whaling Collection, Providence Public Library



DeForrest, Henry, “Log of the William Rotch, 1852-1853,” accessed October 4, 2015, http://pplspc.org/digital/items/show/28.