Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | November 5, 2012

5th November [1854] – FIRE!

Mary Brewster (1847), Mary Lawrence (1858), and Eliza A. Williams (1860) did make any journal entries for this date.


‘Fire!’ on board the Eliza F. Mason [Nov. 1854]  

As indicated by the above title, aside from the obvious dangers from nature herself, the interactions and behaviours among the men on board whaling vessels were not always civil and far from perfect. Given the women’s journals as the primary source of these daily blogs, I have shared little regarding illness, death and/or the maiming of the men from falling from aloft or chasing whales. Yet, low morale was part of the reality of life at sea and could be enough motivation for desertion and/or mutiny. 

In mid-December of 1854, Abigail Jernegan was at sea with her husband Nathaniel aboard the Eliza F. Mason.  The Jernegens were at the time, gaming off Rotch’s Island (LAT. 1.50 S, and LONG. 175.30 E) with another whaling couple from Edgartown, MA. One night, at about 10:30, Nathaniel and Abigail were both asleep in their gimbaled bed, while their son Holmes lay asleep next to his parents.  Someone reported something wrong in the fo’c’sle, so Mr. Pease (the First Mate) went forward to investigate. Suddenly the cry of ‘Fire!’ tore through the previously, quiet peaceful night. Nathaniel hastily put on some clothes and Abigail told Holmes not to get in the way.  At first, Nathaniel couldn’t tell where the fire was, and then finally concluded that it was in the forepeak. Abigail gathered up Holmes and headed for the deck, and stood astern, out of the way, tried to rein in her son’s excitement and control her own apprehension. With the help from the men on board and other ships’ crews in close proximity, they poured water from buckets and used a hose attached to the pumps. The first of three journal entries made by Nathaniel stated, “Closed ship as tight as possible but kept water going. At 6 a.m. sounded and found 5ft. 8 in. of water in the ship. Called all hands with determination of finding who had fired the ship. Dark times.”

It would be several days before the captain of the Eliza F. Mason would determine who was responsible for setting  fire to the ship.

Additional entries from Nathaniel’s journal will be posted tomorrow, Nov. 6.


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