Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | November 6, 2012

November 6, 1854 – FIRE (Part II)

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] – Part II

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.

Part II – By 6 a.m. the fire had been put out. All were safe, including the ship, although she now required some repairs. The Eliza F. Mason was still afloat, but the captain an investigation to complete: who had set the fire?  Nathaniel called all hands on deck and asked ‘Who set fire to the ship?’  No one made a sound, not surprise there. Nathaniel waited a few minutes and asked again, ‘Who fired the ship?’ Still, no answer.

Nathaniel sent Abigail to the cabin for his Bible. One by one the crew of the Eliza F. Mason filed passed their captain, looked him in the eyes and placed a hand on his bible, and made an oath that they were not responsible for the fire –  no one confessed. The mystery unsolved, Nathaniel signaled out ten of the hardest characters among the crew and ordered they be put in irons. Still no confessions. That didn’t work either, so Nathaniel ordered three men to be released from their irons and strung up in the rigging so that their toes barely touched the deck. He made a whip from a piece of new rope. The first two men didn’t confess, but the third one after having been whipped a few times, cried for mercy and said he would tell all he knew. The man implicated three men; two who had been put in irons and third never suspected. With that the three men were punished: three hundred lashes apiece.

Dec. 18 and 19, 1854, Nathaniel wrote in his journal:

[Dec. 19] “Found evidence against 3 of them. Ship was now filled with gas and smoke. At 8 a.m. took off fore scuttle and fore hatch and went down and soon the cry of fire rang through the ship. Worked to put out the fire if possible but one short hour one of Capt. Earl’s officers and 4 of mine were in fits from the effect of gas [inhaling smoke]. It would take 3 or 4 to hold one and was awful to witness. Smoke increasing. Closed ship again and kept the water going in as fast as possible. After 3 hours sounded and found water within 30 in. of lower deck.”

[Dec. 10] “Ship still burning. Kept everything wet we could get at. Examined prisoners. They confessed that 4 were guilty. The only reason given was that they wanted to live on some islands we were passing. 5 1/2 p.m. perceived smoke coming from all the hatches and around the hawse pipes. Thought she would go. We put water between decks. At 6 o’clock found the cabin bolts hot on starboard side. Took my wife and boy to the J. Swift. It brought tears to my eyes to look on that noble ship and think she was on fire.”

Part III will be posted on Nov. 7


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