This is one of the best “captain’s family” pictures I have ever seen. The little girl is Capt. Thompson’s adopted daughter Emma Sewall Thompson, who would later marry Wilbur F. Senter, founder of Brunswick. Maine’s department store chain, Senter’s. No, she is not really steering the ship – this is surely a posed photograph, taken alongside a wharf. There are so many wonderful details: Captain Thompson, trying not to look as evil as his missing teeth make him out to be, the elaborate brass decorations on the wheel, the octagonal skylight for the cabin below, the family dog taking a nap, even a parrot perched on the binnacle, which holds the compass for the helmsman. You can also see that there is no wheelhouse or steering shelter, and that the steering gear is the traditional version of chains running through blocks (pulleys) and pulling the tiller from side to side. Despite the nice skylight and decorative wheel, the owners of this ship have not seen fit to spend the money for a wheelhouse or fancy patented steering gear.
Senter and Family
This photograph was provided to us by members of the Senter family. They say it is taken aboard the Sewall ship Solitaire, built here in Bath, Maine, in 1879. Captain Thompson commanded Solitaire from June 1892 to May 1893, and then again from August 1896 to March of 1898. All the details mentioned above are typical of Sewall-built vessels of the period. But Captain Thompson also commanded a number of other Sewall vessels, and there is an outside chance this comes from some other ship. The captain died in 1902, and the Solitaire is believed to be the last vessel he commanded.

The Sewall family operated a series of companies in Bath which built and owned sailing ships, from 1823 to 1916.

Mattapan HandbillOriginal documents relating to the clipper ship Snow Squall are rare indeed. When Nicholas Dean of Edgecomb was researching his book, Snow Squall: The Last American Clipper Ship, he learned that no library anywhere has a large collection of the records of the 1851 South Portland-built ship, or its owners, or its captains. So when we recently were offered the opportunity to purchase a piece of advertising for one of the clipper’s voyages, it was the first time such a thing had happened, and it proved more than a curator could resist.

The item is a handbill, measuring six inches by seven and a half inches, printed in blue and red ink. It advertises that Snow Squall is at Pier 11, East River, in New York City, loading for a voyage to San Francisco, under the command of a Captain Dillingham. Ship brokers printed handbills like this and pasted them up in places where shippers of merchandise were likely to see them. There were smaller versions, called sailing cards, which usually had colorful illustrations, printed on sturdier stock and intended to be handed out directly to shippers. This handbill was folded up and put in someone’s pocket, instead of being posted on a wall (sounds like Facebook, doesn’t it?). From reading the bill carefully, you can see that the small size of both vessels was used as a selling point – it will not take long to fill the vessel’s hold, so you better get your freight down to the pier if you don’t want to miss the boat. In this case, though, the shippers who saw this and rushed to get their goods aboard this little clipper regretted it later.

Nick Dean’s book informs us that James S. Dillingham, Jr. commanded Snow Squall through the Civil War years. The only time he loaded for San Francisco at New York, however, was late in 1863. The diary of the ship’s boy, Hubert Taylor, indicates that the ship sailed from New York on 2 January 1864, so this handbill was probably printed in December of 1863. This would prove to be the ship’s last voyage. Her officers ran her on a ledge in Le Maire Strait (near Cape Horn) and the vessel staggered, leaking badly, into Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where she was condemned. The cargo was removed and placed aboard the Freeport (Maine) bark Orsini. There was cargo damage from the leak, and some from rough handling. The surviving cargo did not arrive at San Francisco until 4 November.

After receiving the handbill, further research revealed an interesting fact – the other ship mentioned was also Maine-built. We were some excited. Harrison Springer of Bath built Mattapan in 1854 for Boston owner James Collier. No reference confirms this ship as a clipper (designed primarily for speed), so that bit on the handbill is probably advertising hyperbole (Snow Squall, on the other hand, was a very fast ship). Mattapan was likely sold about the time of the handbill, because she was re-registered with a New York homeport on 29 December 1863, two days before sailing for San Francisco.

After the loss of Snow Squall Captain Dillingham’s difficulties getting home make modern air travel delays seem paltry. He took the mail schooner from the Falklands to Montevideo, a steamer from there to Rio de Janeiro, and then sailed on the Baltimore bark Mondamin for the United States. C.S.S. Florida captured this bark and its people, seizing Dillingham’s valuable charts and navigational instruments. For a full account of Snow Squall‘s adventures, be sure to read Nick Dean’s book, and visit the ship’s bow here at MMM when warm weather comes again.

Today was one of those little milestones in the curatorial world – an exhibit came down. All morning, volunteers and staff labored to dismantle Cross Currents: Visual Art Distilled from the Maritime World, our recent exhibit of four marine artists working in different mediums, to make room for the next show, Cold Waters, Cold War: the 20th Century Navy in Maine. The volunteers were Thatcher Pinkham, Phil Souza, and John Way. By noon, the gallery was empty, except for various bits of exhibit furniture. This afternoon Loretta Krupinski came to pick up her paintings, the Carroll Thayer Berry prints and the Claudio Cambon photographs headed back to the Museum storage shelves from which they came, and the Christy Georg sculptures were in a storage area awaiting packing for shipment.

kelly-page

Registrar Kelly Page covered Kelly green walls with navy grey.

chris-hall

Curator of exhibits Chris Hall, in whose mind this new exhibit is taking form, worked in his office creating the language of his exhibit labels.

In two short weeks, a lot of hard work will occur, and the new exhibit will appear in the John G. Morse, Jr. Gallery. It always seems semi-miraculous, no less so to those whose sweat makes the miracle. By the 19th of February, 2011, you will be able to see the result (members’ reception February 18th, 5:00 – 7:00).

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