Original 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.