Journal Kept Onboard the Fleetwing

Photograph of Captain John Heppingstone
Accession #2000.100.2748

Every piece in the Library has its own unique story to tell, and we invite you to look at a few of the thousands of materials and hear their tales through the Museum's From the Vault, a rotating digital exhibit featuring a different treasure from the Library.

Donated to the Research Library in July 1977 by Mrs. John H. Matthews, this unique piece of history appeals to maritime scholars and enthusiasts alike.  Much like other whaling journals in the Library’s collection, this partial account of the Fleetwing’s 1881 voyage provides a first-hand description of daily life onboard a nineteenth century whaling vessel in the Western Arctic.  However, this journal differs from others in that the keeper was the captain’s daughter as opposed to a crewman.    

Whaling Bark Fleetwing in Port Clarence, Alaska, 1886
Accession #00.200.419.30

Built in 1877 in Port Jefferson, New York, the bark Fleetwing was active in the whaling industry from her first voyage out of New Bedford in 1877 up until she was crushed in the ice off Point Barrow, Alaska on August 3, 1888.  John Heppingstone served as captain during her first four cruises, and like many other whaling captains, he brought his family along with him.  Although covering only a portion of the Fleetwing’s 1881 voyage, this journal recounts several events as seen through the eyes of Captain Heppingstone’s daughter, Adeline.      

The journal begins five months into the voyage on April 14, 1882 with the Fleetwing and her crew off Cape St. Thaddeus, Alaska, and ends seven months later as Adeline and her mother prepare to go ashore at the Farallones [Faralon] Islands, off the coast of California.  Although not a crew member, Adeline notes much of the same information one would expect to find in a typical whaling journal.  She documents the Fleetwing’s ports of call and diligently records weather observations as well as signs of ice in the surrounding waters.  Adeline even documents the number of barrels of oil from each whale taken.

However, many of Adeline’s entries contain unique elements that reflect her experience as the captain’s daughter.  On April 23, Adeline writes that the crew took a whale and had a difficult time cutting in because it was “so rugged.”  Her entry for the following day contains an interesting piece of information not common in other whaling logbooks or journals.  Adeline writes that while the crew was boiling the whale’s blubber, her parents covered the sofa “to keep from getting any oil on it.”  Several of Adeline's other entries shed light on her personal life and include references to sewing, eating dinner with other captains, and taking walks on the deck with her mother.

On April 29, while the Fleetwing was fast in the ice, Adeline spends her day playing checkers with Captain Cogan of the Rainbow and Captain Barker of the Mary and Susan.  During the evening, she enjoys a walk on the deck with her mother, an activity the two often enjoyed when the weather cooperated.

Adeline’s journal onboard the Fleetwing provides a rare first-hand glimpse into the life of a whaling captain's family during a whaling voyage.  The Research Library proudly boasts the largest collection of whaling logbooks and journals in the world, and Adeline Heppingstone's journal is only one example of the thousands of unique and interesting stories stored in the Library’s vaults.  Thanks to funds provided by the North Pacific Research Board secured through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is now possible to view this journal in a digital format through our logbook and journal webpage.  If you would like to take a more detailed glance at this or any other whaling journal, please contact Mark Procknik at the Research Library, (508) 997-0046 ext. 134, to schedule a research appointment.