Logbook of the Ship Union

Portrait of Captain Edmund Gardner, ca. 1840.
Accession #1992.10.2

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.

The Union sailed out of Nantucket on September 19, 1807.  Twelve days later, a whale struck the ship in the open ocean.  As the ship began to sink, the crew was forced to abandon ship and save themselves in the open whaleboats.  For the next seven days, the crew sailed 600 miles until finally reaching the Azores.  Captain Edmund Gardner (1784-1875) recorded the events of this ill-fated whaling voyage, and his journal serves as one of the many interesting accounts in the Library’s collection. 

Gardner writes on October 1st that the Union was sailing at a steady seven knots when the ship “struck on a whale (suposed [sic] to be a sperm whale)” on the vessel’s starboard side at 10:00 pm.  Hearing the water pour into his ship, Gardner went below to inspect the damage and soon after determined that the leak could not be repaired.  The only option available to Gardner was to abandon the ship, so at midnight, after calmly giving the order, Gardner and his crew lowered the ship’s whaleboats and sailed east towards the Azores, eventually arriving at Flores on October 8th.  Even though their supply of drinking water was completely depleted by the time they reached Flores, Gardner and his crew survived the ordeal without incurring the loss of a single life.  

In his entry for October 10th, Gardner writes of contemporary events, including Napoleon Bonaparte "marching his forces against Portugal."

Although not as notable as the Essex's infamous encounter with a sperm whale, the Union's unfortunate demise has gained some respectable fame in the annals of whaling lure, as Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick makes a direct reference to the sinking of the Union.  Ishmael states in Chapter 45 that “the ship ‘Union’ of Nantucket was in the year 1807 totally lost off the Azores by a similar onset, but the authentic particulars of this encounter I have never chanced to encounter, though from whale-hunters I have now and then heard casual allusions to it.”  While the Pequod’s tussle with Moby Dick was far more dramatic, Gardner's account still merits mention, as it provides further evidence that whales did in fact sink ships.  

Due to the abrupt ending of the whaling voyage, Gardner's journal contains few entries one would expect from a typical whaling narrative.  Instead, Gardner documents the time he and his crew spent in the open whaleboats as they sailed east towards Flores.  While in the Azores, Gardner continues to keep his journal and records his various experiences.  On November 18th, Gardner traveled to Faial where he visited the churches, traveled to the market, and enjoyed a walk along the beach.  The sheer beauty of the island resonated with Gardner during his visit, as he commented on the "most delightful" trees while strolling through an orange garden on November 23rd. Gardner's time in Faial ended on December 11th when he boarded a brig bound to the United States. 

The Research Library proudly boasts the largest collection of whaling logbooks and journals in the world, and Gardner’s narrative is only one example of the thousands of unique and interesting stories stored in the Library’s vaults.  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. 

Last Modified: May 26, 2014