Friday, August 9, 2013

30460. George Harley Chamberlin


The fact that the Chamberlin family went to the length they did to attribute George's epitaph to Charles Dickens is truly commendable. One might think you'd be happy enough to just go with the words "Once a gentleman, always a gentleman" unattributed, as it seems to be such a generic, accepted part of our language. But everything starts somewhere.

It may simply be that when dear George passed on, the family gathered and said, "Well, there's only one way to sum up his life. He was a gentleman, plain and simple. Somebody go get Bartlett's book of quotations." Perhaps that's how they found it. But there's always the possibility that there was a huge Charles Dickens fan in the family.

Maybe someone had taken their Major British Writers class in college (At UMASS Amherst, when I was there, anyway, English majors forced to take it called it "Major Boring Writers." To each his own...which, by the way traces all the way back to Suum cuique in Ancient Rome. But I digress...). The knee-jerk reaction would be to say, "Ah, yes! Dickens. It must be from A Tale of Two Cities, or Nicholas Nickleby. Yes, I think I remember it being in there somewhere. Chapter two." Nope.

The origin of the phrase used in George's epitaph is an obscure novella in a magazine Dickens published for ten years called Household Words, the title for which was taken from a Shakespeare quote from Henry V. (Okay, now I'm getting dizzy). The quote came from "Eleanor Clare's Journal  for Ten Years."

The full context is: "She felt about it much as Grannie feels that is to say very indignant and besides she did not refrain from insinuating that the heiress of Ferndell might look higher in the world than to the son of a manufacturer. Mrs Lake does not know Herbert Clay or she would not say that. I might have answered that once a gentleman, always a gentleman would apply to him but refrained. To compare him with such men as young Curling, Freddy Price or Sir Edward Singleton, seems a positive degradation. But it vexes me to feel that it is possible for anybody to look down upon him. If I could once show him here - his fine countenance, intelligent, good countenance - no one would ever think of speaking slightly of him again! But I see no chance of that while our engagement is unsanctioned."

Do we consider this a case of Charles Dickens writing in drag? Or is that just another can of worms into which we dare not delve today?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

30358. William J. Robinson


Robinson, William J. "Lost at Sea." Yes,, another one.

How did it happen for this youngster? He was aboard the fishing schooner Lizzie D. Barker on August 24, 1873 when a storm blew up off the Cape. How bad was the storm? Here's how the news played out in Gloucester:

"Like a clap of thunder from a cloudless sky came the rumor into town, on Tuesday, August 26th, that there had been a terrible gale to the eastward, extending all along the Canadian shores, causing destruction in its pathway by sea and land, sweeping, with sad havoc, among the fishing-fleet in the Bay of St. Lawrence and around Prince Edward's Island. Gloucester had one hundred and thirty-eight of her vessels in those waters, and the anxiety to hear from them was most intense. It was also feared, and it has proved too true, that the gale had extended to George's Banks, where there was quite a fleet. The news came slowly, and the reports at first were somewhat contradictory. But sufficient was received, during the next day and evening, to convince our people that it had proved one of the most terribly disastrous storms that ever occurred in those waters; and those having friends there began, as best they could, to prepare their minds for intelligence of another large loss of life."

We presume, in this instance, that "lost" means swept overboard. The ship sailed on for several years, but for this one young man, the adventure was over.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

30248. Oliver Cromwell Wing


I'm sure, at the time, there was a good reason for it, but I wish I knew what it was. Why Oliver Cromwell?

Cromwell is certainly worthy of admiration as a historic figure. Monty Python even sang a song about him, so we know his reputation resonated with the right people through time. But here's my point. That was in England. In the 1640s. Why did a Cape Cod family (a well-known one, for sure) two hundred years later decide to name their son for an overthrower of the British crown?

Pros: being named for the Lord Protector of England would certainly be a talking point at parties. He could probably motion across the room and say, "and this is my brother, William Shakespeare Wing." And if he wanted to sound really cool, he could have just called himself by his initials, O.C. Wing. Con: he probably had to explain himself quite a bit, knowing Americans' grasp of history. "You're named for who now?"

It seems that Wing never really lived up to the hype of the name, leading a pastoral life as a farmer and painter, and agent for the Pocasset train station. His property is now part of the local golf course. But, perhaps, that was the life wished for by the original O.C. Perhaps he just got stuck in a time when kings needed beheading and governments needed to be overturned.

But the coolest fact ever about Oliver Cromwell? His nickname was "Old Ironsides," a century and a half before the USS Constitution picked it up. Somehow I doubt that our friend Mr. Wing picked up that epithet down in peaceful Pocasset.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

30189. Lieutenant Ephraim B. Nye


You know, sometimes I think the people who designed headstones in the nineteenth century did so without bloggers in mind. I mean, some of them tell entire stories and leave little room for some know-it-all jerk to come along and act like he's a super history genius by expanding upon what's carved into the stone.

For instance: "Lieut. Ephraim B. Nye of the 14th Mass. Battery was killed in action at Fort Steadman, Petersburg, Va., March 25, 1865, aged 39 years."


Next side: "He enlisted as a private. Was promoted and faithfully served his Country for three years and seven months during which time he took part in NINETEEN BATTLES."


Final panel: "While engaged with the enemy and at the time in command of the battery he was summoned to surrender. He replied 'I NEVER SURRENDER!' and was immediately shot."

Of course, if I was a know-it-all jerk blogger, I would point out that they spelled "Stedman" wrong. But that's just not my style. I do wonder, though, whether or not he shouted his final words in a Cape Cod accent. That would have been awesome!

Monday, August 5, 2013

30187. Captain Ebenezer F. Nye


(Sigh)...and so our story continues. Captain Ebenezer F. Nye, "Who lost his life in the Arctic," was in charge of the whaler Mount Wollaston when last seen in the winter of 1879. Sadly, he, too, was in pursuit of the same prize as Captain Hiram Baker, whales.

The hunting may have been good, too good, perhaps, to heed the warning signs. The ice closed in and locked up his ship, stranding him and his men in a wasteland of frozen water from which there was no escape. A rescue effort was launched via the Revenue Cutter Service (forerunner of the Coast Guard), but for Nye and crew it was too late. Officers of the USRCS Corwin retrieved items taken from the ship or its remains by the local Native Americans which included Captain Nye's glasses.

Some evidence gathered from the locals suggested that Nye, at least, left the Mount Wollaston and boarded a second whaling ship, Vigilant, before it, too, was crushed in the ice. With ever-depleting food supplies in the freezing cold mostly darkness of the Arctic, the end must have been horrible for Nye and his men.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

30170. Edward and John Handy


Dang it, I knew this was going to happen. I knew that the more I hung around the Cataumet Cemetery, the more men I would find who had been "Lost at Sea." Here we have two, brothers, both etched into the same stone.

Remarkably, the first, Edward F. Handy, died the same exact day at our last sailor, Captain Hiram Baker. Was Edward Handy aboard the Ocean Wave with Captain Baker when it wrecked on Elbow Island? Dollars to donuts he was. If not, we have an astounding coincidence before us.

John William Handy's story is a bit more elusive, but since we have "Died at Sea" by his name, too, we can assume it's along the same lines. The only question that arises for me is one of status: military or civilian? By the time he went in August of 1862 the Civil War was in full stride, and President Lincoln was calling for troops. My guess is had he been killed in uniform, there would have been mention of it.

But then, why the difference? Why was one "Lost" while the other "Died?" Does it have to do with body recovery? Was John delivered home for burial, while Edward's body was never recovered? Either way, for parents to lose two sons in just under five years to tragedies at sea is just heartbreaking.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

30142. Captain Hiram Baker


Now I'm no fancy pants big city maritime historian, but I do believe we have a whaler on our hands. From all that I can determine, this Hiram Baker - make that Captain Hiram Baker, to you, again - was the captain of a whaling ship called the Ocean Wave, built in New Bedford in 1856 for H. Taber & Co. And it seemed that things were going well. Working out in the North Pacific - that's how far whaling had fallen by that time; they'd so thoroughly depleted the Atlantic stock that they had reached the North Pacific in the quest for more whales - Ocean Wave was sending home plenty of goods: "Sent home 180 sperm, 350 whales, 7,000 pounds of bone" according to the 1878 Report of the Commission on Fish and Fisheries.

The next line is puzzling, though. "Lost on Elbow Island, October 12, 1859." The tombstone of Capt. Baker says "Lost at Sea, October 12, 1858." I'm going to have to side with the family on this one, as they have his lifespan calculated the exact month. Besides, the Ocean Wave was just one of two New England whaleships lost on Elbow Island - now known as Medvezhiy Island, belonging to Russia - in 1858. The island apparently presented shelter during storms, though, it seems, not enough for the Ocean Wave. Its crew perished while 23 men from the Nantucket-based Phoenix lived to kill whales another day after their ordeal.