JOURNALS AND LOGBOOKS. The terms “journal” and “logbook” are
often used interchangeably to describe chronological accounts kept during
the course of a sea voyage, but important differences distinguish them. A
logbook is the official record of a ship’s whereabouts and activities, required
by law and surrendered to the owners at the end of a voyage. Journals are
personal diaries and as such can be kept by anyone on board; they often
contain material extraneous to the ship’s business, including descriptions of
shipboard activities and ports of call, illustrations, poems, song texts, and
scientific observations.
The publication of shipboard accounts began in earnest in England in
1697 with the buccaneer William Dampier’s A New Voyage round the World.
Two influential shipboard journals penned by Dampier’s associates followed:
Woodes Rogers’ A Cruising Voyage round the World (1712) and Edward
Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and round the World (1712). These
three works inspired Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift in the development of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Gulliver’s Travels (1726), both of which
claimed to be actual shipboard journals.
The official “narratives” of British Naval Expeditions to the Pacific Ocean
in the late eighteenth century were among the best-read books of the age
in England and America. These works, though based on shipboard accounts
and preserving their chronological format, were substantially edited before
publication—a process that made native people of the Pacific more exotic
and English sailors more heroic. The appearance of Richard Henry Dana
Jr.’s* Two Years before the Mast* in 1840 introduced not only an American
perspective of shipboard life but the point of view of the forecastle rather
than the quarter deck. Extremely popular, Dana’s book inspired a rush of
sailor imitators, among them Samuel Leech with his Thirty Years from
Home, or A Voice from the Main Deck (1843) and Twenty Years before the
Mast (1845) by Nicholas Isaacs. The manuscript that Dana kept aboard the
Pilgrim and the Alert disappeared with his sea chest on his return to Boston
and was painstakingly reconstructed after the voyage, but, in fact, few sailors
presented their shipboard accounts to the public without some retrospective
editing. Defoe even has Robinson Crusoe explain that portions of his narrative will be more interesting with some postvoyage reflection and gives an
example of before and after editing to prove his point. The influence of
Dana reached into the world of fiction as well, and James Fenimore Cooper,* Herman Melville,* and Edgar Allan Poe,* among others, experimented with fictional accounts of voyages presented as journals. Melville did
not discourage the readers of his early novels from thinking of them as
autobiographical shipboard accounts rather than well-researched and elaborately crafted works of fiction.
A number of voyage accounts were published to introduce young men to
either the folly or the glory of seafaring, and some became religious treatises.
An example of the latter is Mary Chipman Lawrence’s journal of a Pacific
Ocean whaling voyage with her husband, which was edited by Mrs. Helen
E. Brown into A Good Catch: or, Mrs. Emerson’s Whaling-Cruise (1884). In
the middle of the twentieth century, with their authors long dead, a number
of journals and logbooks began to be published from manuscripts in museum and library collections. Generally presented without the heavy editorial
hand that romanticized the sea voyage for the eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury audience, these works describe in detail the daily repetitive tasks and
cyclical nature of shipboard life.
The publication of such manuscripts has made available for the first time
the perspectives of numerous women, including the aforementioned Mary
Chipman Lawrence, whose journal was published as The Captain’s Best Mate
(1966), with valuable additional material provided by editor Stanton Garner;
this work is substantially different from Mrs. Brown’s 1884 version of
Lawrence’s experiences. A large number of unpublished manuscript journals
and logbooks survive, the most numerous being whaling journals, of which more than 5,000 are held by maritime museums and libraries.