By Michael Stillman
The William Reese Company's 240th catalogue is titled Travels and Voyages. Reese specializes in the
very top level of books, manuscripts and ephemera. You will find contemporary items either written by, or
concerning the voyages of the greatest explorers. Not to be namedroppers, but some of those you will find here
are Magellan, Drake, Vancouver, Dampier, Hakluyt, Drake, Cook, Kotzebue, Wilkes, Bligh, Ross, and Foss.
Foss? Few explorers of this time had it easy, but no one ever suffered like poor Daniel Foss. His book is A
Journal of the Shipwreck and Suffering of Daniel Foss....the Only Person Saved from on Board the Brig
Negociator....and who Lived for Five Years on a Small Barren Island - During which time He Subsisted on Seals,
and Never Saw the Face of a Human Creature. If all he subsisted on was seals, this might not be quite as
horrible a story. According to Foss, and he being the only survivor, it is hard to verify the details, the
Negociator left Alexandria (other editions say Philadelphia) in 1811 (others say 1809). On Nov. 26, 1811 (or
November 15, 1809), the ship struck an iceberg in the Pacific and went down. All hands made it to the lifeboats,
but nine days later, only 13 were left, the result of the extreme cold. A bit later still, the number dwindled
to three, and dying of hunger, they drew lots to see which would be dinner for the others. Then there were two.
They survived this way until March, when the two spotted a small island. Unfortunately, their boat overturned
100 yards from shore, and only Foss made it to the island alive. It was then that Foss began subsisting on seals
and collected rainwater, a step up from his previous cuisine, but certainly very tiresome since this was all he
had for the next five years. How many ways can you cook a seal? Finally, he was spotted by a U.S. ship and was
saved from his island. So, is Foss' account of his story accurate? Since he was the only survivor, we'll never
know, but considering that by 1816, he was publishing contradictory editions concerning the year they left, and
where they left from, one might question his memory, if not his honesty. Item 57. Priced at $4,500.
Here are some fascinating, though embarrassing letters from Loring Austin. Austin set out from America to Russia
to establish a trading business. His letters to his father give a picture of the port city of Archangel in
Russia at the time. Unfortunately, Austin was not successful in his business ventures. A letter on his return
trip is most revealing. His American ship was threatened by French and Danish privateers. They were forced to
seek protection from the British fleet. Writes Austin, "To our shame it must be confessed that our flag waves in
the Baltic the very emblem of impotence, and our commerce....finds its only security under the British flag, a
protection we cannot request without disgrace, & which perhaps may not be granted, without some sarcastic remark
upon our national imbecility too galling to be made without impunity, yet too obviously just to admit of reply."
Talk about humiliation. Less than a year later, America would go to war with Britain, the impressment of U.S.
sailors into the British navy a major cause. Perhaps the British were a bit more justified than we thought,
since we seemed to be free riding their naval protection. Item 7. $2,000.