19th Century Travellers from the William Reese Company


19th Century Travellers from the William Reese Company

By Michael Stillman

The William Reese Company has issued a catalogue of 19th Century Travellers. For starters, they weren't traveling by car or plane. They took long trips by boat, train (in the second half of the century), or on foot. At least they were spared metal detectors and various intrusions, and the rancid meat and biscuits some voyagers describe was more food than they give you on an airplane today. Reese has put together a fascinating look at travels in another era, and they range from the greatest explorations, such as that of Lewis and Clark, to handwritten manuscripts of unknown sailors and other adventurers. Here are a few examples.

Travel was usually not terribly pleasant in the 19th century, but few journeys were as bad as this one: Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, of Nantucket... The Essex was struck by a large sperm whale having a particularly bad day. What perturbed the whale that day (Nov. 20, 1819) is unknown, but he took it out on the Essex, ramming the ship until it sank. Of the twenty who survived the sinking, only eight lived to be rescued, with several of those who died being eaten by those who survived. The author of this account of a journey that was twice as long as the one of Captain Bligh after the mutiny on the Bounty was Owen Chase, first mate on the Essex. This tale served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick. Item 31. Priced at $17,500.

The crew of the Essex had it well compared to poor Daniel Foss. Foss published a few versions of this circa 1816 book, A Journal of the Shipwreck and Sufferings of Daniel Foss, a Native of St, Mary's (Georgia) Who was the Only Person Saved from On Board the Brig Negociator... One of the shortcomings of being a sole survivor is there is no one to corroborate your testimony. According to Foss, the Negociator didn't negotiate the route around the Cape of Good Hope very well, striking an iceberg and sinking. All survived the sinking, but nine days later, only 13 were left as a result of the severe cold. The number dwindled to three, at which point the remaining survivors drew lots to see who would serve as dinner for the other two. Foss one of the lucky two. Finally, they spotted a small island, but just a short distance from shore, Foss' last companion drowned. Foss made it to shore where, for the next five years, he subsisted on a diet of seals and more seals. Finally, he was rescued by a passing American ship. While the fate of the Negociator appears to be authentic, it is hard to know whether the details of Foss' account are accurate. Item 63. $4,500.

Item 142 is probably the best known of all American overland travels: The California and Oregon Trail... by Francis Parkman. Parkman was the upper class Bostonian who believed a trip out west would be good for his health. His journey along the Oregon Trail took him as far as today's Wyoming before he returned. His account provides one of the best descriptions of America's Indians in the first half of the 19th century, though his cultural biases are evident. Offered is the second printing of the first edition from 1849. $4,250.