Restored whaling logbooks return to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, explained

Picture of the ship Iris taken from the logbook of an 1843-1847 whaling voyage to the Pacific kept and illustrated by First Mate Richard Norton of Edgartown.

Photo courtesy of MV Museum Collections

Whaling logbooks from the 19th century are some of the most prized items in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s collection. However, the past 150 years have left many of these logbooks with degraded pages, inks, and bindings. According to a press release, five of these logbooks have been newly restored and digitized, thanks to generous grants from the Edgartown Community Preservation Committee as well as a private family. The logbooks are now ready to tell the public a story we never knew.

The five logbooks, containing colorful folk art drawings and paintings that give insight into daily shipboard activities, whale sightings and captures, and weather conditions from the 1800s, have spent months at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). This past spring, the town of Edgartown approved funding through the Community Preservation Act to have these logbooks conserved. During the conservation process, the logbooks were also digitized with funds provided by the family of Joan Rosé Thomas, great-granddaughter of Richard E. Norton, one of the authors of the five logbooks.

The newly restored and digitized logbooks will be returning to the museum this month. Kristi Westberg, assistant book conservator at NEDCC, will also be giving a presentation titled “Making the Past Reappear: Conservation of 19th Century Whaling Logbooks” on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The talk will describe the conservation process and explain how accounts written in now faded inks in one book were recovered through the use of sophisticated digital imaging techniques. The newly restored logbooks will be available for the public to see at the presentation.

The logbooks include the 1843–47 whaling voyage of the ship Iris to the Pacific, kept and illustrated by First Mate Richard Norton; the 1857–62 voyages of the ship Erie by Captain Jared Jernegan; the 1825–28 whaling voyage of the ship Independence to the Pacific kept by Henry Colt of Edgartown; the 1856–60 whaling voyage of the bark Rose Pool to the Indian and Pacific Oceans by Master Alexander P. Fisher of Edgartown; and a volume containing partial logs or journals from three whaling voyages from 1845 to 1853 by Henry Colt of Edgartown.

“Making the Past Reappear: Conservation of 19th Century Whaling Logbooks,” Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 5:30 pm, inside the Edgartown Room at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The talk is free and open to all.


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