Life on a Sailing Ship in 1896–97


Charles Ashton Webster was born in Yarmouth NS on 1 June 1864, the son of John Lindsay Ross Webster, MD, and Helen Ogilvie (Geddes) Webster. After being admitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, he returned to Yarmouth in 1887 where he resumed his late father’s general practice and started a surgical practice in Yarmouth County. By mid 1896 Webster had developed a health condition which, in the fashion of the day, called for fresh air, rest, and reduction of stress; and so, 117 years ago, he arranged to accompany his uncle, Captain Isaac Webster, master of the four-masted barque Iranian, on a five-month voyage from New York to Yokohama, Japan. During the cruise Dr. Webster kept a diary [1] and took photographs that document everyday activities on a sailing ship at the end of the nineteenth century; below is a selection of these photographs [2].

References and Notes

    [1] Dr. Charles A. Webster’s diary is in two small notebooks, which Ellen Page Webster transcribed in December 1983. A copy of the transcription is identified as Y MS1 239 N1 in the Archives of the Yarmouth County Museum. When I quote the diary in the captions below, I precede the quote by a date, e.g., 10 Nov 1896: “Crossed the line yesterday ....”

    [2] Album 100 (2004:186.1, YCMA) is my source of Dr. Webster’s photographs; for convenience, I’ve also cross-referenced them to the
PH–62–Iranian collection of photographs.

    [3] The barque Iranian carried a cargo of case oil. A note to the transcription of Dr. Webster’s diary explains that “Before oil was shipped in tankers or conventional oil drums the transport method was in square tin cans protected by a wooden case, and thus named case oil.”

    [4] I thank archivist Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to the photographs and archival material concerning Charles A. Webster and the barque Iranian. All photographs labeled Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA) are copyrighted; please contact the Archives if you wish to acquire copies.

    [5] I am grateful to Charles Webster, a grandson of Charles A. Webster, for genealogical information about the Webster family.

William Day (1 October 2013)