Three Shells: Vessels of Memory
We all need to remember where we've been; keepsakes are objects specifically created, and acquired, to prompt our memories of places and times gone by.
Mariners are perhaps even more attuned (or would it be susceptible?) to the appeal of souvenirs; each new landfall or port blooms in riotous splendor compared to the monotonous watches of the intervening voyage. Any humble bauble picked up ashore and tucked away in seabag, trunk, or suitcase grows to iconic stature the farther it travels from its origin.
Shell#1: Pitcairn Island coconut purse
A ship plying the Pacific between Australia and Panama in 1925 "came into trouble," and anchored off Pitcairn Island, renowned for its remoteness and the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers. While the trouble was remedied, some from the ship rowed ashore; some residents also rowed out to the ship. (detail)
Nut purse open.
In the time-honored tradition, this jaunty export of the island was purchased and brought the long way home to Bath, Maine.
As the ship left, the islanders sang, "God Be With You Until We Meet Again," according to the donor, "which echoed over the water."
Shell #2: Table Bay ostrich egg
Attributed to Capt. Dewey Spicer, of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia, who was actively voyaging ca. 1890-1905.
Ostrich eggs painted with the famed Table Bay at Cape Town, South Africa have been sold as waterfront souvenirs since four-funnel liners anchored there in the 1930's, and probably earlier. The eggs are still popular (as are ostrich omelettes and ostrich barbeque) in the resort hotels now clustered below Table Mountain.
Compare this "egg-orama" to the (above) view of the anchorage today. Going by the accuracy of the skyline shown on our egg, can we also trust to its rendering of Cape Town in the age of sailing commerce, despite being 'only' a souvenir handicraft? Note in the detail (below) the small forest of spars, rooflines of warehouses, the jetties, and even the reflections of the anchored vessels.
Shell #3: cowrie engraved with the entire Lord's Prayer
We do not know whether this tour-de-force in miniature was created in a distant port or carved after the shell came home from the South Seas, for the daughters of Capt. Christopher Carter.
He was an archetypal Maine master mariner, the fourth generation of such in his family, going to sea in 1857 at age 21, and rising to command by 26. His first child (of five) was born in Shanghai; another child arrived on the Atlantic Ocean. In 1900 he retired to Bath having never lost a ship, after rounding Cape Horn forty times and the Cape of Good Hope twelve times. His obituary ran "He was a man of retiring disposition, an honest and respected citizen. He never drank or used tobacco in any form."
Let me know if you stopped by down here!
Chris Hall, Registrar