About This Artifact
Based solely on the family photograph of Captain James A.M. Earle, Mrs. Honor Earle, and their son Jamie taken in 1903 on the deck of the Charles W. Morgan, one would assume that life at sea was miserable. Though it appears that Jamie's scowling face is one of dismay (as it was on this particular day), Jamie and other whaling families experienced a life that one could only imagine.
James A.M. Earle first went to sea at the young age of twelve and followed in the footsteps of his father to become a captain. Sailing for 40 years, there was no question that this was his life's passion. He served as the captain of the Charles W. Morgan for ten of her voyages, on and off from 1890-1908. The Morgan's 21st voyage took Earle to New Zealand and it was there that he fell in love with Ms. Honor Matthews. In 1895, after spending a month in Auckland, he and Honor made an agreement that they were to be engaged. Honor would sail out to Hawaii, and 10 months later, they were married in Honolulu.
The Earle family made numerous voyages on the Charles W. Morgan — James on his own between 1890 and 1895, and then as a family from 1895 to 1906. As captain of the Morgan, Earle had some successful voyages that were shorter than was typical for the time. All the while, Mrs. Earle worked to set up their new "home" on the Morgan the best she could.
The story behind the above photograph from 1903 is quite amusing. Jamie, clearly agitated, had apparently gotten in trouble moments before the photograph was taken. Mrs. Earle (dressed nicely in her hat and gloves) had arranged for a photographer to take a family portrait while in San Francisco. The story goes that both James and Jamie were down in the hold of the ship, playing around. Mrs. Earle could not find her men, and when she got word that they were in the hold, got quite angry that they were fooling around and getting dirty. Finally, once James and Jamie returned to the deck, the photographer, patiently waiting, snapped a less than happy family photo.
Questions for Further Thought
- Do you think it was necessary to dress this nicely on a whaling ship? What do you think the crew typically wore?
- Why do you think Mrs. Earle would have hired a photographer to take this picture? Do you think this was common at the time?
- After spending so much time at sea, do you think it would be difficult to adapt to a life back on land once your time aboard ship was over?