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How Jamestown offered escape for a whaler’s wife

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Clara's cabin sits on the quayside at Mystic Seaport. Picture by Eric Heupel via flickr
Clara’s cabin sits on the quayside at Mystic Seaport. Picture by Eric Heupel via flickr

When Clara Tinkham stepped ashore at St Helena in 1876, she was clearly greatly relieved to be escaping from life aboard a whaling ship – even though it meant separation from her husband.

Captain John Tinkham had tried hard to make things easier for his 20-year-old wife aboard the Charles W Morgan, even having a deck house built for her in the winter of 1875.

The ship has now been refloated after five years of restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, USA. But it is understood Clara’s cabin will not be going back on board.

The cabin gave her better light and air than the cramped and musty quarters below decks, but it provided poor refuge from the sights and smells of a working whaler.

Years later, Clara told a reporter: “The smell of blubber, pigs and hens running about the deck and having to eat food made out of sour dough are just a few of the things that made life offensive to a woman.”

A small organ she took to sea had evidently provided little relief.

Severe bouts of seasickness did not help, and so in November 1876, after a year and a half on the ocean, she left the ship at Jamestown, and made her way home via England.

Her cabin, shaped like a small railway carriage and barely big enough for a single bed, has stood on the quayside at Mystic Seaport during the restoration of the Charles W Morgan, with a volunteer guide on hand to tell its story.

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