Publication History:

Place of Publication:  Shipboard Duxbury en route to California gold fields from Boston

Frequency:  Weekly

Volume and Issue Data:  “Issued on The Duxbury throughout the spring of 1849” (Lewis)

Size and Format:  Unknown

Editor/Publisher:  Unknown

Title Changes and Continuation:  Possibly continued by The Petrel, after departure from Rio De Janeiro

General Description and Notes:

The Shark seems to be the first handwritten newspaper aboard the Duxbury.  Extant copies of The Petrel, published on the Duxbury apparently during the same voyage, were possibly published after the ship’s layover at Rio, although the issue numbering suggests that both papers may have been published contemporaneously.

According to Lewis, the Duxbury left Boston for the California gold fields in February, 1849, carrying the Old Harvard Company, one of the hundreds of New England joint-stock companies organized to capitalize on the gold of California.  One writer states that during 1849, 102 joint stock companies sailed from Massachusetts alone, the number of their members ranging from five to 180, the average being around 50, and their total exceeding 4,200.  Each member paid an equal sum into the common treasury.  Each had an equal voice in its management and stood to reap an equal share of the profits.  Often there was also a board of directors, chosen from among the town’s leaders, older men who helped finance the expeditions, but who remained at home. (Lewis, p. 22).

One passenger observed that there was “too much praying on board.”  Each morning the Duxbury’s preacher, the Rev. Brierly, read a chapter from the Bible, offered a prayer, and delivered a brief sermon.  On Wednesdays he presided over a prayer meeting; on Sundays he preached “a full-length sermon” and followed this with a class discussion group; on Tuesdays and Fridays he conducted a lyceum.  This was during the early stages of the voyage; later this comprehensive program collapsed, as it did on so many other ships, and during the final weeks of the Duxbury’s company seems to have been without religious instruction of any kind.

Hard feelings developed between officers and passengers aboard the Duxbury on the first leg of its voyage.  The chief complaint was against the food and the manner of service.  The Duxbury, an ancient three-masted craft, so hard to maneuver that she was said to require all of Massachusetts Bay in which to turn, left Boston so loaded that the galley space was inadequate.  After a week of subsisting on two sparse meals a day, the passengers met and made known their grievances.  For a long time their protests were disregarded.  “Petition after petition was sent in to the captain without producing any other effect than the reply, ‘If it is not enough, go without.'”  The group continued on short rations–“we were allowed one-half pint of weak tea a day and three pounds of sugar a month’–until the Duxbury reached Rio.  There a committee of passengers related their troubles to the United States Consul.  The result was that the capacity of the galley was ordered enlarged and the passengers thereafter fared rather better.

Lewis notes that this and other shipboard newspapers (see, e.g., Barometer, The Emigrant, and The Petrel) “lacked the formality of print but more nearly approached conventional journalism” than the various travel journals and diaries kept during the voyages.

Information Sources:

Bibliography:  Oscar Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields:  The Migration by Water to California in 1849-1852 (New York:  A.A. Knopf, 1949), pp. 22-29, 89-92

Locations:  Four numbers at the Huntington Library, Manuscripts Division, San Marino, CA; accompanies the published Journal of the Duxbury Voyage, Boston-San Francisco, by William H. DeCosta, 1849, Feb.-June 23 (HM 234)