Place of Publication: Shipboard Alhambra en route to California gold fields (1849)
Frequency: Weekly; irregular
Volume and Issue Data: The Alhambra departed New Orleans in the fall, 1849; only four numbers issued; known dates: No. 3, Sept. 5; No. 4, Sept. 20, 1849
Size and Format: “Two sheets of foolscap, closely written out in full”
Editor/Publisher: “Mr. Moss”
Title Changes and Continuation: None
General Description & Notes:
The Emigrant was published aboard the Alhambra, a ship which embarked for California from New Orleans in the fall of 1849. The ship’s paper was supposed to be published weekly during the voyage, but lasted only four numbers.
The Alhambra’s master, Captain George Coffin, filled more than half of each issue with his own compositions of rhyme and verse. In his privately printed memoirs, Captain Coffin noted, “On Saturday, August 23rd, appeared the first number of ‘The Emigrant.’ It consisted of two sheets of foolscap closely written out in full by Mr. Moss.”
Coffin claimed the paper “was well received, the reading matter was various, to please all tastes, and the croakers were silenced.” He also claims audience response was so enthusiastic that when the second installment was ready on August 30, measures had to be taken to preserve order among the passengers. “So great was the desire to get hold of it that it was voted that one of the passengers should read it aloud to the rest.” A freshly minted medical school graduate, Dr. Clark, was selected to read the poem. Captain Coffin noted the doctor “placed himself on the capstan, and the rest of the company gathered round, some standing, others seated about on spare spars, water casks, or whatever else they could find.” The Captain-author, however, found that his work was not read with proper fire and feeling. This lack of force and ability, according to Coffin, explained why the young doctor had no doubt failed in his chosen profession.
The Emigrant’s third issue, published Sept. 5, 1849, featured another of Captain Coffin’s poems, “Simon Spriggin’s Soliloquy.” The issue also contained an advertisement:
WANTED: A few degrees of south latitude. Any person being able to furnish them shall be installed an honorary member of the Committee on Navigation. Apply at the Surgeon’s office.
The Committee on Navigation was the title ironically given a group of the Alhambra’s passengers who were in the habit of offering the ship’s officers unsolicited advice on how to improve the operation of the vessel.
The Alhambra’s newspaper struggled through one more issue, then died. Captain Coffin noted its passing: “From this time ‘The Emigrant’ languished for want of sustenance; it did not appear the next Saturday. It made one more effort on Saturday, September 20th, and then gave up the ghost. The editorial valedictory had some reference to ‘casting pearls before swine . . .'” (p. 50). Simon Spriggins bowed himself out with a final poem, the inspirational character of which may be gathered from this stanza:
“Your saddle bags shall yet be filled
With Sacramento’s glittering ore.
Your doubts and fears shall all be still’d
And troubles come not near you more.” (p. 51)
Lewis notes that The Emigrant and other shipboard newspapers (see, e.g., BAROMETER, THE PETREL, and SHARK) “lacked the formality of print but more nearly approached conventional journalism” than the various travel journals and diaries kept during the voyages.
According to Captain Coffin’s accounts published after the voyage, (41) On Saturday, August 23, appeared the first number of “The Emigrant.” It consisted of two sheets of foolscap closely written out in fully by Mister Moss (Mr. Sam Moss, Jr. “ super Cargo) [p.12].
(43) The first number of “The Emigrant” was well received, the reading matter was various, and the croakers were silenced.
(45) Saturday, August 30–The second number of “The Emigrant” appeared promptly by this morning. So great was the desire to get hold of it, that it was voted that one of the passengers should read it aloud to the rest. The selected Doctor Clark as the reader. . . . He placed himself on the capstan, and the rest of the company gathered round, some standing, others seated about on spare spars, water casks, or whatever else they could find.
(49) September 6–The third number of “the Emigrant” appeared this day
Bibliography: George Coffin, A Pioneer Voyage to California and Round the World, 1849-1852, Ship Alhambra (Chicago: privately printed, 1908); Oscar Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields: The Migration by Water to California in 1849-1852 (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1949), pp. 89-92; Roy Atwood, “Shipboard News: Nineteenth Century Handwritten Periodicals at Sea,” Paper Presentation to the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Convention, Chicago, IL, 1997.
Locations: None located