Scope and Contents
The logbook was kept by an unidentified junior officer of H.M.S. 'Elk'. It opens on 12 May 1858 and continues until 20 November 1859. The entries describe how the ship cruised off Amoy (Xiamen) and the Pescadores; made an expedition to Australian and New Zealand ports; and took part in an operation to search for H.M.S. 'Sappho', which had disappeared between the Cape of Good Hope and Sydney. The logbook entries follow a standard, partially tabulated format, with data relating to wind direction and force, barometer and thermometer readings (all taken at noon and midnight each day), bearings and distances travelled while at sea, and remarks on such matters as the comings and goings of other vessels in port and the day-to-day activities of the ship's company. These latter describe the crew's routine, which involved the cleaning of the ship; the making, mending and washing of clothes; and the airing of bedding. More martial activities, such as 'divisions' (or parades), cutlass and musket drill, and pistol exercises were also performed regularly, as was divine service. There are occasional references to disciplinary matters: George Lee, for example, was arrested for drunkenness on 26 July 1858 and held in the brig until 1 August, and in June 1859 the Acting Mate Mr Edwin was placed 'under open arrest for smoking when officer of the watch and negligently performing his duty'. The logbook also includes notes of several fatalities aboard ship; these entries sometimes indicate the swift disposal of corpses requisite in warm regions, as on the evening of 28 July 1858, while the 'Elk' was cruising off Amoy: '6.45. Departed this life Edward Nias (A.B.) 8.30. Committed the body of Deceased to the Deep.' The search for the brig HMS 'Sappho' began in late January 1859 and continued until the 'Elk' arrived in Melbourne in early March. Eight successive openings of the logbook have the heading 'H.M.S. "Elk" in search of "Sappho"'. The 'Sappho' had been despatched to Australia from Africa, where she had been employed in the suppression of the slave trade, in 1858, but an account of her arrival not being expected it was only towards the end of the year that it was realised she was missing. The logbook allows us to trace the route of the 'Elk' from Sydney, via Cape Howe and Kent Island, to an anchorage off Hummock Island, where her pinnace was employed in searching the coast. From there the 'Elk' proceeded to Port Western by way of Three Hummock Island, eventually making Melbourne in early March. The logbook's description of the voyage mentions numerous rocks and reefs on which the 'Sappho' might have foundered, but no trace of the lost ship was discovered. The official view was that the vessel had indeed come to grief on rocks and been lost with all hands, although it is possible she may have capsized in high winds. On leaving Australia the 'Elk' continued towards New Zealand and the Fijian islands. In November 1859 she took part in another search, for a raft missing from the 'Elenita', but apparently with no more success than she had enjoyed with the 'Sappho'. The logbook closes in the South Seas, with a note that the mainsail was set, and the customary concluding remark for each entry, 'Midnight'. In addition to the log entries, the volume includes three loosely-inserted pages from the 'Naval Chronicle' which detail actions on the Canton River in which the 'Elk' took part during 1857.
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