Azubah Bearse Handy Cash aboard the Ship Columbia

Azubah Bearse Handy Cash, December 1882. GPN1537.

Azubah Bearse Handy Cash (1820-94), the wife of successful whaling master, William Cash, accompanied her husband on the 1805-53 cruise of the whaleship Columbia to the Pacific Ocean and into the Western Arctic and the Sea of Okhotsk in pursuit of bowhead whales.

Her journal offers a rare and unusual look into the life of a young family aboard a Nantucket whaleship. Traveling with her husband and her ten-year-old son, Alexander, she records such incidents as the following on December 15, 1850:

“Mr. Luce has his boat capsized, all of them had to swim and they were fortunate that they met with no more trouble for Mr. Luce said he had the line twice round him and carried him some distance underwater. About 1/2 past 10 o’clock three boats got one onboard of the ship and the whale was dead and in an hour she was alongside the ship.  Then got dinner and have been cutting all the afternoon.  I have been on deck and in the starboard boat a-seeing them – till my face is almost blistered and Alexander’s too.  He has been darting an iron that he fixed into the sharks as they come side of the whale.  It is quite a large whale. Wm thinks it will make 70 bls. At any rate it is large and fat, I think.” 

Portrait of Captain William Cash, October 1882. GPN1536.

Azubah becomes pregnant during the voyage, and when the Columbia makes landfall in Hilo, Hawaii, Captain Cash decides to leave his pregnant wife and son Alexander in the care of missionaries.  In August 1821, Azuabh gives birth to her second son, William Murray Cash, though there is no mention of the birth in her journal.  Columbia returns to Hawaii in October, and Captain Cash meets his son “Murray” for the first time.  With mother and baby on board, Columbia heads north and cruises for whales in the Sea of Okhotsk, where on August 6, 1852, Azubah records an interesting encounter with the native peoples:

“Yesterday there were 5 or 6 canoes come alongside with a goodly number of Indians dressed in their sort-of frock coats and trouser, made of the skins of deer and other animals.  I think it must require a great deal of patience and ingenuity to make them, some of the pieces being very small not bigger than a half center: They had quite a number of knives, our folks got a good many in exchange for iron hoops, and pieces of iron. They seem very inoffensive and seem happy, but it looks very hard to see them eat whale scraps and the gum of whale which appears to me like eating India rubber, but they eat it as if they loved it.”

As her young infant reaches his first birthday on August 22,1852, her entry gives expression to the pragmatic altitude which many wives who gave birth at seas were forced to adopt (“if he lives”):

“Friday William Murray had a birthday and weighed 21 1/4 lbs. he grows very interesting: he tries to imitate the most he sees us do so that is possible for him too, and he goes along quite nicely; but i suppose it will be sometime before he will give up his creeping ig he lives.  He requires one to look out for him for he is into all that he can get to, even the transom locker.  I think he tries to speak some words, deck for one and cap… and I think he will talk some soon. Now we are lying at anchor in the narrow part of the straits cutting in our whale; and the current running to the north very strong; it sounds like a waterfall.  It is near my bedtime and I believe I have thought of all the news for this time. Azubah.”

Credit: Azubah B. Cash whaling journal, 1850–1854. MS220,Log 312

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