Azubah Cash aboard the ship Columbia

Azubah Cash in December 1882. GPN1537.

Azubah Bearse (Handy) Cash (1820–1894), the wife of whaling master William Cash (1816–1882), accompanied her husband on the 1850–54 voyage of the whaleship Columbia of Nantucket to the Pacific Ocean and into the Western Arctic and the Sea of Okhotsk in pursuit of bowhead whales.

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

“…Mr. Luce had 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 board 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 in October 1882. GPN1536.

Azubah became pregnant during the voyage with the family’s second son, William, and when the Columbia made landfall in Hilo, Hawaii, Captain Cash decided to leave Azubah and Alexander ashore in the care of missionaries. In August 1851, Azuabh gave birth, though she does not mention the birth in her journal. Columbia returned to Hawaii in October, and Captain Cash met his son “Murray” for the first time. With the whole family reunited on board, Columbia headed north and cruised for whales in the Sea of Okhotsk, where, on August 6, 1852, Azubah records an her encounter with the local people:

“Yesterday there were 5 or 6 canoes came alongside with a goodly number of Indians dressed in their sort of frock coat and trousers, 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 cent. 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 reached his first birthday on August 22, 1852, her entry expresses a pragmatic altitude women of her time 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 [illegible] most he sees us do that is possible for him too, and he goes alone quite nicely; but I suppose it will be sometime before he will give up his creeping if 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 a few, 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, 1850–54. MS220, Log 312

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