The Voyage of Mary and Emma

The forty-four-ton fishing schooner Mary and Emma was the smallest vessel to sail around Cape Horn to California during the Gold Rush. Captain David G. Patterson (1812–1889) and six crewmen made the passage in 150 days, departing Nantucket December 6, 1849, and arriving in San Francisco May 5, 1850. Captain Patterson is believed to have carried this octant, also called a Hadley quadrant, on the voyage. He would have used it to measure the positions of celestial bodies above the horizon as part of determining the schooner’s position. Although less accurate than sextants, octants were also less expensive and remained in wide use in the mid-nineteenth century.

Builder’s half-model of the schooner Mary and Emma
Gift of Charles M. Hall








The schooner’s company comprised Captain Patterson; his brother William Patterson, mate; Reuben Manter, navigator; John Bearse, Davis Hall, and Amos Ryder, seamen; and Alexander Holmes, cook. Holmes is described as “colored” in period sources, but, being from Mashpee on Cape Cod, he may have been Native American or of mixed ancestry.

Octant belonging to Captain David G. Patterson
Gift of Ezra G. Barnham,

The Mary and Emma was built in New London, Connecticut, in 1848 and was employed in the mackerel fishery out of Nantucket. Captain Patterson originally planned to sail to California via the Strait of Magellan, but the insurers for the voyage objected, having recently heard of the loss of two New London–built schooners in the strait. Patterson took the more exposed Cape Horn route instead. Despite heavy seas at the Cape, crewman Davis Hall later recalled that the Mary and Emma rode the waves “as easy as a goney” [albatross]. Captain Patterson noted that they suffered “not a spar broken, or a rope stranded, or a sail split” during the whole passage, although they did have to skip dinner one stormy day. Hall remembers Alexander Holmes saying to the captain, “You can’t have any dinner today, as she’s rolled the duff overboard.” After delivering the Mary and Emma Mining Company to California, the vessel made trading voyages to the Hawaiian Islands. Its later history is unknown.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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