Benjamin Russell: New Bedford's Definitive Whaleman Artist


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Benjamin Russell (1804-1886) rightly deserves the accolade of New Bedford’s definitive whaleman artist as only a few professional American artists ever went whaling and none documented the fishery in its many myriad events and moods as thoroughly as he. Not only did Russell use his own whaling experience to document details and actions only ever captured by his fellow whalemen in private journals and scrimshaw, but he moved his art into the public sphere, painting ships and scenes on commission and publishing a series of prints as well.

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Benjamin Russell: New Bedford's Definitive Whaleman Artist

  1. 1. Benjamin Russell: New Bedford's Definitive Whaleman Artist Benjamin Russell (1804-1886) 2000.100.3763 Signature taken from Benjamin Russell’s personal copy of J. Ross Browne, Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (New York, 1846). Compiled by Michael P. Dyer, Maritime Curator, New Bedford Whaling Museum
  2. 2. “Were it not for Benjamin Russell, America would be pathetically bereft of any original whaling pictures” Elizabeth Ingalls, Whaling Prints in the Francis B. Lothrop Collection (Salem, 1987).
  3. 3. Benjamin Russell (1804-1886) rightly deserves the accolade of New Bedford’s definitive whaleman artist as only a few professional American artists ever went whaling and none documented the fishery in its many myriad events and moods as thoroughly as he. Not only did Russell use his own whaling experience to document details and actions only ever captured by his fellow whalemen in private journals and scrimshaw, but he moved his art into the public sphere, painting ships and scenes on commission and publishing a series of prints as well. The son of Seth Russell, Jr. (1766- ), Benjamin was born into one of the oldest mercantile families in New Bedford, the brothers Seth and Charles Russell. Their progenitor, Joseph Russell, first settled the village in 1765 specifically intending to develop it as a whaling port. At various times, the Russell family held interest in thirty-eight whale ships and as merchants invested in cargos in many other vessels. In 1814, for instance, Seth Russell, Jr. received a large cargo of rum and sugar from the Swedish schooner Kutusoff. (See ODHS #B83-8, U.S. Custom House Impost Book) The Russell’s also owned the brig Clitus that was built to their order at Warren, Rhode Island in 1817. Both the Kutusoff and the Rhode Island town of Warren would come to figure significantly in Benjamin Russell’s later history. He got his start in business dealing in groceries and hardware across from the toll-house at the New Bedford/Fairhaven bridge around April 16, 1824. This is when the corporate name in the New Bedford Custom House records changes from Seth Russell Jr., to Seth Russell and Sons and when Benjamin first places his business advertisement in the New Bedford Mercury. He married Hannah Howland of New Bedford in 1827. Throughout his 20’s he invested in whaling voyages and owned shares in the family merchant vessels as well. His investments corresponded to the accepted successful pattern of oil returns so systematically practiced by New Bedford whaling merchants, i.e. a sperm whaler out between two to four years, a right whaler out for one year and another vessel or two out for two years with instructions to return a mixed cargo of sperm oil , whale oil and whalebone. With this pattern of investing New Bedford whaling agents were assured of a steady supply of oil for their markets. Benjamin also owned shares in the vessels used to move oil around and which were also used to return merchandize from abroad. As far as Benjamin was concerned though, his risks were great. For instance, one of the vessels in which he invested, the ship John Adams, Thomas B. Swain, master ,1831-1835, was out four years and returned 900 barrels of sperm. After such a poor showing, Swain never captained another whaling vessel. On the other hand, another of the vessels, the Frances Henrietta, Uriah Russell, master, returned from the coast of Chile after one year with 2300 barrels of sperm oil. They took thirty-seven sperm whales in six months,1833-34. Whaling was risky and highly profitable when a voyage went smoothly but potentially an economic disaster if it did not.
  4. 4. A list of voyages in which Benjamin Russell invested •1826 Clitus (brig) of New Bedford not whaling → used to transport oil. •1826 Missouri (ship) of New Bedford, Moses Sampson, master, owned by Seth Russell & Sons, sold abroad made no returns. • 1827 Galatea (ship) of New Bedford, Abraham Russell, master, owned by Seth Russell & Sons, one year on the Brazil Banks, returned with sperm and right whale, •1829 Clitus (brig) of New Bedford not whaling. •1829 Frances Henrietta (ship) of New Bedford, 407 tons, Abraham Russell, master sperm whaling to the Pacific returned 2300 barrels, •1830-1832 Amanda (bark) of New Bedford, three unsuccessful right whaling voyages between owned by Phillips, Russell and Co., •1830 Rajah (brig) of New Bedford, , not whaling •1831 John Adams (ship) of New Bedford, returned after 4 years with 900 sperm (Thomas B. Swain never made another voyage as master). •1831 Ceres (ship) of New Bedford, Moses Samson, master, right whaling. •1831 Hercules (ship) of New Bedford, Albert G. Goodwin, master, returned 2500 barrels of whale oil in one year. •1833 Joseph Maxwell (ship) of New Bedford, Joseph Sampson, master, returned in 1834 with sperm and right whale. • 1833 Frances Henrietta (ship) of New Bedford, Uriah Russell, master returned in one year with 2300 barrels sperm. Caught 37 sperm whale between October 1833 and April 1834, on the coast of Chile. • 1833 Ceres (ship) of New Bedford, John J.. Parker, master, combined sperm and right.
  5. 5. By the late 1820s, the firm of Seth Russell & Sons was a successful commercial merchant firm and in 1832, Benjamin sat on the first Board of Directors of the newly established Marine Bank. During the Jacksonian-era banking crisis of 1833, when President Andrew Jackson attempted to consolidate America’s private banks into one national bank, the Russell family’s creditors, representing every bank in New Bedford, demanded payment to stabilize their holdings. While the profits from such voyages as the whaler Frances Henrietta, and the traders Clitus and Kutusoff and others were doubtless good they could not offset the debts of credit compiled over the years by the family firm. Benjamin, who made regular deposits in his account at the Merchants Bank, abruptly stops doing so in October of 1833. (See: MSS 107, Merchants Bank/Merchants National Bank, 1825-1939, ODHS). The family’s main assets were in real estate which was subsequently sold at auction and Benjamin was left in debt and without a job. (See: Elton W. Hall, Panoramic Views of Whaling by Benjamin Russell. ODHS Historical Sketch 80. New Bedford, 1981) At this point in appears that Benjamin disappears from the historical record, at least he does not appear in the New Bedford City Directories. A Benjamin R. Russell (not the same person) appears in the 1838 New Bedford City Directory as having sailed in the brig Atlas of Warren and “Benjamin Russell” is listed as having sailed as master of the brig Atlas in 1837on a trading voyage to New Zealand. (See: Starbuck, Lund, Dennis Wood Abstracts) This was probably Benjamin R. Russell. The details of this voyage are sparse, however, the Atlas served as tender to the ship Adeline of Warren at Cloudy Bay, New Zealand where she was eventually sold. Russell returned in the ship Warren of Warren that same year. (See: McNab, pp. 231, 296, 314). By 1839, both Benjamin and Benjamin R. appear in the Directory with Benjamin R. listed as a “master mariner,” presumably indicating that it was he who commanded both the Atlas and the Warren. In any case, Benjamin Russell appears to have some connections to Warren, Rhode Island where he died in 1886 dating as far back as 1817 when the Clitus was built there. The state of Benjamin’s indebtedness was confirmed in a letter to him from New Bedford merchant and whaling agent, George Howland, in 1839 reading “this oil was sold thee after thy failure, with a full expectation it would have been attended to agreeable to contract and I believe it is over two years since thee has said a word on the subject voluntarily… I very much dislike to have unsettled matters hanging along so….” (MSS 7, SG1, Ser. D, Vol. 4, p. 42).
  6. 6. Wherever it was that Benjamin Russell was living in the mid-to-late 1830s, in 1841 he shipped as a boatsteerer on board the ship Kutusoff of New Bedford, William H. Cox, master, on a whaling voyage to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Joseph Dunbar and Co., of New Bedford managed the vessel, and it is a curious coincidence that Benjamin should sign aboard a vessel with the same name as one that had proved so profitable to his father back in 1814. (See: Dennis Wood Abstracts, Vol. 1, p. 597; Whalemen’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript, June 1845; original Shipping Paper in the collection of the New Bedford Free Public Library). On this cruise, the Kutusoff whaled around Australia, the Central Pacific and the Northwest Coast of North America before sailing for New Zealand, Tahiti and then home around Cape Horn touching at Rio de Janeiro on her homeward passage. She arrived back in New Bedford in March of 1845 with a good cargo of sperm and whale oil having sent home 10,000 pounds of whalebone. Upon his return Russell’s wages barely covered his debts, and at this time he embarked upon an ambitious project to make some money. (MSS 69, Ser. B, Vol. 1) He and a local sign painter, Caleb Purrington, painted a traveling panorama which Russell intended to tour around the country selling tickets and narrating as he went. Such panoramas were the equivalent of motion pictures today. They completed their “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World” in 1849 and Russell took it on tour. His position as boatsteerer, or “harpooner” in lay parlance, allowed him a very broad and continuous view of how exactly a whale ship looked at sea from the position of one who was down in the boats chasing whales. This perspective he employed to great advantage and is entirely consistent with (if of a higher quality than) most of the art found in whalers private journals and on scrimshaw of the period. The panorama is painted with tempera on cotton sheeting. All of Russell’s other known paintings are watercolor on paper and this is the only painting done in cooperation with another artist. The ships and scenes are undoubtedly in Russell’s style. The landscapes, however, particularly those of the islands in the Pacific seem to bear a more conservative, less sprightly quality than much of Russell’s work and may have been strongly influenced by Purrington. Russell later made a career out of painting mostly ships and scenes on commission for local whaling agents, ship masters and insurance documentation pictures. Between 1862 and 1871 he also published a series of whaling prints described by many as the finest scenes of American whaling ever created. Benjamin Russell’s career of painting whaling vessels and whaling scenes in a town and region entirely devoted to the whaling industry at the height of its success meant that his work would be judged by the most stringent of critics. While his paintings are arguably not great art compared to other painters of the day they are nonetheless among the finest of pictorial documentation of the industry ever produced and are certainly the finest ever produced by an American for public sale.
  7. 7. (Left) Sketch of a tropical island with whaleboats from Caleb Purrington’s sketchbook. NBWM #1985.1 (Middle) Portion of the Panorama showing whalemen watering at Huaheine, Society Islands. NBWM #1918.27 (Right) Sketch of Caleb P. Purrington from his sketchbook. NBWM #1985.1
  8. 8. Marine Bank, corner of Union and Second Streets, ca. 1835 where Russell was on the Board of Directors. Charcoal on paper, ODHS #00.183.4
  9. 9. Ship Kutusoff of New Bedford. Russell sailed as a boatsteerer aboard this vessel in 1841 returning to New Bedford in 1845. In this view the vessel is flying the house flag of Henry F. Thomas who purchased the Kutusoff and the Draper from Joseph Dunbar and Co., in 1850, as well as a third vessel, the Emerald. This painting shows three vessels and it was probably commissioned by Thomas to celebrate the acquisition of his new fleet. The vessel on the right also flies the Dunbar house flag although the vessel on the left flies an unidentified house flag. Thomas was a friend of Russell’s and one of his principal correspondents while traveling with the Panorama. (Henry F. Thomas Papers, MSS 69, Ser. A) In this scene, all of the Kutusoff’s boats are down for whales and the ship is cruising before the wind. The arrangement of the ships’ sails is distinctive and could indicate simply that the vessel is slowing down by reducing the sail area of the fore course and topgallant sails. It could also indicate that the vessel is signally information to the boats. Vessels often had elaborate systems of signaling boats involving the position of the sails. These signal systems were secret, (more or less) contrived by the master, and were unique to each voyage. ODHS #1906.21.2 , watercolor on paper, undated, Gift of Pemberton H. Nye.
  10. 10. “Ship Clifford Wayne of Fairhaven E. Crowell Master off the Round Hill's.” Watercolor on paper, undated, ODHS #1983.33 . The ODHS purchased this painting at auction in 1983. Curator Elton W. Hall wrote at the time of the acquisition: “This is one of the earliest Russell ship portraits that can be closely dated. Kutusoff returned to New Bedford a few months before Clifford Wayne, which arrived July 23, 1845. Russell completed the portrait, for which he may have made a sketch of New Holland and Crowell took it home to Maine.” (Curatorial file, ODHS). The Clifford Wayne actually arrived home July 23, 1844, the return date is misprinted in Alexander Starbuck’s History of the American Whale Fishery, and set sail again under another master in October of that year. (See: The Whaleman’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript, July, 1844). The Kutusoff arrived in March of 1845, so the date when Russell actually painted this picture remains unknown. It was found in the Crowell home in Maine before being sold. On the back of the frame is penciled “1842 [Sunday] April 29 off New Hollan [sic]” The 1842 date indicates the date that the vessel was cruising off Western Australia. (See: ODHS #201, logbook of the ship Clifford Wayne of Fairhaven). How or when Captain Edmund Crowell commissioned this piece is strictly conjectural however the painting does have a caption, a feature to Russell’s paintings consistent with all or most of his later dated works.
  11. 11. Portrait of the ship John and Edward of New Bedford prominently flying the Wilcox & Richmond house flag at the foremast. The firm added the John and Edward to its fleet in 1841 and the vessel made five voyages between 1841 and 1858. The painting scheme of the hull with its yellow and white stripes is consistent with the earliest style of hull decoration and the John and Edward was cruising in the vicinity of Western Australia when Russell was onboard the Kutusoff. The ship Mercator of New Bedford sighted both vessels, along with a third, the ship Factor of Poughkeepsie in 1842. Russell later painted the Factor and the Kutusoff whaling in company in 1842 or 1843 around Lord Howe’s Island off the east coast of Australia. These early paintings including the John and Edward, the Gratitude and the Clifford Wayne show vessels that were all whaling in the same waters with the Kutusoff. While no logbook or other documentary account exists for the actual voyage of the Kutusoff, (apart from a Maury Abstract of the voyage) logbooks of other vessels of the period indicate that they were all whaling in the same waters at the same time, or had crossed paths in port. The vessel in this painting is identified by its name on the quarterboard. There is no caption. Stylistically, this painting, as well as the Gratitude, differ from most of his other paintings. His technique of painting the water has yet to achieve the wavy quality, so typical of his later works, the uniform yellowing of the paper and the lack of a caption suggest that this is one of his earlier works. ODHS #1977.49, watercolor on canvas, undated, museum purchase.
  12. 12. Ship Gratitude of New Bedford prominently flying the Swift and Allen house flag. Jireh Swift, Jr. and Frederick S. Allen purchased the Gratitude in 1845 from Irenaeus Gooding, merchant of New Bedford who had purchased the vessel from Thomas Riddell in 1840. In this view, undoubtedly commissioned by Swift and Allen to celebrate the 1848 return of the vessel under the command of Preserved S. Wilcox from a highly successful three-year sperm and right whaling voyage to the Northwest Coast, the Gratitude is shown sailing up Buzzards Bay before a following wind with studdingsails set. Like the John and Edward the vessel name is on the quarterboard, the water is just beginning to gain Russell’s characteristic waviness and there is no caption. This painting would have been among Russell’s earliest known commissions were it painted around 1848. The Gratitude, like the Clifford Wayne, the John and Henry and the Factor was cruising the same seas as the Kutusoff in the years 1841-1845. ODHS #1906, Watercolor on paper, undated, 1921.1 Gift of Pemberton H. Nye
  13. 13. Port of Lahaina from the Panorama. Between July and December, 1843, one hundred and thirtynine American whaling vessels made port in Lahaina including the Kutusoff, Clifford Wayne, John and Edward, and Gratitude. Russell certainly witnessed this very scene and it may represent his experience.
  14. 14. “Ships Kutusoff and Factor Sperm Whaling off Lord Howe’s Island.” Watercolor on paper, Courtesy of MIT Museum, Hart Nautical Collection, SA 890. While on her 1841-1845 voyage, Kutusoff was whaling in the vicinity of Lord Howe’s Island January 12-17, 1843 and the Factor was whaling in the same waters. (Maury Abstracts, Reel 2, Vol. 15.) This painting is dated 1867, twenty-four years after Russell first saw it. Had Benjamin Russell kept a sketchbook while on his voyage, this scene is definitely a candidate for having been recorded in it.
  15. 15. “Unsuccessful – Taking Up the Boats.” Watercolor on paper, 1869. ODHS #1994.54. This painting , dated 1869 is perfectly representative of Russell’s mature style. It has a caption and is signed and dated. This particular example has a plaque on its frame reading: “Whale Ship ''Obed Mitchell'' of New Bedford, Mass. 1845 Came from Nantucket / Made One Voyage & then went to California & was lost off the coast of Oregon.” While the plaque is suggestive of much, it may not strictly represent the Obed Mitchell of New Bedford, purchased by Haskell & Randall in 1845. Rather, it may represent the Obed Mitchell of Nantucket ,1841-1845. The Kutusoff and the Obed Mitchell were cruising in the same waters around Tahiti in February and March of 1843. Had Russell sketched this scene in his sketchbook and painted it later he could easily have sold the painting to New Bedford interests when the vessel was added to the fleet.
  16. 16. “A View of Ships & Boats Engaged in Cutting in a Sperm Whale & Towing.” Watercolor on paper. ODHS #1903.3 This painting prefigures Russell’s later attempt in his 1870 print “Sperm Whaling with its Varieties,” (Boston, 1870 ), to synthesize many whaling activities into one scene. This watercolor appears to be of an early vintage of Russell’s work and may be among the earliest formal American paintings of sperm whaling. The detail in it, including the lookout’s use of a wig-wag guide stick on both vessels, the paint schemes of the whaleboats and the small cetacean flukes nailed to the tip of the bowsprit all offer fresh insights into the culture of Yankee whaling at this time. The vessel on the left flies an American flag. The vessel on the right is flying an unidentified national flag, possibly British. The whaleboat in the foreground as well as the small boat at far right each have painted bows suggesting that they are from either a British or Australian vessel. The ship Recovery of London was whaling off the coast of Western Australia in 1841-1842 and for a few days in December of 1841, the Clifford Wayne and the ship Averick of New Bedford were whaling in close proximity. Will all of its detail and pleasing composition, much of Russell’s mature style comes to the fore here. He includes a caption although the painting is undated.
  17. 17. This detail from the above painting shows a man on the lookout using a “wig-wag” to signal the boats.
  18. 18. Note the flukes of a dolphin, porpoise or other small cetacean attached to the tip of the bowsprit. Russell is the only artist of the period to document his detail. The exact significance of this detail remains unknown although some scholars believe that it indicated a vessel that was full and homeward bound. The British Arctic whalers had a similar tradition that was a garland mounted to the top of the mainmast.
  19. 19. Note that in this view the whaler has double-hawse pipes, a prominent feature on purpose-built whalers of the period, particularly useful when cutting-in whales as the heavy ropes or fluke chains could pass in a loop and be secured on deck.
  20. 20. “Sperm Whaling with its Varieties.” Boston: J.H. Bufford, 1870
  21. 21. “A ship on the Northwest Coast cutting in her last right whale. Same ship homeward bound.” Colored lithograph, 1848. “Designed by B. Russell, NewBedford. Lith by A. Mayer. Printed by Lemercier, Paris.” This particular copy of this print, Russell’s first commercial attempt at print making, has been customized to show the house flag of Abraham H. Howland drawn onto the mainmast. From all appearances, it was drawn by Russell himself. Abraham H. Howland owned one vessel, the ship Uncas of New Bedford that made six profitable voyages to the Northwest Coast between 1843 and 1847. It may be that Russell personalized Howland’s copy of the print to celebrate these profitable voyages by this one vessel.
  22. 22. The Northwest Coast featured prominently in Russell’s artworks (especially the Panorama), and probably in his own experience as well as he spent the whole summer of 1843 onboard the Kutusoff whaling in the region of Nootka Sound in the summer of 1843. (Maury Abstracts, Reel 2, Vol. 15). The Northwest Coast of North America whaling ground extended from Puget Sound to Kodiak Island. It saw fleets of American whalers from the late 1830s until the late 1850s pursuing North Pacific right whales, exceptionally dangerous animals to hunt in some of the most unpredictable and dangerous weather conditions anywhere. “Right Whaling in the Bering Straits with its Varieties.” Boston: J.H. Bufford, 1871
  23. 23. Russell’s paintings are often tied to his own experience or exhibit other clues relating to their possible provenance or history. For instance, he sometimes includes prominent house or signal flags indicating, perhaps, the patron for whom he was painting the picture.
  24. 24. In this 1854 view entitled “Ship Braganza Exchanging Signals,” Russell has painted the vessel flying the house flag of New Bedford merchant William G.E. Pope (1815-1869). He often gets something slightly wrong (by accident or design, who knows?) with his signal and house flags. In this case, the flag is a red cross on a white field when in actuality, the opposite was the case. Pope’s house flag had a white Maltese cross on a red field. NBWM #2001.100.4326, Kendall Collection, once owned by New Bedford merchant Captain Humphrey W. Seabury.
  25. 25. In 1853, these signals translate to the firm of “Richmond & Wood,” whose outward bound bark Alto crosses paths with the homeward bound Braganza in June of 1854.
  26. 26. Probably the bark Alto of New Bedford outward bound, June 1854
  27. 27. “Bark Ocean Steed Capt. Gilbert B. Borden. Cutting in a large sperm whale in the Gulf Stream in November 1869.” Watercolor on paper, NBWM, Kendall Collection, 2001.100.4405 In this scene, Russell captures an event described in the logbook of the Ocean Steed (KWM #684), where a large sperm whale was taken on October 31 but it took another week to cut it in and boil it out because the seas were so rough. While Russell never actually witnessed this exact scene he obviously brought his expertise to bear in recreating how it looked. While the Ocean Steed was registered in New York, master mariner Gilbert B. Borden lived in Acushnet at the Head of the River. He probably commissioned it to remember a particularly adventurous event in his career.
  28. 28. “Bark Oriole off Point Barrow Arctic Ocean,” Watercolor on paper, 1869. ODHS #1919.2. Robert B. Stratton, first mater of the bark Oriole of New Bedford, 1866-1870, may have commissioned this painting. His wife donated it to the ODHS in 1919 in his memory. The Oriole was built at Fairhaven in 1857 and painter William Bradford also painted a portrait of the vessel. Benjamin Russell never visited the Arctic, however, this painting represents the ultimate goal of a whaling voyage – the successful cutting-in (processing) of a large whale.
  29. 29. Russell’s work was very well-considered, and he, along with whaling master Charles Melville Scammon and New Bedford painter Charles Sydney Raleigh were chosen by the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries to illustrate the whaling history and methods volume of The Fishery and Fishery Industries of the United States, by George Browne Goode, Section V, History and Methods of the Fisheries (Washington, 1887). The above left engraving by H.W. Elliot is a detail directly derived from Russell’s 1848 lithograph, “A ship on the Northwest Coast cutting in her last right whale. Same ship homeward bound.” The engraving above right, while purported in the caption to have come “from a French lithograph designed by B. Russell,” appears in no such identified antecedent. It may have been drawn by Russell specifically for this volume.
  30. 30. "Ship Corinthian in tow of the ship George Howland in the Arctic Ocean“ Watercolor on paper, dated 1869. ODHS #1975.25. Crapo, Clifford & Clifford archive, NBWM #2010.33.1 “Destruction of Whaleships off Cape Thaddeus, Arctic Ocean, June 23,1865, By the Confederate Steamer Shenandoah.” Watercolor on paper, ODHS #1968.52. The above is one of two nearly exact copies. William W. Crapo donated one, ODHS#1909.1 in 1909. Crapo was a member of the New Bedford law firm, Crapo, Clifford and Clifford that handled the insurance case of the Milo’s claims against the Shenandoah. Frederick Hawes donated the above painting in 1965. Jonathan Hawes was master of the ship Milo of New Bedford, prominently featured at right, and the apinting came down through the family Russell’s skills as an artist were exceptionally useful in illustrating events. He created the two paintings above as supporting documentation for insurance claims in order to help underwriters to understand the complexities of the claims, much as photographs are used today. In each of these paintings whales are prominently shown not being chased and killed. These whales had monetary value and their loss was significant to the claimants, and often a part of the claim. The receipt at left indicates that he was paid $20.00 for such a painting, in this case, the collision of the Helen Mar and the Ontario.
  31. 31. This view of gamming whalers is unique in the whole pictorial history of Yankee whaling as Russell has included a woman in the picture. Captain’s wives sometime accompanied their husbands on shipboard but apart from portrait photographs there are almost no pictures of them. NBWM #1980.32
  32. 32. Apart from the Panorama itself, this 1849 broadside is one of the few remaining pieces of documentary primary source material. The front describes the places and scenes of the Panorama . On the back side are a series of glowing press notices.
  33. 33. Here Russell and Purrington have shown the ship William Hamilton outfitting in New Bedford harbor with the town in the background as it looked in the 1840s. Few views of the city and harbor capture its vitality at this important time in their history as well as this view does. Many of Russell’s hallmarks are present including identifiable house flags, double hawse pipes on the whaler, perfect renderings of sails and rigs and some other details such as small craft and the positions of vessels at the wharves.
  34. 34. With minimal evidence to support this proposition, it appears nonetheless that Russell and Purrington may have copied some of their Panorama imagery from published sources. The view at left shows a brig in heavy seas in the North Atlantic. The view above shows the brig William and Joseph just before capsizing as it appeared in a book illustration from 1842. Knowing that Russell owned a copy of Browne’s Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, it’s no great leap to suppose that he had access to other whaling stories as well.
  35. 35. Sperm whaling off the island of Juan Fernandez. This image of sperm whaling off the island of Juan Fernandez in the southeast Pacific is based upon the 1835 French aquatint print by Ambroise Louis Garneray, “Pêche du Cachalot.” (top right) Images like this one beg the question of Caleb Purrington’s involvement in the Panorama’s creation. Russell obviously had witnessed plenty of sperm whaling and he drew many original views of it. Had the two painters discussed the inclusion of a good “stove boat” scene, perhaps Garnerey’s image came to mind as a perfect model. Perhaps the print itself was of such importance to the story of sperm whaling that Russell wanted to include it. Herman Melville certainly did make reference to it in Moby-Dick
  36. 36. In this view from the Panorama, Russell has chosen to illustrate the mutiny on the ship Sharon of Fairhaven that took place on November 6, 1842, where three members of the crew, seasonal native laborers shipped at the Gilbert Islands, attacked and killed several fellow crew members including the captain, Howes N. Norris. This event took place due west of the Gilbert Islands near 2° North, 162° East. Afterwards, the crew regained control of the vessel and sailed for Sydney, Australia. Around the same time, between mid-October , 1842 and mid-March, 1843 Russell was onboard the Kutusoff cruising for whales on a passage between Western Australia and Tahiti. This event was well discussed among the American fleet at the time and Russell undoubtedly heard of it by March of 1843. In the above scene the crews of the whaleboats are shown negotiating with the three brown-skinned mutineers.
  37. 37. Watercolor by Benjamin Clough, Third Mate aboard the Sharon of Fairhaven at the time of the mutiny. Privately held.
  38. 38. More than almost any other New Bedford artist (William Bradford excepted), Russell’s work was very well considered by merchants, mariners, whalemen and the general public of the New Bedford community and no higher compliment could be paid his work than to have it hang in the offices and counting rooms of the local whaling agents.
  39. 39. Painting of the Gratitude in the office of whaling merchants Swift and Allen, ca. 1878-1893. Also in the background is a copy of the print “Sperm whaling with its varieties.” NBWM #2000.100.86.189
  40. 40. Russell’s painting of the Kutusoff hanging in the offices of New Bedford whaling agents Swift and Allen, circa 1878-1893. NBWM #2000.100.86.190 .