Why would anyone go to sea in the19th century?
When one reads anything about the subject, this question comes quickly to mind.
And, even now, when those days are long past, many people love to hear about them.
Pottersfield Press of Lawrencetown, N.S., has recently published two books on the subject, one of outstanding interest.
The titles of the books are High Spots, subtitled The Seagoing Memoirs of Captain James Wilbur Johnston ($19.95), and Shipwrecks and Sailors of Prince Edward Island by Robert C. Parsons ($21.95).
High Spots was written about 1930 by Captain Johnston, who at that time was 76, for his children and grandchildren.
The book was almost lost over the years; finally, a few years ago, a copy was donated to the Colchester County Museum and Archives in Truro. So well-written and lively was the narrative that it was decided to publish it “as is.”
Johnston's story is indeed enjoyable and easy to read. It’s told in such a conversational way one can almost hear the old man talking.
First going to sea at the age of about 14, he finally came ashore in 1887, married his childhood sweetheart and emigrated to the United States.
There, his life went on as a further series of adventures — unfortunately not the basis of another memoir — until he died in California in 1945.
If you enjoy reading true tales of the sea, you will love this book; you will also probably really like Johnston.
The book should be widely distributed across Canada and the United States. And Bruce Graham and Dick Akerman, who wrote the introduction and the afterword respectively, are to be congratulated.
Shipwrecks and Sailors of Prince Edward Island is best described as a mini-encyclopedia. Starting in the late 18th century, and continuing throughout the 19th century, it’s a catalogue of wrecks. For some of them, many details are known, while simply the name, usually the captain and sometimes the owner are all that is recorded about others.
This is not, therefore, a book one sits down and reads. Rather, one browses or look s up specific things.
The amount and extent of research Parsons has done are impressive; we have only noted two glaring mistakes, having to do with Tignish.
Every historian or amateur student of local history will find something to interest and often to surprise them in this book.
Parsons has already compiled similar books for Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. He mentions another volume about Island wrecks in the 20th century; it's to be hoped he will realize it.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at 111 Sydney St., Apt. 17, Saint John, N.B., E2L 2L8, or call her at 506-693-5498.