Be­fore In­sta­gram and Go­pros, a note­book was the only way to record an ad­ven­ture

The Scotsman - - FINAL WORDS - Roger­cox @ out­doorscots The Sea Jour­nal: Sea­far­ers’ Sketch­books, by Huw Lewis- Jones is pub­lished by Thames & Hud­son

For as long as hu­mans have been ad­ven­tur­ing, it seems, we have had an in­nate de­sire to com­mu­ni­cate our ex­pe­ri­ences to oth­ers when we re­turn home. “We would not take a sea voy­age in or­der never to talk of it,” wrote the French math­e­ma­ti­cian and sci­en­tist Blaise Pas­cal in 1669, “and for the sole plea­sure of see­ing with­out hope of ever com­mu­ni­cat­ing.” Th­ese days, of course, there’s a whole chunk of the tech in­dus­try which caters to mod­ern- day ad­ven­tures wish­ing to share their ex­ploits with the world: from gad­gets like Go­pro cam­eras and selfie sticks right through to plat­forms like Facebook, Twit­ter, and In­sta­gram, the denizens of Sil­i­con Valley are labour­ing night and day to en­sure that no heroic gap year bungee jump need ever go un­recorded again. In the past, how­ever, men and women jour­ney­ing to far- off lands had to re­sort to sim­pler means to record the things they saw, thought and felt, and in many cases the medium they chose was the hum­ble note­book or sketch­book: por­ta­ble, more- or­less in­de­struc­tible ( as long as you’re able to keep it dry) and in­fin­itely adapt­able. And as demon­strated by The Sea Jour­nal: Sea­far­ers’ Sketch­books, a new book edited by Huw Lewis- Jones, pa­per and ink has an­other sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage over the tech toys of to­day: it en­cour­ages the user to con­cen­trate on the things they see around them, rather than con­stantly putting them­selves at the cen­tre of the story.

As its sub­ti­tle sug­gests, The Sea Jour­nal con­sists of ex­tracts from the note­books, sketch­books and other small- scale pa­per records that sea­far­ers have kept over the cen­turies, and the work of each sailor or ad­ven­turer is pre­ceded with a brief schol­arly introducti­on. Some of the names will be fa­mil­iar – Wil­liam Bligh, Fran­cis Drake, Vasco da Gama,

Ho­ra­tio Nel­son – but most of the mariners fea­tured here will be new to most peo­ple.

In his introducti­on, Lewis- Jones notes that, as early as the 16th cen­tury, ships’ of­fi­cers were be­ing en­cour­aged to get their ex­pe­ri­ences down on pa­per. “Take with you pa­per and ynke,” one anony­mous English sailor ad­vised an­other in the 1580s, “and keep a con­tin­u­all jour­nal... that it may be shewed and read at your re­turne.” The ways in which this record­ing has been done, how­ever, are as di­verse as the peo­ple do­ing the record­ing.

A few of the sea­far­ers fea­tured here were pro­fes­sional artists, and their work is pre­dictably good: Joseph Turner, it turns out, was quite the dab hand at paint­ing seascapes. Who knew? More in­ter­est­ing, though, ( ar­guably) are the sketches made by peo­ple with no se­ri­ous artis­tic as­pi­ra­tions.

Take for ex­am­ple Tu­paia ( 17251770), a Poly­ne­sian nav­i­ga­tor who, in 1769, found him­self as­sist­ing the English botanist Joseph Banks in col­lect­ing plant spec­i­mens in Tahiti, and who sub­se­quently joined Banks and Cap­tain Cook on board the En­deav­our. His in­tri­cate sketch map of the So­ci­ety Is­lands shows just what an as­set he must have been to Cook and his crew dur­ing their voy­age, while his draw­ing of Banks bar­ter­ing for a cray­fish in New Zealand in 1796 sug­gests he may have had a sly, wry sense of hu­mour ( both Banks and the New Zealan­der look more than a lit­tle un­sure of them­selves.)

Sim­i­larly en­ter­tain­ing are the draw­ings of Ge­org Müller ( 1646- 1723), an ap­pren­tice gun­smith from Al­sace who left home at 14 to travel the world and ended up sail­ing for Java with the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany. Dur­ing his 12 years at sea, he drew many of the won­der­ful new crea­tures he saw ( in­clud­ing a puffer fish with a very hu­man- look­ing face) as well as fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures copied from books he’d read – among them a very scaly mer­man and an ec­cen­tric-look­ing half- tiger, half- ele­phant.

In a lav­ishly- il­lus­trated book like this, im­ages will al­ways have more im­pact than the writ­ten word, but there are still one or two jour­nal en­tries that cause a shiver: Frances Chich­ester’s log­book from his 1966 round- the- world voy­age on Gypsy Moth IV (“Hot news! Passed half way to­day...”) and Wil­liam Bligh’s neatly writ­ten de­scrip­tions of some of the men who had led the mutiny against him on board the Bounty, jot­ted down af­ter he had been set adrift in an open boat with 19 men and noth­ing but bread, water and rum.

Lewis- Jones’s book has ev­ery­thing from il­lus­trated ac­counts of whal­ing voy­ages and naval bat­tles to de­pic­tions of Kamtchatka­n kayak­ers and flu­o­res­cent sea slugs. As far as I can see, though, it only con­tains a sin­gle self- por­trait. n

The hum­ble note­book is por­ta­ble, more- or­less in­de­struc­tible and in­fin­itely adapt­able

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