Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

The Provenance of Watson's Log

The University of Pennsylvania acquired Joseph Watson’s log of the Clarence in 2011 from Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts in Vancouver.  Presumably that dealer had purchased the volume in a 2010 auction conducted by Bonham’s.  Interestingly, this was an auction of art, and our log was merely something that came with the actual item of the lot, a painting of one of Joseph Watson’s other commands, the Prince of Wales. A representative of Bonham’s passed our contact information along to the seller, but we did not hear from them.  Thus, we have been frustrated in seeking to track the log’s journey from Watson to Penn.
We know of one person who did have at least temporary possession of our log in the late 1920s or early 1930s – the famed maritime historian Basil Lubbock. Lubbock published over a dozen volumes between the 1910s and 1930s and was known, per one contemporary reviewer, as “the historian par excellence of the commercial sailing ship”. Lubbock’s 1922 volume The Blackwall Frigates refers to the Clarence (more on which here), and provides its sail plan, though without identifying of particular sources. In its review of the book, the Times characterized it as “an album of diagrams and portraits, extracts from old logs, and a general cargo from the ransacking of the records of decayed sail-lofts and shipbuilders’ yards, and the private papers treasured by families which once owned famous house flags.” This is indeed representative of Lubbock’s style and method.

Lubbock’s subsequent book, Coolie Ships & Oil Sailers (1935), quotes directly from the 1864-65 log kept by Joseph Watson, giving its account of the Clarence’s encounter with a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. Given that, by his own admission, Lubbock “could never resist recording a good account of a cyclone”, it seems that he gained access to the log only after publishing The Blackwall Frigates. Further traces of the Clarence are not to be found in Lubbock’s papers housed at the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. We can only guess that at some point in the late 1920s or early 1930s, whoever then possessed Watson’s log shared it with Lubbock for a time, part of his extensive network of maritime informants and correspondents.

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