THOMAS M. M. HEMY (1852-1937) - PAGE 27
THE U. S. S. KEARSARGE
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As I have said elsewhere in these pages, my purpose is to assemble data about Thomas M. M. Hemy, the artist. He spent time on the Kearsarge, the famous U.S. vessel that sank the Alabama off Cherbourg, France, on Jun. 19, 1864. But he was not on board the Kearsarge during that engagement, & joined the ship at Callao, the port of Lima, Peru, rather later. In the 1868/9 period, it would seem. While this page will provide text from the artist's book, "Deep Sea Days", related to the Kearsarge, my purpose is really to set the stage for the two drawings of the Kearsarge contained in his book. (Those images are below) This page is not therefore really about the Kearsarge/Alabama fight in any detail. But this page & following pages are!
Before I place anything further on this page, I should share my confusion with you as to the correct name of the ship. I am not a historian but precision in words is, I believe, important. I must state therefore that so far as I can see, the name of the ship was correctly the "Kearsarge" i.e. with an 'r' and definitely NOT the "Kearsage" without the 'r'. Now I cannot explain how Thomas would spell the name of the vessel incorrectly when he served on her for so very long. And it was such a famous ship! But he is not alone. There would seem to be a great many references on the WWW to the name with the incorrect spelling. Where I quote below from the artist's book, I have quoted his exact words as they were published.
Why do I say this? After writing above that this page is not really about the Kearsarge/Alabama fight, I thought I would see what data is available on the WWW on the whole subject. There is, I learn, lots of data, a great many images, contemporary reports by the captains of both vessels & lots, lots more. Those sites make it clear that the ship was indeed the "Kearsarge". I will try, in due course, to state in a few paragraphs what happened that day in 1864 & provide links to the sites that you might find to be of the greatest interest should you wish still more information. The first such page is here.
To return to the artist ...
Thomas had joined the Golden Gate in San Francisco on a voyage to the Chicha Islands to load guano, it would seem. The crew of the Golden Gate was treated cruelly & Thomas left the ship in Callao as did many other crew members. When the Kearsarge arrived, looking for fresh hands to replace those lost by desertion, Thomas joined as "Henry Edwards, born at Baltimore". To join the ship one had to be a native of the United States or a naturalised U.S. citizen. A trifle like the truth was not permitted to interfere & the ship was manned by 'nearly every nation of the world'.
The ship spent many months at Callao, & the artist kept himself occupied as he explains:
Whilst passing those dreary months at Callao on the Kearsage, I found an occupation that relieved the deadly monotony of existence; I took up the gentle art of "scrimshawing," i.e. engraving on highly polished whale's teeth. It was very simple; with a sharp knife - or, if you could get it, a lancet was preferable - fixed firmly in a wooden handle, you cut in your lines, with extra pressure for any deep shading that was desired. It was exactly like dry-point etching, except you had no dark ground to work on in the case of scrimshawing. The results were seen only after completion, when Indian ink was rubbed into the "cuts." Without doubt it is an entracing art, though requiring great patience. After much practice I could copy a portrait from a "daguerreotype," and even a full-length figure, carte-de-visite size, so that they were not only recognisable, but good facsimiles. I never earned any cash though through my efforts; the only return I remember receiving for my work was some vile language from a man, after I had spent a week doing something for him, as I had lost a tool he had lent me, which was worth quite four cents!
Much fame came my way, however, as I copied some of the officers' photographs - ladies mostly - for them, and whenever we had visitors on board my works of art used to be trotted out.
Selected text re the Kearsarge:
The fight took place off Cherbourg on June 19, 1864, and it lasted some minutes. The Kearsage could outsteam and outrange the Alabama and with her two great guns, 200-pounder Dahlgren swivel guns, could pound her well.
The Kearsage was a fine-looking craft of the period, barque-rigged, with auxiliary steam power. When she was first built she could do her sixteen knots under steam, a great speed in those days. What she could do at the time I joined her I found out later, for during the months she lay at Callao she was only out two or three times for gun practice and went and returned under sail.
She had been constructed, I understood, solely to deal with the Alabama, and everything had been sacrificed to this purpose; hence her enormous armament and shallow draught. The bunkers had been arranged to protect the boilers, and coaling in consequence was heavy work; and other matters of external and internal fittings had been designed to this end.
We then discovered the truth of the report that since the Civil War the strictest economy in naval matters had been in practice, for we were almost out of fire bars to replace those that were burnt out, which meant for us the drawing of ashes or mostly partly burnt coal all day long. It was a most difficult task to get up steam, and the conditions under which we worked were terrible in the extreme. The boilers leaked badly, and the bunkers were full of steam, with inches of hot water on the floors. Some of these bunkers were about six feet square, and amidst the steam and hot water in one or two of these, we would stand on lumps of coal, shovelling it through a sliding door, in the knowledge that if the coal slithered down the doorway would be blocked, and that if the bunker plate on deck was not removed you would have three different ways of passing to glory. When a bunker plate was removed steam would pour out as if from a funnel - and we were in the tropics! The men on deck were lying in the shade under the forecastle to get out of the blazing sunlight, and away from the hot deck; we, of the black brigade, would occasionally manage to stagger up for a breath of air, then stumble forward and fall gasping for a few brief minutes; the furnaces, with their burnt-out fire-bars, devoured the coals ravenously, and if we did not keep the stokers supplied quickly enough there would be no steam, while there was the cursed, everlasting hoisting of ashes. The formerly famed flyer could do no more than get up four knots, or at the most, five, with a great effort.
The Kearsarge made its way to Honolulu & thence to San Francisco where they were 'serenaded and in good style, for they brought off glee singers who coughed, grunted and squealed in the way usual to glee singers. Then appeared a huge raft with a whole orchestra, with big drum, bassoon and bass violin complete. It was famous, and we again lifted up our voices and chortled in retaliation.'
In San Francisco, Thomas joined a barque (not named) bound for England via Waterford in Ireland. That lead into the chapter that you can read in its entirety on this page, i.e. his shipwreck on the west coast of England.
The two Kearsarge illustrations that appear in his book are below. One would not think that they come from the same book. But they do! The one at right shows that orchestra on the raft in San Francisco.
And here is a photo image of the Kearsarge. It would seem to have originated in a book 'The Famous Cruise of the Kearsarge' by H. (Henry) S. Hobson, published in 1893. Entirely in verse, or so I understand.
Now I did receive a kind message from 'MFolvi' who advised me that Henry S. Hobson, the author of 'The Famous Cruise of the Kearsarge' was her great-grandfather. "I was told he (Henry Hobson) was a very patriotic man who loved his adopted country. He would go into the local schools in the town of Palmer, MA, where he lived and speak to the school children about his experiences during the civil war." How very interesting.
And at left is an image of Henry Hobson, from the book. A distinguished looking gentleman indeed!
From time to time copies of the Hobson book come up for sale via e-Bay & a copy in good condition sold in Apr. 2004 for U.S. $9.95. The major part of the composite image below is from that source. The vendor indicated the book (167 pages) was published in 1894 by the author at Bonds Village, Mass., & copyrighted by the author in 1893.
I have now, in late May 2006, heard from Keith M. English of Norfolk, Virginia, who advises me that he is the son of Priscilla F. (nee Hobson) English, & is a great-grandson of Henry S. Hobson. And advises also that 'MFolvi', referred to above, is Marcia, Keith's sister. Anyway Keith kindly gave me some biographical data about Henry S. Hobson which I am most happy to provide here:-
Henry S. Hobson (1841-1923) was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England and was a baby when he was landed at Boston, Massachusetts on August 2, 1842. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in October 1861 and in 1862 was assigned to the Marine Detachment aboard the Kearsarge. He loved being a Marine, and had a great affection for both his shipmates and his vessel the USS Kearsarge. Henry settled in Bonds Village (Now Bondsville, part of Palmer, Massachusetts), and worked as a supervisor at the Boston Duck Works (a fabric manufacturer). In later years, he wrote the book, 'The Famous Cruise of the Kearsarge' and along with Sgt. Austin Quimby (also a Marine) co-presided over the USS Kearsarge Survivors Association which met annually on the anniversary of the sinking of the CSS Alabama. Surviving members of the ship's company were heartbroken at the news that their ship had been wrecked on Roncador Reef, off the coast of Nicaragua. He passed away, at age 82, on March 23, 1923 - one of the last survivors of the original Kearsarge.
Keith, we thank you!
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