Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On Display in the State Library

From August 30 to September 30, the State Library is exhibiting a broadside from Special Collections, titled “Shipwreck! A memorial account of the unfortunate and distressing catastrophe of Capt. Samuel Soper and his crew, of the Brig Ardent.” The broadside commemorates the September 28, 1823 wreck of the whaling ship Ardent.

The Ardent was based out of Provincetown, Massachusetts, which was one of the leading ports for the whaling industry, as well as home to Captain Soper and many of his 13 man crew.  While on its return from a successful expedition, the Ardent was caught in a severe hurricane. Three crewmen were washed overboard and the ship took on significant water and damage to its masts. Though it righted itself and did not sink, the ship remained adrift at sea for 26 days, during which many of its crew members died from starvation, dehydration, and exposure. In an account of the wreck in Provincetown, author Herman Atwell Jennings wrote, “the British packet Lord Sidmouth, bound for Falmouth, England, sighted the wreck and took off the sufferes, who could not have lived but for a short time longer.” Only five men still survived when they were picked up by the Lord Sidmouth, and one man died shortly after being saved from the wreck. The four remaining survivors then traveled with the crew of the Lord Sidmouth on to England before returning back home to Massachusetts. Among the survivors was Capt. Soper, who continued in the whaling industry and died on December 8, 1860 in Provincetown.

This dramatic wreck of the Ardent led writer Seth T. Hurd to pen a “memorial account” of the disaster. The broadside includes a narrative of the wreck, followed by Hurd’s “poetical reflections” of the event. The poem uses strong and emotional language to convey the full tragedy of the Ardent and its crew – it progresses from the calm before the storm, to the wreck, aftermath, and rescue. Near the end of the poem Hurd provides closure when he writes, “Ye mourners of the fated crew! O may we all lament with you; and o may virtue be our guide, whatever storms through life betide.”

The broadside on display in the library was likely printed in 1873, on the 50th anniversary of the wreck. The State Library received it as a gift to the collection in January 1942. Prior to going on exhibit, some adhesive tape was removed from the back of the broadside and creases and tears were repaired and reinforced with thin Japanese paper and wheat paste.

Visit us this month to examine the commemorative broadside in person, or access it through DSpace, our digital repository!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian