AMBASSADOR TO THE PENGUINS: A Naturalist's Year Aboard a Yankee Whaleship

Eleanor Mathews, Author . Godine $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-56792-246-2

From July 1912 to May 1913, the young naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy sailed on one of the last Yankee whale ships to South Georgia, at the edge of the Antarctic—penguin territory. His mission was to gather information and specimens of wildlife for the American Museum of Natural History, but in addition to his scientific records, he kept for his wife a personal account of the trip, which was published in 1947 as Logbook for Grace . In this enjoyable and informative book, Mathews, his granddaughter, has rewritten this logbook in the third person, rounding out Murphy's notes with previously unpublished details and adding photographs he made and developed himself during the voyage. Murphy described the birds and sea life he encountered and presented a vivid picture of life aboard the whaler: the irascible captain, the rowdy sailors, the terrible food and inadequate medical supplies, the constant battle with rats and cockroaches, and the grisly business of killing whales and elephant seals and reducing their blubber to oil. Especially touching are the passages Mathews quotes in which her grandfather expresses his longing for his wife, left behind after only a few months of marriage. As all the quotations from the logbook attest, Murphy was an accomplished writer with a fine-tuned sense of humor. Mathews, a cartographer, graphic designer, software developer and writer, does an admirable job of reworking his impressive account of his voyage. Her handsome book is a fitting tribute to a man who went on to become one of this country's most distinguished naturalists and environmentalists. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
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