Friday, September 3, 2010

Gold to Lumber

A Pacific Legacy : A Century of Maritime Photography, 1850-1950 / Wayne Bonnett ; foreword by Robert A. Weinstein. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1991. 154 p., Illustrations, Bibliography and Index.

Lumber carrying steam schooners and barks with floating Edwardian bedrooms, p. 63; a German square-rigger, its violinist and drummers, other musicians and the cook who's about to pour a cordial, p. 60; Port Los Angeles, a wharf built in Santa Monica to serve the railroad industry before San Pedro became the port city, p. 51; a view of Terminal Island, about 1899, p. 48; and the 1944 set for the movie, "Two years Before the Mast" are just a few of the historical photographs in A Pacific Legacy. What is so compelling about these images lies in their clarity and sharpness, uncovering the maritime past in splendid detail.

The Time Line
Although indigenous peoples had travelled waterways close to the coast and ventured across the Pacific, perhaps 1400 years earlier, to populate islands they discovered, their seafaring skills were little understood by the European, Asian, and Russian explorers. And when Yankee Whaling ships appeared about 1795 at the "Sandwich Islands" (215 years ago!) to take part in whaling and trading skins, meat and oil, their role in maritime history would be relatively short-lived, as author Wayne Bonnett indicates:

"... a thousand year history of ocean commerce and sailing ships was nearing its end. The final flourishes of the American age of sailwere the clipper ships, down easters and finally the big five and six-masted schooners at the beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries." p. 25

The seven chapters organized for viewing are selected from a collection of photographs from the Museum Archives of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park , and each chapter is headed by a discussion about the images, such as “Sail and Steam”, “Pacific Coast Ports”, “The Lumber Empire”, etc. Photographs are supported by captions and dates, photographer’s name if known.

Images in A Pacific Legacy show us something of seaport life from the 1850s well into the twentieth century: merchant ships underway or in home ports, shipwrecked sailing vessels, vessel and material goods towage, and portrayals of crew members, passengers, captains, and tourists dressed to meet a ship, or launch it, proudly wearing their best style of the day. Early photographers found excellent subjects in sailing ships and seafaring life, albeit close to home. In fact, maritime histories written about nineteenth and twentieth century ships are often less interesting without photographic illustrations of vessels. Visual representation was the single source used to identify a ship, especially when facts alone, or radio signal, or satellite equipment was not yet invented.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available in circulation for Museum members. See the book A Pacific Legacy: A Century of Maritime Photography 1850-1950 by Wayne Bonnett, forward by Robert A. Weinstein and other photographic accounts of the age of sail in our online catalog.

Merchant ships: see expertly built models at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Archives and special collections are available to the public at the National Archives, Pacific Region.