Thursday, February 20, 2014

Slave or Free in the Age of Liberty

Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. / Greg Grandin. Published by Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014.

Weaving together two seemingly disparate sources of historical evidence, from archives with that from literature and social commentary, the book describes a history of slavery in Latin America from the point of view of the "Alabaster-skinned New Englander", Amasas Delano, from the family of the future American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The aftermath of a revolt aboard the slave ship Tryal off the coast of Chile leaves only its master, no crew, and only the cargo of slaves aboard. Ship master Delano in passing by had noticed its distress and went to its aid with food and water. Not a slave trader but a professed anti-slaver and seal hunter, Delano boards the Tryal, offering provisions he judged would be helpful. It is later that he learns of the uprising and then paradoxically turns on the rebels, obliterating the aims of their mutiny and his philanthropic gesture.

The complexity of an economic and social system is described through the writer’s ruse, showing how it played out from the point of view of an outsider. Grandin makes use of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, a little-known novel published about 1850, about the mutinied captain of the Tryal, as well as accounts in Delano’s biographical A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, published in 1817.

Slavery in South America pre-dated slavery in the United States by almost 200 years; it was common for Spanish mercenaries to bring slaves to the Americas since the 1540s. See page 7, Introduction.

See more books from the collections of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library online in the catalog at

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A French captain in California, 1826-1827

A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands, and Around the World in the Years 1826-1829 / August Duhaut-Cilly; Translated and Edited by August Fruge & Neal Harlow. Published by University of California Press, 1999, c1997.

Duhaut-Cilly's journal first came to my attention in January when an exchange between a researcher and a well-informed historian of ship-wrecks pointed out that the book, A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands, and Around the World in the Years 1826-1829, held some details about a ship, the Teinmouth, which had foundered off the coast of Baja California in 1826.

As described by the publisher, the value of a diary is far-reaching, as Duhaut-Cilly's accounts cover his journeys in detail revealing the lives of California missionaries and their subjects of the period.

In Duhaut-Cilly's times and for not long afterward, California missions operated as religious communities as they had for about two hundred years. When Duhaut-Cilly sailed back to France in 1829, the missions were reduced to military outposts or secularized at the behest of the Mexican government. Until then foreign visitors were treated with respect when some advantage was apparent. A fellow Catholic, and as a speaker of their language, Duhaut-Cilly was welcomed for news he might have of Spain or France, the internet of the day being the chance meeting or available companionship of fellow citizens. He was not only adept at sea but also with the great range of peoples and cultures encountered in the Americas and islands of the Pacific. The merchant-captain seemed to be masterful with his ability to speak three languages, French, English and Spanish and to qualify with words and illustration the features of life in early California. This may have increased his personal value to the padres in the two years spent in the Californias (Alta and Baja) but couldn't resolve their lack of interest in goods he attempted to trade before continuing on his journey to Hawai’i (the Sandwich Islands). Perhaps this was because fate dealt him a business partner who swindled him out of his chance of becoming rich, by secretly sending out a ship on a similar journey to reach Hawai'i ahead of him; it was after his California adventures that he finally reached China by way of Hawai’i, trading in sandalwood and furs before returning to France.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Challenging the Deep: Thirty Years of Undersea Adventure / Hans Hass. Published in 1973 by William Morrow and Company, New York.

The book-jacket says it all: how Hass was a pioneer scuba diver, innovative photographer and biologist who spent a few decades pursuing a quest underwater to uncover the secrets of life. At last a realization came that answers to his quest were to be found on land as well and he withdrew from undersea adventures to examine the evidence of how animals live on land.

Challenging the Deep contains color and black and white photography of sharks, coral, strikingly colorful tropical fish and portraits of himself, scientists who worked with him, and a few of his family, including Lotte his wife, son and daughter.

Translated by Ewald Osers, this biography of Hass, reveals what he thought about what he saw underwater. His was an inquiring nature; in describing an encounter with a sperm whale, he says (page 193):

"Without an eye an animal is not animal… Even when an animal attacks us we look not at its mouth or its paws but at its eyes.

The eyes of the sperm whale are quite minute and are located ten to thirteen feel down the side of its head. With them the sperm whale can see a short distance to either side of it, but cannot see what lies ahead… How then does the sperm whale orientate itself when it perceives two totally different images?"

Find the book in our online catalog at

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hans Hass, biologist and photographer

On the cover of “The Journal of Diving History” for the Summer 2013 issue is a portrait of Hans Hass, an Austrian zoologist and visionary scuba diver, who died last June.

Collections of Hass’s photographs were published as art books, showcasing the work he had accomplished as an underwater photographer. He made still and motion pictures, and used a Zeiss 16mm Movicon camera to make documentary films. His main contributions to the biology of marine life in the Red and Caribbean Seas were achieved in part with camera equipment and waterproof housing specially designed by Hass, later called the Rolleimarin system.

For about a decade there were underwater film festivals in the United States, with the first in Hollywood from 1957-1962 and in other cities after that. Dr. Hass received recognition in 1959, two years after Jacques Cousteau; he later received an award from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences.

Interestingly, his work did not stop with underwater photography but continued in the field of biology. In his model, all life was interconnected and on this philosophy he formulated “Energon Theory” which covered the evolution of inanimate objects as well as humans.

Professor Hass wrote more than 30 books on his dive findings, featuring his studies of marine mammals; he made documentary films, some becoming internationally acknowledged. One of his films was shown in 1952 to American audiences. “Under the Red Sea” captured the adventures of diving and was meant to be documentary in nature. In Great Britain his documentaries Diving to Adventure became a television series. His aim was to bring the scientific point of view forward to educate the public, introducing underwater biology.

To read the full article in The Journal of Diving History, "Remembering Hans Hass, the Pioneer of Pioneers" by Leslie Leaney, contact the Historical Diving Society.

For reference questions, please contact the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library.