Illustration from The Mysteries of the ocean. Translated, edited and enlarged from the French of Arthur Mangin, by the translator of “The Bird”. With 130 illustrations by W. Freeman and J. Noel. London : T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row ; Edinburgh and New York, 1868.
From the ice to the tropics : rare books in the Museum Research Library
Our Library has a rare book section? Yes, it does---with topics like the Panama Canal, maritime policy and theory, voyages, the seafaring life, etc. our rare books offer an armchair traveller's escape, but also a keen observation of journalism of the times. These books exemplify the culture and beliefs of audiences eager for new knowledge in scientific theory, political theory, historical fact and literature.
Fishing, Exploration, and Trade in Oil.
Fish and oil were popular commodities in the 18th and 19th centuries taken in quantities from the ocean to fulfill perceived needs. Costs were absorbed by the enterprises that funded the then politically-correct term, expeditions. Even then, controversy over exploiting natural resources was seen as a topic worthy of discussion.
Mysteries of the Ocean, an encyclopedic history, covers from ancient times until the middle of the 19th century. One of its main points tells how the oceans, habitat for the world’s water-loving plants and animals, were exploited by the Dutch and the English for all the whaling and fishing they could sell in Europe.
The book is composed of four sections that concentrate on ocean-related topics: The History of the Ocean, The Phenomena of the Ocean, The Marine World, and Man and the Ocean. The first three sections emphasize the scientific point of view, while the last identifies the contribution humans have made to evolution.
Man and the Ocean not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries both abused and speculated on the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.
When the fisheries found whaling to be less profitable due to many factors, next, seals and walruses were hunted. The tusks of walruses, their oil and teeth were all valuable and were fished once whaling was seen as too costly in terms of human life and ships. The author says, “… A tooth of average size weighs three pounds, and an ordinary walrus furnishes half a ton of oil… “ p. 439-440.
Man and the Ocean, the last chapter, is a commentary that not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries speculated on and then abused the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.
Stunningly, there are parallels today with the world of 150 to almost 200 years ago. Today’s topics of concern in conservation and ecology, in economics, and social history of gathering food were controversial over 130 years ago.