Welcome to the NavList Message Boards.


A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

Compose Your Message

Add Images & Files
    Re: More on Thomas Hubbard Sumner
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2005 Feb 8, 10:16 -0400

    On your page, you have:
    "Sumner was born in Boston on March 20,1807 [...]  He was the son of
    architect Thomas Waldron Sumner [...]  He entered Harvard at the young
    age of 15, studied advanced mathematics and astronomy under Professor
    John Farrar, and graduated in 1826 with a Bachelor of Arts at age 19.
    That year he ran off with a woman. He married her, but they divorced 3
    years later.  He then shipped out as a common sailor on the China trade,
    rising to captain in 8 years."
    I wonder. It would have been unthinkable for a graduate of Oxford or
    Cambridge to ship as a common seaman in that era. [It would have been
    unthinkable for any British merchant ship owner to take university
    graduates as trainee officers, on anything like a regular basis, until
    almost the very end. When I graduated, in 1977, there was one shipping
    company recruiting graduates as cadets but even that was very odd for
    the industry. To the best of my knowledge, the first educated man to
    sail before the mast in a British merchant ship was Basil Lubbock, not
    long before 1900, and that was very aberrant behaviour for his time.]
    Granted that Harvard College in 1826 had not yet earned a reputation to
    rival the older English universities, while Sumner studied there at an
    age closer to modern high school than university. Still, it is all a bit
    Was Sumner disgraced by his divorce, so that he had to leave polite
    Boston society? He might then have dropped to the social nadir of a
    forecastle berth, only to work his way back by means of earning a place
    on the quarterdeck. In that case, we have his marital problems to thank
    for putting a trained mathematician and astronomer into a position to
    discover the celestial LOP.
    Or did he actually ship out with the functional role of apprentice, or
    perhaps supercargo, albeit with a rating on paper of "seaman"? (I do not
    know when, if ever, New England merchant vessels started carrying
    apprentices as a distinct rating. I think it came a lot later than 1830
    in British practice though it was well established by the 1890s.) That
    would still not be something that an Oxford graduate would have done but
    it seems that the New England merchant community sent its sons to sea to
    learn that side of the business before they took over their fathers'
    operations in Boston. (I have never seen a study of that practice but I
    have seen various reports that are consistent with it.) Sumner was not a
    scion of a merchant house but he may have come from a social group in
    which training as a master mariner was considered appropriate for an
    educated young man, and he may have shipped out to China with the
    expectation that he was on track to a captain's berth (even though he
    started in the forecastle like everyone else).
    If the latter is what really happened, we ultimately owe the Celestial
    LOP to the socially-mobile society of New England, where a man could
    train his mind and yet still make a living by getting his hands dirty on
    a merchant sailing ship -- which would have been unthinkable in
    contemporary Old England.
    Trevor Kenchington
    Jim Thompson wrote:
    > I added Richardson's biographical information on Sumner to:
    > http://jimthompson.net/boating/CelestialNav/SumnerTrip.htm
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

    Browse Files

    Drop Files


    What is NavList?

    Join NavList

    (please, no nicknames or handles)
    Do you want to receive all group messages by email?
    Yes No

    You can also join by posting. Your first on-topic post automatically makes you a member.

    Posting Code

    Enter the email address associated with your NavList messages. Your posting code will be emailed to you immediately.

    Email Settings

    Posting Code:

    Custom Index

    Start date: (yyyymm dd)
    End date: (yyyymm dd)

    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site
    Visit this site