Nimrod Headington Journal, 1852, part 5

Today, the fifth in a series of blog posts, the transcription the 1852 journal of Nimrod Headington, my fourth great-granduncle. [1]

Nimrod Headington (1827-1913)

Nimrod Headington (1827-1913), at the age of 24, set sail from New York in February 1852, bound for San Francisco, California, to join the gold rush. The Panama Canal had not been built at that time and he sailed around the tip of South America to reach the California coast.    

Nimrod Headington kept a diary of his 1852 journey and in 1905 he made a hand-written copy for his daughter Thetis O. Tate. This hand-written copy was eventually passed down to Nimrod’s great-great-granddaughter, Karen (Liffring) Hill (1955-2010). Karen was a book editor and during the last two years of her life she transcribed Nimrod’s journal.

Nimrod’s journal, “Trip to California,” documents his travels between February of 1852 and spring of 1853.

Today’s installment begins on 10 April 1852, as they sailed toward The Cape, Cape Horn. Their ship had left the port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the evening before.


The next day, we had fair winds and fair weather. We headed southwest by west and were running 10 knots an hour. Several of the passengers were sick. The wind continued about the same. The next day was Sunday, and a shark was seen following our ship. An old sailor whose turn it was to be at the helm that day looked back and saw the shark, and he said, “Look out, boys. Some of us will go overboard before 24 hours, sure enough.” Before the sun set, a man named Richard Frome died and was buried. The next morning at four o’clock. Another man, Andrew Loots, died.

April 13th. Very high winds and rough seas. So much so that the captain said at noon when he was taking the sun’s altitude that it was the heaviest sea that he ever had seen. The next day, the wind and sea ran down, and it was almost a calm. We caught an albatross, a very large bird. It measured twelve feet from tip to tip. They have very large feet but cannot walk. They live principally on the sea and subsist upon small fish and the crumbs from ships. Again the shark appears after our ship. The next day two men died, one by the name of Jessie Morgan of Staten Island and a man named Pickett from the state of Maine. The next day, it was quite calm all day. There were several sick, but none considered dangerous. We were in better heart and hoped that we would not have to bury any more of our fellow passengers in the sea. We were is latitude 30°20’ south. The next day we had fair winds. We headed south by west in latitude 34°40’. We came opposite the Lapatta river [Rio de la Plata], where sailors have to look out for squalls and hard storms. This place is about two hundred miles wide and a very stiff current. We were fortunate in getting through it without encountering any storms. The next day, it rained all day and night so that we had to stay below, and we suffered for want of ventilation.  

Monday, April 16th. The rain ceased, and it cleared off again, and we had fine winds and running 13 knots an hour. 

April 17th. Running at same rate per mile, or knot. We are now in latitude 40°25’, longitude 31°11’. 

April 21st. This morning it is very pleasant. The sailors are engaged in lashing all the casks and barrels to the deck. At 4 p.m. a severe gale came up and blew very hard all night. We were in latitude 43°14’, longitude 32°2’. The next morning, the wind was still blowing very hard, Two of the sailors were at work on the bow of the ship adjusting some ropes when a heavy sea struck the ship that came over the deck and swept one of the sailors off that was working on the bow. Instantly, the cry was, “A man overboard!” A passenger who had great presence of mind sprang to the larboard side of the ship and threw a rope over the side of the ship, and the struggling sailor caught it and was hoisted on board. The water was extremely cold, and the poor fellow was almost frozen.   

April 22d. We encountered a hard storm that lasted 12 hours. We had to close reef the [topgallant sail] and topsails and ran so all day. We had a lottery on board gotten up by the passengers. The prize was a gold watch. Charles Hope was the lucky man.

April 23d. The storm has abated, and we had good sailing, but it is so very cold that we could not stay on deck. Last night a man named Moore had seventy-five dollars stolen out of his carpet bag, which caused quite an excitement, for we thought we had no thieves on board, and one would have thought that this would have been the last place to commit a theft in mid-ocean, when there was no possible chance for escape. All were wondering who the thief could be, but they did not wonder long, for the next morning a man named John North came out with a subscription to make up the amount of the money stolen, and suspicion fell upon him at once that he was the thief, and he soon had to stem the tide, for everybody was pointing at him, and he took another man below and handed him the money to give back to the man begging for money. Say that this was his first offense and should be the last, but he was put into irons and sentenced to leave the ship when we should land at Valparaiso, Chile. At five o’clock on that day, a man named Mathew Stout died and was buried in a few minutes after death. That night was very dark and cold, and the snow fell 2 inches deep upon the deck of the ship. We are now in latitude 51°20’.  

The next morning, it was calm, which is a very uncommon thing in this latitude at this time of year. Old Prince said, “Look out. We always have a storm after a calm in this region.” At twelve o’clock a gentle breeze set in from the northwest, and we were running 4 knots an hour. Another ship came in sight but not close enough to speak.

Sunday it stormed all day so that we had to stay below. The wind blew so hard that it took four men at the helm with rope and tackle to manage the ship to keep it from foundering. The ship ran quartering toward the land and made leeway very fast. So the next morning, we had to tack ship and run west by south. The next day, we had fair winds again. Two men died—Francis Allen and William Bathgate—and buried the same hour. Died of yellow fever. Took sick on Tuesday and died the following Friday. They were taken with diarrhea and pain in the head, soon becoming deranged and remaining so until death relived them.

A man named Place with two daughters from Ann Arbor, Michigan, were among our passengers. One of the daughters made an ugly charge against her father, and the old man was put in irons, but he did not stay in irons long. Promising to do better, he was released.

The next morning, we came in sight of land. This cry of “Land, ho!” caused great excitement on board, some contending it was land and others that it was not. Some cursing the officers of the ship for running so close to it, while others were rejoicing at the sight of land. The land we had sighted was a small island off the south end of Cape Horn.  The next day we had fine sailing, and the captain said to us that we could eat supper off the Pacific Ocean. Supper came, and we were not on the Pacific, and we had sauerkraut and gingerbread for supper, of which we partook with a relish, as we had appetites for anything eatable. The wind continued from the same direction, and the land, heading northwest. We had beans and soft tack for supper but not on the Pacific yet. [2]

To be continued…

It is very interesting to read all the details of his travel by ship. I wonder if the families of those who died on the ship and who were buried at sea ever knew what happened to their loved ones. Or if they just sailed away, never to be heard from again.

I will post Nimrod’s journal in increments, but not necessarily every week.

[1] Nimrod Headington, the son of Nicholas (1790-1856) and Ruth (Phillips) (1794-1865) Headington, was born in Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, on 5 August 1827. He married Mary Ann McDonald (1829-1855) in Delaware County, Ohio, in 1849 and they had a son a year later. Nimrod moved to Portland, Jay County, Indiana, by 1860 and a couple years later served in the 34th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War as a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Major. Nimrod died 7 January 1913 and is buried in Green Park Cemetery, Portland. Nimrod Headington is my fourth great-granduncle, the brother of my fourth great-grandfather, William Headington (1815-1879).

[2] Nimrod Headington’s journal, transcription and photos courtesy of Ross Hill, 2019, used with permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.