Nimrod Headington Journal, 1852, part 6

Trip to California.

That is what Nimrod Headington [1] called his journal, which details his journey by ship, sailing from New York to the California gold fields in 1852. [2]

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts, the transcription of Headington’s 1852 journal.

Nimrod Headington (1827-1913)

Today’s installment begins on 5 May 1852. They had just sailed around  Cape Horn and were now sailing on the Pacific Ocean.


May 5th. This morning we ate breakfast on the Pacific, doubling the cape in the night. The weather was very cold and rough, and the snow fell 4 inches deep on the deck. The next morning a Mrs. Harper from New York, an elderly lady, died at 10 o’clock. She was a very weakly woman when she [died], and she lived far beyond our expectations. She was a widow and had a son in California, also a son and two daughters on board. We saw a number of whales that day, some of the quite close to us. The next day at 2 o’clock, we attended the funeral of Mrs. Harper. The service was read, a hymn sung, and the body was consigned to its watery grave.

The next day the wind blew powerful hard. We came in sight of the western coast of Patagonia and was drifting right toward it. Had it been in the night, we should have run ashore or on the rocks, for the coast along there is very rough and rocky. But we discovered it in time to tack ship and get away.

May 11th. Tremendous storm last night. Sea so rough, and the ship rocked so badly that we had to hold on to our bunks all night to keep from rolling out. Under such circumstances you can easily guess how much we slept. We ran under close-reefed topsails and mizzensails all night. The next night at 8 o’clock Miss Sarah Place died, a daughter of the old man spoken of a being in irons. The next morning we assembled in the cabin to attend the funeral of the deceased lady.  

May 12th. It rained all day and was very dark and foggy. We headed due north with very light winds. In rainy weather at sea, the sea is always smooth. Let the sea be ever so rough and then comes a hard rain, the sea will become calm in a very short time. 

May 13th. The rain continued to fall without ceasing all that day. A man named Alex Black died at 8 o’clock that night and was buried the same hour without any service. This man was from Connersville, Ohio. He was a very nice young man, always cheerful and jolly, going to seek his fortune before marrying the girl he left behind, as one of her comrades told me the sad story of his betrothed and the young lady’s parents objecting on account of his poverty. The death of this young man was mourned by all on board. A death or funeral at sea is always sad, but this was the saddest of all to me.

Before leaving New York, I wished for my wife and family to accompany me, but after I had been out to sea two weeks, I rejoiced that they were not with me. When I saw the wife of Mr. Beesley, a young woman who only a few hours before her death seemed the very picture of health and bid fair for as long life as any of us, buried in the deep blue waters of the great ocean. This was our first death and burial at sea and made us all no doubt all of us thought, “Shall this be my fate?” “Shall I be buried in the sea?” For we all knew that God was no respecter of persons. That when his call comes, we must obey. Sad, sad is a burial at sea.  

May 14th. The sun came out and the captain was able to take the sun’s altitude—the first for several days. This is the only certain means of telling just what latitude and longitude [you] are in. All other means is uncertain half guesswork.   [3]

To be continued…

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

[1] Nimrod Headington (1827-1913) was the son of Nicholas (1790-1856) and Ruth (Phillips) (1794-1865) Headington. He 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. 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 at the age of 24, set sail from New York in February 1852, bound for San Francisco, California, to join the gold rush and to hopefully make his fortune. 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.

[3] 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.