of New Bedford


.....Formosa was first registered in (and probably built in or near) New York City in 1829. (1) The ship was bought by the Swift family (William Cole Nye, Obed Nye, Franklin Kibby and Rodolphus Nye, sons of Reuben and Jane (Nye) Swift) and registered in New Bedford for the first time on 4 November 1844. Formosa was 451 tons, 122 1/2 feet long, 28 1/2 feet wide and 14 1/4 feet deep, with 2 decks, 3 masts, a square stern, no galleries and a billethead. Luther Briggs was the first master to take her out of New Bedford. Perhaps of significance is that Luther was related to Obed Swift in several ways, and they surely knew each other. Luther's wife Mary was the 2nd cousin of Obed's wife Elizabeth Garvin. Elizabeth's uncle was married to Luther's aunt Hannah Briggs. All parties lived in either New Bedford or Berkley. Luther had a good record, but who he knew may have helped as well. They sailed on 7 November 1844 with a crew of 30. With the exception of the boatsteerer, who was probably Portuguese and the African American cook and steward, the crew was white and from Northern New York and New England.
.....On 23 January 1845, ship Stonington spoke to Formosa and reported her in the Atlantic east of Rio de Janiero, with 5 barrels of oil.(2) The crew added another 95 by the time they reached Lahaina about the following April and sailed for another cruise on the 28th.(2.1) They were on the Northwest Coast (northern Pacific Ocean) by 2 June and had caught another 2 whales.(2.2) The fourth mate was reported killed by a whale. The ship Charles [?] spoke to Formosa in Northwest waters on 26 August, which reported 500 barrels of oil.(2.3) A list of added crewmen place the ship in Paita, Peru, in January 1846. By 21 December they had 520 barrels of (right) whale oil and 180 of sperm. By 6 January 1846 they were at Payta, Peru, with 600 and 200 barrels respectively. (double check this - 10 Mar WSP says they had 600/200 then changes it next issue to 520/180, both referring to 6 Jan) Luther reported by letter that he saw Valparaiso at Paita in September 1846, 500 whale, 300 sperm.(3) A list of men added to his crew at the same place and time confirm this report. Capt. Luce of Valparaiso, in turn, noted that Formosa was "on Chile" about November 1846 with 600 barrels of oil and 300 barrels of sperm oil.(4) 2 December 1846 "on Chile" with 1000 bbls and 2 whales. (4.1) 28 January 1847, lat 41 s, lon 80 w, 1000 whales, 350 sperm.(4.2) By 20 March 1847, Formosa was in Talcahuano adding more men to the crew.(4.25) The addition of men was surely to make up for the loss of others during this very long trip. They had, by the first of that month, 400 sperm and 1000 whale bbls.(4.3) They sailed out of port on 9 April, but the barrel amounts were 700 each of whale and sperm.(4.4) They were reported at Tombez on 9 October with 1000 whale and 600 sperm, which indicates the 700 barrel figure was wrong.(4.5) By 26 December they were on the Equator west of the Galapogos Islands with no more oil.(4.6) It's likely that the ship spent most if not all of its time off the northwest coast of South America in 1846 and 1847. Luther brought the ship into Honolulu on 6 March 1848 to refresh and add/replace a large number of crewmen.(6) They had still not increased their oil numbers. They were there into April. That summer they only added 600 barrels of oil to their cargo. In September they were in the Sea of Japan, still with 2000 barrels.(6.1) They were back in Honolulu 5 November with 60 sperm and 1600 whale.(7)
.....The New York Postreported that Formosa sailed into New Bedford on 11 May 1849, having left Honolulu on 23 December 1848.(8) One of the crewmembers, Orondo Beardsley, said that he expected to go around the Horn to the Pacific but also around the Cape of Good Hope and the China Sea. This may have been the plan before they left, circling the globe, but no evidence has been found to suggest they sailed west from Hawai'i through the Indian Ocean and around Good Hope.
     The crew had gathered 1600 barrels of whale oil, 606 barrels of sperm whale oil and 12,000 lbs of bone. They brought as freight on consignment 403 barrels of sperm oil. The New Bedford papers for this date haven't been seen, but others mention Formosa as having also brought $9,000 worth of gold dust on consignment for Samuel "P." Morse and Deming Jarves, both supposedly of New Bedford.() Samuel Fairbanks Morse (not artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse) was a shipping merchant in Boston. Deming Jarves was the head of the New England Glass Company (better known as Sandwich Glass) and created the Mount Washington Glass factory in New Bedford for his son. He also lived in Boston.()
.....When Luther died, his obituary, which was probably written by his son Luther, Jr., appeared in several papers. One clearly is a condensed version, and claims that Luther brought the first shipment of gold around Cape Horn during the Gold Rush.() Probably more in keeping with what the family intended, another version says he was the first to bring gold around the Horn as freight.() This may be accurate. Reports of gold (all in the form of dust and shipped on New Bedford or Fairhaven whalers) arriving on the East Coast started to appear in early May of 1849. The earliest was a reference to gold arriving in private hands with a passenger, not freight.() The second was probably the same situation.() The third mentioned was Formosa. Other references may be found in other papers, but there is good evidence in the research so far to suggest that Luther was at least among the first to bring Gold Rush gold around the Horn. Some newspapers mention that English ships were also early in this commerce, and research into that may show they were even earlier than the New England whalers.
.....This was Luther's last trip as a whaler, and in August 1849, Formosa set sail again with another Swift (J. Henry) as master. The ship was wrecked in the following year.()

crewlist of Formosa on departure and account of this crew after the ship returned

added crew at Paita (1/8/1846)

added crew at Paita (9/14/1846)

added crew at Talcahuano (4/8/1847)

added crew at Honolulu (4/5/1848)

added crew at Honolulu (12/18/1848)



The "Ship Formosa" image at the top of the page comes from the cover panel of one of the passenger lists at NARA, Waltham.

1. Ship Registers of New Bedford, Massachusetts, vol. I (Boston:1940), p. 107.
2.1. Friend (Salem, MA), 16 May 1845, p. 76 and Dennis Wood abstracts, vol. 2, p. 539.
2.2. Ibid, Dennis Wood abstracts. First appears in WSP on 9 Sep., nothing in Memoranda.
2.3. Ibid. First appears in WSP on 24 Feb., but nothing in Memoranda.
3. See also WSL, 10 Nov. 1846, Paita 14 Sep. 500/300.
4. See also WSL, 2 Mar., "on Chile" 600/200, but changed to 25 Nov. 800/300 by the 16 Mar issue.
4.1 WSP 13 Apr 1847.
4.2 Ibid, 27 Apr 1847.
4.25. Ibid, 8 June 1847 says 20 March at Talc, also return crew list.
4.3. Ibid, 15 June 1847.
4.4 Ibid, 12 July 1847.
4.5. Ibid, 30 November 1847, changed to 22 Oct by 28 Dec.
4.6. Ibid, 30 May 1848, at the Equator, lon 112 w;
6. Friend, 1 April 1848, p. 32. The Whalemen's Shipping List, 8 Aug 1848.
6.1. WSL, 16 Jan 1849, spoken to on 13 September.
7. Ibid, 3 Apr 1849, "at Oahu home;" Friend, 1 December 1848, p. 96.
8. NYP; WSL, 8 May 1849, says the ship was at lat 20 n, lon 56 w.
NYP, 27 May 1848, reported by ship Cortez as being "on the line, lon. 112 W" on 26 December 1847.



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