An all but unknown navigation chart issued by the New Bedford firm of William C. Taber and dedicated to American whalers as they were pushing ever further into northern Pacific waters in search of new whaling grounds.
New Bedford in the 1840s was the largest of the three centres of the whaling industry in New England, ahead of both Nantucket and London. Indeed, at the time this chart was published the wealth created by its fishing fleet may have made it the richest town per capita in the United States. In these years declining whale populations were forcing New England whalers to look beyond the traditional North Atlantic waters, venturing into the south Atlantic, round Cape Horn and into the Pacific, sailing ever-further north to find fresh hunting grounds. By the late 1840s, the waters around the Bering Strait were their principal hunting grounds, and in the 1850s they pushed into the Sea of Okhotsk.
This fine chart of a substantial part of the Pacific coast of Russia was published in 1845, before the American whaling fleet routinely operated in this region, but presumably prepared in anticipation that the whalers would soon enter these waters for quarry. In this Taber proved remarkable prescient, in that this chart pre-dates by several years offerings of the region by the rival Blunt family in New York
The chart is constructed on the Mercator projection, and depicts the Sea of Okhotsk, bounded on the east by the long Kamchatka peninsula and the Kuriles Islands, with Japan to the south. It is remarkably detailed for the period, crediting Russian sources for its delineation, but these have not been identified. This is an unremarked second state of the chart, with extensively updating of the toponomy, including additional names along the Kamchatka peninsula, against the Kuriles Islands and elsewhere around the Sea of Ochotsk.
The chart bears the mapseller’s label of John Kehew (1818-1889), a New Bedford maker and seller of navigational instruments, who also offered his customers charts and other nautical publications.
William C. Taber & Son.
William Congdon Taber (1797-1886) was a prominent citizen of New Bedford, born, working and dying in the town. A member of the Quakers, he set up in trade as a bookseller, working first with Abraham Sherman, Jr. At the end of that partnership, Taber continued alone from 1835 to 1843, when he admitted his eldest son Charles (1822-1887) to partnership as “William C. Taber & Son”, then as “William C. Tabor & Sons” adding his second son Augustus (1826-1898). When William retired circa 1851, Charles and Augustus continued in partnership as “C. & A. Taber”.
Reconstructing the Tabers’ business is hampered by the scarcity of primary evidence. A good part of the firm’s trade was supplying materials to the fishing fleet, but OCLC also lists among others sermons, historical and medical works published by the firm. Chart of Kamscatka, and the sea of Ochotsk is one of only two charts known to have been published by the family the other being William Butler’s Mangonui (North Island) New Zealand (1856), although others cannot be ruled out. It is plausible that both were commissioned because no comparable chart was available from English chart-makers and that, wherever possible, the family relied on existing charts for resale.
Later, under the leadership of Charles Taber the firm ventured into map publishing on a small-scale, publishing Henry Francis Walling’s Map of Bristol County Massachusetts (1852), and a number of town-plans of New Bedford, both for directories and separately published.
Locations and references
The chart is rare, with no example in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. I am aware of holdings only at two American institutions, the American Geographical Society Library and the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. I have not examined these, so it is now known whether they represent the first or second state. A third example, of the second state, is held by an un-named Russian institution. Yet another was offered in trade some years ago, though its present location is not known, and it may be one and the same as that at the University of Alaska. The example offered here is thus either the fourth or fifth known.