Logbook entries August 11-13, 1774, from the Logbook of the Snow Minerva, 1772-1776. The Library at The Mariners’ Museum.


The term logbook comes from sailors recording their ship’s speed via chip log. In a blank book, captains would record their speed, wind and compass direction. As captains became more literate, the logbook became more detailed. Not only did they write the ship’s direction and speed every day, but they also recorded weather, any special events on the ship, cargo they took on or off-loaded, other ships they saw and even sea monsters. Whaling vessels recorded the type of whale caught and how many barrels of oil they got from it. If the captain carried his wife aboard ship, she, many times, recorded the log and in the back of the logbook there have been found recipes and poetry.

Logbooks have become a very valuable tool for historians. One climatologist has looked through logbooks of a particular year to find a change in weather patterns. We can also retrace the steps of early explorers by using logbook entries. Scientists can tell how many and what kind of whales were alive during different time periods as well has how many of each species were killed.

These images came from the logbook of Minerva, a merchant ship that sailed from Bristol, England to Cork, Ireland, the Madeira Islands, Dominica in the Caribbean, and back to Bristol. The voyage lasted from November 16, 1772 to February 11, 1776. Along the way, the Captain, Nicholas Pocock, recorded all the ship’s information as well as painted in the book. Each day he drew a picture of the ship, showing the weather. He water colored many of drawings and also drew pictures of ports at which they stopped.

Captain Nicholas Pocock

Pocock was born in Bristol, England, in 1740. His father was a seaman and Pocock went to sea at a young age. By 26, he was a captain. The merchant Richard Champion financed voyages to America where trade was very lucrative. While at sea, Pocock drew in his logbooks as well as in sketchbooks. After the American Revolution, Champion was unable to finance the voyages and Pocock turned to painting full time.

He submitted a painting to the Royal Academy of Art in England, but it arrived too late. But Pocock had an exceptional skill and four of his paintings were accepted by the Academy in 1782. Pocock’s style was very detailed oriented; when he painted battle or sea scenes, everything was researched down to the last flag. Many of his paintings hang in maritime museums and art galleries.