April/May 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 3
The 407-ton packet Ellerslie left New Orleans on December 30, 1848, on a royage that now would be forgotten save for the discovery of a series of watercolor sketches done by one of the passengers, James Guy Erans, a minister and maritime artist bound for the ship’s home port of Baltimore.
Commanding the Ellerslie was Captain Joseph L. White. With him were his wife, Ann, and his little daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Mrs. White must hare been relieved to be learing New Orleans—cholera had been reported there—but four days out of port, Mary Elizabeth died. Her body was committed to the blue waters off the Florida coast.
Evans comforted the mother with prayer and a memorial volume. In an era much attached to mementos of mourning, there was nothing unusual about that. What is unique is the form it took. Erans knew ships; he had spent six years as a Marine in the Mediterranean squadron before getting the call, and during that time he painted the ressels he serred on. When he turned his hand to commemorating Mary Elizabeth, he did what he knew best, and produced a day-by-day pictorial record of the sad voyage. After writing inspirational verse on the backs of the paintings, he presented his “Ornamental Lay Book”to Ann White.
Evans continued his career as a marine artist for wther decade, and then apparently stopped; all his surviving pictures date from before 1859. Perhaps the minister in him won out over the artist, for in 1875 a tract called Adam’s Transgressions Defined was published in is City by a minister named James G. Evans.
The Ellerslie log came to light recently when it was deposited at the Peale Museum. Whether it offered Mrs. White any solace is not known, but it does provide us with remarkably accurate and vivid record of the moods and weathers of a voyage under square sails.