On the Water

USS Alaska Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth

The wooden screw sloop of war USS Alaska was built in 1868 and spent much of her career in the southern Pacific and Far East representing the American nation in foreign ports. In June 1878, she cleared New York for San Francisco and stopped at several South American ports on the way.

One of Alaska's port calls from 20-29 September 1878 was to Talcahuano, in the center of Chile's coast and that nation's main naval port. It also was one the principal stops for American whalers in the Pacific seeking fresh supplies and entertainment. This massive sperm whale's tooth was probably purchased there and engraved by one of Alaska's crew to commemorate his visit. While the carver of this tooth is unknown, it may have been one of the officers who kept the official ship's logbooks, because the calligraphy on the covers of the logs for this voyage is exceptionally elaborate and colorful.

As this tooth indicates, the Talcahuano visit and liberty calls were memorable. Sent ashore on liberty, 54 of Alaska's crew went AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave), and three more were confined to double irons (feet and hand cuffs) for drunk and boisterous behavior or fighting.

ID Number:
9 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in x 2 1/2 in; 23.4696 cm x 10.795 cm x 6.35 cm
Gift of Frederic A. Delano

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