A sailor only identified as "Charley" maintained this diary from January 1, 1857, to September 22, 1857. He first served aboard the mercantile clipper Charger under the command of Captain Luther Hurd, travelling from Boston, Massachusetts, past Cape Horn, to San Francisco, California. He switched berths in San Francisco to the Stag Hound who carried Chinese passengers under Captain Peterson to Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Foochow (Fuzhou), via the Chang (Yangtze) River. They passed various places in the Philippines and South China Sea without stopping, and returned to New York with a cargo of tea, silk, fancy matting, and other goods. Charley wrote about social matters, including descriptions of ports like San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Fuzhou, and shipboard life among sailors, officers, and passengers. He commented several times about one of his crewmates, possibly an African American man who went by the name of "Jim Crow," and noted the presence of captains' wives and children. He included several drawings of Chinese ships (junks) as well as coastal views of places in South America, Hawaii, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and China. Charley also included a number of poems, mostly relating to sailors and seafaring, several of which appear to be originals.
Details about the labor of sailing are found throughout the diary, with regular notes about wind, weather, and sea conditions, land sightings, and occasional notations of latitude and longitude. Charley described the Charger as "a new one" (January 1), and several times noted that the ship was outpacing others. He commented on various shipboard tasks like cleaning the deck, handling and repairing sails, managing dwindling food and provisions, and catching sharks, fish, and porpoises to eat. Comments about the difficulty of the work and various demands appear regularly, as well as notes of various mishaps on board, damaging storms, and other dangers, like falls, sails gone awry, the hazards of Cape Horn (March 7), freshwater getting tainted (March 20), waterspouts (August 27), and suspected pirates (September 16). At least one crewmember died, seemingly of illness contracted prior to the voyage, and Charley wrote of his distress at how his body and burial were handled (July 17).
When he switched berths to the Stag Hound, travelling from San Francisco to Hawaii and Hong Kong, Charley wrote of the demands of manning an "outward bound ship":
"Everbody is in bad humor. The officers irritable. the crew more so. words pass between them. everything to do and nobody to do it. Bed clothes. sea boats. jackets. chests. and numerous other things of a sailors outfit tumbled together in confusion. chickens crowing. geese quacking turkeys gobbling. pigs squealing. these are the scenes and noises that must be endured by the outward bound" (May 15). Noting that "people on shore think that a sailors leads an idle life," he detailed the daily labor they typically performed (August 30).
Charley's depictions of shipboard life also reference issues of discipline and management of the crew. While on the Charger, he noted the captain distributing "a lot of tracts" to the crew (January 18 and February 8) and complained of officers making sailors work on the Sabbath (January 25). He wrote a detailed description of the Charger's officers on March 11, including physical and behavioral attributes, and noted that the rest of the crew consisted of 28 men from America, England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and Italy. He noted several physical fights and that crew members were imprisoned for matters like theft and violence (February 14 and May 8) or threatened to have their noses wrung by the captain for fighting (April 30). Charley recorded that the third mate confined "one of our boys who goes by the name of Jimmey Ducks" in the hencoop for "not feeding the fowls in the morning" (February 15). On another occasion, "the mate frightened one of the greenhorns nearly to death by hoisting him up to the royal mast head" when he cried when being asked to slush the mast (February 23). As provisions began to run out, Charley bemoaned that the sailors had to drink rainwater that was tainted by the ship's tar and paint, while "the officers can drink and use as much of the Boston water as they choose" and the steward "used two buckets of the good water to wash the cabin floor" (April 19). Upon landing in San Francisco, Charley noted that Captain Hurd was trying to convince the sailors to continue on with him on the next leg of the voyage by withholding wages from the crew, was struck by a passenger who accused him of "ill treatment to his sister," and that "Whenever our crew see him in the streets they are hooting him and throwing stones at him" (May 10-11).
Charley continued to note disciplinary issues when he transferred to the Stag Hound, including reminiscences about being imprisoned in Honolulu for refusing to work while on a whaling voyage aboard the Hobomok in 1852. Others' refusals to work and their punishment were documented (June 14), as well as efforts to manage unruly passengers (May 22). He noted that infighting and complaining "is the custom with sailors... When they cannot find fault with the officers or with the grub they must growl amoung themselves for pastime" (May 26). On the return voyage, Charley noted the "youngsters" were yelled at for being slow in their work (August 24).
The volume contains much detail about issues of race and ethnicity. He wrote about a man "that goes by the name of Jim Crow. he would make a horse smile to hear him singing comic songs and spouting Shakespere &c.," possibly an African American sailor (January 26). Charley made another reference to "James Crow" on February 28, participating in a demonstration by the sailors when their "advance was up" and they "assert[ed] our rights as sailors" and made an effigy that was hung and buried at sea. Charley called him a "courious genious. he makes sport for all hands in the ship. I don't know how we would get along without him" (February 28). Charley was pleased "to see my friend Crow" among those who switched berths to the Stag Hound (May 14). Charley commented on his singing and musical abilities (June 24, August 11), and he wrote about him in a poem (June 12), travelled ashore with him in Hong Kong (July 7), and remarked on his cure for toothaches (September 8).
Charley's entries also reflect on the individuals he encountered during his voyages, including a description of indigenous South Americans sailing catamarans to fish, some 20 miles from shore (February 5), and the multi-ethnic crew of the Stag Hound. On May 24, Charley described in detail the Stag Hound's Dutch captain and his wife, the Dutch first and second mates, the English third mate, American bosun and carpenter, and two Chinese stewards and two Chinese cooks. "Before the mast we have a sprinkling of all nations. It would puzzle a Philadelphia Lawyer to understand one half of them. I dont believe that there was one half of the confusion at the building of the tower of Bable as there is in our forecastle at meal times."
The bulk of his racial commentary revolves around the approximately 380 Chinese passengers who travelled aboard the Stag Hound to Hawaii and Hong Kong, of which he initially wrote disparaging comments (May 12). Some of Charley's entries reflect on Chinese shipboard experiences, such as gambling (May 20) and fighting (June 6), while others seem to indicate prejudiced behavior on the part of the Stag Hound's captain. He rationed Chinese passengers' allowance of water (May 22) and threatened violence against one English-speaking Chinese passenger for complaining (January 19). While approaching China, Charley noted the crew worked on cleaning guns due to "lots of pirates now in these seas, but we do not fear them so much as we do the passengers, for it is a common thing for them to try and take the vessel that they are in when they find that they are near to China" (June 25). He remarked on the Chinese Emperor, "said to be the brother of the Sun, and likewise the King of ten thousand islands" (June 29), the passengers praying for fair wind (July 1), and reacting with joy upon seeing the area near Hong Kong (July 5). He described Hong Kong, commenting on religion (July 6-7) and fears of Chinese boarding the ship at night to murder the crew (July 10). He noted passing the wreck of the Wild Duck and seeing Chinese junks painted "with large eyes on their bows so that they can see" (July 20), and he described places they passed while travelling up the Chang River under the guidance of a Chinese pilot and their arrival at Foochow (Fuzhou). He noted the work Chinese laborers undertook on the Stag Hound while at Fuzhou (July 24, 26, 27) and detailed his visit to a "pagoda" in the city (August 2).
Several references to women also appear in the diary. Charley remarked on the presence of the captain's wife aboard the Charger, noting her disdain for sailors (January 4, March 16). As the initial voyage to California wore on, Charley recorded a fight between the captain and his wife where she was threatened with violence if she spoke to the first mate (April 24). The captain's wife also accompanied the Stag Hound, and Charley described her and her scorn for the sailors as well (May 24). The captain's daughter was also aboard the Stag Hound, and Charley noted the purchase of a cat for her and her distress during a typhoon (July 27, September 7). He later noted the cat's disappearance and his suspicion that sailors disposed of it, "for a sailor would as soon see his Satanic Majesty on board of his ship as a cat for to him a cat is linked with superticion [sic]" (August 17).
Mentions of other ships throughout the volume reflect the international dynamics of sea travel and mercantilism. Charley noted ships from various American ports, Prussia, Brazil, England, and France. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, he observed French, English, and Portuguese men-of-war (July 6 and July 8), and named American ships by name while in Chinese ports. He recorded the goods taken on the Stag Hound in China, including opium, silver, fire crackers, tea, silk, and fancy matting.
In addition to his diary entries, Charley also documented his experiences with drawings. He included several pictures of Chinese junks and coastal views of the following locations:
- Cape Horn
- Tierra del Fuego
- South Farallon Islands
- Morotai Island
- "Wahoo" [O'ahu]
- Diamond Head
- "Cocowaner" island
- "Peico" island
- Balintang Islands
- Bashee Islands
- Batan Island
- Goat Island
- "An Island in Hong Kong Harbor"
- "Great Lema Island"
- Pratas Islands
- "The last light of Hong Kong"
- "[Oaksu?] Islands"
- several views from along the River Chang
- Balabac Strait
Charley included clips of poetry and quotations, mostly relating to sailors and sea life. He copied a poem attributed to a crew member, "To the Albatross" (February 25), and others appear to be originals that he may have composed, such as one celebrating the passage past Cape Horn (March 7), another musing on the wide variances in a sailor's life (April 22), and one entitled "To the Stag Hound" (May 31). Other poems memorialize food poisoning (June 12), the death of a crewmate (July 17), and heading home for America (August 16). The final page of the volume includes a poem entitled "To Charley, by J.H.S." about their friendship and an amusing incident regarding cheese, seemingly written at their parting, and the lyrics to a song about a charcoal vendor.
A post-1886 newspaper clipping, "Boston Clippers," is pasted on the inside front cover and references the few remaining "splendid clippers which the discovery of gold in California and Australia produced," including the Charger .