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Lunacy on the High Seas: J. M. Jenkins' Oriental Voyage

The vibrant colors of a curious creature--a squid hauled on deck--offers an enjoyable distraction for Assistant Supercargo Joseph M. Jenkins on a merchant ship bound for the Dutch East Indies at the beginning of the nineteenth century. More often the two handwritten diaries, recently acquired by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, recount the troubling mental decline of John J. DePeyster, a passanger abroad the Samuel Elam.

Crew member and passenger begin their journey from New York to Jakarta (by way of the Isle of France) playing backgammon on deck and sharing stories. Slowly, Jenkins' affable, leisure-time companion, Mr. DePeyster, becomes an albatross for the entire ship, as he descends into madness and proves a burdensome living cargo for Jenkins. The struggle between keeping DePeyster safe and allowing him some freedom is a constant dilemma for Jenkins. DePeyster succeeds multiple times in escaping from his secured stateroom and jumps ship more than once, only to be rescued by the already-fatigued crew. In order to keep DePeyster from harm and from flinging himself into the sea, the crew constructs a special two-and-one-half-inch-thick door, where "the only light allowed him is through a square port hole in the double door latticed with grates of iron--7 inches square." At this point in the journey DePeyster "is wild & raving--in fact he may be called mad." Curiously, at the ship's first port in Mauritius, DePeyster requests to return to America on board another ship bound for New York, but he is denied. Why does this merchant ship keep the passenger on board? It turns out that he is the brother-in-law of Master and First Supercargo Uriah O. Champlin.

For more of "J. M. Jenkins' Oriental Voyage," request Ms. Coll. 814 in the reading room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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