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the origins and early history of the steamer albatross, 1880 - 1887
by Dean C. Allard

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Looking back many years after this event, Linton (1915:745–746) waxed poetic by suggesting that the surrounding darkness of that evening symbolized the profound ignorance of oceanic fauna that the light of science was seeking to dispel. Linton acknowledged that the net held only a relatively few forms. But, the naturalists present were profoundly impressed by the novelty of each species brought on board.

During this cruise the Albatross also established her deepest dredging station in the Atlantic phase of her career. The ship’s record of 2,949 fathoms was set on 2 October 1883, several hundred miles off the Mid Atlantic coast in lat. 37°1222N, long. 69°392W. (Smith, 1889:936).

drawing of albatross lower lab
Figure 12b. - Lower laboratory, looking from forward aft.

In 1883, the senior scientist at the Commission’s summer laboratory in Woods Hole continued to be Addison Verrill. Other investigators included Verrill’s brother-in-law Sydney I. Smith, a specialist in crustaceans and Verrill’s fellow professor at Yale. Richard Rathbun, the chief curator for marine invertebrates at the National Museum, assisted Verrill in directing the Fish Commission’s laboratory. The Fish Commission’s embryologist, John Ryder, and Theodore Gill, a Washington-based ichthyologist, also were on hand. The permanent naturalist on board the Albatross was James E. Benedict. During the ship’s research cruises, he typically was joined by other younger men including Edwin Linton, Sanderson Smith, Peter Parker, and Willard Nye.

The more senior members of the scientific corps tended to stay ashore at the Fish Commission’s laboratory instead of going to sea with Albatross. But the specimens on which they based their work were collected by that ship and other Fish Commission vessels. Master sets of these governmental collections were destined for the Smithsonian’s National Museum after being scientifically worked up by their assigned investigators. In addition, hundreds of duplicates were donated to American schools and museums in order to promote the study of marine biology, or they were traded with other museums(7) for desired scientific materials (Hedgpeth, 1945:16–17; Allard, 1978:329–338).

The ship’s association with Woods Hole was a consequence of Baird’s decision in 1881 to locate his permanent field laboratory at that location. There were several reasons for Baird’s choice. A base in southern New England was desirable because of its proximity to major fishing grounds. Baird also chose Woods Hole due to its relatively deep Great Harbor anchorage, the purity of the water in the Vineyard Sound–Buzzards Bay region, and the diversity of the fauna and flora that scientists could collect from the immediate region (Allard, 1978:329–338).

The Fish Commission’s development of the Woods Hole station demonstrated once again Baird’s ability to persuade Congress to fund major scientific initiatives. Overcoming the low priority that the Secretary of War assigned to the harbor improvements associated with his project, Baird obtained a March 1882 appropriation of $52,000 for the construction of piers, breakwaters, and other civil works needed for the Fish Commission’s ships and for the operation of its hatchery and research programs. Between 1883 and 1885 he received additional appropriated funds in the amount of $65,000 earmarked for the construction of two buildings at Woods Hole. One contained biological and chemical laboratories and a fish hatchery, while the other structure was the residence and mess for his scientific corps (Fig. 19). Before these facilities were completed in 1884–85, the Fish Commission operated from a converted U.S. Lighthouse Board building on the shore of Woods Hole’s Little Harbor that had been used since the Fish Commission began its work in 1871(8).

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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