Manuscript Daybook and Diary, 1865-1867 (round trip) from New York City , around Cape Horn to San Francisco, California; to Portland, Oregon; to British Columbia; and to Anadir (Siberia), Russia,

-First person narrative of the Russian American Telegraph Company/Western Union Telegraph Expedition to build a Western overland telegraph linking North America to Europe via Russian Asia.
Anonymous, Author
Unrestored original condition
as found, complete, leather bound book, front cover detached, rear cover just hanging on, binding shows wear, leather spine absent, all pages good condition
4.5 × 7 × 0.75 inches
Sale Status: 

Author (anon.), an American carpenter hired onto the Expedition, sailing on the Bark Clara Bell, January 30, 1865 from New York to Siberia and returning safely November 12, 1867 to his home on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.  He does not sign his book.

Manuscript text and illustrations, primarily in pencil

Manuscript pagination pp.1-119 (outbound), pp.1-23 (return) with manuscript table of contents.

Highlights of 19th c. Manuscript Illustrations:

Full page drawing of  "Portland Origon" and environs with Mt. Hood (1865) where he visited Jan. 31, 1866; full  page sketch "the appearance of Cape Horn at 15 miles" (1865); a small profile of Juan Fernandes 1865; and other smaller sketches within text.

Highlights of Manuscript Text:

            Highly legible script with many 19th c. idiosyncratic English spellings,  daily entries with ship bearings and detailed remarks about his journey including: visits to foreign ports; "macanical" work on board the Bark Clara Bell and "imploiment" with others on board ship; "Whails" and "porposes" and schools of black fish; at "Anader", work on the Siberian camps, on telegraph line setting poles, at Plover Bay sighting of named "Steemers", foreign ships and meeting ship captains.  Encounters with Natives.  At Citca in June, 1865 he spends the day on shore and sees the "Elephent"

            On the 4th of July, 1865 he describes spending the day in a "quer" way celebrating in "Citca Harbor" with a 36-gun salute for the Stars and Stripes, Russians firing guns from their Fort in New Archangel and guns fired by the moored ship from Hamburg. "The Captain celebrates in the Yankey style and gives a dinner." He dined on board Capt. Begamentoff's vessel.  On August 4th he receives news that confirms the April 15th death of President Abraham Lincoln.

            November 1, 1866, a party went on board and "1 man froz". Temperatures recorded at 33 degrees below zero are noted.  In Plover Bay he describes his work building houses of stone and wood. There is a deer slaughter. On August first they sail into the Berhing Sea. The diary notes the comings and goings of the Expedition fleet's other four vessels with the other two expedition parties and officers in charge.

            January, 1867, the "thermometer" reads 28 degrees below zero. The Araks (?) arrive with 100 dogs. On April 15, a group of 150 natives with sleds and reindeer attached called upon them.  In July of 1867, the author makes a coffin for the remains of Mr. Robinson, one of the crew who went up the Anader River the past winter. He writes of the summer "musketoes" and troubles with certain native residents who are not pleased with the crew's encampment.  On July 16 news of arrival of the Bark Clara Bell lifts spirits and causes an "excitement". On July 25th, the Steemer arrives "with all but Harder "who ran away prefering to stay with the Natives". When the men had learned about the successful Atlantic international telegraph cable it was a full year after that July 1866 celebrated event.  The Western Telegraph company owner only then notifies the Siberian team of his decision to abandon the project, brought close to completion by their relentless work under life threatening Arctic conditions, injury and loss of life.

            Once back in San Francisco on October 7, 1867, the author seeks his back pay. He notes with frustration on October 15 his difficulty getting paid his wages at the company offices and on a repeat visit to the company president on October 17 describes him as "smaller than small potatoes". The diary's author learns on October 18th that hotel keepers fare for room and board has been reduced to a $1 per man by Mr. Mumford "the meanest man to hold a position any whares".  

            In San Francisco, the diary's author pays social calls on possibly family and friends. On October 14 he visits "Mrs. Hannah Morse formerly Norton." On Oct. 13 he called on Capt. Harding and wife at a Mr. Euris (?) and his gift was a ___(?) from Holmes Hole. On the 14th Jarod Norton got a letter from his mother that "informed me of holm." These Martha's Vineyard family names and the Holmes Hole location could be the author's family friends, or part of his extended Claghorn family clan of Martha's Vineyard.

            On October 19th, 1867, the diary author is on his way home to Martha's Vineyard on the Steemer Golden City taking the shorter route through the isthmus. On November 1, changing vessels and now on board the Steemer Rising Star he crosses the "Carolinian Sea". Nearly at Charleston on Nov. 6,  his ship arrives in New Bedford Nov. 9. On the 10th the diary entry explains he went  up to "Matiposset" and stayed all night at the Parker House (New Bedford hotel) and went to church in the afternoon. "Next morn went up to the City and santered all day not nowing that Mrs. Margaret Claghorn was in the house all the time." And finally on the 12th of November, "Today left for the long for home at Marthers Vineyard."


            This unique 1865-1867 Diary/Daybook is the daily record in his own steady hand of a 19th c. Martha's Vineyard carpenter, tradesman and person of many skills hired by the Russian American Telegraph Company's Western Union Telegraph Expedition for its Siberian exploration and construction party.1/ His geographic narrative adds to the 19th c. literature of American westward expansion.2/

            A rare aspect of this Diary is that it is written by a member of the construction crew and not by a specialist or management. The author reports in detail on many controversial events of the expedition that were cast otherwise by the Expedition company's reports to stockholders and the public.3/ The author is observant and articulate. He is a man of many skills. Our writer does not sign his Diary/Daybook.

            One clue to the diary author's identity is possibly his November 11, 1867 entry in New Bedford, when he writes that he did not know Mrs. Margaret Claghorn was in the house all day. The next day the author leaves for his "long for home on Marthers Vineyard" perhaps to rejoin Mrs. Margaret Claghorn.  Other clues to his identity might be found in the identity of the individuals he visits in San Francisco on the 1867 return trip. These  individuals are related to the large Claghorn family of Martha's Vineyard. However, further scholarship is required to confirm the author's identity. The author writes that his birthday is October 20, and that three birthdays have now passed on this expedition. Working with census and birth records for Martha's Vineyard might further narrow the pool of individuals that match all of these clues.

            The ultimate goal of the Russian American Telegraph Company 's Western Union Telegraph Expedition to install the first international telegraph line between North America and Europe was not met. However, other goals with long term implications were served. The 1866-1867 work performed by surveyors and scientists and artists hired to reconnoiter the Alaska wilderness created a base of knowledge that others would find useful. 4/ The diplomatic ties established with the Russian government to enable the logistical access for the proposed telegraph line did not go unused. In March, 1867 the United States and Russia agreed on treaty terms for the United States to purchase Alaska from Russia.  Original surveys and scientific exploration of the Alaska territory by the Telegraph Expedition's naturalists, artists and scientists made available a new body of American knowledge for advocates of the Alaska purchase, and for those interested in future commercial development (for better or worse) in Alaska.  Another contribution came from telegraph expedition crew members who remained in Alaska and continued their research and observations about Alaska's culture, natural history and environment.

            This quintessentially American race for "firsts" is a cultural constant. The 19th c. competition between two 19th c. American telegraph companies to be the first to install and operate a reliable international telegraph received much news coverage and commentary. Lloyd's Topographical Railway Map of North America or the United States Continent in 1900 Projected by J.T. Lloyd, (1873), six years later shows its impact, as this futuristic wall map includes both the (unbuilt) Russian American Telegraph Company line and Cyrus West Field's Atlantic Telegraph Company telegraph line as logical and integral components of  America's technical future in the 20th century. 5 /So too the diary's American author left his home and life on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts to sail around Cape Horn for a three year voyage and exploration of the uncharted Siberian arctic, equally motivated by the spirit of the times and a quest for adventure.


1. New York Times, July 12, 1865 printing a report by the Cincinnati Commercial.

2. Daily Alta California, Vol. 17, Number 5748, 1 Dec. 1865, "The Russian Telegraph Expedition". See also Sacramento Daily Union, "The Telegraph Fleet in San Francisco", 10 October 1867.

3. Statement of the Origin, Organization and Progress of the Russian-American Telegraph Western Union Extension Collins' Overland Line via Behring Strait and Asiatic Russia to Europe To the Stockholders of the Western Union (And Russian Expedition) Telegraph Company. Rochester, New York, 1866

4. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, G.Frank Williss, Bering Land Bridge,     

5. See map offering at


For an excellent history of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition to build a telegraph connecting North America to Asiatic Siberia, please see the Master's Thesis of Stephen Wilcockson, for the University of British Columbia, 1996.

"Perry Collins Electronic Rim Around the Pacific: the Russian – American Telegraph, 1865-1867".  pp 1-170.

This master's thesis is fully illustrated with prints, maps and other materials and provides a comprehensive context for the Diary.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is a valuable resource for log books of whaling ships and other 19th c. ships built in the United States, including the Bark Clara Bell, that according to these records was built in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts and owned first by the ship builder, and next by a party in San Francisco.

Item Type Taxonomy: 
Geographic Scope: 
The Back Room
Published Location Freeform: 
New York, San Francisco, Portland, British Columbia, Alaska, Siberia