Sailors Ditty Box Returned to Antarctica for Historic Anniversary

Suzana Machado D’Oliveira, Expedition Director, Abercrombie & Kent and Alexander Bulazel, Trustee, Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Connecticut  (Photo credit: Christopher Ian McGregor)

Two hundred and three years ago Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer, American seal hunter, explorer, sailing captain, and ship designer sailed down to Marguerite Bay below the Antarctic Circle to discover what became known as Stonington Island, named after Palmer’s hometown of Stonington, Connecticut. The Island would eventually accommodate US and British Antarctic bases. This voyage was Palmer’s farthest point south during his historic explorations of the continent from 1819 to 1831. In 1820 Palmer was credited with the sighting of the Antarctic mainland peninsula from a hilltop on Deception Island while anchored in Whalers Bay. A portion of the peninsula now bears the name Palmer Land. 

Sailors ditty box from Palmer’s 1820 voyage.

A ditty box from the Mystic-built sloop Hero, sailed by Palmer to Deception Island, is part of the Mystic Seaport Museum collections and is the oldest known artifact to exist from the Antarctic age of discovery, along with Palmer’s logbook housed in the Library of Congress. This 7″ x 3″ wooden ditty box from Hero was donated to the Museum in 1950. It is ornately carved and has the inscription, “L.B. Stonington Slp. Hero.” It is believed that the L. B. likely stands for Stanton L. Burdick a 17-year-old crew member who sailed with Palmer in the 1819-20 season to Deception Island and again in 1821.

Mystic Seaport Museum celebrated the bicentennial anniversary of Palmer’s sighting of the Antarctic mainland with the return of the ditty box to Deception Island’s Whalers Bay in January 2020, months ahead of the 200th anniversary. In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the second historic bicentennial celebration of Captain Palmer’s farthest drive south to Stonington Island, Antarctica, for Mystic Seaport Museum and the community of Stonington, Connecticut; however, on January 25 of this year Alexander Bulazel, Trustee and Chair of the Exhibitions Committee for Mystic Seaport Museum, in association with luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, once again returned the ditty box to Stonington Island, Antarctica, for the historic anniversary celebration of Palmer’s exploratory voyage over two hundred and three years ago. 

News about the 2020 return of the ditty box to Deception Island can be read at https://mysticseaport.org/news/sailors-ditty-box-returns-to-antarctica-200-years-later/.