Humboldt State University

Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum

Early North Coast Scientific Instruments

c. 1850 – c. 1950

Richard Paselk, Curator

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North coast commerce has always had a strong interdependence with the merchant marine to move products and people to and from coastal ports. A variety of scientific instruments are critical to maritime navigation, including the marine compass, lead and line, etc. Displayed is one of the most important and iconic of navigational instruments of the18th–early 20th centuries, the vernier sextant. The Sextant was invented in the eighteenth century as an essential tool for solving the longitude problem—finding one’s location at sea.With a sextant and a proper set of tables and charts a trained navigator can determine his/her position at sea anywhere on Earth. Because of the skills required to use the sextant and to mathematically reduce the observations made to give a location, it became the quintessential emblem of the trained navigator and of maritime navigation itself.

The instrument on display was owned by the Captain of a West Coast lumber schooner, The Edward R. West. His last, fatal, voyage began in Eureka, California. In these pages we look at the instrument and some of the story of its owner, Captain Thomas W. Stream.

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Vernier Sextant

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Edward R. West photo

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Master's License

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Timberman clipping

The Vernier Sextant on display and described here, was owned by Captain Thomas W. Stream (1882–1914), Master of the lumber schooner Edward R. West. This magnificent four masted, 835 ton schooner built in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1902 can be seen loading lumber in this photo on display.* Within weeks of receiving the displayed Master's License (Front and Reverse), Captain Stream was lost at sea off Point Arena while taking a cargo of railroad ties from Eureka to Peniente, Peru, as described in this news clipping from the Eureka reporter for the Timberman. Ironically, Stream with his new bride and his mother, survived the sinking of the passenger steamship Walla Walla at the same location 12 years earlier.

*Photo of Charles E. Falk (284 ton schooner built in Eureka, California, 1885) and Edward R. West (four mast, 835 ton schooner built in Aberdeen, Washington, 1902) loading Lumber, Aberdeen, Washington, c. 1910. [University of Washington Libraries, http://content.lib.washington.edu/index.html ]


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HSTC (1921-34)
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HSC (1935-1953)
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HSC (1954-1973)

© R. Paselk

Last modified 18 October 2012