Down Below

Maritime Victorians watched the end of the age of sailing ships from harbors like Tacoma. What mostly went unseen from dockside were the interiors of the great wooden ships- the hand crafted mahogany paneling and sawn oak floors, lit by whale oil lamps and furnished in stylish upholstered chairs, Eastlake rockers and smooth inlaid tables. Rooms with porcelain tile fireplaces, oriental rugs, phonographs and stereopticons and fine paintings on the wall. Not every masters cabin was elegant but those that were went well beyond just comfortable. A photo editing project I’ve been doing for a friend has reacquainted me with the magical glass plate images made by the maritime photographer Welhelm Hester who on more than one occasion took his camera below to capture the warm light of living quarters during the last days of the great sailing vessels. Here’s a selection of sailing ship interiors from around 1900, some of which were home to not just captain and crew but wives and families who sailed together around the world.

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