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Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis, 1896-1897: Finding Aid

Published in April 2020

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 105
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis
  • Dates: 1896-1897
  • Size: 0.07 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 volume of 28 leaves
  • Creator: Irwin, John
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: John Irwin, Jr. was a paymaster in the United States Navy and the son of John Irwin, United States Naval Academy Class of 1853. The Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis spans from September 29, 1896 to April 7, 1897. The log is the personal journal of Thetis' paymaster, John Irwin Jr., recording the daily occurrences aboard Thetis while she was engaged in survey work in the coastal waters of the Baja California peninsula.

History of U.S.S. Thetis (Steamer)

The first U.S.S. Thetis, a three-masted, wooden-hulled steam whaler built in 1881 at Dundee, Scotland, by Alexander Stephen & Sons, was acquired by the Navy on February 2, 1884 to be employed as part of Winfield Scott Schley's expedition to relieve Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely's Lady Franklin Bay Expedition.

Following preparations, Thetis departed New York on May 1, 1884. Reaching Upernavik, Greenland late in the month, she departed that port on May 29 in company with Bear and headed north. Along the way, she made stops at the Duck Islands, Cape York, Littleton Island, Payer's Harbor, and Brevoort Island, before locating Greely and the six other surviving crew members at Cape Sabine on June 22. After stops at Upernavik, Godhaven, and St. John's, the relief ships arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 1, and on August 5, continued to New York, where they arrived on August 8. On November 26, 1884, Thetis was placed out of commission and laid up at New York.

Thetis was recommissioned at New York on January 15, 1887, Lieutenant William H. Emory, Jr., in command. The ship was then fitted out as a gunboat and prepared for a cruise around Cape Horn to the west coast. She departed New York on March 24, and began an eight-month voyage during which she stopped at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; Valparaiso, Chile; and Callao, Peru.

On October 13, 1887, Thetis sailed into San Francisco for repairs prior to a brief cruise to Alaskan waters. She departed the Mare Island Navy Yard on November 16 and arrived at Sitka, Alaska, on December 4. With the exception of repairs at Mare Island Navy Yard from January 9 to April 8, 1888 and November 25, 1888 to April 20, 1889, Thetis spent nearly all of 1888 and 1889 conducting survey work in Alaskan waters. Based at Sitka, she surveyed as far north as Point Barrow, visiting Unalaska, St. Michaels, East Cape, and Cape Sabine. She ultimately returned to San Francisco on December 7, 1889.

Thetis remained at the Mare Island Navy Yard until July 1890, when she sailed for Central America. Arriving at San Jose, Guatemala by July 27, Thetis began a four-month cruise along the coasts of Guatemala and El Salvador to protect American lives and property during a period of unrest in the two countries. By October, conditions in Central America had quieted, and Thetis returned to San Francisco, arriving on October 27. She remained at the Mare Island Navy Yard until June 1891.

In mid-June, she returned to Alaskan waters, conducting survey work and preventing fur seal poaching for four months. She returned to San Francisco late in 1891 and remained until early 1892. In late spring, she made a brief voyage to the Hawaiian Islands. In January 1893, Thetis began four years of survey work along the coast of Baja California, operating between Magdalena Bay and the southern tip of the California peninsula. Concluding that duty in the spring of 1897, she arrived in San Francisco on April 24 and was placed in ordinary at Mare Island in July 1897.

In the spring of 1899, Thetis was transferred temporarily to the Revenue Cutter Service for special duty transporting Siberian reindeer to Alaska. Between June and October 1899, she transported 81 reindeer from Siberia to Alaska as part of a project to introduce reindeer herding to the native Alaskan population. She was returned to the Navy briefly but was soon transferred back to the Revenue Cutter Service permanently. As a Revenue Cutter, she operated in Alaskan waters until 1909, when she started alternating duty between Alaskan and Hawaiian waters.

On April 27, 1916, Thetis entered San Francisco and was placed out of commission three days later. On June 3, she was sold to W. & S. Job & Co. of New York City and converted into a sealer. She operated out of Newfoundland until 1950, when her hulk was purposely grounded off St. Johns, where she remained until she broke up.

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Biography of John Irwin, Jr.

  • Born on June 8 at the Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, son of John Irwin, United States Naval Academy Class of 1853.
  • On September 5, appointed Assistant Paymaster in the United States Navy.
  • On September 21, reports for instruction.
  • On December 11, detached and ordered to U.S.S. Thetis (Steamer).
  • On July 2, ordered detached from U.S.S. Thetis
  • On July 28, ordered to U.S.S. Wheeling (Gunboat: PG-14).
  • On February 12, promoted to Passed Assistant Paymaster.
  • On November 21, ordered detached to proceed home and waiting orders.
  • On February 15, ordered to U.S.S. Resolute (Auxiliary cruiser).
  • On April 12, assigned additional duty as General Storekeeper, Purchasing Paymaster, and Paymaster of Naval Station Havana.
  • On May 15, detached from U.S.S. Resolute and continues duty at Havana.
  • On April 2, reports for duty aboard U.S.S. Buffalo (Auxiliary cruiser).
  • On November 20, detached and ordered home and waiting orders.
  • On December 24, found not professionally qualified and suspended from promotion for one year.
  • On March 29, promoted to Paymaster.
  • On October 1, detached and ordered home.
  • On November 1, reports for duty as Paymaster of the Yard at Mare Island.
  • In March, appointed member of the Naval Examining Board at Mare Island.
  • On April 8, ordered detached from the Mare Island Navy Yard and ordered to U.S.S. Solace (Hospital ship: AH-2) as Pay Officer May 10.
  • On October 21, ordered detached upon relief.
  • On December 29, reports for duty on the Asiatic Station at Naval Station Cavite.
  • On February 20, detached from the Asiatic Station and ordered to Mare Island.
  • On April 7, waiting orders.
  • On May 12, reports aboard U.S.S. Lawton (Cargo ship) as Pay Officer.
  • On October 22, ordered detached upon relief and report to Commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard.
  • On December 14, admitted to the Mare Island Naval Hospital.
  • On April 10, found guilty of neglect of duty by a General Court Martial and reduced fifteen numbers in grade.
  • On July 1, reports for duty aboard the receiving ship U.S.S. Independence at Mare Island.
  • On June 1, reports for additional duty in charge of accounts for Yard craft, Auxiliaries, and the Naval Prison.
  • On June 30, reports for additional duty as Commissary of U.S.S. Independence.
  • On May 15, ordered detached from U.S.S. Independence and to U.S.S. West Virginia (Cruiser: ACR-5).
  • On July 1, promoted to rank of Lieutenant Commander, effective from December 15, 1908.
  • On June 7, ordered detached to San Francisco waiting orders.
  • On August 1, reports for duty as Purchasing Pay Officer at the Navy Pay Office in Seattle.
  • On December 15, detached from Navy Pay Office.
  • On January 2, reports for duty as Pay Officer at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.
  • On February 18, ordered detached from Puget Sound Navy Yard upon relief.
  • On March 31, reports aboard U.S.S. Charleston (Protected cruiser: C-22) as Supply Officer.
  • On January 12, ordered detached from U.S.S. Charleston and waiting orders.
  • On February 16, reports for duty as Supply Officer at the Naval Base, New London.
  • On May 15, detached from New London and waiting orders.
  • On June 1, reports for duty as Disbursing Officer at the Boston Navy Yard.
  • On January 14, promoted to Pay Inspector with the rank of Commander, from July 7, 1921.
  • On June 30, ordered detached from the Boston Navy Yard and to proceed to San Francisco by way of New York.
  • On August 18, reports for duty as Purchasing and Disbursing Officer at the Navy Purchasing and Disbursing Office, with additional duty as Assistant to the Officer in Charge..
  • On April 3, appointed President of the Naval Examining Board examining Supply Corps and Pay Clerks at San Francisco.
  • On May 15, reports for additional duty as Disbursing Officer for the 12th Naval District.
  • On December 19, ordered detached and to U.S.S. Idaho (Battleship: BB-42).
  • As of May, attached to the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.
  • As of October, attached to the Puget Sound Navy Yard.
  • By January 1938, listed as retired.
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Description of Contents

The Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis, comprising 0.07 linear feet of documentation in a single volume of 28 leaves, spans from September 29, 1896 to April 7, 1897. The log is the personal journal of Thetis' paymaster, John Irwin Jr., recording the daily occurrences aboard Thetis while she was engaged in survey work in the coastal waters of the Baja California peninsula.

The journal notes aspects of the ship's survey work, weather conditions, Irwin's personal duties, and Irwin's trips ashore, with his reflections on the places visited and local populations. The volume includes several hand drawn maps, as well as a printed map of the cape region of Baja California tipped in following the title page.

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The Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis comprises a single volume.

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Access and Use


Patron use restricted to microfilm.

Copyright and Permission

The Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis is the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition


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Related Materials

Location of Copies or Alternate Formats

This collection also available on microfilm.

Related Archival Material

Official logbooks of U.S.S. Thetis may be available in Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, ca. 1801 - 1940, Record Group 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798-2007 at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis, MS 105

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers. Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel RG 24, National Archives and Records Administration.

"Thetis I (Aux.Str)." Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2015,

Navy and Marine Corps List and Directory: Officers of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1924-1938.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Mary R. Catalfamo. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in April 2020.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Baja California (Mexico : Peninsula) -- Description and travel
  • Irwin, John
  • Thetis (Steamer)
  • U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
  • United States. Navy -- History -- 19th century -- Sources

Genre Terms

  • Irwin
  • Manuscripts
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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Log of the cruise of the United States Steamer Thetis, 1896-1897

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