The Lisburn Cotton Famine and Moby Dick.

What connects today’s Virtual Museum item, a gold watch, and the classic novel Moby Dick?

During the devastating ‘cotton famine’ of 1861-65, when American Civil War disturbances blocked cotton shipments to Ireland, Lisburn’s cotton weavers faced destitution. A relief fund established to aid those workers attracted many significant donations, including from one of America’s wealthiest men, Lisburn-born A.T. Stewart (1803-76).

Stewart, who made his fortune in retail and real estate, chartered a ship, the Mary Edson in May 1863 to deliver goods to Lisburn’s needy. The ship’s return leg exactly 160 years ago on 14 July 1863 carried 137 distressed emigrants from Lisburn to a new life in America at Stewart’s expense.

Gold watch presented to Moses Nickerson. ILC&LM Collection

The ship’s captain, Moses Nickerson (1812-71) was presented with the gold watch, now in the museum’s collection, for his assistance in providing relief to the weavers of Lisburn. From a notable Massachusetts sailing family, Nickerson’s cousin Thomas (1805-83) survived a whale attack on the famous American whaling ship the Essex in 1820. That story was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s famous book, Moby Dick!

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