Notes from the Archives: the Atherton Family Collection

By Abigael Sartain, MHS volunteer

cf sargent

Recently, I have been processing a collection regarding one Maine family’s travels aboard a Downeaster ship in the late 19th century. The family was the Athertons and the ship the C.F. Sargent.

To provide some background, David Hooper Atherton was captain of the Yarmouth-built ship, C.F. Sargent (circa 1883-1886). He married Cecelia (Celia) McDermott in 1856 and had four children: George, Frank, Carrie, and Cecelia. Celia, the matriarch, passed away in May 1881 while her husband David and son Frank were at sea. For a short time, oldest brother George and his wife Daisy cared for the two youngest girls, Carrie and two-year-old Cecelia, until they were able to join their father and brother in Liverpool.

This collection largely deals with Carrie and Cecelia’s voyages aboard the C.F. Sargent between 1883-86. Maine Historical Society was also gifted the narrative East with the Wind, written in the late 20th century by Cecelia’s daughter Hazel Hammond. The narrative is based on a 1932 typescript by Carrie Atherton. The typescripts, along with some corresponding photographs, have made this collection a joy to process! I was tickled to read these similar, yet differing in a way that only a large age gap can bring, accounts of Carrie and Cecelia’s time at a Governor’s Ball thrown by the American consul in Hong Kong.

According to Cecelia:

Cecilia Atherton, age 18

“In [Hong] Kong on the 22nd of February the American consul always gave a ball to which the captains and their families were invited. One voyage we were there. As my father had to chaperone my sister to any social event I went to because there was no one with whom I could be left. That was when Colonel John F. Mosby was consul, and he invited sister to be his partner to lead the grand march. There were many young men there than young women so when the young men were without a partner for dancing they devoted themselves to me, and taught me to dance. I must have been about five years old. I had a wonderful time and danced until five o’clock in the morning. The last dance was the Virginia Reel, which I danced with my father. I was so small that when we formed the arch at the end the other couples had to almost crawl on their hands and knees to pass under, even though my father held my hands as high as he could. Sister had not told anyone until everyone was ready to go home that it was her birthday, when she told Colonel Mosby. He clapped his hands to call everyone’s attention and told everyone. That was how I learned to dance.”

Carrie notes more specifically:

Carrie A
Carrie Atherton, age 18

“Papa had made several trips to Hong Kong and this was our (Celia and I) second trip so we had several friends looking for us… I think it was this trip an Italian Opera Co. were playing. Papa got tickets for the season. It was my first opera hearing. Celia always went and kept her little eyes wide open all the time. We were as a rule on shore to dinner, entertained by friends. This would mean dinner at 7 o’clock till 9 o’clock. Portuguese musicians were ready to play and we would dance till midnight or past. Celia would enjoy this as well as I, as the young men seemed happy to teach her little steps and dance with her. She was always full of life, happy and wide awake, until we would get on board Ship. There she would insist she was not sleepy and wouldn’t go to bed, then there was a cry when she had to. She was so tired she would be asleep almost before I got her into bed. This was the trip too that I went to the Governor’s Ball with Colonel Mosby… [he] was ‘Mosby the Gorilla’ of the Civil War.

Bust of Colonel Mosby

He was a Southern Gentleman. Very quiet but known as a man of honesty and integrity. He held the respect of our governments’ representatives for himself and his government as but few consuls commanded. Papa said he was the most sober, not intoxicated, and honest consul he had ever dealt with.”


Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the sisters’ time in Hong Kong. Though the photographer(s) are unknown, these were all found in Carrie Atherton’s photo album.

victoria harbor
City of Victoria and Hong Kong Harbor from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)


canton street
A Street in Canton, China from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)
victoria street
Scene along the Praya, Victoria ~1885 From Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)

One thought on “Notes from the Archives: the Atherton Family Collection

  1. Gene

    Very eloquently, Ms. Sartain has woven together intricate pieces of the Atherton history leaving the reader feeling as though he had been on the ship, and travelled to Hong Kong!!

    The personal accounts of the daughters added an element of adventure and gave the story first-person perspective. The accounts leave you feeling like One has actually met the Athertons!!! Well done! Here! Here!

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