SCAMMON, Charles Melville

From Islapedia
Charles Melville Scammon (1825-1911)

SCAMMON, Charles Melville (1825-1911) was a 19th-century whaleman, naturalist, and author. He was the first to hunt the gray whales of both Laguna Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio Lagoon, the former once being called "Scammon's Lagoon" after him. In 1874 he wrote the book The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America, which was a financial failure. It is now considered a classic.

Scammon was born in Pittston, Maine, on May 28, 1825. In 1850 he sailed for California. On April 1, 1852 he left San Francisco in command of the brig Mary Helen (160 tons) on a combined sealing and whaling voyage. He returned on August 26 with 350 barrels of oil obtained from elephant seals. During the winter of 1855-56 he was among the vessels hunting gray whales in Magdalena Bay, when he was commanding the ship Leonore. In December 1857, commanding the brig Boston, with the schooner-tender Marin, he first hunted the gray whales of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, catching twenty. The following winter (1858–59), commanding the bark Ocean Bird and accompanied by the schooner tenders A.M. Simpson and Kate, he returned to the lagoon, catching forty-seven cows. In the winter of 1859-60 he first exploited another lagoon to the south, San Ignacio. Within a few seasons it had been swept clean of whales.

In 1860-61 he returned to Laguna Ojo de Liebre in the bark Ocean Bird, taking a paltry 245 barrels of oil – about seven whales. In the summer of 1862 he sailed to the Sea of Okhotsk in the San Francisco ship William C. Nye. He cruised around Iony Island and Shantar Bay until September, catching only three bowhead whales. In the winter of 1862-63 he hunted gray whales in Magdalena Bay, his last whaling cruise. He spent the following three decades in the Revenue Service, before retiring from disability in 1895.

Parents: Eliakim Scammon (1785-1870) = Joanna Young [1791-1860]

  • 1. Jonathan Young Scammon (1812-1890)
  • 2. Eliakim Parker Scammon (1816-1894)
  • 3. Joanna Young Scammon (1821-1821)
  • 4. Mary Eliza Scammon (1928-1829)
  • 5. Charles Melville Scammon (1825-1911)

Charles M. Scammon = [1849] Susan Crowell Norris (1829-1911)

  • 1. Charles Kimball Scammon (1850-1912) [died in Alaska]
  • 2. Alexander Elfsberg Scammon (1865-1942)
  • 3. Lawrence Norris Scammon (1872-1949) = [1900] Caroline Elizabeth Ball (1876-1942) [she died in Ecuador]
1. Dorothy Crowell Scammon (1901-1993) = Percy Andrew Jackson [no known children]
2. Lawrence Melville Scammon (1903-1971)
3. Mildred Jane Scammon (1908- )

Scammon died on May 2, 1911 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, CA next to his wife. They died within 24 hours of each other after 65 years together.

In October 1870, Scammon collected the 27-foot-long type specimen of the Davidson piked whale (Balaenoptera davidsoni, Scammon, 1872); it had been found dead on the shores of Admiralty Inlet by Italian fishermen, who towed it to Port Townsend Bay, where they flensed it.

[original in SCIF archives]

  • [1874]. C. M. Scammon. “The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America and the American Whale Fishery.” Facsimile edition of the 1874 first edition. Riverside: Manessier Publishing Co., 1969.
[original in SCIF archives]

  • [1874]. C. M. Scammon. Portfolio of plates reproduced for the above fascimile edition. :Twelve plates, being two copies of each of the following:
California Gray Whale (Plate II)
Humpback (Plate VII)
Bowhead (Plate XI)
Right Whale (Plate XII)
Sulphurbottom (Plate XIII)
Sperm Whale (Plate XIV)
[original in SCIF archives]

[original in SCIF archives]

  • C. M. Scammon. Landauer, Lyndall Baker. “Scammon Beyond the Lagoon: A Biography of Charles Melville Scammon.” San Francisco: Associates of the J. Porter Shaw Library, (1986). First edition in dust jacket.
[original in SCIF archives]

  • [Baja California]. C. M. Scammon. Map of a portion of Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino, including Laguna Manuela, Laguna Guerrero Negro, and Laguna Ojo de Liebre [Scammon’s Lagoon]. No place, publisher or date.
[original in SCIF archives]

  • [Baja California]. C. M. Scammon. “Chart of the Peninsula of Lower California with Additions of Lagoons on the West Coast.” Facsimile of the original in the Bancroft Library.
[original in SCIF archives]

  • [Baja California]. C. M. Scammon. Reconnaissance: Scammon’s Lagoon.” Facsimile of the original map in the Bancroft Library.
[original in SCIF archives]

Island Collections~
Santa Barbara Island C. M. Scammon NMNH 1873 USNM-B16635.4146505 Ptychoramphus aleuticus Birds

Cassin's Auklet egg collected by Charles Scammon,
Santa Barbara Island, 1873
Cassin's Auklet eggs collected by Charles Scammon,
Santa Barbara Island, 1873

NOTE: There is an interesting story about this set of 4 eggs, contributed by Paul Collins, SBMNH:

“ These eggs were initially catalogued into the USNM ornithology collection a belonging to the species Black-vented Shearwater which has only been recorded breeding on several of the islands off the west coast of Baja California. The first mention of the existence of these eggs was in a paper by A. W. Anthony in The Auk in 1896 in which he writes "Major Chas. E. Bendire writes me that there are four eggs of this species in the National Museum collection, collected in 1873 on Santa Barbara Island by Capt. C. M. Scammon. I have never explored the Northern Channel Islands of the Santa Barbara Group, but I am satisfied that shearwaters do not nest on either San Clemente or Santa Catalina Islands." Howell (1917) contacted the curator at the USNM Dr. C. W. Richmond who responded regarding these four eggs "The eggs are in all probability those of Cassin's Auklet (Pt. aleuticus) with which they agree in size and texture of shell. They had written on them in pencil, 'Egg of the Mutton Bird, Santa Barbara Id. Cal. ' From this beginning someone had added (on the data blank) 'Puffinus gavia?' and as the eggs of Puffinus were not common in our collection at the time, the determination passed muster for the time being". Since this original mention of these eggs in the USNM collections most ornithologists have discounted the species identification and assume that the eggs are from Cassin's Auklets as C. W. Richard suggested. Most authors since (Grinnell 1897,1898 1915, Willett 1912, 1933; Grinnell and Miller 1944) have followed Howell (1917) and concluded that the eggs must be from Cassin's Auklets. The eggs are currently cataloged in the USNM bird collections as Cassin's Auklet eggs (USNM 16635).

So as it stands now Scammon collected 4 eggs of a burrow nesting seabird on Santa Barbara Island in 1873 and these eggs are most likely from Cassin's Auklets and not from Black-vented Shearwaters. ”

In the News~

May 3, 1911 [SF Call]: “Aged couple die 24 hours apart. Captain Charles M. Scammon follows wife he married sixty-five years ago. Oakland, May 2.— With the death yesterday morning of Mrs. Susan Scammon and the death early this morning of Captain Charles M. Scammon, 65 years of happy married life came to an end. Old age was the cause of death in both cases. Captain Scammon being 85 years old and his wife 81. Captain Scammon as a young man brought his wife to Oakland and during their many years of married life were never separated for more than three or four days at a time.For years he was in charge of a revenue cutter in the bay. They are survived by three sons, Charles, Alex and Lawrence Scammon. The couple had lived in Oakland for 58 years. No funeral arrangements have yet been made. ”