Part I: MAP

Audubon’s 1833 Labrador Expedition on the Ripley

In his ornithological quest for additional species for The Birds of America and as a prelude to his Labrador Expedition, Audubon had traveled (with Lucy) up the coast of Maine and into New Brunswick, Canada, in the summer of 1832. Before departing on the expedition he executed or began 21 watercolor models in New Jersey, Boston, or Maine (16 exhibited in Parts Unknown). After suffering a stroke in March of 1833, JJA embarked on this memorable, albeit fatiguing, expedition in search of northern water birds. Setting out on the Ripley from Eastport, Maine on June 6, 1833, he was accompanied by his youngest son, John Woodhouse, and five other young men. On the return voyage, they stopped at St. Georges Bay, Newfoundland and elsewhere, returning to Eastport on August 31, 1833 (see map), in order to avoid the early snows and frost. “As the chill blast that precedes the winter’s tempest thickened the fogs on the hills and ruffled the dark waters,” Audubon reported, “each successive day saw us more anxious to leave the dreary wilderness of grim rocks and desolate moss-clad valleys.” He began over 35 watercolor models (27 exhibited in Parts Unknown) during the expedition, far fewer than he had hoped to capture. His journey spanned from Eastport, Maine to the Strait of Belle Isle in Labrador Bay, at the tip of Labrador.

From the mid-eighteenth century, the boundaries of the eastern provinces of Canada were in constant flux. Only in 1927 were those of Labrador and Newfoundland set, although Quebec still disputes them to the present day. While Audubon was mostly in what today is known as Quebec (then Upper Canada), due to these fluctuations he was actually more correct in his identification of the area as Labrador, the more traditional, pre-colonial designation found on maps from the mid-eighteenth century.


In Boston, Massachusetts

End of April   
To New York to prepare for the Labrador Expedition, returning to Boston May 1

May 7–14       
In Eastport, Maine, engaging the Ripley, to Grand Manan Island (between Maine and New Brunswick)

June 6          
Sails for Labrador via Bay of Fundy and around Nova Scotia

June 12           
At the Gut of Canso

Late June        
Passes the Magdalen Islands to Gannet Rock and Bird Rock

Tours Canadian coast north to Bradore in the Strait of Belle Isle  (“Labrador Eggers” in the Ornithological Biography, volume 2)

Returns via St. George’s Bay to Pictou, Nova Scotia

Early Sept      
In New York City

October 24     
Arrives in Charleston for the winter


April 16          
Sails for England to oversee production of the plates

Audubon’s watercolor models from the Labrador Expedition continue in Part III of The Complete Flock in 2015.

Part II:


<i>Atlantic Puffin (</i>Fratercula arctica<i>), Study for Havell pl. 213</i>, 1833

John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), Study for Havell pl. 213, 1833
Watercolor, graphite, gouache, black ink, and black pastel with touches of glazing on paper, laid on card; 14 1/2 x 21 7/16 in. (36.8 x 54.5 cm)
Purchased for the Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.213

Parts Unknown: Audubon’s 1833 Labrador Expedition on the Ripley


When Audubon was preparing for his Labrador Expedition, his elder son, Victor Gifford, was in London supervising Havell’s engraving of The Birds of America. The artist wrote to Victor on May 31, 1833: “We are on the eve of our departure for the coast of Labrador. Our party consists of Dr. George Shattuck of Boston, Thomas Lincoln [after whom Audubon named the Lincoln’s Sparrow (1863.17.193)] of Dennysville [sic Dennisville], William Ingalls, son of Dr. Ingalls of Boston [who described Audubon’s position board], Joseph Collide, John, and myself. I have chartered a schooner called the ‘Ripley,’ commanded by Captain Emery. . . . only a year old, of 106 tons, for which we pay three hundred and fifty dollars per month for the entire use of the vessel with the men. . . .” In his Ornithological Biography, JJA noted that his work space in the hold included a parlor, a dining room, drawing room, and a library. As well as birds, the team also collected specimens of rare plants, which they pressed, fishes, and reptiles and quadrupeds stored in jars. Among their pets were Gulls, Cormorants, Guillemots, Puffins, Hawks, and a Raven. In addition to describing the expedition team’s nearly assembly-line-like daily routine in their nautical roost, Audubon noted that their gear was “that of the American fisherman” and was “more picturesque than fashionable.” Soon they exchanged their boots “for Esquimaux mounted mocassins of seal-skin, impermeable to water, light, easy, and fastening at top about the middle of the thigh to straps, which when buckled over the hips secured them well.”

Audubon, who had suffered sea sickness since childhood, mostly stayed on board drawing and writing while the young men hunted. He wrote splendidly moving and accurate accounts of the avian species he observed in the Ornithological Biography, while also commenting on the dwindling number of birds and the wasteful practices of most hunters, especially the plundering egg hunters.

“The distinctive appellation of Eggers is given to certain persons who follow . . .  the avocation of procuring the eggs of wild birds. . . . Their great object is to plunder every nest . . .  and at whatever risk. They are the pest of the feathered tribes, and their brutal propensity to destroy the poor creatures after they have robbed them, is abundantly gratified. . . . Much has been said to me respecting these destructive pirates before I visited the coast of Labrador, but I could not entirely credit all their cruelties until I had actually witnessed their proceedings, which were such as to inspire no small degree of horror [censored accounts of slaughter]. . . .  This war of extermination cannot last many years more. The Eggers themselves will be the first to repent the entire disappearance of the myriads of birds that made the coast of Labrador their summer residence. . . .” He added, “These wonderful nurseries must be finally destroyed, and in less than half a century, unless some kind of government interposes to put a stop to all this shameful destruction.” Audubon clearly defended his own harvesting of specimens for a higher goal, whereas the egger lacked a serious purpose: “the dollars alone chink in his sordid mind and he assiduously plies the trade which no man would ply who had the talents and industry to procure subsistence by honorable means.”

Presciently he wrote, “Nature herself is perishing. Labrador must shortly be depopulated, not only of her aboriginal men but of everything and animal which has life and attracts the cupidity of men. When her fish and game and birds are gone, she will be left alone like an old worn-out field.” Unfortunately, Audubon’s daily journal of his Labrador Expedition was edited (or “bowlderized”) by his granddaughter Maria R. Audubon before publication, after which, she and her sister destroyed it, together with all but two of Audubon’s other journals.

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