Richard Vahsel, Captain of the Peiho Richard Vahsel, Captain of the Peiho By Rainer Buschmann Richard Vahsel (1868-1912) was a German ship captain hailing from the city of Hannover. After prolonged service with the Hamburg America Line (HAL), Vahsel joined the First German Antarctic Expedition (1901-1903) as second officer. Returning to HAL service following the expedition, Vahsel agreed to captain the steamer Peiho, named after a river (now Hai) in China, operated by the HAL in that country. The Hamburg Scientific Foundation had agreed to lease the ship along with the crew to operate it for 10,000 marks a month for the costly Hamburg South Sea Expedition (1908-1910) one of the most extensive ethnographic expeditions to German New Guinea. While the scientific participants of this expedition where contracted to surrender their diaries and ethnographic collections to the expedition organizers, the crew of the Peiho, including Vahsel, suffered no such restrictions. This freedom to collect proved problematic, since the expedition members and steamer’s crew would quickly compete over ethnographic acquisitions. Egregious examples emerged as soon as the expedition visited New Ireland the Admiralty Islands. Since the artifacts became difficult to hide, the ethnographers quickly learned about the steamer’s crew illicit activity. Captain Vahsel seem to have been the worst offender and Friedrich Fülleborn, as expedition leader, attempted to get the situation under control. A standoff between the two individuals ended with the captain refusing to surrender his artifacts to the Hamburg Scientific Foundation. Fülleborn had no other recourse but to appeal to Georg Thilenius the director of the Hamburg Ethnographic Museum. Thilenius in return saw no other option but to contact the HAL company leader to rein in the recalcitrant crew. The HAL leadership reacted by sending a telegram to the captain to cease and desist their collecting activity. Rivalries over acquired artifacts were probably least offensive to the expedition officials. More importantly was the sense that the steamer’s crew was ruining prices since they were willing to pay handsomely where the ethnologists would be carefully attempting to keep exchanges to a minimum. Despite the admonition from his superiors, Vahsel continued to collect and acquired even nice pieces from the Sepik River. Vahsel seem to have gone even beyond mere collecting and exchanged objects with other ship captains in German New Guinea, for instance, captain Roscher of North German Lloyd steamer Langeoog. Following the end of the Hamburg Expedition, Vahsel served as captain of vessel Deutschland, as part of the Second German Antarctic Expedition (1911-1913). Vahsel and expedition leader Wilhelm Filchner developed a deep animosity that spilled into the expedition’s results. Vahsel fell ill and died in the Wendell Sea in 1912 before the expedition could return home. In Germany, Vahsel’s heirs contacted the Leipzig museum to sell ethnographic artifacts, mostly from German New Guinea, from his estate. A small collection of artifacts arrived in Leipzig with museum officials paying about 500 marks to Vahsel’s heirs. Other pieces from Vahsel’s collection can be found at other German museums. Hamburg Expedition participants 1908-1909 on the Peiho. Vahsel is third from the left, framed by ethnographic collector F. E. Hellwig (2nd from left) and expedition leader Friedrich Fülleborn (4th from the left). Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt. Tami Island Ladle collected by Richard Vahsel, ex. Linden Museum, Stuttgart Germany—79450/L. 1172./5./Tami I/Slg. Vahsel.