Redburn (1849) tells the story of young Wellingborough Redburn's journey across the Atlantic to England and back on a merchantship. Going to sea more or less on a romantic whim, our hero signs up as a hand on a ship bound for Liverpool. Told in the first person, Redburn describes his education on board, his experiences with seasickness, his abuse at the hands of the other sailors as a greenhorn landlubber.
Arriving in Liverpool, Redburn sets out to explore as much of the city as he can, with the help of a guidebook bequeathed to him by his late father, who had also made the same journey a generation before. After an adventurous trip to London with a pal, Redburn returns to his ship and crosses the Atlantic again, this time as a more seasoned sailor. The book blends several genres: the memoire, the sentimental education, the sea novel, and travel journal. There are shades of Smollet. The writing is magnificent, especially when Redburn is describing ships.
Another aspect of this exploration into different modes of knowledge is the importance given to naming. On his first voyage, the young greenhorn Redburn has to learn all the names of the ropes, which means also their uses. Without a knowledge of these names, he cannot fathom their uses: For my own part, I could do but little to help the rest, not knowing the name of anything, or the proper way to go about aught.. The text displays great curiosity about marine jargon and sailors' slang, and we are treated to examples and meditations on the significance of naming.