Redburn: His First Voyage is the fourth book by the American writer Herman Melville, first published in London in 1849. The book is semi-autobiographical and recounts the adventures of a refined youth among coarse and brutal sailors and the seedier areas of Liverpool. Melville wrote Redburn in less than ten weeks. While one scholar describes it as "arguably his funniest work," scholar F.O. Matthiessen calls it "the most moving of its author's books before Moby-Dick".
Unable to find employment at home, young Wellingborough Redburn signs on the Highlander, a merchantman out of New York City bound for Liverpool, England. Representing himself as the "son of a gentleman" and expecting to be treated as such, he discovers that he is just a green hand, a "boy", the lowest rank on the ship, assigned all the duties no other sailor wants, like cleaning out the "pig-pen", a longboat that serves as a shipboard sty. The first mate promptly nicknames him "Buttons" for the shiny ones on his impractical jacket. Redburn quickly grasps the workings of social relations aboard ship. As a common seaman he can have no contact with those "behind the mast" where the officers command the ship. Before the mast, where the common seaman work and live, a bully named Jackson, the best seaman aboard, rules through fear with an iron fist. Uneducated yet cunning, with broken nose and squinting eye, he is described as "a Cain afloat, branded on his yellow brow with some inscrutable curse and going about corrupting and searing every heart that beat near him." Redburn soon experiences all the trials of a greenhorn: seasickness, scrubbing decks, climbing masts in the dead of night to unfurl sails, cramped quarters, and bad food.