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Title: Whale Fishery of New England
Author: Various
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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for apparent typographical errors, which have been corrected.



  [Illustration: Sailing ship page decoration]



  The vignette on the title-page is reproduced from a print of the
  ship “Maria” of New Bedford, which in 1853 was the oldest whaleship
  owned in the United States. Her registry was dated 1782. She was
  built in Pembroke, now called Hanson, for a privateer during the
  Revolutionary War, and was bought in the year 1783 by William Rotch
  of Nantucket, afterwards of New Bedford. At one time she was owned
  by Samuel Rodman, and also by the Russells. In construction she was
  the typical whaleship of her time. It is said that she earned for
  her owners $250,000 and made twenty-five voyages, bringing back a
  full cargo each time. The tailpiece is from a very old print which
  represents whaling in the seventeenth century.

  _Compiled, arranged and printed
  under the direction of the
  Walton Advertising and Printing Company
  Boston, Mass._


The people of New England have long been interested in all matters
pertaining to the sea, and members of many of her best-known families
have commanded its merchant ships and whalers.

The State Street Trust Company has always endeavored to encourage an
interest in historical matters, and it is hoped that this pamphlet, the
ninth of the series, which deals with one of our earliest industries,
will be interesting to the Company’s depositors and also to the
general public. It is sent to you with the compliments of the Company,
which for over twenty years has tried to serve the interests of its

For valuable assistance in the preparation of this pamphlet the Trust
Company desires to acknowledge its indebtedness to Dr. Benjamin Sharp
and Sidney Chase, residents of Nantucket (the latter being a descendant
of the Starbucks, Coffins and Husseys), to Z. W. Pease, Frank Wood and
George H. Tripp, all of New Bedford (Mr. Tripp being the librarian of
the Free Public Library), Llewellyn Howland, Frederick P. Fish, Charles
H. Taylor, Jr., Roy C. Andrews and Madison Grant of the American
Museum of Natural History, New York, D. A. deMenocal, J. E. Lodge
and Kojiro Tornita of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and George F.
Lord, secretary of the Boston Stock Exchange. Assistance has also been
rendered by the officers of the Trust Company.

The following books have been used as references and contain valuable
information and many interesting anecdotes:—

  “The Story of New England Whalers,” by John R. Spears.

  “History of the American Whale Fishery,” by Alexander Starbuck.

  “A History of the American Whale Fishery,” by Walter S. Tower.

  “Moby Dick, or the White Whale,” by Herman Melville.

  “Whaling Ventures and Adventures,” by George H. Tripp.

  “Whaling and Fishing,” by Charles Nordhoff.

  “Miriam Coffin,” by Col. Joseph C. Hart.

  “The Gam,” by Capt. Charles Henry Robbins.

  “Eighteen Months on a Greenland Whaler,” by Joseph P. Faulkner.

  “Arctic Whaleman and Whaling,” by Rev. Lewis Holmes.

  “Cruise of the Cachalot,” by Frank T. Bullen.

  “History of Nantucket,” by Edward K. Godfrey.

  “History of Nantucket,” by Obed Macy.

  “History of Nantucket,” by Douglas-Lithgow.

  “The Glacier’s Gift” (Nantucket), by Eva C. G. Folger.

  “History of New Bedford,” by Daniel Ricketson.

  “The Perils and Romance of Whaling,” by G. Kobbé.

  “The Whale and its Captors,” by Rev. Henry T. Cheever.

  “Incidents of a Whaling Voyage,” by Olmstead.

  “Nimrod of the Sea,” by Captain Davis.

  “Hunting the Biggest of all Big Game,” by Roy C. Andrews.

  “Four Years Aboard a Whaleship,” by William B. Whitecar, Jr.

  “Etchings of a Whaling Cruise,” by J. Ross Browne.

  “Bark Kathleen, sunk by a Whale,” by Capt. T. H. Jenkins.

  “Peter the Whaler,” by William H. G. Kingston.

  “The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States,” by
  George Brown Goode, prepared for the United States Tenth Census.

[Illustration: Model of the whaleship “Henry,” made at sea in 1847.
This model stands in the main banking rooms of the Company, and may be
seen by visitors.]



  THE WHALE                                            7

  ANCIENT HISTORY OF WHALING                           8

  EARLY NEW ENGLAND WHALING                           13

  NANTUCKET                                           16

  NEW BEDFORD                                         23

  OTHER NEW ENGLAND WHALING PORTS                     33

  ABOARD A “BLUBBER HUNTER”                           35



  METHODS OF CAPTURE AND “TRYING OUT”                 45

  THE PERILS OF WHALING                               51

  THE “CATALPA” EXPEDITION                            58

  DECLINE OF WHALING AND THE CAUSES                   60

  WHALING OF TO-DAY                                   62

  The illustrations used in this brochure are from rare prints in the
  possession of the Dartmouth Historical Society and the Free Public
  Library of New Bedford, H. S. Hutchinson & Co., Charles H. Taylor,
  Jr., Roy C. Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History of
  New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., and others.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor
the dexterous and firm sagacity of the English enterprise, ever carried
this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it
has been pushed by this recent People; a People who are still, as
it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone, of
manhood.”—_From a speech by Edmund Burke before Parliament in 1775._

[Illustration: Capturing a huge sperm whale. (From a very rare print.)]


  “Oh, the rare old Whale, ’mid storm and gale,
    In his ocean home will be
  A giant in might where might is right,
    And King of the boundless sea.”

  _From “Moby Dick.”_

No animal in prehistoric or historic times has ever exceeded the
whale, in either size or strength, which explains perhaps its survival
from ancient times. Few people have any idea of the relative size of
the whale compared with other animals. A large specimen weighs about
ninety tons, or thirty times as much as an elephant, which beside a
whale appears about as large as a dog compared to an elephant. It is
equivalent in bulk to one hundred oxen, and outweighs a village of one
thousand people. If cut into steaks and eaten, as in Japan, it would
supply a meal to an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men.

[Illustration: A French lithograph showing the comparative sizes of a
whale, an elephant, a horse, and a giraffe.]

Whales have often exceeded one hundred feet in length, and George Brown
Goode, in his report on the United States Fisheries, mentions a finback
having been killed that was one hundred and twenty feet long. A whale’s
head is sometimes thirty-five feet in circumference, weighs thirty
tons, and has jaws twenty feet long, which open thirty feet wide to a
mouth that is as large as a room twenty feet long, fifteen feet high,
nine feet wide at the bottom, and two feet wide at the top. A score of
Jonahs standing upright would not have been unduly crowded in such a

The heart of a whale is the size of a hogshead. The main blood artery
is a foot in diameter, and ten to fifteen gallons of blood pour out at
every pulsation. The tongue of a right whale is equal in weight to ten
oxen, while the eye of all whales is hardly as large as a cow’s, and
is placed so far back that it has in direction but a limited range of
vision. The ear is so small that it is difficult to insert a knitting
needle, and the brain is only about ten inches square. The head, or
“case,” contains about five hundred barrels, of ten gallons each, of
the richest kind of oil, called spermaceti.

One of these giants, when first struck by a harpoon, can go as fast as
a steam yacht, twenty or twenty-five miles an hour, but it soon slows
down to its usual speed of about twelve miles, developing about one
hundred and forty-five horse-power.

Mr. Roy C. Andrews, of the American Museum of Natural History, New
York, was on a whaler ninety feet long, which struck a finback whale,
and he says that for seven hours the whale towed the vessel, with
engines going at full speed astern, almost as though it had been a

The whale’s young are about twelve feet long at birth, and can swim
as soon as they are born. So faithfully does the cow whale watch over
her offspring when they are together that she will rarely move when
attacked for fear of leaving the young whale unprotected, or of hurting
it if she thrashes round to escape capture. It is believed that whales
sometimes live to attain the age of eight hundred years. They sleep
at the bottom of the ocean, which fact shows that they do not inhale
air when asleep, like the warm-blooded animals, and to help them in
breathing below the surface they have a large reservoir of blood to
assist circulation. This spot is known to whalemen as the “life” of the
whale. When “sounding” to a great depth it is estimated that the whale
bears on its back the weight of twenty battleships. The strength and
power of a whale are described as almost unbelievable.


Every one knows the story of Jonah; how he was thrown overboard to
appease the gods, and how a “big fish” swallowed him and carried him
ashore. It will always be a mooted question whether or not the big
fish was a whale. If it were a whale, it is doubtful whether Jonah got
any further than its mouth, on account of the smallness of a whale’s
throat. It may be well to explain that a whale does not belong to the
fish family, but is a mammal, and therefore, perhaps, this great fish
mentioned wasn’t a whale.

This “fishing on a gigantic scale,” as it has been often termed, is
of very ancient origin and dates back to 890 A.D., when a Norwegian,
called Octhere, skirted the coast of Norway for whales.

The Biscayans, who in the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and
fifteenth centuries became famous on account of their whale fishery,
were the first people to prosecute this industry as a regular
commercial pursuit. In this connection the French are also mentioned
about 1261, using the whale for food. Also the Icelanders are
believed to have whaled some time during the twelfth century. The first
reference to English whaling appears during the fourteenth century, and
by statutory law the whale was declared “a royal fish.” Another curious
law was that the King, as Honorary Harpooner, received the head, and
the Queen the tail of all whales captured along the English coast,
which is very much like halving an apple, there is so little left.

[Illustration: From an old English print.]

[Illustration: A rare old English print of the Eighteenth Century.]

[Illustration: A “cachalot” on the seacoast of Holland. People have
always shown intense interest in drift whales.]

[Illustration: Whale-hunting in Westmannshaven Bay, Norway.

The Norwegians were the earliest whalers of which we have any records.]

[Illustration: The Dutch boiling oil on shore in a huge “try-works,”
which was the early method of preparing the oil.]

In 1612 the Dutch became the leaders and were still very active about
1680, employing two hundred and sixty ships and fourteen thousand
seamen, and during the last part of the seventeenth century they
furnished nearly all Europe with oil. To them is attributed the
improvements in the harpoon, the line, and the lance, and to their
early prominence in the industry we owe the very name “whale,” a
derivation from the Dutch and German word “wallen,” meaning to roll
or wallow. They established a whaling settlement at Spitzbergen, only
eleven degrees from the North Pole, where they boiled the oil; in fact,
during the early days of whaling all nations “tried out” their oil on
land. The Dutch continued to be the leaders until about 1770, when the
English superseded them owing to the royal bounties.


The history of American whaling really begins with the settlement of
the New England Colonies. When the “Mayflower” anchored inside of Cape
Cod, the Pilgrims saw whales playing about the ship, and this was their
chief reason for settling there. It afterwards proved that the products
of the whale formed an important source of income to the settlers on
Massachusetts Bay.

The subject of drift, or dead whales which were washed ashore, first
attracted the colonists, and there are numerous references to them on
record. It was the invariable rule for the government to get one-third,
the town one-third, and the owner one-third, and in 1662 it was voted
that a portion of every whale should be given to the church. The whale
fishery increased steadily, so that in 1664 Secretary Randolph could
truthfully write to England, “The new Plymouth colony made great
profit by whale killing.” The success of the settlers on Cape Cod and
elsewhere encouraged Salem to consider ways and means of whaling; for
as early as 1688 one James Loper, of Salem, petitioned the Colonial
authorities for a patent for making oil, and four years later some
Salem whalers complained that Easthamptonites had stolen whales that
bore Salem harpoons. As early as 1647 whaling had become a recognized
industry in Hartford, Conn., but for some reason did not prosper.

The first white people to explore our New England coasts discovered
that the Indians were ahead of them in the pursuit of the whale. The
Red Men in canoes attacked these beasts with stone-headed arrows and
spears which were attached to short lines. Usually wooden floats were
tied to the line, which impeded the progress of the animal, and by
frequent thrusts these early hunters actually worried the life out of
the whale.

[Illustration: This print shows the high sterns of the old Dutch

Waymouth’s Journal of his voyage to America in 1605 gives the first
description of the Indian method of whaling in canoes on the New
England coast from November to April, when spouters generally abounded
there. “One especial thing is their manner of killing the whale” runs
the quaint description “which they call a powdawe; and will describe
his form; how he bloweth up the water; and that he is twelve fathoms
long: that they go in company of their king with a multitude of their
boats; and strike him with a bone made in fashion of a harping iron
fastened to a rope, which they make great and strong of the bark of
trees, which they veer out after him; then all their boats come about
him as he riseth above water, with their arrows they shoot him to
death; when they have killed him and dragged him to shore, they call
all their chief lords together, and sing a song of joy; and those chief
lords, whom they call sagamores, divide the spoil and give to every man
a share, which pieces so distributed, they hang up about their houses
for provisions; and when they boil them they blow off the fat and put
to their pease, maize and other pulse which they eat.”

[Illustration: Early method of bringing whales on shore by means of a

The Esquimaux at this time were very much more advanced than the
Indians, and showed their ingenuity by inventing the “toggle” harpoon,
which is in use to this day, and which was improved upon in 1848 by
a Negro in New Bedford called Lewis Temple, who made his fortune
turning out irons. This harpoon was arranged to sink very easily into
the blubber, but when pulled out the end turned at right angles to the
shank, thus preventing the harpoon from withdrawing.

Boston is mentioned only occasionally in connection with the Whale
Fishery. During 1707 the Boston papers state that a whale forty feet
long entered the harbour and was killed near Noddle’s Island, and
another interesting record is in a letter written in 1724 by the Hon.
Paul Dudley, who mentions that he has just received a note from a Mr.
Atkins of Boston, who was one of the first to go fishing for sperm
whales. There were many whaleships recorded in the Boston records,
although fitting out and sailing from other neighboring ports.


A large part of the romance of whaling centres around the island of
Nantucket and its hardy seamen. It was from here that the Red Men first
sallied out in canoes to chase the whale; from here the small sloops
first set out laden with cobblestones, as the story goes, to throw at
the whales to see if they were near enough to risk a harpoon. These
daring Nantucketers were, in 1791, the first to sail to the Pacific,
and later on in 1820 to the coast of Japan, and finally they made their
ships known in every harbour of the world. Thirty islands and reefs in
the Pacific are named after Nantucket captains and merchants.

There is an amusing legend concerning the origin of the island. A
giant was said to be in the habit of sleeping on Cape Cod, because
its peculiar shape fitted him when he curled himself up. One night he
became very restless and thrashed his feet around so much that he got
his moccasins filled with sand. In the morning he took off first one
moccasin and then the other, flinging their contents across the sea,
thus forming the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

From the time of the settlement of the island, the entire population,
from the oldest inhabitant down to the youngest child, realized that
on the whaling industry depended their livelihood. A story is told
of a Nantucket youngster who tied his mother’s darning cotton to a
fork, and, hurling it at the cat as she tried to escape, yelled “Pay
out, mother! Pay out! There she ‘sounds’ through the window!” The
inhabitants always alluded to a train as “tying up,” a wagon was called
a “side-wheeler,” every one you met was addressed as “captain,” and a
horse was always “tackled” instead of harnessed. The refrain of an old
Nantucket song runs as follows:—

  “So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
  While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!”

A young man who had not doubled the cape or harpooned a whale had no
chance of winning a Nantucket, New Bedford, or New London belle, and
it is stated as a fact that the girls of Nantucket at one time formed
a secret society, and one of their pledges was never to marry a man
until he had “struck his whale.” The well-known Nantucket novel “Miriam
Coffin” tells of a girl who made to her two lovers a condition of
marriage that they must first of all undertake a whaling voyage, and
that she would wed the more successful of the two. It happened that
one was a Minister, and the other was no better adapted to the whale
fishery; nevertheless, both set out to sea. The former was killed by a
whale, and the latter returned after an absence of several years, but
instead of claiming his bride, he tells her that before going he had
already made up his mind that a girl who made such foolish propositions
was no girl for him; and so the story ends.

[Illustration: A whaler circling Cape Horn.]

Many a Nantucket bride stepped from her home to her husband’s whaleship
for a three-year voyage round Cape Horn, which probably suggested these

  “I asked a maiden by my side,
    Who sighed and looked at me forlorn,
  ‘Where is your heart?’ She quick replied,
    ‘Round Cape Horn.’

         *       *       *       *       *

  “I said, ‘I’ll let your fathers know,’
    To boys in mischief on the lawn;
  They all replied, ‘Then you must go
    Round Cape Horn.’

         *       *       *       *       *

  “In fact, I asked a little boy
    If he could tell where he was born;
  He answered, with a mark of joy,
    ‘Round Cape Horn.’”

Any one who did not live in Nantucket was called a foreigner. To show
their attitude a schoolboy was asked to write a thesis on Napoleon, and
he began by stating that “Napoleon was a great man and a great soldier,
but he was an off-islander.” In fact, it was an act of condescension
for a Nantucketer even to shake hands with a “Mainlander,” and there
are many of the older islanders to-day who have never set foot on any
other soil.

Most of the inhabitants were Quakers, and there was a saying that a
Nantucketer was half Quaker and half sailor. Though their cemetery
contains about ten thousand graves, there are only half a dozen
tombstones in one corner of the field. There are no “Friends” in
Nantucket to-day. The following incident shows the Quaker thrift, to
which was due in a great measure their success in whaling. When the
first chaise was purchased, the owner was about to take a drive in it,
but, after a few minutes’ deliberation, decided it was too progressive,
and would subject him to criticism, so he loaned it only to invalids
and funeral parties.

Billy Clark was town crier, and for forty years, up to the time of
his death in 1909, he voluntarily announced with a bell and horn the
arrival of all whalers and steamers. Once as he went along ringing,
a girl asked him rudely where he got his bell, and his reply was,
“I got my bell where you got your manners,—at the ‘brass foundry.’”
Nantucketers declare that his death was due to the fact that he
actually “blew his lungs away.”

The Chase family has always occupied a most prominent position in the
history of the island. One of the family was Reuben Chase, who served
under John Paul Jones on the “Ranger,” and on his death the following
epitaph was placed on his tombstone:—

  “Free from the storms and gusts of human life,
  Free from its error and its strife,
  Here lies Reuben Chase anchored; who stood
  The sea of ebbing life and flowing misery.
  He was not dandy rigged, his prudent eye
  Fore-saw and took a reef at fortune’s quickest flow.
  He luffed and bore away to please mankind;
  Yet duty urged him still to head the wind,
  Rumatic gusts at length his masts destroyed,
  Yet jury health awhile he yet enjoyed,
  Worn out with age and shattered head,
  At foot he struck and grounded on his bed.
  There careening thus he lay,
  His final bilge expecting every day,
  Heaven took his ballast from his dreary hold,
  And left his body destitute of soul.”

Every islander knows the story of the Nantucket skipper who claimed
that he could always tell where his ship was by the color and taste of
the lead after sounding. Marden, his mate, on one trip determined to
fool him, and for this purpose brought some dirt from a neighbor’s
garden in Nantucket. He woke up the skipper one morning off Cape
Horn, and showed him the lead, which had been smeared with this dirt,
whereupon, to quote the words of James Thomas Fields,—

  “The skipper stormed and tore his hair,
    Hauled on his boots and roared to Marden:
  ‘Nantucket’s sunk, and here we are
    Right over old Marm Hackett’s garden!’”

Another Nantucket captain always took to sea medicine bottles, each
numbered and indexed to suit different complaints. Once his mate was
ill, and, looking up the bottle to administer in his case, found
that No. 13 contained the cure for his patient. Unfortunately, this
bottle had all been used, so, after careful deliberation, he mixed the
contents of bottles 6 and 7, which he gave the mate, who promptly died.

Early history tells us that Thomas Macy purchased the island for thirty
pounds and two beaver hats, “One for myself and one for my wife,” and
to him therefore belongs the honor of the settlement of Nantucket; he
had been driven away from Massachusetts for sheltering Quakers, which
was at that time against the law, and with his friend Edward Starbuck
fled to the island and established a colony composed of such well-known
families as the Coffins, Husseys, Swaynes, Gardners, Chases, Folgers,
and Starbucks. These men were not whalers, but they watched the Indians
and learned much from them, and later on employed Ichabod Paddock to
come over from Cape Cod and instruct them further.

The character of the island and its situation far out in the ocean,
its poor soil, and the number of whales along its shores, all proved
an inducement to the Nantucketers to follow the sea as a calling. At
first, there were so many whales that they did not find it necessary
to go beyond the coast; so, under the guidance of Paddock, lookouts
were erected along the South shore, and each man patrolled a certain
amount of territory. Each one took his share of whales killed, and
business flourished. This method of whaling continued until 1712,
when Christopher Hussey, while cruising along the coast, was blown
out to sea. He ran across a sperm whale, which he finally killed and
brought home. This year was epoch making, as this was the first sperm
whale known to have been taken by Americans. The oil from this species
of whale being superior to that of all others, the Nantucketers now
(1715) decided to change their methods and to whale in the “deep.”
As the vessels steadily increased in size with greater and greater
cargo-carrying capacity, voyages necessarily became longer, extending
even to periods of four or five years. In fact, a voyage lasting but
two years was considered unusually short. The point of view of most
whalers regarding a two-year voyage is shown by the captain who, when
boarding his ship, was reminded by a friend that he had not said
“Good-by” to his wife,—

“Why should I?” said he; “I am only to be gone two years.”

[Illustration: The famous Roach (Rotch) fleet, “Enterprise,” “Wm.
Roach,” “Pocahontas,” and “Houqua,” among a “school” of sperm whales
off the coast of Hawaii. Ships often cruised together and divided the
catch. Honolulu owes its rapid rise partially to the frequent visits of
the whalers. The first vessel fitted out from the Sandwich Islands was
in 1837 and was owned by Henry A. Pierce of New Bedford.]

About 1730 “try-works” were built on the vessels instead of on the
shore, and the oil was boiled and stowed away at sea, thus allowing
the ships to make much longer voyages. At this time Nantucket owned as
many whaleships as all the other ports of America combined. Whaling
continued to increase, and the sterile island was turned into a
prosperous community, when the Revolution came on, and for the time
being practically put an end to the industry. Nantucket was the only
port that carried on whaling during the war: the island simply had to
whale or starve, as the inhabitants knew no other occupation. Most
of their vessels were eventually captured or lost by shipwreck, and
over twelve hundred of their men were either killed or made prisoners.
The end of the war found the island’s business hopelessly wrecked;
but, with their usual pluck and determination, the Nantucketers once
more built up a profitable fleet. So impoverished were they that the
government for one year levied no taxes.

At the close of the war a Quaker, called William Rotch, was Nantucket’s
greatest whaler, and even he became so discouraged with the prospects
at home that in 1785 he left the island in his ship, the “Maria,”
for London. He endeavored to make some arrangement with the English
government to import some whaling families from Nantucket, but,
failing to do so, repaired to France, where he succeeded in making an
agreement with Louis XVI. A great many families moved to France, and
carried on the pursuit from Dunkirk in Normandy. Rotch soon returned to
Nantucket, and later moved to New Bedford, where he died. The old Rotch
counting-house was later used as a club-room for Nantucket whaling
captains, and is even now being used as such. In the old prosperous
days this was jocosely called the House of Commons, while another club,
which was used by the ship owners, was named the House of Lords.

Immediately after the war, the ship “Bedford,” one of the Rotch
vessels, was loaded with oil, and sent to England under command of
Captain Mooers. This was the first vessel to display the American flag
in a British port. It is related that one of the crew of the ship was
hunchbacked, and when on shore one day a British sailor clapped his
hand on his shoulder, and said, “Hello, Jack, what have you got here?”
“Bunker Hill, and be d—d to you,” replied the Yankee.

The redoubtable Nantucketers resumed their whaling at the close of the
Revolution, and their energy and skill were again yielding rich profits
when the War of 1812 almost annihilated the island’s fleet. But as it
was another case of whale or starve, Nantucket continued to send out a
few whalers, and was the only American port during the war that dared
to brave the risks of British capture.

[Illustration: A “camel” floating a whaler to sea over the Nantucket
bar. The “camel” was used from 1842 to 1849, enabling the Nantucketers
for a time to keep pace with the New Bedfordites.]

About this time, in one of the Pacific ports, an incident occurred
which showed in an amusing light the ready wit and intrepid courage of
an American whaleman. He had in some way displeased an English naval
officer, who, feeling himself highly insulted, promptly challenged the
Yankee, who accepted and, being the challenged party, had the choice
of weapons. He selected, of course, the weapon with which he was most
skilful and took his stand with a poised harpoon. It had altogether too
dangerous an appearance for the irate Englishman, particularly as the
whaleman was evidently an expert in the manual of thrust and parry, and
so with as good grace as he could command, the Englishman withdrew from
the fight.

At a very early day in the fishery, whaling vessels, which were at
first long rowboats and later small sloops, began to increase in size,
and about 1820 ships of three hundred tons were found profitable.
The increase in profit producing capacity, strange as it may appear,
actually sounded the death-knell of the Nantucket whaling, for
across the mouth of the harbour ran a bar, over which it soon became
impossible for whaling vessels of large size to pass. The difficulty
was for a time overcome by the true Yankee ingenuity of some inventive
Nantucketer, who devised the “camel,” a veritable dry-dock barge in
which the larger whaleships, lightened often of oil and bone, were
floated over the bar into the forest of masts which in those days
characterized a harbour now frequented only by a few schooners and
sloops, the small pleasure crafts of the summer residents, and an
occasional steamer.

As whaleships still continued to increase in size, the “camel”
expedient was only a temporary success; for the time came when vessels
were of too great tonnage to be thus floated over the bar, and the
daring and skilful Nantucketer, who had taught the civilized world
not only how, but where, to whale, had to admit defeat and gradually
give up the industry to more fortunately situated ports. At this time,
about 1830, Nantucket was commercially the third largest city in
Massachusetts, Boston being first and Salem second.

In 1843 Nantucket owned its record number of ships, eighty-eight. In
1846, which is referred to as the “boom” year in American whaling,
sixteen vessels cleared from Nantucket and sixty-nine from her near-by
rival—New Bedford. In 1869 Nantucket sent her last ship and disappeared
from the list of whaling ports. The great fire of 1846 also contributed
to the downfall of the industry.

A new era in whaling was to be born, with New Bedford as the centre,
and Nantucket was to become only a health resort and mecca for
sight-seers, more than ten thousand persons visiting the island in 1914.


New Bedford undoubtedly owed its whaling success to its proximity to
Nantucket, to its wonderful harbour, and to the honesty, thrift, and
good business ability of its citizens, most of whom were Quakers.

[Illustration: A whaler leaving New Bedford Harbour.]

As in Nantucket, the whole city lived to go whaling, and as each
inhabitant made more money, he moved his residence higher up on the
Hill. It is said that there was an inn called the “Crossed Harpoons,”
and another called “Spouter Inn,” and there is a Whaleman’s Chapel on
Johnny Cake Hill where regular Sunday services were held, at which the
following hymn was always sung by the congregation:—

  “The ribs and terrors of the whale
    Arched over me in dismal gloom,
  While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by
    And left me deepening down to doom.

  “I saw the opening maw of hell,
    With endless pains and sorrows there;
  Which none but they that feel can tell—
    Oh, I was plunging to despair—

  “In black distress I called to God,
    When I could scarce believe him mine,
  He bowed his ear to my complaints—
    No more the whale did me confine.”

The pulpit of this chapel was made to represent the prow of a
whaleship, and was ascended by means of a rope ladder, which the
minister, who had been a harpooner in his youth, hauled up after him.
Around the walls of this little church can still be seen tablets
erected in memory of many whalemen who lost their lives at sea. There
also was a daily paper called _The Whaleman_, which gave the reports of
the whaleships and the whaling news. It has been said that New Bedford
fathers gave whales for dowers to their daughters, and that they had
reservoirs of oil in their attics to burn on gala occasions.

It is a curious fact that three Morgans not long ago married three
Rotchs, three Rotchs married three Rodmans, and three Rodmans married
three Motleys. Among other well-known New Bedford whaling families are
the Hathaways, Swifts, Howlands, Morgans, Stones, Delanos, Rodmans,
Seaburys, Giffords, Tabers, Grinnells, and Wings.

Whaling was a tremendous financial gamble, and until a vessel came
home “clean” or “greasy,” meaning empty or full, the success of the
voyage was not known. They tell a story of a New Bedford captain who
had been out for nearly four years, and as he came up to the wharf the
owners asked him what luck he had had. His reply was, “I didn’t get any
whales, but I had a damn good sail.” There is another tale of a seaman
whose vessel left New Bedford on the day of his mother’s funeral.
Naturally he set sail with a heavy heart, and during his three years’
cruise he thought many times of his sorrowful father at home. As the
ship neared the docks he was met by his father with “Hurry up, Jim, I
want to introduce you to your new mother.” There were many changes at
home during a long cruise, and sometimes even the fashions had entirely
changed. One whaleship captain described his surprise at seeing for the
first time the crinoline or hoop skirt.

The real founder of New Bedford, and the pioneer of the whale fishery
at this port, was Joseph Russell, who sent his ships out in 1765.
Several years later the first ship was launched and was called the
“Dartmouth,” and this vessel is well known to history owing to the fact
that she was one of the ships that carried into Boston Harbour the tea
that was thrown overboard. The whaling industry increased steadily,
except during the wars, until 1857, when the New Bedford fleet numbered
three hundred and twenty-nine vessels, was valued at over twelve
million dollars, and employed over twelve thousand seamen. If these
vessels had been strung out in line, they would have stretched over ten
miles. In addition to these sailors, thousands of others were employed
at home making casks, irons, ropes, and many other articles used in
whaling. In fact, it was often stated that the population was divided
into three parts,—those away on a voyage, those returning, and those
getting ready for the next trip.

There were many nationalities represented in the crews of the whalers,
and the New Bedford streets presented a very foreign appearance, with
Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegians, Germans, French, English,
Scotch, Irish, Sandwich Islanders, and New Englanders at every turn. A
large number of Portuguese served on whaleships, and a part of the city
near the south end of Water Street became known as Fayal.

The “Golden Age,” as it is called, of whaling was between 1825 and
1860, and during the whole of this period New Bedford assumed the lead,
even long after other ports had given up the pursuit. It is estimated
that about the year 1848 there were over seventy millions invested
in the industry and seventy thousand persons derived from it their

It is an interesting fact that the insurance on American whalemen
was about one-half the rate that was charged the Englishman, which
certainly showed the superiority of our Yankee seamen. There were
several whaling insurance companies in New Bedford. There is a story
told of a New Bedford ship owner who had just heard that his vessel
had gone down and he hadn’t yet received the insurance policy from the
company. He sent a letter down to the office which read as follows:
“I have heard from my ship and thee need not place the insurance.” Of
course, the policy was sent up immediately.

The New Bedford whalers explored new grounds, and to this fact chiefly
is due the continued prosperity of its whale fishery, but it was to die
slowly; in 1875 the fleet from this port had declined to 116 vessels,
in 1886 to 77 ships, and in 1906 to 24.

[Illustration: The famous Stone Fleet sailing from New Bedford, Nov.
16, 1861. The ships were loaded with stones and were sunk in the
mouths of certain Southern harbours during the Civil War, to prevent
blockade runners from entering. The vessels in this picture are the
Garland, Maria Theresa, Rebecca Simms, Leonidas, South America, Archer,
American, Harvest, Amazon, Cossack, Courier, Henrietta, Potomac,
Kensington, Herald and L. C. Richmond.]

[Illustration: The captains of the Stone Fleet. A fine type of old
New England ship masters. Standing from left to right—Captains Beard,
Gifford, Swift, Childs, Stall, French, Wood, Cumiski, Willis, Bailey.
Sitting from left to right—Captains Malloy, Swift, Brown, Howland,
Worth, Tilton, Brayton, Taylor, Chadwick.]

One of the chief historical events of New Bedford happened in 1861,
when the famous Stone Fleet sailed from that port. The United States
government decided to purchase some old ships and sink them in the
channels of the harbours of Charleston and Savannah, to prevent
blockade running during the war. H. Bartlett & Sons supervised their
purchase and Captain Rodolphus N. Swift was the general agent. Bartlett
purchased some of the old whalers for as small a price as thirty-one
hundred and fifty dollars, some of them having more cement than wood
in their hulls. To James Duddy, a teamster, fell the task of supplying
the seventy-five hundred tons of stones with which to fill the vessels,
and many a New Bedford stone wall now lies at the bottom of some of
our Southern harbours. Captain Rodney French, an old “slaver,” who
afterwards became Mayor of New Bedford, was selected as commander of
the fleet, and on Thanksgiving Day most of New Bedford assembled on the
wharves and saw fifteen of her once famous fleet, which had for years
been the homes of its seamen, sail forth never to return. It must have
been a very sad day for the city, and it may be said that this event
marked the beginning of the decline of the industry at New Bedford.

One captain insisted upon washing the decks of his ship every morning,
using pulverized stones instead of sand, and another, to give the fleet
a warlike appearance, mounted a formidable “Quaker” gun, made from a
section of a spar.

A second fleet sailed later in the year, making forty-five vessels in
all. Although the expedition cost the government about a quarter of a
million dollars, its success was only temporary. The captain of the
“Alabama” swore vengeance on New Bedford and destroyed or captured
every whaler he could find, and in the “Alabama” awards that were made
after the war New Bedford received a large share.

Ten years later occurred the worst disaster that ever befell a whaling
fleet. Thirty-four whalers were caught in the ice in the Arctic regions
and sunk, and it is a curious fact that, while the loss reached one
million five hundred thousand dollars, not a single human life was
sacrificed. These three pictures of a series of five on the following
page show the sinking of the ships, the abandonment of their vessels,
which had their flags union down, and the eighty-mile sail through
the ice-floes to the open sea, where twelve hundred and nineteen men,
women, and children were taken home in the seven whalers that had not
been lost in the ice. It must have been very crowded, as each ship had
to stow away several hundred persons in addition to her own crew. There
were many sad hearts as they left their vessels and almost all of their
belongings, and started off in the small boats. The trip to sea and the
trans-shipment in the heavy swell must have been made with the utmost
care, otherwise many lives would have been sacrificed. The loss to the
New Bedford owners was so tremendous that they never really recovered
from the catastrophe, and many families had to economize for years
after. The Swifts, Howlands, and Rotchs were among those who lost ships.

On one of the vessels in the first picture of this series was a large
quantity of the finest Manila cigars and also some rare Madeira
wine, that had been picked up in the Philippines the year before on
instructions from the ship’s owner. When the captain of this vessel
reached New Bedford and reported the loss of his command, the owner’s
first question, after listening to the dismal tale, was whether his
cigars and wine had been saved. “All of it,” came the reply. “Where is
it?” said the owner, looking more cheerful. “Well, you see, I drank the
wine and Mr. Jones, the mate, he smoked the cigars, and they certainly
done us both good,” replied the captain.

The ship “Progress,” shown in the last picture, forms an interesting
connecting link between the Stone Fleet and this 1871 disaster.

[Illustration: Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic Ocean,
September, 1871. Vessels surrounded by the ice, and many of them in a
sinking condition.]

[Illustration: Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic Ocean,
September, 1871. Showing the whaleboats being hauled up on Blossom
Shoals, where the ship-wrecked crews spent the night crowded under the
upturned boats.]

[Illustration: Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic Ocean,
September, 1871. The seven ships receiving the 1217 men, women, and
children of the abandoned vessels. The sea was very rough and the
trans-shipment was very dangerous. The ship “Progress,” whose history
is given on the opposite page, is at the right of the picture.] Under
the name of the “Charles Phelps” she whaled from Stonington, Conn., for
a number of years and finally was purchased for the Stone Fleet. She
was found to be in such good condition that the government decided not
to sink her, and she returned to New Bedford and was sold; and it was
this same vessel that took part in the rescue of the twelve hundred and
nineteen shipwrecked people ten years later. In 1893 she was fitted out
as if for a whaling voyage and towed by way of the St. Lawrence River
to Chicago, where she was exhibited at the Fair, and now lies rotting
on the sands of the lake at South Chicago. No other whaler ever had so
interesting and varied a history.

The year after this Arctic disaster found the fleet again in the
Arctic, and the “Minerva,” one of the ships left at Point Belcher, was
discovered and found to be in good condition; the others had sunk. One
lone person was found who had remained on board his ship for the whole
year, and his sufferings had been fearful. The natives had stolen all
the whalebone and oil from the sinking vessels, and when some of the
same shipwrecked captains arrived the next year the Esquimaux tried to
sell them back their own property, and one native was using one of the
chronometer cases as a dinner pot in which to boil his blubber. The
“Minerva” was manned and sailed to New Bedford and continued in the
whaling industry.

New Bedford ships suffered severely during the Rebellion, but later
new ones were added to the fleet and business again prospered. Lack of
space prevents enumerating the achievements of American whalers during
the Civil War. Captain William P. Randall, however, will go down in
history as a hero of this war; he was brought up on a whaleship and
later served in the navy.

Captain Frederick Fish, father of Frederick P. Fish and Charles H.
Fish, of Boston, was one of the best known and most respected of
the whaling captains sailing out of New Bedford. He commanded the
“Montreal” and the “Columbus” when only twenty-two years old, made nine
voyages round the world, and was one of the most successful whalers of
his day. Once when near the Sandwich Islands his vessel happened to
anchor very close to an English ship, and Captain Fish noticed that
every evening at sunset the English commander, while at anchor, set
all sails and then furled them again in order to show how quickly this
work could be performed. After a few evenings Captain Fish ordered his
crew to do the same, and the time consumed was so much less that the
next evening the Englishman decided he did not care to go through the
performance; in fact, he never tried to show off again in that port.

There is also another amusing story told about Captain Fish. His ship
at one port took on a great many chickens, which were used for food,
and finally one of the crew rebelled and informed the captain that he
had eaten enough hen. He was immediately ordered out on a yard-arm and
was made to crow like a rooster for such a long time that when he was
again allowed on deck, he had a most excellent appetite for another
chicken dinner. Captain Fish delighted in telling of the time when
he took a local pilot on board somewhere in the Pacific to conduct
his vessel into port. He asked the navigator if he were sure of his
course, and received a prompt and decisive answer in the affirmative.
Presently, to the disgust of the captain, the vessel touched. The next
question put to the pilot was whether or not he could swim, and finding
that he could, Captain Fish ordered his crew to throw him overboard.
This was done, and, the distance being short, the swimmer made the
land, and the captain himself took his vessel in the rest of the way.

[Illustration: New Bedford fifty years ago (1808). (This print is dated

Captain Fish was an excellent story teller, and another yarn has been
handed down in connection with one of his trips. The voyage had been
very unsuccessful, and as he was looking over his chart he tossed his
dividers down in a disgruntled manner, and by accident they chanced to
stick in the chart. He then conceived the novel idea of sailing to the
very place where his instrument happened to land, and curiously enough
he was rewarded by a very large catch.

Once when one of his whaleboats had been overturned by a fighting
whale he hurried to the assistance of the crew, who were struggling
in the water, and to his amazement found two of them squabbling over
the ownership of a pair of old shoes, instead of thinking about saving
their lives. It is a curious fact that he never learned to swim, and
often saved his life when capsized by grabbing some floating débris.
His nerve and courage were remarkable, and it is related that even on
his death-bed he told the doctor an amusing story.

This picture of New Bedford in 1808 is most interesting. The oil
market shed on the right-hand side of the street was built in 1795 by
Barnabas Russell for his son Joseph, and the last building shown on
the right of the picture was the mansion of William Rotch, Sr., and
the first estate in the village at that time. This Rotch was the son
of Joseph Rotch, one of New Bedford’s earliest whalers, and he himself
is represented in his old chaise, the only private carriage then in
the town. He is negotiating for a load of hay, and from all accounts
he must have been a keen business man, for he was often seen going to
market so early that he had to use a lantern. All the other figures in
this picture also are intended to represent well-known citizens of the
time. The two men shaking hands are Captain Crocker and Samuel Rodman;
the latter, who was the son-in-law of William Rotch, had the reputation
of being the best dressed man in New Bedford in his day. One of the
boys harnessed to the small cart is the Hon. George Howland, Jr.,
great-uncle of Llewellyn Howland. H. H. Hathaway, Jr., and Thomas S.
Hathaway have three ancestors in the picture.

[Illustration: Oil stored on the wharves at New Bedford awaiting a
favorable market. The owners, dressed in silk hats, long-tailed coats,
and polished top boots, might often be seen watching, testing, and
marking the oil-barrels.]


Rhode Island pursued whales in 1731, Newport and Providence being
the two most successful ports. Fifty ships were owned by Connecticut
and Rhode Island in 1775. Massachusetts owned over three hundred at
this time. Rhode Island was more of a “slave” than a whaling State.
New London became a great whaling port in 1846, and was the third in
importance in New England.

The people of Cape Cod began sending ships to sea about 1726, and a
few years later a dozen or so vessels were fitted out at Provincetown.
Boston claimed twenty whaleships in 1775, and registered from one
to eleven vessels almost every year until 1903, since which date no
whaleship has been recorded from this port. Gloucester turned to
whaling in 1833.

The following figures show the different whaling ports in Massachusetts
and the largest number of vessels enrolled in any one year in each. New
Bedford, of course, held first place with 329 in 1857, with Nantucket
88 in 1843, Provincetown claimed 54 in 1869; Fairhaven 50 in 1848 to
1852; Edgartown and Mattapoisett owned 19 each; Salem had 14 in 1840;
Boston 11 in 1868; Dartmouth, 10; Plymouth, 9; Falmouth, 8; Wareham,
Fall River, and Marion, 7 each; Beverly, Holmes’ Hole, Orleans, 5
each; Lynn, 4; Newburyport, 3; Gloucester, Dorchester, and Sandwich,
2 each; and the following claimed 1: Braintree, Hingham, Marblehead,
Barnstable, Duxbury, Quincy, Truro, Yarmouth, and Wellfleet. Of
the Rhode Island towns Warren owned 25; Newport, 12; Bristol, 10;
Providence, 9. Connecticut towns that owned whalers were New London,
70; Stonington, 27; Mystic, 18; and a few scattered among half a dozen
other places. Portsmouth, N.H., at one time owned two vessels, and
between the years 1835 to 1845 Bath, Bucksport, Portland, and Wiscasset
in Maine each had one. Massachusetts, however, could claim five-sixths
of the total fleet.

A few words must be said in praise of Samuel Mulford of Long Island.
Governor Hunter of New York claimed for his State a share of all whales
caught, whereupon Mulford waged war against this act in every possible
way. Finally he sailed to London and put his case before the Crown.
The people in London were much amused at his country clothes, and the
pickpockets in particular became a nuisance to him in the streets.
Mulford, however, showed his resourcefulness by sewing fish hooks in
his pockets and succeeded in capturing the thief. Another incident
shows the ingenuity of the whaleman. The ship “Syren” was attacked by a
horde of murderous savages, and the crew of the ship would, doubtless,
have been murdered had it not been for a quick stratagem of the mate.
He remembered a package of tacks in the cabin and yelled, “Break out
the carpet tacks and sow ’em over the deck.” The natives, yelling with
pain, jumped headlong into the sea, and the ship was saved.

[Illustration: The Japanese method of capturing whales was to entangle
them in nets. A great many boatloads of men would drive the whale
toward the nets by throwing bricks and stones at it. When once
entangled the infuriated animal could be easily killed. In 1884 the
Ukitsu Whaling Company employed over 100,000 whalemen. One of the most
successful of the Japanese in this pursuit was Masutomi Matazaemon, who
accumulated a large fortune. The Japanese have been very slow to adopt
our Western methods.]

[Illustration: A typical “blubber hunter” cruising for “right” whales
in the Arctic.]

The world owes many discoveries to the energy and determination of
whaleship captains. Over four hundred islands in the Pacific were
discovered and named by American whalemen, and the history of New
Zealand is closely connected with the visits of New England whalers.
Australia, too, was opened to the world by the whalemen.

It was to a certain extent due to the testimony of Captain Bryant,
a whale captain of Mattapoisett, that Alaska was purchased by the
United States government. That there was a northwest passage was also
discovered by American whalemen in this way: the date and name of a
ship were always marked on its harpoons, and in several instances
whales were captured in the Pacific by ships that were known to have
been cruising not long before in the Atlantic. It was Captain Timothy
Folger, of Nantucket, who charted the Gulf Stream at the request
of Benjamin Franklin, to whom he was related, and this drawing was
engraved on an old chart and preserved in London. In this way English
mariners discovered how to avoid the swift current and thereby gain
much time. Our seamen in the early days were not very kindly treated by
the Japanese, but, finally, several whalemen secured their good will by
teaching them English. This encouraged the American government to send
out Commodore Perry’s expedition, which succeeded in making our first
treaty with Japan, thus opening that country to Western civilization.

It was difficult to make discoveries ahead of our whalemen. In 1834
two Russian discovery ships approached a forlorn little island in the
Antarctic Ocean and the commander was about to take possession in
the name of his Czar. There was a dense fog at the time, but when it
cleared away they were very much surprised and vexed to see a little
Connecticut ship at anchor between their two vessels. The name of
this whaler was the “Hero” of Stonington, captained by Nathaniel B.
Palmer, who was only twenty-one years of age and was just returning
from his discovery of the Antarctic Continent. The Russian commander
was so impressed by the achievement of this youthful captain that he
cheerfully acquiesced in naming the place Palmer’s Land. This name has
since been changed to Graham Land. It is an undisputed fact that the
whalers prepared the way for the missionaries.


Nothing can be more romantic than to be attending a clam-bake on
Mishaum Point or Barney’s Joy and to see a whaleship, or “blubber
hunter” as she is often termed, round the point and start to sea. It is
with quite different feelings that one peers down into her forecastle,
which is often referred to as the Black Hole of Calcutta. This room,
which is the home of thirty to forty men for three or four years, is
reached by a perpendicular ladder through a small hatchway, which is
the only means of ventilation. The bunks are in tiers and are about the
size of a coffin, so narrow that it has often been said that one has to
get out of them in order to turn over. A small table in the centre of
this “hole” and the seamen’s chests lashed to the floor comprise all
the furnishings, except possibly a few bottles of rum, which were often
labelled “camphor.” In fact, one might speak of the dis-accommodations
of the forecastle, and it is no wonder that a cruise in a whaler is
often spoken of as a “sailor’s horror.” The odor of grease, dirt, oil,
and lack of air are unbearable except to one thoroughly accustomed to a
whaling trip, and sailors often say that this attractive place should
not be approached without a clothespin on one’s nose. The utensils
comprised a few tin plates and a bucket of water, with one cup for the
use of every one. The food consisted of “longlick” and “scouse,” the
former made of tea, coffee, and molasses, and the latter of hardtack,
beans, and meat. It is not difficult to see, therefore, why most of the
captains anchored their ships well out beyond the harbour, so as to
prevent desertions after the novice seaman had glanced at his sleeping
quarters. There have been cases of sailors jumping overboard on the
chance of reaching land, and it is on record that the greater part of a
whaleship’s crew once floated to shore on the cover of the try-works. A
captain was very careful where he allowed his men to land, and, in case
he was afraid of desertions, took care to allow them shore leave only
at places where the natives were troublesome, or where for a ten-dollar
bill he knew he could get the whole crew returned to him.

The whaleship looked very clumsy and was built for strength rather
than for speed, the bow and stern looking as if they were made by the
mile and chopped off in lengths to suit. It is a curious fact that the
“Rousseau,” belonging to the Howlands, when caught in a storm off the
Cape of Good Hope sailed astern for seven days faster than she had ever
sailed ahead, and successfully weathered the point.

There is an amusing anecdote that has gone the whaling rounds, of a
greenhorn, called Hezekiah Ellsprett, who arrived on board the night
before sailing. One of the men told him that the first ones on board
had the right to pick out their berths and suggested that he paint his
name on the berth he should select. Hezekiah looked round, found the
best-looking cabin, painted his name in big letters on the outside of
the door, and made himself comfortable for the night. He had chosen
the captain’s room, and in the morning the captain came on board, and
in very violent terms informed him that he was in the wrong end of the

The whaleman’s life was indeed a hard one, and his share of the profit,
or “lay” as it was called, was so small that at the end of a moderately
successful voyage if his share amounted to several hundred dollars
he was doing well. His earnings were depleted by the captain’s “slop
chest,” where the sailors had to purchase their tobacco and clothes at
high prices, and if there were any kicks the answer was that he could
“get skinned or go naked.” The most necessary part of the sailor’s
equipment was the sheath knife which was used about the ship and to
repair his clothes, and it was this same implement that he used to cut
his food!

Regular deck watches were kept, and in good weather the officers often
winked their eyes if some of the men slept. Among sailors this was
called a “caulk,” and often some kind of a joke was played on the
sleeper. In one case they tied a live pig to the slumberer’s feet and
watched the fun from behind the try-works.

Whalers would rarely cruise past the Azores without stopping at Fayal,
where they were most hospitably received by the American Consul, who
for centuries was one of the Dabney family. In fact, the island is
often referred to among whalemen as the “Isle de Dabney.”

“Gamming” or exchanging visits between two whalers at sea was
thoroughly enjoyed and gave a chance to the sailors to swap
experiences, and many a weird, sorrowful, or wonderful story must have
been related. An incident is recorded of a meeting between two brothers
who had lived in Nantucket, and who had not met for twenty-three years.
There is an old adage among whalers that when a year from home, on
“gamming” with a ship that has sailed subsequent to your own departure,
you have the privilege of begging; when two years out, of stealing; and
when three years away from home, of both stealing and begging.

A New London ship was once holding a reception on board for some
natives, and each of the crew was endeavoring in some way to amuse
the guests. One seaman took out his set of false teeth, thinking
he would provide entertainment; but instead the natives became so
alarmed that they tumbled over the side into their canoes and made
their retreat as quickly as possible. The crew was asked on shore for
a return visit; but an invitation to the exhibitor of the teeth was
not forthcoming, and he was obliged to remain alone on the ship, much
to his disappointment. Captain Gardner of Nantucket stated that in
thirty-seven years he spent only four years and eight months at home,
and Captain North, also of Nantucket, figured that he had sailed one
million one hundred and ninety-one thousand miles.

Nothing could have equalled the joy of returning home after a long
voyage, and the anxiety to reach port was almost unbearable. Often a
vessel ran into bad winds and had to anchor for days a few miles off
shore, and there is one case known of a ship being blown to sea and
lost after having actually come within sight of New Bedford Harbour.

Many a whaleman has laughed at this story. It was customary for the
first mate to keep the log book. One day he was intoxicated, so the
captain entered the day’s events, noting that “the mate was drunk all
day.” The next day the mate protested, but the captain said that it was
true and must remain on the records. The mate resumed his charge of the
diary, and got more than even with his superior officer by recording on
the following day that “the Captain was sober all day.”


[Illustration: This picture, taken by Roy C. Andrews, Esq., of the
American Museum of Natural History, on his last whaling expedition,
shows a bomb exploding in a whale.]


Figure 1. Harpoon with one barb. Figure 2. Harpoon with two barbs.
Figure 3. The “toggle iron.” Figure 4. The lance for killing the whale
by reaching its “life.” Figure 5. A spade used in small boats for
making holes in the blubber after capture and on the whaleship for
cutting the blubber from the body of the whale. Figure 6. A bomb lance.
Figure 7. The “boarding knife” used for making holes in the strips of
blubber for the hoisting hooks. Figure 8. The dipper used to bail oil
out of the “case,” or head, and from the try-works into the cooler.
Figure 9. A piece of whalebone as it comes from the whale. Figure 10. A
strainer used for draining the scraps from the oil.]

The earliest method of killing whales was by means of the bow and
arrow, and the first accounts of New England whaling refer to the
harpoons as being made of stone or bone. There are three kinds,
however, that have been popular among American whalemen: one had one
barb (Figure 1), shown on the preceding page; another had two barbs
(Figure 2); and the third was the “toggle iron” (Figure 3), which has
already been described. The edges were sharpened like a razor and
were protected by a wooden cover when not in use. They were so sharp
that Melville in “Moby Dick” describes his whaling hero, Queequeg, as
shaving with one. The lance (Figure 4) which was used after the harpoon
had been driven in “to the hitches,” or its entire length, resembled a
flat spoon, and was very sharp on the edges and on the point. The long
line was attached to the harpoon, and shorter lines, called “monkey
ropes,” were made fast to the lances.

It has been shown by the records of one James Durbee, a veteran harpoon
maker of New Bedford, that between the years 1828 and 1868 he made and
sold 58,517 harpoons, and he was only one of eight or ten manufacturers
of whaling implements in that one port.

An interesting and authentic anecdote of a lost harpoon describes how
a Captain Paddock in 1802 struck a whale, which escaped with his iron,
and in 1815, thirteen years later, the same captain killed the same
whale and recovered his lost weapon.

A whaler is supplied with from four to seven whaleboats, three of
which are usually on the port side, one on the starboard side near
the stern, and the rest are on deck; it was the improved early canoe,
sharp at both ends so as to make a dash at the whale and then be able
to retreat just as easily. The floor was very flat so as to enable
the boat to be turned quickly in order to dodge a sudden movement of
the whale. The boat was about twenty-eight feet long, was equipped
with one long steering oar and five rowing oars, and a sail which was
occasionally used; also paddles were sometimes resorted to in order to
avoid noise. In the bow of the boat two seven-foot harpoons were placed
ready for use. A warp was securely fastened to them, and to this warp
was secured, after the boat was lowered, a line of two or three hundred
fathoms of the best manila two-thirds of an inch in diameter, and
with a tensile strength of about three tons. It ran from the harpoons
through a chock or groove in the bow to a coil in a depressed box near
by, and then lengthwise along the boat to the stout loggerhead or post
in the stern, around which it made a turn or two, and then went forward
to the line tub near the tub oarsman. Its twelve or eighteen hundred
feet of line were coiled in this tub, with every possible precaution
to prevent fouling in the outrun. When the rope was coiled and the tub
was covered, it was said to resemble a Christmas cake ready to present
to the whales. The loggerhead was for snubbing and managing the line
as it ran out. A spare line was carried in another tub. A boat was
also supplied with extra harpoons, lances, spades, hatchet with which
to cut the line if necessary, lanterns, box of food, keg of water, and
compass, weighing, all complete, about twelve hundred pounds.


  Fig. 1. The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus).
  Fig. 2. The California Gray Whale (Rjachianectes glaucus).
  Fig. 3. The North Pacific Humpback (Megaptera versabilis).
  Fig. 4. The Sulphur Bottom (Sibbaldius sulfurens).
  Fig. 5. The Bowhead (Balaena mysticetus).
  Fig. 6. The Finback or Oregon Finner (Balaenoptera velifera).
  Fig. 7. The Pacific Right Whale (Balaena japonica).


There are many different kinds of whales; namely, sperm whale, right
whale, finback, humpback, razor-back, sulphur bottom whale, and the
narwhal. The two former species are the more often sought after. The
sperm whale was so called because it was the only kind that furnished
sperm oil, which is a richer and more valuable fluid than the ordinary
whale oil. This species was also called “cachalot.” It has one spout
hole through which it blows vapor (not water as is generally supposed),
which resembles one’s breath on a frosty morning; it has also about
fifty teeth on the lower jaw which fit into sockets in the upper jaw,
and very small eyes and ears. This kind of whale usually employed its
mouth as a means of defence, whereas the right whale used its immense
tail. A large-sized whale will yield about eighty barrels of oil, but
they have been known to boil even larger amounts. Captain John Howland
of New Bedford captured two whales which produced over four hundred
barrels together. The tongue alone often produced twenty-five barrels.
In order to attract the squid, or cuttle-fish, which is often lured
by a shiny object from the dark recesses in the great depths of the
ocean, the jaw and inner side of the Brobdingnagian mouth are lined
with a silvery membrane of phosphorescent whiteness, which is probably
the only thing the squid sees when the dark body of the whale is at
the great depths to which it sometimes descends for food. Huge pieces
of shark and hundreds of mackerel have been found in the stomach of a
sperm whale, showing what a carnivorous animal the sperm whale is.

[Illustration: A ship on the northwest coast “cutting in” her last
right whale, showing the jaw with the whalebone being hauled on board.]

The right whale was so called because it was supposed to be the “right”
whale to capture. It differs from the sperm whale chiefly from the fact
that it has long strips of whalebone in its mouth which catch the small
fish for food, the whalebone serving in place of the teeth of the other
species. A right whale usually has about five or six hundred of these
parallel strips, which weigh in all about one ton; they are over ten
feet long, are fixed to its upper jaw, and hang down on each side of
the tongue. These strips are fringed with hair, which hangs from the
sides of the mouth and through which the whale strains the “brit,” on
which a right whale feeds. The “brit” is a little reddish shrimp-shaped
jellyfish which occurs in such quantities in various parts of the ocean
that often the sea is red with them. With its mouth stretched open,
resembling more than anything else a Venetian blind, a sulphur bottom
or right whale scoops, at a speed of from four to six miles an hour,
through the “brit” just under the surface and thus sifts in its search
for food a tract fifteen feet wide and often over a quarter of a mile
long. As the whale drives through the water much like a huge black
scow, the sea foams through the slatted bone, packing the jellyfish
upon the hair sieve. When it thinks it has a mouthful it raises the
lower jaw and, keeping the lips apart, forces the great spongy tongue
into the whalebone sieve. It then closes its lips, swallows the catch
and repeats until satiated. Another difference between the sperm and
the right whale is that the latter has two spout holes instead of one.

The sperm whale is found in the warm waters off the coasts of Chili,
Peru, Japan, New Zealand, Madagascar, California, and Brazil; in the
Caribbean, China, and Red Seas, in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf;
off the Azores, Java, Galapagos, Society, Sandwich, Fiji, and Samoan
Islands; and off the Cape de Verdes. The right whale is found in the
high latitudes of the Arctic Ocean, in Baffin’s Bay, in the Ochotsk
Sea, near Tristan d’Acunha and the Desolation Islands, and in the Japan
Sea. There were many other cruising grounds, but these were the most

The finback is even longer than the other varieties, but whalers rarely
attack it owing to the thickness of the blubber and also owing to
the fact that it swims so fast that, to use a favorite expression of
whalemen, it “will run the nails out of the bottom of the boat.”

The “narwhal,” or nostril whale, has a horn five to ten feet long
protruding forward from its jaw. This species is also spoken of as the
“Unicorn.” Opinions differ as to the use of this horn; some think it is
used as a rake to turn over its food at the bottom of the sea, others
think it is employed as an ice-piercer, but the author of “Moby Dick”
suggests that it would make an exceedingly good folder for it to use
in reading pamphlets. In ancient times this narwhal’s tusk was used to
detect poison in food and wine, the idea being prevalent that the tusk
would be discolored if it came in contact with any poisonous substance.
It is difficult in the present day to appreciate the wholesale fear of
poison which existed up to quite modern times. This fear was so general
and pressing that no one of any position dared to eat and drink without
a previous assurance that what was set before him did not contain some
poison. Some authorities vouch for the fact that the tusk was also used
as salts for fainting women.

The chief products of the fishery are sperm and whale oil, whalebone,
and ambergris. Spermaceti, meaning a foot of “sperm oil,” was the most
valuable and was found only in the sperm whale. This oil was formerly
used chiefly in the manufacture of sperm candles, and at one time
there were eight factories for the manufacture of these candles in New
England, Nantucket alone turning out three hundred and eighty tons
annually before the war. In the olden times this oil was considered
a sure cure for almost any kind of disease and was worth its weight
in silver. Shakespeare makes reference to it in these words—“The
sovereign’st thing on earth was ’parmaceti for an inward bruise.” At
present it is used chiefly in making refined oils for lubricating.

Whale oil was procured from all the other varieties of whales, and
was formerly used as an illuminant in the old “whale oil” lamps; it
is used now to a certain extent in the tanning of leather and in the
manufacture of soaps, but chiefly in making heavy lubricating oils.

Whalebone has been the most important product of the whale fishery for
a number of years, and in fact whaling would undoubtedly have died
out altogether had it not been for the discovery of its use in making
women’s stays. Many a whaleman has lost his life in the endeavor to
improve the female figure. It is a curious fact that fifty years or
more ago this product was always thrown away as worthless. The value
has gone down in the past few years on account of the invention of
steel stays, which take the place of whalebone.

The high and low prices of these three commodities are of interest.
Sperm oil was $2.55 per gallon in 1866, and is 46 cents now. Whale oil
was $1.45 per gallon in 1865, and is 26 cents now. Whalebone was $5.80
per pound in 1904, 8 cents in 1809, and is $1.75 now.

Ambergris, the rarest and most valuable of all the products, is a
secretion from the intestines of the sperm whale and results from a
disease. It is a very rare article and is worth almost its weight
in gold, selling usually at $300 a pound. Its chief use is in the
preparation of fine perfumeries. It is believed that the largest amount
taken by one ship was brought back by the “Watchman” of Nantucket,
which vessel found eight hundred pounds in 1858. Small amounts were
sold every year in New Bedford even up to the year 1913. The Turks used
it in cooking and also carried it to Mecca for the same purpose that
frankincense is carried to St. Peter’s in Rome. Some wine merchants
used to drop a little into their wine as a spice, and it was said that
the Moors used it in green tea as a flavoring to present to their

The whale is used for food chiefly by the Japanese and Esquimaux, and a
famous doctor belonging to the latter tribe some years ago recommended
the blubber for infants. In fact, the whale would perhaps be considered
a good dish were there not so much of him. Whale-meat is said by some
to resemble boarding-house steak. In France, during the Middle Ages,
the tongue was considered a great delicacy, and by some epicures the
brains, mixed with flour, were much sought after.

The largest income received by the whalers of America in any one year
was in 1854, when they netted $10,802,594.20, although the record size
of the fleet was attained eight years before. The five years from
1853 to 1857 inclusive yielded a return of $51,063,659.59, the catch
of each year selling for fifty per cent. of the total value of the
whaling fleet. The total value of the cargoes from 1804 to 1876 was

Captain W. T. Walker, of New Bedford, is called the counting-house
hero of the American Whale Fishery. He purchased in 1848 an old
whaleship called the “Envoy” that was about to be broken up, and
when ready for sea this ship stood the owner $8,000. He could get no
insurance; nevertheless he “took a chance,” and after a three years’
voyage he returned and had netted for himself the extraordinary sum
of $138,450, or 1,630 per cent. The largest profit, however, was made
by the “Pioneer” of New London, in 1865, the value of her cargo being
$151,060. For a short voyage Frederick Fish, who has been mentioned
before, holds the record for his ship the “Montreal,” which brought
back a cargo worth over $36,000 after a voyage occupying only two
months and fifteen days.

There were many unprofitable voyages, and many were the ships that came
home with barrels filled with salt water instead of oil for ballast.
Some vessels, as whalemen say, didn’t have enough oil to grease their


  “Whales has feelin’s as well as anybody. They don’t like to be
  stuck in the gizzards an’ hauled alongside, an’ cut in, an’ tried
  out in those here boilers no more’n I do!”

  _Barzy Macks’s Biology._

When the lookout at the masthead shouts out “Thar she blows,” or
“There she whitewaters,” the whaleboats are gotten out and rowed
towards the whale, while signals from the ship show from time to time
the whereabouts of the whales and directions for their pursuit. The
first man to “raise oil”—an expression which means the first to see a
whale—usually received a plug of tobacco or some other prize, and this
made the lookouts more keen.

In “Moby Dick” Melville says that the crew pulls to the refrain “A Dead
Whale or a Stove Boat,” which became such well-known by-words among
whalemen that when Mr. W. W. Crapo last year presented to New Bedford
“The Whaleman” statue, they were inscribed upon it. When rowing in a
rough sea the captain cautioned the men to trim the boat and not to
“shift their tobacco.”

As they approach the whale the bow oarsman, who is the harpooner,
stands up at a signal from the captain of the boat, who is steering,
and yells out to “give it to him.” The next order is probably to “stern
all” in order to avoid the whale. The boat is probably now fast,
and either the whale will sound and run out the line at a terrific
rate or else he may race away dragging the boat after him, which
whalemen call “A Nantucket Sleigh-Ride.” This kind of sleigh-ride was
often at railroad speed and was perhaps one of the most exhilarating
and exciting experiences in the line of sport. An empty boat would
certainly capsize, but a whaleboat had six trained, strong, athletic
men sitting on her thwarts, whose skill enabled them to sway their
bodies to the motions of the boat so that she would keep an even keel,
even though her speed might plough small valleys over the huge swells
and across the broad troughs of an angry Pacific, and great billows of
foam piled up at her bow while the water rushed past the stern like a
mad whirlpool. The greatest care must be taken not to allow the line
to get snarled up or to let a turn catch an arm or leg, for it would
result in almost immediate death to the person thus entangled. Conan
Doyle, who once took a trip on a whaler, tells of a man who was caught
by the line and hauled overboard so suddenly that he was hardly seen to
disappear. One of the men in the boat grabbed a knife to cut the line,
whereupon another seaman shouted out, “Hold your hand, the whale’ll be
a good present for the widow!”

[Illustration: No. 1. “The Chase.” A rare New Bedford print.]

[Illustration: No. 2. “The Conflict,” showing ratchet in bow through
which the line is run, and post in stern around which line is placed.]

[Illustration: No. 3. “The Capture.” A whale will usually turn on its
back when dying.]

There is one case known where a man who had been hauled down by the
line had the presence of mind to get out his knife and cut the rope,
which allowed him to come to the surface more dead than alive; also
occasionally the entangled arm or ankle would be torn off, thus freeing
the man and allowing him to rise.

Two harpoons were thrown if possible, and then it was customary for the
harpooner to exchange places with the boat-steerer, who got ready his
lance, which he plunged in and hauled out again until the whale went
into his “flurry” and rolled over dead, or “fin out” as it was called.
Often the whale would get frightened or “gallied,” or would jump in
the air or “breach,” and therefore great care was taken to avoid his
attacks. When the whale “breaches” the tail becomes very conspicuous,
and one old salt used to say that an additional tail appeared after
every glass of grog.

Scoresby speaks of a whale which drew out from the different boats ten
thousand four hundred and forty yards, or nearly six miles, of rope. It
was necessary when the line of one boat was nearly exhausted to bend on
the end to a new rope in another boat and so on, and of course often
miles of rope and many harpoons would be lost if the whale escaped.
When the line was drawn out rapidly it was necessary to pour water over
the snub post to keep the rope from burning.

There have been races almost as exciting as a Harvard-Yale race when
the boats of different nations have been dashing for a whale, which is
prized at between three thousand and four thousand dollars. Many years
ago an English, a French, a Dutch, and an American ship lay becalmed
in the Pacific, when suddenly a whale was “raised.” All four ships
lowered and raced across the waters, with the American in the rear. In
a few minutes the Yankee passed the Dutchman, who yelled “donner und
blitzen!” The American captain encouraged his men by shouting “Thar
she blows, she’s an eighty-barreler, break the oars, lads!” and soon
the French were left astern with curses of “Le diable.” The Englishmen
were still ahead; the American boat-steerer now began to help the
stroke oarsman by pushing his oar, and their boat crept up slowly upon
their only rivals. The English boat-steerer also grabbed his stroke’s
oar, but it snapped off at the rowlock, and the Americans overtook
them and captured the whale. Another international race took place
in Delagoa Bay, which has become a classic among American whalemen.
Again an English and a Yankee whaleboat were chasing a whale, and, in
some manner, the former was able to cut in between the whale and the
Americans, and as the English harpooner was reaching for his iron, the
American harpooner “pitch-poled” his harpoon over the English boat, and
his iron made fast.

[Illustration: A “cutting” stage, showing blubber being stripped from
the whale.]

[Illustration: Hauling the “case,” or head, on board. The case weighs
sometimes as much as 30 tons.]

[Illustration: Cutting off the lower jaw of a sperm whale, showing the

After a capture came the long, hard row back to the ship, then the
tedious process of “cutting in” and “trying out.” First of all the
head, or “case,” was cut off and tied astern while the strips of
blubber were cut from the body and hauled on board, as next shown, by
means of huge tackles from the mast. Blubber averages in thickness
from twelve to eighteen inches, and if cut four and one-half inches
thick would carpet a room sixty-six feet long by twenty-seven wide.
Then the head was either bailed out, if it were a sperm whale, or
else the whalebone was taken in, if it were a right whale. The strips
or “blanket pieces” were then minced, and after boiling, the oil was
cooled and stored away in barrels below deck. The “try-works” consisted
of iron pots set in brick furnaces, and there were pans of water
underneath to prevent the decks from burning. This process of boiling
the oil was most irksome and disagreeable as the men were soaked in oil
from head to foot, and the smell of the burning fluid was so frightful
that it has often been alluded to as Hell on a large scale, and was
usually called a “squantum,” which is the Nantucket word for a picnic;
nevertheless, old whalers delighted in it.

It is a superstition among some whalemen that a ship which for once has
a sperm whale’s head on her starboard quarter, and a right whale’s on
her port side, will never afterwards capsize.


Whalemen not only had to undergo the perils of the sea, but in addition
ran the danger of being killed by the whale and of being attacked by
savages at the ports where it was often necessary to land for food and
water. Also in cases of accident the whaleship was usually off the
regular cruise followed by the merchantmen and therefore less likely to
be assisted by other vessels. Furthermore, the long voyages, poor food,
and the many dangers of whaling induced many mutinies.

[Illustration: A whale playing battledore and shuttlecock with a
1200-pound whaleboat and six men.]

The worst massacre occurred on the “Awashonks,” of Falmouth, in 1835,
near the Marshall Islands. The natives came on board in large numbers
and seemed most friendly, when, on a given signal, they killed the
captain and many of the crew. Finally the seamen laid a charge of
dynamite under a hatchway where the savages were sitting, and blew most
of them to pieces, the crew being then enabled to recapture the vessel.
A few years later, when the “Sharon” of Fairhaven was cruising not far
from Ascension Island, the crew lowered for a whale, and upon returning
to the ship it was discovered that three of the “Kanaka” crew, recently
engaged, had taken charge of the ship and had killed the captain. The
first mate in the whaleboat did not dare attack, but the third mate,
Benjamin Clough, who was only nineteen years old, swam to the ship in
the darkness, climbed up the rudder, shot two of the mutineers, and had
a hand-to-hand encounter with the third, who died soon afterwards. The
first mate then returned on board. Clough was made captain of a ship
immediately upon his return to Fairhaven. Still another mutiny took
place on the ship “Junior” which sailed from New Bedford in 1857, most
of the officers being killed. Plummer, the ringleader, wrote a story
of the mutiny in the log book, which is now in the possession of the
New Bedford Library, and the account was signed by the five mutineers
in order to clear the rest of the men on board. The five murderers on
sighting land lowered two whaleboats with all the plunder they could
find and rowed ashore. The mutineers were subsequently captured and
were brought in cages to Boston, where they were defended by Benjamin
F. Butler. Davis, the author of “Nimrod of the Sea,” mentions a quarrel
on board the “Chelsea,” which ended by the men all signing a “round
robin” to return to duty, and in order that no name should head the
list the signatures were set down in a circle, like the spokes of a
wheel, from which possibly comes the word “ringleader.”

The most fearful mutiny happened on the “Globe” of Nantucket, in 1822.
A boat-steerer called Comstock laid a plot which resulted in the death
of all the officers of the ship, and those who were not killed outright
were thrown overboard. Comstock then took charge of the ship, and
stated that if any man disobeyed him, he would be put to death by being
boiled in the “try-pots.” The ringleader was finally killed by some of
the crew, and the ship brought into port.

Captain Warrens, of the whaler “Greenland,” in 1775, told a most
thrilling narrative, which shows the perils of Arctic whaling, and is
the most weird and grewsome of all whaling yarns. While becalmed one
day he sighted a vessel with rigging dismantled, and he immediately
lowered and rowed over to her. Upon boarding the ship he found seated
at the cabin table the corpse of a man. He held a pen in his hand, and
the log book was on the table in front of him. The last entry was “Nov.
14, 1762. We have now been enclosed in the ice seventeen days. The fire
went out yesterday and our master has been trying ever since to kindle
it again without success. His wife died this morning. There is no
relief.” Other corpses were found in the cabin and a number of sailors
in the forward part of the ship. The vessel had been frozen in the ice
for thirteen years!

There are many exciting accounts of accidents to whaleboats, and a
few are worth mentioning. Captain Sparks, of the “Edward Lee” of
Provincetown, in 1881, chased a whale and finally lost him. He and his
crew endeavored to find his ship, but for some reason were unable to do
so. The nearest land was one thousand miles away, and with no food or
water the prospect was not very encouraging. For six days they sailed
on, when by good fortune they killed a whale, and finally were picked
up and brought to land.

Another incident shows how a whale will sometimes fight. Captain Morse,
of the “Hector” of New Bedford, had his boat attacked by a whale, which
grabbed the bow in its mouth, shaking the crew and implements in all
directions. The mate came to the rescue, and the whale at once started
to chase his boat, snapping its jaws less than a foot behind the stern.
The crew rowed desperately and succeeded in dodging its attacks, until
finally the animal turned over to get more air, and a well-driven lance
luckily killed it. The harpoons of the “Barclay” were found in it, and
it was learned that this same whale had killed the “Barclay’s” captain
only three days before. Another incident shows the fierceness of the
attack of a fighting whale. The “Osceola 3rd,” of New Bedford, shot
thirty-one bombs into a whale before it was killed.


A whale is often fond of eating whaleboats and men.]

Captain Davis, in “Nimrod of the Sea,” mentions an occurrence in
which a whale attacked one of the men who had been hauled from the
whaleboat. Then ensued a fight, and every time the monster swam for
him he was obliged to dive. The mate rushed into the encounter with
his boat and finally succeeded in killing the whale. Another captain
described how the crew of his whaleboat was obliged to cling all night
on the body of a dead whale until help came at daybreak. It happened
to be Christmas evening, and the famished men obtained their Christmas
dinner by digging from the back of the dead animal enough meat to
satisfy their hunger. If a whaleboat were upset, and it was seen that
the crew had something to hold on to in order to prevent going under,
it was often a long time before the other boats rendered assistance,
it being a truism among whalemen that whales were of much higher
commercial value than men.

Captain Hosmer, of the bark “Janet” of Westport (near New Bedford),
met with a horrible experience off the coast of Peru in 1849. He had
just secured a whale, and in towing it back to his ship his boat was
capsized. He immediately displayed distress signals, and the “Janet”
sailed towards the men who clung to the small boat, when suddenly, to
his amazement and horror, the ship swung off and headed in another
direction. They could see her sailing about searching for them, but
were unable to attract her attention, and finally, as the distance
between them increased, they set sail towards the nearest land, after
bailing out their boat with difficulty, and having lost one man by
drowning. The nearest coast was over one thousand miles away, and
they had not a drop of water or a morsel of food. At the end of seven
days lots were cast to decide who should be killed in order that the
rest might live. Four more of the crew died, and after twenty days
the two survivors landed on an island and were later picked up by the
“Leonidas” of New Bedford.

There are three cases known to history of a whale sinking a ship. The
“Essex,” of Nantucket, was attacked by a huge whale in 1819, and twice
did the animal make a rush at the ship, which became submerged in a few
minutes. Owen Chase, the first mate, wrote an account of the accident
and subsequent sufferings of the crew. Three whaleboats set sail for
the Marquesas Islands. One boat was never heard from; another was
picked up by an English brig with only three of the crew alive; and the
third with only two survivors, having sailed over twenty-five hundred
miles, was picked up by a Nantucket vessel, _three months_ after the
accident. Captain Pollard, who was in command of the “Essex” at this
time, had previously been one of the crew on Fulton’s “Claremont” on
his first trip up the Hudson. He survived the frightful experience, but
nothing could induce him ever to refer to it. He finally abandoned the
sea and became a police officer in Nantucket.

[Illustration: The “Ann Alexander” of New Bedford.]

[Illustration: The “Kathleen” of New Bedford sinking in mid-ocean,
having been “stove” by a monster whale. Flags at the mastheads are
signals for the three whaleboats to return.]

The “Ann Alexander” of New Bedford, which is shown in the next cut,
met a similar fate in 1850, and the ship sank so quickly that only one
day’s supplies were saved. With the horror of the “Essex” staring them
in the face the crew set sail in the small boats, and with great good
fortune in two days sighted the “Nantucket” and were taken on board.
Five months after this incident the “Rebecca Sims,” of New Bedford,
killed a whale, and to the great surprise of the crew, the irons of
the “Ann Alexander” were discovered in its body, and there were also
several pieces of the ship’s timber imbedded in its head.

The latest of the three accidents happened to the bark “Kathleen” in
the Atlantic Ocean in 1902, and the picture shows her about to sink
after having been rammed by a whale. The three flags at the mastheads
are signals to the three boats to return at once, but as each one
was fast to a whale, they were loath to obey the signals. The whale
showing its “flukes” at the right of the picture is the one that stove
the hole in the vessel. The “Kathleen” also had a whale alongside,
making four just captured. The accident meant a loss, not counting the
vessel and oil on board, of ten to twelve thousand dollars. Captain
Jenkins, who was in command, lowered with Mrs. Jenkins, a parrot, and
nineteen of the crew, and with difficulty rowed to the other boats,
which took in their share of the men from the captain’s over-crowded
one. Captain Jenkins declares that the parrot, when removed from its
home on the “Kathleen,” swore that “he would be damned if he’d ever
go to sea again!” Three boat loads were discovered by a Glasgow ship,
but the fourth had to sail over one thousand miles to the Barbadoes.
Captain Jenkins is to-day living in South Dartmouth. He has written a
small volume on the loss of his ship and is such a well-known whaleman
that he was one of those who occupied the platform at the time of the
unveiling of “The Whaleman” statue.


While not primarily a whaling voyage, the “Catalpa” Expedition should
be outlined in any account of whaling adventures.

[Illustration: Whaling-bark “Catalpa” of New Bedford rescuing prisoners
from Australia in 1876; on the left is the police-boat racing to
intercept the convicts in the rowboat, and on the right is the English
armed cruiser “Georgette” coming to the assistance of the police. The
prisoners barely escaped.]

A number of Irish subjects who had joined the Fenian conspiracy of 1866
had been banished to Australia for life and were serving in the English
penal colony at Freemantle. John Boyle O’Reilly had escaped with the
aid of a whaleship and immediately began to form a plot to release
his fellow prisoners. O’Reilly suggested a whaleship for the rescue,
chiefly because it would create little suspicion, as whaleships were
frequently seen off the coast of Australia. Captain H. C. Hathaway,
who was the head of the night police force at New Bedford, was then
consulted, and he recommended their approaching a certain George S.
Anthony, a most successful whaler. Accordingly a meeting was held in
a dark room, and Captain Anthony finally accepted the leadership of
the expedition, probably not realizing fully the danger involved. The
“Catalpa” was selected, and she sailed from New Bedford on April 29,
1875, not even an officer sharing the secret with the brave commander.
The ship actually captured whales and finally arrived off Bunbury on
the coast of Australia. In the mean time a man called John J. Breslin,
who used to be a freight agent in Boston, had gone to Australia with
a fellow conspirator to arrange the land end of the scheme. On the
day appointed Captain Anthony rowed ashore with his crew, and with
great difficulty Breslin and his six prisoners, who had escaped from
their work in the woods, were placed on board the rowboat, which set
out to sea to join the “Catalpa,” some miles off shore. A storm came
up, but by good fortune and skilful seamanship, after a whole day
and night, the “Catalpa” was sighted. At the same time the English
cruiser “Georgette” was seen coming out of Freemantle in search of the
refugees. By great luck for some reason she never noticed the small
whaleboat and after questioning the “Catalpa” put back towards the
shore. The rescued and rescuers rowed on and finally were observed by
the men on the “Catalpa.” At the same time Captain Anthony noticed with
horror that there was an armed guard boat almost as near the “Catalpa”
as was his boat. It was a terrific race, but the whaleboat arrived a
few seconds ahead and the occupants climbed on board; the officers
had lost, and the prisoners were free. The rescued men knew their
pursuers and, leaning over the rail of the “Catalpa,” wished them “Good
morning,” and there was nothing for the officers to do but to answer
them in the same tone. When the captain reached home he weighed one
hundred and twenty-three pounds, having lost thirty-seven pounds on the
voyage, through worry and excitement. The police of Western Australia
endeavored to get these prisoners returned, but as their letter was
addressed to the same Captain Hathaway who assisted the plotters of the
expedition, there was not much help in this direction!

It is a very curious fact that at the precise moment that Disraeli was
telling the House of Lords that he would not release these prisoners
they were free on the Yankee ship. Receptions were held in New Bedford
and Boston in honor of Captain Anthony and the other rescuers, and the
daring captain will always be a hero with the Irish people.


The first whaler to sail from San Francisco was the “Popmunnett” in
the year 1850, and for thirty years after there were a few whaleships
registered in this port. Steam whalers were introduced into the
American fleet in 1880, when New Bedford sent out one, but it was
the adoption of steam and the proximity to the Arctic that made San
Francisco a whaling port at the time other places were giving up the
pursuit. In 1893 there were thirty-three vessels enrolled there, many
of which had been transferred from the Eastern cities. Since 1895
Boston, New Bedford, Provincetown, and San Francisco have been the only
places from which whalers have been regularly registered, and in 1903
Boston recorded her last whaleship.

[Illustration: A modern steam whaler in the act of shooting a harpoon

[Illustration: The modern harpoon gun, showing line with which to hold
the whale.]

There are a number of reasons for the decline of the whale fishery,
but the chief factor was undoubtedly the introduction of kerosene.
The opening of the first oil well in Pennsylvania sealed the fate of
whaling. Henceforth sperm candles were used for ornament, and whale
oil lamps soon became interesting relics. Other causes doubtless
contributed to this rapid decline; for instance, the financial crisis
of 1857; the uncertainty of the business, especially since Arctic
whaling was begun in 1848; the increased cost of fitting out the ships
for longer voyages; and the California gold craze in 1849, when many
crews and officers deserted. Also the rise of the cotton industry from
about 1850 to 1875 in New Bedford drew a great deal of capital from
the uncertain whale fishery to the more conservative investments in
cotton mills, which were successful from the very start. As whaling
died out the mills were built up, and it is owing to these same mills
that the city was saved from becoming a deserted fishing village. Then
later even the lubricating oils began to be made from the residuum of
kerosene, and about the same time wax was invented for candles, which
again robbed the whaling industry of another market for oil. Soon came
the Civil War, in which many vessels were captured or destroyed, then
followed the sinking of forty or more vessels of the Charleston Stone
Fleet described elsewhere, and finally came the Arctic disasters of
1871 and 1876, all of which hastened the end of the industry.

[Illustration: Whale-meat in Japan awaiting shipment to market. It is
sold to the poorer classes in all the large towns at prices which range
from 7 to 8 cents a pound. One whale yields as much meat as a herd of
100 cattle.]


Whaling will doubtless be carried on from San Francisco in a small way
as long as there is any demand for whalebone, and from New Bedford
and Provincetown while there is any market for sperm and whale oil.
Most of the Pacific steam whalers are now provided with a harpoon gun
invented by Svend Foyn, a Norwegian. This gun is placed in the bow, and
to the harpoon is attached a rope with which to play the whale, as one
does a fish with a rod and reel, but there is little romance in this
method of whaling.

In modern whaling the flesh is made into guano and the bones and blood
into fertilizer, and even the water in which the blubber has been
“tried out” is used in making glue. The meat is to-day sold to Japan,
and, if the weather is very cold and the supply of fish is limited, a
whale might bring there as much as four thousand dollars by utilizing
all the by-products as well as the meat, which is sometimes canned. In
America a whale is now valued at about two hundred dollars, but, if the
entire carcass is utilized, it might bring one thousand dollars.

From the _Whalemen’s Shipping List_, still published in New Bedford,
it can be figured that the total whaling fleet in America last year
(1913) consisted of thirty-four vessels, twenty hailing from New
Bedford, eleven from San Francisco, two from Provincetown, and one from
Stamford, Conn. The Atlantic fleet, however, reported a total catch of
over twenty thousand barrels of sperm oil and one thousand pounds of
whalebone during the year 1913, which is a considerably larger amount
than for the year previous.

Whaling in stout wooden ships on the far seas of the East and the West
is no longer carried on, for the glory and the profit of the industry
have gone never to return. Substitute products have come in, and to-day
the little whaling that is still done is along the coasts of the
Antarctic and Arctic Oceans, off the shores of Western Africa, Northern
Japan, New Zealand, California, and South America, and in the main it
is carried on in stout iron steamers. Ere long the last whaleship will
disappear from the sea and only the romance of a great industry will

[Illustration: _Corpora dum gaudent immania tollere Cętæ_

_Sic varijs telis, varijs feriuntur aristis_

A very old picture of whale-killing in the 17th century.]

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