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Whaling Will Never Do For Me

Whaling Will Never Do For Me: The American Whaleman in the Nineteenth Century

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Whaling Will Never Do For Me
    Book Description:

    "I just begin to find out that whaling will never do for me and have determined to leave the ship here if possible." That sentiment, expressed by a foremast hand aboard the ship Caroline in 1843, is one shared by many of the whalemen in this fascinating book. Interest in Herman Melville'sMoby Dickhas contributed to a substantial literature on the history and lore of the industry. But not until now has the vast body of surviving whaleship logs and journals been used to paint an encompassing picture of the difficult but colorful life aboard nineteenth-century American whaling vessels.

    Briton Cooper Busch, author of a definitive history of the American sealing industry, in this book only incidentally discusses the actual chase for whales. His focus instead is the life of whalemen at sea, and particularly the harsh discipline that kept men aboard through long and often dispiriting years. Busch depicts the complex social world aboard ship, defining and detailing such issues as crime and punishment, competing racial elements, the social distance between officers and men, sexual behavior, and the role of women aboard ships.

    For oppressed, discouraged, or simply bored whalemen, several escapes existed, from the rarest of all mutiny through labor protests of various types, to individual desertion or appeal to an American consul abroad. To each of these topics Busch devotes a chapter. He also provides glimpses of those occasional moments of relief such as a Fourth of July celebration and such somber moments as a death at sea.

    Fascinating details and original quotations from individual whalemen make this book more than a study of general trends. For anyone with even a casual interest in whaling, it is indispensable.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5061-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ONE Introduction: The American Whaleman
    (pp. 1-17)

    With this contract, a printed form on which the words “ShipOnward,” “New Bedford,” and “fifty months” have been written by hand in the appropriate spaces provided, theOnward’smaster, four mates, four boatsteerers, cooper, carpenter, cook, cabin boy, steward, and twenty-one experienced and “green” foremast hands committed themselves to more than four years aboard a whaleship unless the vessel returned to her home port before the allotted fifty months had passed. The year was 1863, a difficult time for America and for whaling. The height of the industry, measured either by the total of oil brought home or the...

  6. TWO Crime and Punishment
    (pp. 18-31)

    On December 18, 1841, the log of the New Bedford whaleshipSamuel Robertson(William H. Warner, master) recorded an occasion of punishment: “Flogged the blacksmith for disobeying Orders.” That day or shortly thereafter, foremast hand William Allen elaborated upon the incident in his private journal.

    A sketch of a punishment on board Sam’l Robertson.

    What are you down in that steerage for after the watch has been called a half an hour for Blacksmith?

    I did not hear the watch called, and the noise of their scrubbing over my head was what waked me up, sir.

    Up with you to...

  7. THREE Race and Status
    (pp. 32-50)

    The question of race is one that has long perplexed students of the history of whaling. There is no doubt that African-Americans and Native Americans served aboard whaleships in the earliest days—but in what numbers, and in what capacity? And, particularly important for this study, what changes in racial distribution and status took place in the industry over the course of the nineteenth century?

    One may begin, as many do in their first encounter with whaling life, with the works of Herman Melville, who was, it must be stressed, a whaleman himself. A search of his several works upon...

  8. FOUR Work Stoppages
    (pp. 51-61)

    On July 16, 1835, Frederick Peabody, master of the shipGeorgiaof New London, Connecticut, returned to his vessel from the town of Praia on the Cape Verdean island of Sao Tiago. He brought supplies aboard, and, although there had been problems between some of his crew on liberty ashore and local inhabitants, his ship was ready for sea. While Peabody was at the rail in the process of paying some locals for their produce, a member of the crew named John Cook:

    hove a large log into the boat the Captain enquired hoo hove it this said John Cook...

  9. FIVE Whalemen and American Consuls Abroad
    (pp. 62-86)

    In February of 1865, forty-seven leading merchants in New Bedford, ineluding such famous whaling names as Grinnell, Howland, Rotch, Taber, and Wing, took the trouble to sign a petition addressed to William H. Seward, American Secretary of State:

    The undersigned, merchants of New Bedford, Mass., engaged in the whale-fisher); respectfully represent that American Consuls at foreign ports where our ships frequent for supplies and recruits have assumed the right to discharge the seamen of said ships upon a statement that said ships had taken a full cargo of oil, although the voyage for which the vessels were fitted and the...

  10. SIX Desertion
    (pp. 87-104)

    “I just begin to find out that whaling will never do for me and have determined to leave the ship here if possible. Several of my ship, mates are of the same mind and are willing to attempt anything.” W.R. Bailey, the author of these words, was a foremast hand aboard the shipCarolineof New Bedford, anchored in San Francisco Bay in 1843. In dead calm on a clear moonlight night, Bailey and five companions, one of whom was a boatsteerer, took a boat that lay moored alongside, stowed in bread and fresh beef (it had been hanging in...

  11. SEVEN The Practice of Religion
    (pp. 105-134)

    Physical escape from a whaleship was not always possible, as has been seen. But there were other forms of escape in an internal sense. One such was religion, though it is not a subject often associated with whale-men—and certainly not the concern of such standard works as those of Hohman or Ashley. Yet it is not unimportant, for several reasons. First, pious devotions offered to the apparently rare believer aboard a whaleship a means of solace—at least from time to time, as will be seen. Second, the practice of religion, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, acted in important...

  12. EIGHT Whalemen’s Women, Whalemen’s Wives
    (pp. 135-157)

    This song celebrates the stereotypical nineteenth-century whaleman, a carefree rakehell, roaming the oceans of the world seeking whales, women, and drink, not necessarily in that order. The stereotype has another dimension as well, for the whaleman has taken his place as part of the “fatal impact” portrayed by Alan Moorehead and other popular writers.² It is a concept that, fortunately, has been much qualified in recent years, but the whaleman’s reputation remains much as portrayed by Foster Rhea Dulles in his 1933 study entitledLowered Boards: A Chronicle of American Whaling: “The American could not resist the proffered charms of...

  13. NINE The Festive and the Ceremonial
    (pp. 158-172)

    For the whaleman whose time had not expired, had not opportunity to desert, was far from a liberty port and the women and grog it might offer, and had not found religion, whaling life, like that of any prisoner, was repetitious monotony, relieved by whales, weather, and grumbles about the food, and always with the same two or three dozen faces aboard. Yet there were relieving moments. When officers were reasonable men and not brutal disciplinarians, a man’s spare time was his own. This was particularly true on Sunday, if the general tradition of no unnecessary work was observed, and...

  14. TEN Waterfront Havens and the Honolulu Riot of 1852
    (pp. 173-193)

    The whaleman at sea was in many ways a prisoner, as has been shown in the preceding chapters. He was not helpless, nor without rights or means of protest or well.. known avenues of escape, but a prisoner none the less. Of the escapes possible, desertion was subject to considerable danger, with recapture and punishment or perhaps a worse fate ahead, particularly if a man was taking his chances in a society unaccustomed to or intolerant of outsiders, or both. But what of the whaleman who either by successful desertion or discharge found his way to a recognized point of...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 194-228)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-246)
  17. Index of Whaleships
    (pp. 247-259)
  18. General Index
    (pp. 260-265)