“Call me Ishmael.” It’s the opening line of a novel about the whaling industry, about revenge, and about redemption.
If you’re interested in the 19th Century American whaling industry, love classic American literature, or believe you were tortured in your high-school literature class, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. The novel has certainly shaped American views of whaling in the 1800’s. And if you’ve read, perhaps you’ve wondered: could it be true?
Today we’re wrapping up our three month examination of American whaling (moving on to lighthouses in July!) and we’re revealing some historical facts about this Melville novel, the real account that inspired the story, and a recommendation for your summer reading list. Continue reading →
I’m no scientist, but I do know whales are mammals. However, it’s not uncommon to find them called “fish” in 19th Century writings. What’s going on?
Today’s blog post explores some of the origins of 19th Century names for whales, briefly discusses the catalog of whales found in Moby Dick, and reviews the differences between toothed and baleen whales. Continue reading →
It’s time to talk about the actual whale ships. But don’t confuse them with the whaleboats – there is a difference. Whaleboats were the smaller vessels used in the actual hunt; they were about 28-30 feet in length and not designed for a long voyage and equipped with oars, steering oar, and long lengths of rope which would be connected to the harpoon.
Today, we’ll focus on the big ship. The one that left harbor, sailed around the world, carried the smaller whaleboats, housed the crew, provided a platform for the boiling pots, and stored the barrels and bundles of profit. How big were these ships? What was the layout of the decks? How much could a ship stand from weather and other forces of nature? Let’s explore…
(For those of you who might be wondering about a new post on Thursday… Since we skipped a maritime post on Wednesday last week, you’ll get two this week to keep the series on schedule.) Continue reading →
Recently, a friend told me how much she was enjoying this series on 19th Century American Whaling, and she followed the compliment with this observation, “But what a hard and horrible way to make a living.” That’s true. Whaling – even with its economic potential – had hard work. It was gross, messy, and back-breaking.
In some of the previous posts, we’ve discussed some of the ranks and demographics of whaling. Today, we’ll try to explore this a little more in-depth. Who was who on a whaling ship? Why did men work in the industry? (Were captains really as infamous as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick?) Continue reading →