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OLD DARTMOUTH HISTORICAL SKETCH
WHALING EXHIBITS OF THE OLD DARTMOUTH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Prepared by: Arthur C. Watson, Assistant Curator
Published in 1924 by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society
(Reprinted in 1926)
OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS (1926)
President -- George H. Tripp
Vice-presidents -- Zephaniah W. Pease, James E. Stanton Jr.
Treasurer -- Frederic H. Taber
Secretary -- Miss Ethel L. Jennings
Directors -- George H. Tripp, Zephaniah W. Pease, William W. Crapo, Frederic H. Taber, James E. Stanton Jr., Miss Rosamond Clifford, Abbott P. Smith, William A. Robinson Jr., Oliver F. Brown, Edward L. Macomber, F. Gilbert Hinsdale, Frank Wood, Miss Ethel L. Jennings
Curator -- Frank Wood
Assistant Curator -- Arthur C. Watson
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society was incorporated in 1903 for the purpose of preserving, through research and through the collection of objects of interest, the past history of what was originally the township of Dartmouth, now comprising the city of New Bedford and the towns of Westport, Dartmouth, Acushnet and Fairhaven. The formation of such a society came none too soon, for already many of the relics of days gone by had been carried away to other places. The interest shown in the society by the residents of Old Dartmouth, however, has made possible the preservation of a notable collection, including Colonial furniture and household utensils, portraits of shipmasters and of people belonging to the old families of this section, some paintings by local artists, curios from the Pacific Islands, from Alaska, from Japan, etc. Most of these foreign exhibits were brought home by the whalemen, who, in their voyages, visited practically every land that borders on the ocean.
As New Bedford, was, in the [heyday] of the whaling industry, the world's most prominent city in that maritime pursuit, so it was only natural that there should spring up, as the industry itself was waning, a museum devoted to whatever there might be of interest and of glory in the quickly-coming past. Today the society has as complete a collection of whaliana as may anywhere be seen, and chief among its exhibits is a half-sized model of a whaling vessel, complete in every detail, and ready to sail on a "greasy" voyage, if half-sized seamen could be found to man her.
The headquarters of the society are in a building that it received as a gift from Henry H. Rogers, though the greater part of the whaling exhibits, including the model of the vessel, are in another building, constructed specially for that purpose, and donated by Miss Emily H. Bourne.
The Rogers Building, which was built for the old National Bank of Commerce, has itself an historic interest. For on its site was erected in 1803, the building of the Bedford Bank, the first financial institution of Bristol County. The present structure dates back to 1884, and came into the possession of the society in 1906.
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society has, in addition to maintaining a museum, published from time to time pamphlets relating to local history and genealogy. It has collected pictures of persons and of places as a part of its historical work. The society is supported by a life and annual membership of about 800, and by an endowment. Hon. William W. Crapo was the first president, and he was followed in office by Mr. Edmund Wood, Mr. Herbert E. Cushman and Mr. George H. Tripp. Mr. Frank Wood is the present curator of the museum, having held that position for the past twelve years.
"'Twas a love of adventure, a longing for gold,
And a hardened desire to roam,
Tempted me far away o'er the watery world,
Far away from my kindred and home."
--A Whaleman's song.
The Bourne Memorial Building
The large museum building that houses the half-sized model, together with the model itself, was the gift of Miss Emily H. Bourne, as a memorial to her father, Jonathan Bourne, one of the most successful whaling merchants of New Bedford. This building and its unique exhibit were dedicated November 23, 1916, and constitute the most valued exhibit of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society.
The Bourne Building was designed by Henry Vaughan of Boston, who drew his inspiration therefore from the Salem Custom House, famed for Hawthorne associations. The architecture of both interior and exterior is Georgian, suggestive of the style fro structure prevalent in Colonial Days. The situation of the building, too, is historic. For, across the street, on the other side of Johnny Cake Hill, are the Mariners' Home, once used for transient seamen, and the Seamen's Bethel, which Herman Melville once visited and afterwards immortalized in his Moby Dick. These two buildings, reminiscent of by-gone days in New Bedford's history, may be seen from the gallery windows of the Bourne Building. The Seamen's Bethel still holds services, and visitors are generally admitted if application is made at the Mariners' Home.
Jonathan Bourne was born in Sandwich, Mass., in 1811, but settled in New Bedford when a young man. His first venture in the whaling business was in 1836. In 1848 he opened his offices in the large stone building at the head of Merrill's Wharf, and continued to occupy these quarters until his death in 1889. Mr. Bourne's whaling interests were large: his agency covered 24 vessels, in which his average ownership was 57.47%, and he was financially interested in 22 others. The 24 vessels that he managed made 148 voyages during his career, and the average catch of the voyages was 187½ bbls. sperm oil, 1136 bbls. whale oil, and 12,504 lbs. bone.
Jonathan Bourne's Lagoda
The Lagoda was Mr. Bourne's favorite ship, for the twelve voyages she made under his management were almost all very successful. The net profits of all these voyages were $651,958.99 and her most successful voyage was in the Pacific from 1864 to 1868, when she brought home a catch worth $200,755.68. The Lagoda gave Mr. Bourne only one losing voyage, to the amount of $14,160.47.
The name of the Lagoda was the result of a mistake. It was intended to name her after the Lake Ladoga in Russia, but the misplaced consonants were never corrected. She was build at Scituate, Mass., in 1826, by Seth and Samuel Foster, and was originally used in merchant service. Mr. Bourne purchased her in Boston in 1841. Her original rig was that of a ship, and she was altered into a bark in 1860. Mr. Bourne kept her till 1886, when he sold her to John McCullough, and the latter sold her in 1887 to William Lewis and others. She still continued to go whaling until 1890, when she was condemned at Yokohama, as being unfit for further service at sea.
The Lagoda was a vessel of 371.15 gross and 352 net tons. She was 107.5 feet long, with a beam of 26.8 feet, and a depth of 18.3 feet.
Richard Henry Dana frequently mentions the Lagoda in his Two Years Before the Mast. The vessel, then (1835) in the merchant service, was collecting a cargo of hides on the coast of California, and the Brig Pilgrim, in which the author [Dana] sailed, was engaged in the same pursuit. When the Pilgrim was seeking an anchorage in San Diego harbor, she collided with the Lagoda, and this mishap, though it resulted in no serious damage, gave rise to a humorous incident which Dana relates.
"After supper," writes the author, "two of us took the captain on board the Lagoda. As he came alongside, he gave his name, and the mate, in the gangway, called out to Captain Bradshaw, down the companion way 'Captain Thompson has come aboard, sir!' 'Has he brought his brig with him?' asked the rough old fellow, in a tone which made itself heard fore and aft. This mortified our captain not a little, and it became a standing joke among us, and indeed, over the coast, for the rest of the voyage."
The author's son, in a chapter added to Two Years Before the Mast, gives the following account of the last days of the Lagoda: "In 1890, she came to Yokohama much damaged, was officially surveyed and pronounced not worth repair, was sold at auction and bought as a coal hulk for the Canadian Pacific Company's steamers at that port, and in 1899 was sold to the Japanese, burned and broken up at Kanagawa. The fate [of this vessel]. . . .illustrates how vessels, as Ernest Thompson Seton says of wild animals, seldom fail to have a hard, if not a tragic, ending."
The Model of the Lagoda
The building of the model of the Lagoda entailed many difficulties, for all of its equipment had to be specially made. Men versed in the various arts of whalecraft were scarce at the time, and their skill and ingenuity had to be severely taxed in making everything on the half-scale. As a result of their interest in their work, however, the Lagoda is fully equipped as whalers ready to start on a cruise, and each detail of this equipment as perfect in proportion as human skill is capable of contriving.
But an even greater difficult in the building of the Lagoda lay in the fact that no photographs or models of the vessel were found at the time. The measurements of the vessel were found at the New Bedford Custom House, and these were of some service to the designers. Then, again, the original Lagoda was of a construction similar to that of the Charles W. Morgan, which was tied up a Fairhaven wharf when Miss Bourne's project was started.
It was fortunate that Captain Edward D. Lewis, who commanded the Lagoda on three of her voyages, was alive in Utica, N.Y. His wife, too, was living, and she had spent several years with her husband aboard the vessel. Together they were able to give much needed information to Mr. Edgar B. Hammond, who was commissioned to make the plans for the Lagoda model.
Mr. Hammond supplemented this information by conferring with whalemen and artisans who knew the old Lagoda, and Mr. William H. Crook, a master shipbuilder who had done work on her, had a general oversight of the model while it was under construction. There was no shipbuilder in New Bedford to construct the model, and the contract was given to Mr. Frank B. Sistare, a house-builder, who employed several ship-workmen on this job.
Much of the equipment of the Lagoda was made by local firms who had survived the all by extinct whaling industry. Joshua Delano, a whaleboat builder, made the half-sized boats, which are fourteen and a half feet long. Briggs and Beckman, proprietors of a sail-loft, made the sails. The equipment of the whale-boats is complete, though made for the purpose on the half-scale.
As the Lagoda now stands, under the vaulted roof of the Bourne Memorial Building, she represents to some degree a labor of love by those who had a part in her construction and equipping. Without a doubt she is the largest model of a sailing vessel ever constructed; her length on the water line is 54 feet nine inches, her extreme length from the tip of the flying jib-boom to the tip of the spanker boom is 82 feet six inches, and her height from the water line to the main royal truck is 50 feet.
The Lagoda is a model of a bark, that is, a vessel fitted with square sails on her fore and mainmasts, and with fore-and-aft, or schooner-rig sails, on her mizzenmast. The bark was the most familiar type of whaling vessel from the time of the Civil War down to the close of the last century.
Access is gained to the Lagoda by means of the gangway on the starboard side. On the deck one may see all the equipment used in the various operations of a whaling voyage, and, in order that the visitor may understand better the various uses of this equipment, a brief description of the methods of whaling follows.
Once a vessel was on the high seas, the mast-heads were manned to keep a sharp look-out for whales. The men on the look-out stood on the cross-trees, at the head of the main topgallant mast and at the head of the fore topgallant mast. Their bodies rested within the large iron rings that may be seen by looking aloft from the deck of the Lagoda. When the spouting of whales was seen off on the horizon, the look-out announced his find by the cry of "Blo-o-ows!" or "Thar' she blows!" He then shouted down to the officers on deck the direction and distance of the whales, and preparation was then made for lowering the boats, while the vessel made all possible speed in the direction given.
A whaling vessel generally had four boats in readiness for the chase, three boats on the port side and one on the starboard. The Lagoda model represents what was called a five-boat vessel, having five boats on the davits, including one spare boat.
A description of the chase may be found elsewhere in this book. When the whale was caught, killed and brought to the ship, (and we are here writing of sperm whaling) it was lashed to the starboard side by heavy chains, with its head toward the stern.
The long and arduous process of cutting-in the whale would now commence. The cutting-in stage, amid-ships on the star-board side, was lowered. This stage, consists of three pieces of planking, is partly hoisted up on the Lagoda, just over the gangway. Three or four of the officers, armed with the long cutting spades, would take their places on the stage. First they would cut a hole between the eye and the fin, in which the large blubber-hook was inserted by one of the boat-steerers, who was lowered down from the deck by a bowline. The blubber of the whale was then cut in such a fashion that it would peel off spirally, as the tackle attached to the blubber-hook was hoisted. But before the blanket-piece, as the body blubber is called, was thus peeled off, the head and lower jaw were removed.
By hoisting on the blanket-piece, the whale could be turned over in the water, allowing the mates to cut in at the proper places for severing the lower jaw and head. The former was often hoisted on deck and put to one side, for its only value was in its teeth and bone, used by the men to make trinkets out of in their leisure hours. The head of a whale was sometimes hoisted entire on deck, if the animal happened to be small enough. But if the animal were larger, then only the lower part of the head, called the junk, was taken on deck. The upper half, called the case, was hoisted to the level of the deck, and an opening cut into it. The case is like a well, full of the rich spermaceti, and this once valuable matter was bailed out by the case-buckets.
Not until after the head was disposed of did the work of removing the blanket-piece commence. In removing the blanket-piece, which peeled off in a strip about a yard wide, the tackle of the blubber-hook was hoisted as high as possible, and then, somewhere near the level of the deck, a second hole was cut into the blanket, and through this hole was inserted the strap at the end of a second tackle. The strap was secured by a wooden toggle or pin, holding the loop end of the strap at the other side of the blanket-piece. The raised portion of the blanket was then cut off, just above where the second tackle was made fast, by a boarding knife, and the severed piece of blubber lowered down through the hatch of the blubber-room. Then the second tackle was hoisted, bringing up another piece of blanket, and the same operation was repeated. So the blanket-piece was removed from the whale, the officers constantly continuing the spiral cutting around the whale, the animal itself turning over and over in the water as the blanket-piece was hoisted, and the tackles alternately fastened into the blanket before each piece was cut off and lowered down the hatch.
Down in the blubber room were men armed with short spades who cut the blubber of the blanket-piece into "horse-pieces," about ten inches by three feet. The "horse-pieces" were then sent back on deck, where they went through the mincing process. Mincing was sometimes done by a mincing machine, but mincing by hand was generally considered a better and shorter way. The "horse-pieces" were placed on the mincing horse, and, by the use of two-handled mincing knife, were each cut up into thin slices, called "Bible leaves," much in the same way as a slab of bacon is cut, with the rind holding the slices together.
The blubber was now ready for the try-pots. Fires were built in the brick fire-places between the fore and mainmast. The minced blubber was thrown into the pots and there boiled. As the oil left the blubber, it was ladled off and poured into the cooler. One man stood by the try-works with a skimmer, taking off the scraps of blubber from which the oil had been extracted, and using these scraps to feed the fires. From the cooler, the oil was taken and poured into the casks, which were lashed to the bulwarks. Not until after the blanket-piece had been finished, was the blubber of the junk, or head blubber, tried out, for the latter furnished oil of a superior quality, which was not generally mixed with the body oil. The final operation was of course, the stowing of the full casks below, and then the decks were cleaned of the oil and grime and awaited the catching of the next whale.
The appearance of the deck during the boiling process can be imagined from the following quotation, found in an old log-book: "Took in the junk and commenced boiling head. What a greasy mess we are in! The oil is about two inches or less on the deck and all the blubber is on deck. The oil runs out faster than we can boil."
Several of the objects on the deck of the Lagoda are numbered, and the following list may be referred to for their identification:
(Please note the following numbers correspond to pictures in the accompanying PDF)
51. Blubber-hook, used to hoist up the blanket-piece or body blubber of a whale.
52. Eye-strap used for the same purpose. The eye would be put through a hole in the blanket-piece and made fast by a wooden toggle or pin.
53. Spade, used in cutting-in a whale.
54. and 55. Boarding knives, used to cut off portions of the blanket-piece as it was hoisted up.
56. and 57. Mincing knives.
58. Bucket for hauling pieces of blubber to the try-works.
59. Blubber-fork, used in handling blubber at the try-works.
60. Bailer, to remove oil from the try-pots.
61. Skimmer, to remove the blubber from the pots after the oil was extracted.
62. Cooler, into which was poured the oil from the try-pots.
63. Pot to catch the overflow from the cooler.
64. Bailer to remove the oil from the cooler.
66. Cooper's devil.
67. Harness-cask, for soaking salt beef and pork.
There are many other things to be noted on the deck of the Lagoda. At the bow is the large windlass, used for anchors and cutting tackle. Aft of the windlass is the hatchway of the forecastle, in which dingy hole the crew was quartered. Just aft of the try-works is the vise-bench, where boats were repaired, new spars made and a host of other carpentry and cooperage operations carried out. Going still further aft, one comes to the house, but just forward of the house is the booby hatch leading down into the so-called steerage, where the boatsteerers, the carpenter, the cooper, the blacksmith and other privileged members of the crew had their quarters. The skids just forward of the house were used for the storage of spare boats, spares, etc. In the passageway between the two parts of the house is the skylight which lights the main cabin below. It also encloses the compass, which the man at the wheel was obliged to watch from above, and which the captain could see from below.
The rooms on the starboard side of the passageway include the galley, where the food for all hands was cooked, and a storage room. On the port side are the potato bin and the companion-way leading down into the cabin.
The cabin of the Lagoda gives the visitors a good idea of the life of the officers at sea. It will be noticed that the walls of the cabin are painted white down to the level of a person's waist, and that below they are painted gray. The dividing line between these two colors suggests where the cabin floor would ordinarily be, but the actual floor is of course much lower, in order that visitors may enter the half-sized quarters.
The companion-way leads immediately into the main cabin, where the dining-table of the officers, with its folding leaves, is placed. Leading out of the main cabin on the port side are two of the officers' staterooms. The stateroom next to the companion-way is that of the first mate, and the desk is for writing the log-book. The door on the starboard side of the main cabin leads into another one of the officers' rooms. The door on the forward side leads into the pantry.
The after-cabin, in the extreme stern of the vessel, is the drawing room of the captain. The built-in horse-hair sofa is typical of almost all the old whaling vessels. The captain's sleeping room leads off of the after cabin at the starboard end, and in it may be seen the cradle-like bed of the captain which swayed to the motion of the ship.
The whale-boat of the museum, which is placed at the south end of the Bourne Building, at the bow of the Lagoda, is one that has seen actual service. The cracks in the planking at the starboard bow of the boat show where it was once stove by a whale and subsequently repaired. The four notches on the gunwale of the starboard bow, near the crotch holding the harpoons, represent four whales captured by the boat. Whalemen would frequently keep a tally such as this.
The equipment of the boat is complete and in readiness for the chase. The boat may be propelled either by the sprit-sail or by the oars, which are apportioned among the five oarsmen as follows: Beginning at the bow, the first oar is that of the harpooner, 14 feet long; then the bow oar, 16 feet; the midship oar, 18feet; the tub oar, 16 feet; and finally the after-oar, 14 feet. The harpoon, midship and after oars afe dipped off the starboard side of the boat; the bow and tub oars, off the port side. Thus the two middle-sized oars pull against the longest and the two shortest oars, and this balance is practically preserved when the harpooner draws in his oar to strike the whale. The crew has paddles also at its disposal, used when it is desirable to approach the whales cautiously.
The rest of the equipment of the boat is marked with numbers corresponding to those of the following list:
(Please note the following numbers correspond to pictures in the accompanying PDF)
1. First harpoon.
2. Second harpoon.
3. Lance-straightener, used by the officer if his lance became bent by thrusts into the whale.
4. Harpooner's knife, used to cut the line in case it became entangled.
5. Hatchet, used for the same purpose.
6. Clumsy-cleat, with its rounded leg-brace for the harpooner.
7. Spare harpoon.
8. Spare harpoon.
9. Bomb gun used to shoot bomb lances, which exploded within the whale.
13. Loggerhead, around which a few turns of the whale-line are thrown. This tended to check the speed of the whale when he was running off from the boat, and also served to keep the line taut when the boat was drawing near the whale for lancing.
14. Waist tub of line.
15. Stern tub of line, used after the large tub was emptied.
16. Rudder, used when the boat was under sail.
17. Tiller for the rudder.
18. Steering oar.
19. Eye for resting the steering oar when the boatsteerer, or harpooner, and the officer changed their places in the boat.
20. Drag, which is attached to the end of the whale line if the whale, in "sounding," exhausts all the line of the two tubs. The drag checks the free movement of the whale down into the water because of its weight and pressure. It is buoyant, of course, and enables the boat to recover the line when the whale comes up to the surface.
21. Canvas nipper, to protect the hands of the stroke oarsman who tends to the line as it is played out from the tubs.
22. Keg for drinking water.
23. Bucket for bailing the boat.
24. Bucket for throwing water on the loggerhead when the whale has been made fast and is drawing out the line.
25. Waif flag, to plant into a dead whale when it is necessary to abandon him temporarily.
26. Signal for sending messages, especially of distress, to the ship.
27. Fluke-spade, used to cut a hole in the flukes of a dead sperm whale for towing purposes.
29. Lantern keg, containing matches, bread, tobacco, etc.
30. Double oarlock. The oar of the tub oarsman was placed in the upper part, when the boat was fast a whale, in order that the oar might be free from the running line.
The following description of a whale-boat is quoted from Nimrod of the Sea.
"It is the fruit of a century's experience, and the sharpened sense and ingenuity of an inventive people, urged by the peril of the chase and the value of the prize. For lightness and form; for carrying capacity as compared with its weight and sea-going qualities; for speed and facility of movement at the word of command; for the placing of the men at the best advantage in the exercise of their power; by the nicest adaptation of the varying length of the oar, to its position in the boat; and lastly, for a simplicity of construction, which renders repairs practicable on board the ship, the whaleboat is simply as perfect as the combined skill of the million men who have risked life and limb in service could make it. This paragon of a boat is 28 feet long, sharp, and clean-cut as a dolphin, bow and stern swelling amidships, to six feet, with a bottom round and buoyant. The gunwale amidships, 22 inches above the keel, rises with an accelerated curve to 37 inches at each end, and this rise of bow and stern, with the clipper-like upper form, gives it a duck-like capacity to top the oncoming waves, so that it will dryly ride where ordinary boats would fill. The gunwales and keel, of the best timber, are her heaviest parts, and give stiffness to the whole; the timbers, sprung to shape, are a half-inch or three-quarters in depth, and the planking is half-inch white cedar. Her thwarts are inch pine, supported by knees of greater strength than the other timbers. The bow-oar thwart is pierced by a three-inch hole for the mast and is double-kneed. . . .The gunwale is pierced at proper distances for thole-pins, of wood, and all sound of the working oars is muffled by well-thrummed mats, kept carefully greased, so that we can steal on our prey silent as the cavalry of the poor badgered Lear. The planking is carefully smoothed with sandpaper and painted. Here we have a boat which two men may lift, and which will make ten miles an hour in dead chase by the oars alone. . . .
"Among the crowd of dangerous lines and threatening cutting gear are six pairs of legs, belonging to six skilled boatmen. Such a whaleboat is ours, as she floats two miles from the ship, each man in the crew watching under the blade of his peaked oar for the rising whale, and the captain and boatsteerer standing on the highest point, carefully sweeping the horizon with trained eye, to catch the first spout, and secure the chance of 'getting on.'"
Catching the Whale
"It is the harpooner that makes the voyage."--Moby Dick.
The whale hunt, from the time the distant spoutings are observed from the mast-head up to the time of the whale's death flurry and the crew's cry of victory, "Fin out," is one of the greatest sports known to man. And we speak, not of the modern methods of the chase, by which whales are practically butchered by explosives and cannon, but of the old Yankee way of hand-thrown harpoon and lance, a way which was seldom modified during the heyday of whaling, and which remained in use as long as "greasy" voyages set out from Atlantic seaports.
When the sound of "Thar' she blows!" or just, "Blo-o-ows" came down from the look-out aloft to the men on deck, there was no time or desire for idleness. The ship was headed in the direction of the spouts, and the crew made ready to lower the small boats. It was always an occasion of great anticipation, combined with the tense eagerness that good sportsmen experience, and with the thought that success would shorten the duration of the voyage.
In each boat that was lowered there was one officer, a boatsteerer and four oarsmen. Generally the captain did not lower, but preferred to remain on the deck of the ship where he could direct, by a code of signals, the activities of the boats. Usually the sails of the boats were set in going toward the whale or whales, and the masts lowered after the boats came within a reasonable distance of their prey. The remaining distance was covered by means of the oars, and frequently, upon approaching very close to a whale, the crew of the boat would use paddles in order to make the least noise possible.
In the organization of the boat's crew, the officer had his place in the stern, where he did the steering, generally by means of the twenty-two foot oar. The so-called boatsteerer was, when going on to a whale, in the bow of the boat, and pulled the forward oar. At the command of his officer, he drew in his oar, took his stand up against the clumsy-cleat, and, with his harpoon poised, waited until the boat was within striking distance of the whale. The throwing of the harpoon was the supreme moment of the chase. None of the crew with the exception of the boatsteerer and the officer, could turn their heads toward the bow, and could only imagine the perils so close at hand. As quickly as he could, the boatsteerer would dart another harpoon at the monster, but already the line was whizzing out of the boat. Startled by the prick of the iron, the whale would sometimes dash wildly across the water, but more often he would "sound" or sink rapidly down into the depths.
The line was stretched free from the bow of the boat to the loggerhead at the stern, and a turn or two were passed about the loggerhead in order that the line might be kept taut. The line whizzed about the loggerhead with such speed, that the stroke oarsman, almost immediately after the boatsteerer had thrown his harpoons, had to grab the bucket and throw water over the smoking wood and cordage. So great was the friction that the loggerhead was in danger of being set on fire.
In "sounding," the whale was liable to take with him all the line in the boat. If another boat was near by, the line of this second boat could be bent to the line of the first boat, and thus place another 300 fathoms of line at the disposal of the "sounding" whale. But if, while the whale was "sounding," the line became entangled with any part of the boat or with one of its crew, it had to be quickly cut and the whale abandoned. Kinks in the line were always to be watched for, and men have often been dragged to their death, caught in a loop of the whirring hemp.
After a period, generally of about forty minutes, a whale that "sounded" would arise again to the surface and then swim madly across the water, towing the boat after him. The excess line had to be hauled in quickly at the start of the "Nantucket sleigh-ride," as the career of the whale through the water, with the boat drawn after him, was called. The officer and the boatsteerer would now have changed their places; the officer going to the bow to be in readiness for lancing the whale, while the boatsteerer assumed charge of the steering oar. In time the whale would become exhausted by his fast swimming and weakened by the sting of the harpoons and the loss of blood. Then the line would be hauled in and the boat drawn up close to the whale. Throughout the "Nantucket sleigh-ride," in fact, the line was continually being let out or drawn in, as the necessity might be, and the loggerhead kept the line taut in the same manner as the reel of an expert trout-fisherman.
When the boat was drawn up close to the whale, the officer stood up in the bow and plunged his lance into the animal. Several times the lance often had to be thrown before his life was extinguished, and all the time the small boat was in close quarters with a raging monster. When the lance was thrown, indeed, the distance between the boat and the whale was often about an arm's length, and the animal at any time might have given a deadly flick with his flukes or have seized the boat in his jaws. The oarsmen had to be in strict attendance on orders and had to work in unison; their failure to back-water at the right moment might have meant the destruction of their craft, and they repeatedly had to fulfill the officer's purposes as he wished now to go up close for a lancing and now to withdraw out of danger. The greatest peril came when the whale raised his "red flag," so to speak, when he spouted forth a spray of blood from his spiracle. For it was then that he went into his death flurry, splashing violently about in the water and sometimes going madly about in circles. But the flurry, perilous to the whalemen as it always was, did not last long, and in a moment the whale rolled over on his side, dead.
The above description of a whale hunt applies to the sperm whale, and is true only in cases where everything happens according to schedule. But the sperm whale has many tricks that must be provided against, and the best laid plans of men often fail.
The prick of the harpoon frequently emboldened the whale, especially if he had had a similar experience previously. If the seventy or eighty foot monster really knew his power and knew how to use it, the crew of the boat were at a tremendous disadvantage. The whale might have shattered the boat with his flukes or he might have crushed it in his jaws. A stove boat, indeed, was a very common outcome of a whale chase.
No other whale, commonly known to Yankee whalemen, can be compared with the sperm whale in fighting qualities. Right whales, bowheads, and humpbacks seldom are dangerous, providing the officers in charge of the chase are experienced and careful.
Other Exhibits in the Bourne Building
The main floor of the Bourne Building contains many exhibits pertaining to whaling besides the Lagoda and the whaleboat. In the windows are models of various types of sailing craft, and below the windows half models of hulls, which were made by master ship-builders to guide their workmen. Objects of especial interest are the bust and memorial tablet of Jonathan Bourne, and a beautiful green bronze tablet, with a bas relief of a whaler under full sail, placed by Annie Seabury Wood in memory of her sea-faring ancestors.
A painting by Clement Nye Swift of Leonard's boatshop, where many of the whaleboats used on voyages from New Bedford were made, hangs by one of the gallery staircases, and by the other staircase are two of Maury's whale charts. In various places on the walls and floor are decorative stern-boards and figure-heads of old-time whaling vessels. Fastened to one of the supporting columns of the gallery is a lower jaw of a sperm whale, and fastened to another are two exceptionally long pieces of whalebone from the month of a right whale.
Arranges around the walls, too, is a fine collection of harpoons, darting guns, lances, and other implements used in the chase and in the other duties connected with whaling. The collection is a complete as it was possible to make it, and the following catalogue may be used as a guide by those interested. The greater part of this collection was given to the society by Mr. Frank Wood.
(Please note the following numbers correspond to pictures in the accompanying PDF)
302 through 306. Harpoons for darting by hand, two flued, with stationary heads. These were the earliest use, and remained in use until the late '60's.
307. A type of long-shanked harpoon, used in catching the thick-blubbered whales of the Arctic regions.
308 through 320. Same as 302, etc.
321. Whale-raising iron, used for retrieving sunken whales, especially humpbacks.
322. Same as 321.
323. A two-flued iron with stationary head and with movable barbs behind. This harpoon was patented by Charles Randall of Palmyra, Ga., 1846.
324. A "grommet iron." A type of toggle or swinging headed harpoon. This type was called a "grommet iron" because a metal or leather grommet or ring held the toggle rigid until the iron entered the whale.
325. A two-flued harpoon for raising sunken whales.
326. A Scotch iron, used for raising sunken whales.
327. Iron for raising sunken whales.
328. Iron for raising sunken whales.
329. An "English" iron, with reverse beards.
330 through 335. Single-flued irons, with a stationary single recurved barb. The single-flued irons came into use during the '30's. The weakest part of the shank would often be purposely just behind the head, thus allowing the head to turn, once it was inside the whale, and have the same effect as a toggle.
336. An early toggle or swinging headed iron.
337. A toggle iron of the design of Lewis Temple of New Bedford, who introduced this type of harpoon in 1848.
338. A toggle iron that was derived from the Temple iron. This iron was easier to make and cheaper, owing to the toggle fitting outside the shank instead of within it.
339. Same as 338.
340. A "Sag Harbor iron" made for some whalers of Sag Harbor, N.Y.
341. A lance for throwing by hand.
342 through 346. Darts for darting guns. These were attached to the side of the darting gun by lugs, and the gun was thrown at the whale by hand. Nos. 362, 363 and 402 are types of the hand-thrown darting gun.
347. The "heart-seeker," so called, a type of single-flued harpoon, with a movable barb behind the head. It was patented by James Q. Kelly of Sag Harbor, N.Y. in 1857. As the strain of the rope was exerted wholly on the inner barb, it was believed that the head of the harpoon would be free to work itself deeper into the whale.
348. A derivative of the Temple toggle iron.
349. A freak toggle iron, patented by George Doyle of Provincetown, Mass., in 1858.
350. A harpoon with an explosive head, patented in 1872 by Charles Freeman of Brewster, Mass. Its unwieldiness prevented its being widely used.
351. Same as 350.
352 through 355. Harpoons used for blackfish, porpoise, etc.
356. A "grommet" iron, also used for blackfish, porpoise, etc.
357. "Orange" or "clover-leaf iron," so-called. It was introduced by Oliver Allen of Norwich, Conn., in 1848. This, and the irons which are to follow, were shot from shoulder guns and not darted by hand.
358. A lance to use with a shoulder gun.
359. Same as 357.
360. An explosive bomb lance for a shoulder gun.
361. An explosive bomb lance for a shoulder gun.
362. A darting gun, a muzzle loader, one of the first made by Eben Pierce of New Bedford. See No. 402.
363. A breech-loading gun darting gun, made by Cunningham and Cogan of New Bedford.
367. A shoulder-gun harpoon, with movable barbs, introduced in 1850 by Robert Brown of New London, Conn., and used to no great extent.
368. A harpoon and bomb combined, made by Cunningham and Mason of New Bedford for use in swivel guns.
369. A harpoon and bomb combined, of foreign make, to be used in swivel guns.
370. A harpoon for a shoulder gun, made by Zeno Kelly of New Bedford, 1867.
371. Same as 370.
372. A harpoon for a shoulder-gun introduced by Robert E. Smith of Provincetown in 1867.
373. "Lily iron," for a shoulder gun, introduced by Robert E. Smith of Provincetown in 1867.
374. Captain Allerton's gun-lance.
375 through 383. Harpoons for use in swivel guns.
385. Shoulder gun, made by Oliver Allen of Norwich, Conn, about 1855.
386. Shoulder gun, for shooting explosive lances, made by C. C. Brand in the early '50's.
387 and 388. Same as 386.
389. Shoulder gun for explosive lances, introduced by Grudchos and Eggers of New Bedford about 1860.
390. Shoulder gun introduced by Cunningham and Cogan of New Bedford in the late '70's.
391. Shoulder gun introduced by Cunningham and Lewis of New Bedford in the '80's.
392 through 395. American irons used for raising sunken whales.
397 and 398. Harpoons twisted by whales in their struggles.
401. A modern Norwegian explosive harpoon for use in cannon.
402. A breech-loading darting gun, manufactured by Eben Pierce of New Bedford. The gun is darted in the same manner as the ordinary harpoon. As the dart enters the body of the whale, the long rod or primer brings up against the animal's skin. This pressure on the primer sets off the charge in the gun, and the bomb is shot into the whale. The gun is then hauled back into the boat, but the dart, to which the heavy whale-line is fastened, remains in the whale. Thus the darting gun serves as a harpoon and lance combined.
403. A lance for use in the Richard Brown gun.
404. An explosive lance for use in the Greener swivel gun.
405. Explosive lance for use in small cannon.
406. The Cunningham and Mason swivel gun to shoot explosive harpoons.
407. The Greener gun, for shooting harpoons. This type of gun was used by the [Scots], but received very little favor from the American whalemen.
421 and 422. Waif flags, to mark dead whales when they had to be temporarily abandoned.
423. Mincing machine. Few masters of vessels considered this machine practical, and preferred the hand method of mincing blubber.
424. Board on which blubber was minced by hand.
425. Cutting spade, with its handle.
426 through 430. Other types of cutting spades.
431. Blubber-room lantern.
432 and 433. Blubber-hooks.
435. Ship's lantern.
436. Blubber pike for shifting blubber about deck.
439. Gaff for hauling pieces of blubber about the deck.
442. Ice anchor.
444. Bailer for bailing oil out of the cooler into the casks.
445. Hook for handling casks.
446. Throat chain, used in cutting-in.
447. Head needle.
449. Set of knives used in cutting into the case of a sperm whale.
450. Wooden toggle, used to fasten the eye-strap of the blanket-piece tackle.
452. Scoop for removing oil from the deck.
453. Bucket used in bailing the oil out of the case of a sperm whale.
459 and 460. Chain pipes.
461. Five-gallon measure for oil.
462. Cresset or bug-light in which scraps of blubber from the try-works were burned.
465. Skimmer used at the try-works.
466. Bailer used at the try-works.
467. Five-gallon measure for oil.
468. Funnel for filling casks.
479 through 486. Cooper's implements for gauging casks of oil.
The gallery of the Bourne Building contains many interesting exhibits, including chiefly replicas of old-time shops such as were characteristic of New Bedford when the whaling industry was at its height. Among these replicas are a ship agent's office, a sail loft, a cooper's shop, a blacksmith's shop, a rigging loft and a whale-boat shop. The shipsmith's shop was arranged and donated by Mr. F. Gilbert Hinsdale. Mr. Clifford W. Ashley did the general planning for the exhibits in the gallery.
Many articles pertaining to whaling, besides those seen in the replicas of shops, are also on exhibit in the gallery. An object of especial interest is a deformed lower jaw of a sperm whale, twisted about like a corkscrew instead of being straight as normally. It is believed that the whale, from which this jaw came, was injured when young, and that his jaw grew in this peculiar shape as a result.
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In the corridor leading from the Bourne Building into the other parts of the museum are several old prints and copies of prints relating to whaling. In the glass cases are many different kinds of nautical instruments, slabs of whalebone, unusual whales' teeth, and specimens of oil, spermaceti and ambergris.
Whaling Exhibits in the Rogers Building
The room in the Rogers Building, just at the left of the main entrance to the museum, is devoted to exhibits pertaining to the sea. Chief among these exhibits is a large impressive model of a Spanish man-of-war, of about 1780. It measures thirteen feet and a half from the tip of its flying jib-boom to the tip of the spanker boom.
This model was originally made for a dockyard, and was carefully constructed under the supervision of a ship's architect to be used as a pattern by ship builders. Every plank and timber, every rib and piece of sheathing is therefore in place, exactly as in the full-sized vessel which was constructed from its lines. The model was made for the construction of the Spanish warship Lightning, which, in her day, during the last decades of the 18th century, was the swiftest ship in the Spanish navy.
The complete equipment of this large model can be appreciated only by close observation. There are two rows of gun ports on each side of the vessel, from which miniature cannon protrude. The Lightning was an 80-gun vessel. Two barges hang from the davits at the stern of the model. The sterncastle itself is elaborately finished in carving and gold-leaf, with bay windows and a rear gallery furnished with a balustrade. The figurehead is a gilded lion, crowned, as the lion is on the arms of Spain. This model was a gift from Mr. L. C. de Coppet of New York City.
The marine room of the Rogers Building has one other dockyard model, made on practically the same large scale as the model of the Lightning. This other model was made for a dockyard at Cherbourg, France about 1812. It is not rigged, but is a splendid example of the care and fine workmanship used in making construction models a century ago. There are several smaller models on exhibit, and one of especial interest is a bone model of a British man-of-war. This model, exquisitely made, with delicate carvings both at the bow and stern, was built by Frenchmen who were prisoners of war in Dartmoor Prison, England, during the Napoleonic era.
The walls of the marine room are decorated with many pictures of sea interest. Among these are a picture of a whaleship by moonlight painted by Frank Vining Smith and presented by Miss Ellen R. Hathaway, and a picture of the Bark Wanderer lying at a New Bedford wharf painted by Clifford W. Ashley. The latter painting is of historic interest, since the Wanderer was the last square-rigged vessel to sail from New Bedford on a whaling voyage. Her last voyage lasted but a day. She sailed August 25, 1924, and the following day a terrific gale drove her upon the rocks at Cuttyhunk. No lives were lost, but the bark broke to pieces rapidly. The other pictures in the room include many rare prints and old paintings of whaling interest, and also portraits of sea captains, each one painted with a spy-glass in the hand and a ship in the background to denote the profession of the sitter.
At one end of the marine room is a terrestrial globe of massive size made in France about 1850, and presented to the museum by Col. E. H. R. Green. Another exhibit is an original crew-list of the ship Acushnet of Fairhaven, sailing in 1841, a memorable voyage, since included in the crew was Herman Melville, who gathered at the time his material for Moby Dick.
There are also displayed excellent examples of scrimshaw, or the work done by the whalemen in their leisure time out of whales' teeth and bone. Engraved ivories, jagging wheels, canes, swifts or yarn winders, dippers and other decorative articles were made by the scrimshaw artists, and indeed some of the whalemen were artists, in the true sense of the designation.
The scrimshaw is mainly in collections, gathered together by individuals in their private capacities and later coming into the custody or possession of the museum. In the collection given by Frank and Annie Seabury Wood are jagging wheels of numerous varieties and many of fine workmanship. This collection, too, contains a set of the crude tools with which whalemen did their scrimshawing. The Andrew Snow Jr., the Nathan C. Hathaway, and the Clifford W. Ashley collections contain, all taken together, practically every kind of artistic work in which the whalemen indulged.
"Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford and Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling scenes graven by the fishermen themselves on sperm whale-teeth or ladies' busks wrought out of the right whale bone, and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of the rough material in their hours of ocean leisure. Some of them have little boxes of dentistical-looking implements, especially intended for the skrimshandering business. But in general they toil with their jack-knives alone; and with that almost omnipotent tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please in the way of a mariner's fancy.
Logbooks and Journals
A complete listing of logbooks and journals in the Museum’s collection is available through the Museum’s website. The museum has, in addition to these logbooks and journals, a large collection of account books kept at sea, letter of ship-masters to their agents, indentures, and shipping papers. The documents, like the logbooks and journals, are housed in the Museum’s Research Library.