A Voyage Around the World: Cultures Abroad, Cultures at Home

Exhibition opened: June 23, 2012

Grab your passport and experience a new world encountered by New Bedford whalers. Voyages connected world cultures through commerce and helped establish American hegemony in far-flung ports. Through both commercial activity and crewmen enlisting and disembarking, these voyages set in place the initial pattern of immigration that follows  to this day.

 “South Sea Whaling”, oil on canvas, William Edward Norton (2001.100.4743)


Most voyages first reached the Atlantic Islands of the Azores and Cape Verde, where captains fully outfitted with supplies and crew for the long voyage ahead. This strategy made the Portuguese influence of these voyages and their cultural dissemination quite strong. Whaling literally took these men around the world, across all oceans, even to the polar extremes of the globe. The cultural exchanges and connections made through these voyages of commerce left evidence still visible today not only in the large Portuguese and Cape Verdean communities in New Bedford but in communities on the opposite side of the country where whaling was once an important industry. The fact that California and Hawaii have significant populations of Portuguese is rooted in whaling, and the exhibit explores the Portuguese communities that remain an important legacy of the Luso-American whaling experience.

A Voyage Around the World demonstrates the remarkable geographical breadth of a real whaling journey. On this imaginary voyage you will begin with the Atlantic Islands of the Azores and Cape Verde, as you start with the many cultures encountered by whalemen. Then onto Brazil where the Portuguese influence is apparent and whaling was fruitful along the coast. Next, is the treacherous journey around South America’s Cape Horn where fierce winds, huge waves, and strong currents are the norm, but where the warm Pacific awaits. Each locale is vividly illustrated by large-scale reproductions of Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington’s 1849 Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.

Our collection is overflowing with materials whalemen brought back from the many Pacific Islands including the lush Galapagos, Marquesas, and beyond to Fiji, and Samoa. By combining the Panorama images with art, artifacts and ethnographic objects representative of the cultures as well as 19th century and early 20th century illustrations, sea charts, prints, logbooks, journals and account books, the curatorial staff has created a powerful and evocative interpretation of the Portuguese experience in the Yankee whale fishery as it encountered these diverse communities.

The exhibition provides a wide sampling of these diverse cultures, but the focus is on regions including Brazil, California, Hawaii, and Alaska where the influence of Portuguese crew and their legacy becomes clear.