Whalers and Whaling (1896)

Sep 10, 2013 by

whalersWhalers and Whaling by Nannie Belle Maury was first published in 1896 and is a disturbing look at the business of whaling in the late 19th century.  It is a horrible thing humans do to whales, even now.  This book is a raw look at the horrendous practice of whaling back in the late 19th century.  Let’s hope humans get it together and stop killing these magnificent beings of the ocean.

A few words from the introduction:

“Down at the wharves of New Bedford, Massachusetts, there is a collection of the queerest looking old ships, which instantly attract your notice. So quaint, and so entirely unlike any craft one sees afloat nowadays, that you know in a minute they must be the old Whalers that used to make such perilous voyages, and have such thrilling adventures fifty years ago. There they lie, — these old heroes, — huddled together in a group, as though to keep each other company and talk over the days of their youth, when they were the pride and glory of New Bedford, and famous ail over the world. Impudent modern steamboats and  tugs bustle in and out close by, making them look still more weather beaten and deserted by comparison.

You can’t help feeling that they must be sensitive and unhappy at being put on the retired list, and clean forgotten in spite of the fierce battles they have fought with the winds and waves, and the fame they have won for their native City, which owes chiefly to them the wealth and prosperity she enjoys today. They are not large vessels. The largest does not measure more than 125 feet long, and the bows are ornamented with curious, battered old figure heads, like those you read about in tales of the sea. The stern is cut as square and straight as the end of a house, and the masts, which were painted white originally, have turned a sort of hoary grey, and have bits of rigging still clinging to them and waving forlornly in the breeze, like an old man’s thin wisps of hair.

The copper sheathing of the sides and bottoms has been torn off most of them, leaving exposed the rotting wood underneath, all marked and seared by the nails which pierced it, and of a vivid green color, saturated through and through with the copper from the constant action of the salt water upon it. The New Bedford people cut this wood off and sell it at a high price, for it makes a wonderfully beautiful fire, and is much in demand.

The whaling industry received a terrible blow from the discovery of petroleum which has taken the place of whale oil in Commerce, the latter being now used only for lubricating purposes. On the New Bedford wharves today there are barrels and barrels of it waiting for a favorable market, carefully protected from the weather by masses of dried seaweed packed closely around them, very much as they pack excelsior around china.

Whaling is kept up nowadays on account of the bone, which commands very high prices as it becomes more and more scarce. (It is worth three dollars per pound, and has gone as high as six..Nobody has been able to find or invent anything to take its place, so the whalemen still make three year voyages around Cape Horn and up to the frozen Arctic Seas, risking their lives for the sake of the ladies who would never look so slimwaisted and so trim were it not for their courage and endurance.”

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