Captain’s Wife

B1717

Abby Jane Morrell sailed with her husband Benjamin on a voyage between 1829 and 1831 aboard his schooner Antarctic. Both wrote books describing the voyage although Benjamin was considered less than truthful and it is his wife’s account that has survived. At that time the whaling industry was reaching its peak and New England ports sent out a steady stream of vessels on whale catching and sealing expeditions, when the value of a single cargo could cover the cost of a new ship’s construction, fitting out, crewing and stores, but still provide a generous profit.

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Seafarer’s Voice 6, Whale Hunter

B1641

This book is appropriately timed, with the Charles W Morgan approaching the end of her major restoration to full sailing condition. In 2013, she is due to undertake a Restoration Voyage along the US East Coast for the first time under her own sails since 1924. The Morgan is the last surviving square-rigged whale ship of the thousands built to participate in the first oil rush. This is the personal account of one of the Morgans first harpoonists.

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Hillman shipyard in New Bedford, Mass Receives Order for New Whaleship

November 1840

Hillman Shipyard announces that an order has been placed with them to build a new whaleship. The order value is estimated at some $25,000.

The order was placed by local businessman and ship owner Charles W Morgan. Mr Morganson of Quaker parents in Philadelphia was born on September 14, 1796. He relocated to New Bedford, Mass., in 1819 where he married Sarah Rodman and began investing in whaling vessels. Mr Morgan has managed 15 vessels and owned shares in 18 others. With his whaling profits, he has invested in many other business enterprises. Mr Morgan left the Quaker faith to become a Unitarian and is recognized as an abolitionist and a supporter of the temperance movement.

Hillman Shipyard expects to complete the as yet un-named vessel next Summer.

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The Origins of Whaling

Japanese whaling

The hunting of whales (cetaceans) is as old as man-the-hunter in prehistory. The first hunting of whales may have involved nothing more than the opportunist killing of a whale that had beached itself, or the harvesting of a recently dead whale that had died from the shock of beaching. From there it was a short step to using boats and noise to drive whales ashore where they could be killed. It was hunting that was very similar to the hunting of land animals where prey was herded over a cliff or onto a line of waiting hunters. Whale meat and oil formed a vital part of the diet of tribes living along northern costs. The practice of herding porpoises onto a beach is still employed by some Japanese fishing villages.

The ancient alternative to herding whales ashore was for the hunter to set out in a kayak, or small boat, using an arrow or harpoon to attach a line and drogue, usually an inflated sealskin, to a whale hoping that it would tire, allowing the hunter to come in close to strike a killing blow. That method is essentially employed today although the small boat is likely to be a 450 ton whale catcher employing a harpoon gun loaded with an explosive harpoon.

In early hunting of whales, only a small number of mostly small whales were caught close to the village that would make use of the catch. Whale blubber would be rendered on fires ashore. Whale meat that was not immediately consumed might be sun dried or buried in ice for later use. Nothing was wasted. What could not be eaten was used to make clothing, shelters and tools. Arrowheads and harpoons were made from whale bone for the hunters to use on whales and other prey.

Little changed over thousands of years, until the Sixteenth Century, when Europeans introduced new technology to the hunt. That technology was first employed in the waters off northern Europe and Scandinavia, but as Europeans began to colonize the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, whaling came to the Southern Oceans.

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