Category Archives: Classic

Whaling in the 19th Century.

And Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbours!

HERMAN MELVILLE

Whaling in the 19th Century


About seven weeks ago I signed up to become a member of a Nantucket Whaling vessel called the Pequod with the intention of sailing about a little and seeing the watery part of the world. A man from Toulouse whom I had befriended a few months before I set sail had taken a similar voyage and had recommended that if I had nothing else to do with my time I should take up a comparable trip. Previous conversations I had held with companions over taking on such a challenge had swayed me away from the idea as they called it a most tedious of vacations. Now this decision was not made on a whim. I had looked into the matter a number of years before but bad press and the advice of others had kept my temptation at bay. The first hand opinions of this same said Frenchman changed that decision and before long I was sailing out of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean.

I knew that it was going to be a long and sometimes laborious journey but instead of struggling through my time on board I embraced the adventure and before I had had a chance to reconsider my actions I had already completed one fifth of my charter. My time was spent at within this period in the company of a fellow called Ishmael who was also signing up for his first Whaling trip but by no means his maiden voyage as he would gale me with stories of how he had himself come to be afloat. The highlight of his tales being how he befriended a Harpooner from one of the South Pacific Islands despite their differences on deities and military victory celebrations. Queequeg was the man’s name a fine specimen and a greater swimmer I never be met, in the prime of his life and of a tall athletic build his dark skin covered in the tattoos of his people. Yet the words on everyone’s lips were of the whereabouts of our Captain as his appearance from below deck had yet to happen.

Once we reached the deep oceans though all talk and speculation was disregarded as constant tasks presented themselves and required my complete attention, mainly the studying of the various types of prey that we would be hunting all over this blue carpet of the world. Soon I was up to speed with the many variations of these leviathans that rise to the surface and share the same air as us inferiorly sized apes. Not just their appearance and levels of aggression were taught to me but also the value of their bodies after our crew had successfully hunted and farmed them. The one species that held the highest price above all others and due to this had become the most hunted was the mighty Sperm Whale. Spermaceti is found in the head cavity of Cachalot and it is this substance that has become big business as it is used to fuel the lamps that illuminate our growing society.

I am not a squeamish man but even my strong stomach could not prepare me for the first time I saw the methods for removing the highly valued substance from these majestic creatures. Even now I cannot go into the details of it as the systematic slaughter and butchery haunts me still.

When the call came and the hunting began we finally met our leader as Captain Ahab stepped out onto his deck. He was a man lost in his own cause and by no means someone who would be call approachable, but his intentions were made very clear to everyone that he was hunting a very specific whale, one that had taken his leg and almost his life on his last voyage. The White Whale named Moby Dick.

The crew gave the old Captain little regard at first but once he nailed a Gold Doubloon to the mast and announced that the first man to raise the aforementioned Whale would receive the affixed 8 Ecuadorian Escudos they paired more attention to what he had to say.

We hunted and hunted and then hunted again.

Supply and demand of Spermaceti has flooded the oceans with ships and judging by my experience of how many our crew alone slaughtered the animal may soon be in trouble of sharing the same fate as other creatures of similar size. To see such an amazing creature taken from us completely would be a travesty but inevitability if they are hunted with this continued intensity.

Adverse weather greeted us in the Pacific Ocean as a Typhoon nearly tore us apart and we lost a man amongst the maelstrom. This was treated as a bad omen by the crew but a storm could not quench Ahab’s thirst for revenge, neither could the faces of men who had fought and lost to the white beast passing by in other ships. We met two vessels that had been defeated by the monster and both painted a sullen picture. Until finally the day came and the object of Ahab’s obsession rose from the depths to finish what it had started with his leg to which the crews manned their boats, descended into the water and the chase was on.

For three days we gave chase to Moby Dick and in that time there was a series of failures, including the wrecking of a boat and the death of a shipmate but a harpoon was landed into the hulk of the creature landed by Ahab himself but his rage now became all-consuming as more than ever his hatred for the whale forced him to act blindly without regard to his crew.

Finally the chase came to its conclusion as Moby Dick drew Ahab and all his forces in close before he smote the starboard side of the Pequod with the buttress of his giant forehead. My own ears heard the waters pour in through the breach and my eyes soon saw the damage as the ship quickly sunk down towards its aquatic end and as the cold swept in around me the vessel’s bulk pulled me down into a final descent.

Yet now I look up through the murk towards the great shroud of the sea rolling on as it has for thousands of years.