Richard H. Backus
7^ 0^ A^ )^^
Woods Hc!e C
^XPC ^ /ff/^iS^
Written and Illustrated
The World Publishing Company
Li8 K/' r. •(
ViOODS HO'.:. tf.ASS.
^M i n
CLEVELAND AND NEW YORK
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 55-7575
Copyright © 1955 by The World Publishing Company. All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in
any form without written permission from the publisher, ex-
cept for brief passages included in a review appearing in a
newspaper or magazine. Manufactured in the United States
TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER
I CANNOT REMEMBER whcn the idea for this book first
started. Perhaps the seed was sown when, as a boy, I
listened to the salty tales of my now long-departed sea-
faring uncles, or browsed in wonder over their old prints
of sailors, ships and seaports in far-off lands, or in my day-
dreams saw the bone ship model in the glass case on my
grandfather's bureau come to life and fly with full-
bosomed sail over a rolling blue ocean.
It was years later, when I was a student at an art school,
that the seed of the idea germinated. It first peeped
through the sparse soil of my imagination in the form of a
classroom exercise when each of us was asked to produce a
specimen picture book on a subject of our own choice. I
chose whaling, a subject which had always seemed to me
the most fascinating of sea-lore ; and it was then that I
realised that, colourful though they might be, my boyish
mental pictures were very blurred in their outlines and
would have to be clarified and sharpened with the aid of
From then on, the book, like Topsy, just growed. The
captions to the pictures developed into tales and the
whalemen, the whaleships and even the whales began to
take on character. The pictures themselves began to
flow in black ink and crystallise on white paper.
Eventually the book resolved itself into three parts, each
set in a different period during the past three-hundred-
odd years. It tells of some of the adventures of widely
separated generations of a family of whalemen. It tells
too something of an even greater adventure story — the
story of whaling.
The massive whale factory ship of modern times, fed
with whales by her fleet of fast catchers equipped with
lethal harpoon guns, is a far cry from those early times
when men went forth in frail craft to kill the Leviathans
by hand with spears and harpoons.
I cannot pretend to tell the whole story that links modern
whaling with its humble but adventurous beginnings : but
if I have succeeded in helping the reader to visualise it in
broad outUne as well as entertaining him at the same time,
then I shall know that the writing and illustrating of this
book has been worthwhile.
Arrival at Nantucket
The Innkeeper and his Wife
The Whales along the Shore
Jonathan finds a Berth
^She Blows 1'
The Elusive Bowhead
The Ship Imprisoned
The Dutch Whalers
The English Whalers
The Yankee Whaler
Across the Indian Ocean
1 6 * Cutting in' and *Trying out' 133
17 Into the Pacific 138
18 Stove Boats and Dead Whales 144
19 Homeward Bound 154
PETER, CARL AND HANS
20 The Old Oaken Chest 159
21 Steel Ships and Helicopters 169
Part One : Jonathan
Arrival at Nantucket
IN THE LATE aftemoon of an early spring day in the year
1 73 1 a trading sloop of some thirty tons entered the
harbour of Nantucket in Nantucket Island, New England.
Somewhere to the eastward of Cape Cod a few hours
before, she had emerged from a bank of fog and had
found a ship's boat, full of starved and half-frozen sur-
vivors from the wreck of the English brig Jane Seymour,
The brig, which had sailed from Bideford, Devon, with
a cargo of immigrants, had been bound full of hope for
Plymouth, New England. Now she lay along with two
thirds of her passengers and crew fathoms deep under the
Among the wretched little crowd huddled together
on the deck of the sloop was a boy of twelve years. He
clutched a blanket to his thin, shivering body and his
fair hair hung in salt-matted strands.
As the sloop approached the harbour bar he rose to his
feet and moved unsteadily to the lee bulwarks, where he
stood bracing himself with one hand on the rigging. He
was tall for his years, and even his present bedraggled
state could not hide that he was a lad of good breeding.
His sad blue eyes surveyed the long flat shorehne of the
island, and the scene did nothing to revive his numbed
spirit. The endless beaches of sand were backed by low.
4 THE WHALE HUNTERS
undulating land that could boast of nothing approaching
a hill like those of his native Somerset, and the stunted,
weather-bent trees seemed to cling tenaciously to the soil,
where they grew in the few wooded areas. Tall tripods
of spars stood along the shore at wide but regular intervals.
These and the masts of the vessels in the harbour were the
only rehef to the low, horizontal lines of the scene. Other
details revealed themselves as the sloop crossed the bar.
At the head of the lagoon-like harbour a wooden wharf on
spindly piles reached out over the shallow water and,
clustered behind it, was a collection of odd-looking
wooden buildings with thatched roofs, which were the
humble dwellings of the inhabitants. On either side of
the wharf were rough slipways with small, squat vessels
propped on shore-legs, and several other vessels of this type
lay at the moorings in the harbour.
'Down jib!' cried the captain. Then, 'Down mains'l!'
as the sloop came up into the wind, and in a few moments
she was secure alongside the wharf.
The island folk, many of whom were of pure Indian
stock, flocked around the gangplank curious to see what
cargo the trading packet had brought them. Above the
hubbub of many voices the boy could hear that of the first
mate addressing the bewildered little group of survivors.
'The ship will be away on this same tide,' he was
shouting, 'and I advise those among you who wish to
sail with us to the mainland ports to be on this vessel's
deck within two hours from now. Those of you who are
absent I shall deem to have discovered some hospitality
here and to be content to stay.'
Only those who were standing very near him heard
him add in lower tones, 'There are better places than this
to seek your fortune, but please yourselves.'
The boy looked again at the flat landscape and was
inclined at first to agree with the mate.
The island of Nantucket, which at this period in history
Z)he inland folk flocked
around ike gangplank
b THE WHALE HUNTERS
was known as Sherburne, is really a huge sandbank
reaching out like a beckoning arm from the east coast of
the North American continent. Its area is about fifty
square miles. Among the low, sandy hillocks of its
central parts are pools and marshes of both fresh and salt
water and, as in the Romney marshes of England, you
feel that the sea is always with you. The salt winds sweep
across the flat pastures of beach grass, the cry of seabirds
and the distant roar of the surf are always in your ear
and you know that this island belongs in its nature, not to
the great continent to the westward, but to the Atlantic
Ocean; and you wonder as you look upon the frailty of its
structure how, in the course of its precarious existence, it
has withstood the fury of the mighty ocean that embraces
it. You wonder, too, how the Nantucketers have wrought
a livelihood from such a barren island until you learn that
it is the sea itself which has been the green pastures of
Long before the first white settlers arrived Indians
lived there and caught mackerel and cod from their frail
bark canoes. When whales came close to the shore they
went forth in full force and by means of long drawn
harassing tactics they wore these Leviathans down until
they were able to kill them with spears. They ate the
flesh and boiled the oil from the blubber. The sea
provided them with the greater part of their livelihood
but the land was also a source of food, for at that time the
island was wooded and the soil fertile. Then the white
men came. They needed timber for houses, for boats
and fuel, and in the areas where trees were felled the soil
was no longer fertilised by their fallen leaves nor protected
by them from the fierce sea winds, so that its productivity
waned and the Nantucketers, white and red alike, became
more and more dependent upon the harvests from the
sea. The settlers built boats that were much more
seaworthy than the Indian canoes and made an industry
ARRIVAL AT NANTUCKET 7
out of the catching of fish. Then they found a whale in
one of the harbours and kept it imprisoned there until
their blacksmith had fashioned a crude harpoon. Promp-
ted by the Indians they harassed and killed it, and sold the
oil which they extracted from its overcoat of blubber.
Other whales were killed and the oil extracted. With all
their Quaker instincts for grasping new opportunities they
were quick to realise that here was a commodity that
could win them their daily bread. True, neighbouring
islands such as Martha's Vineyard and Long Island and
places such as Cape Cod and New Bedford were a step
ahead now and then; but whaling was to be their staple
industry, of that they were sure, and they pursued it with
all the vigour of their pioneering natures.
At first they were content to catch whales from boats
launched from their island beaches. Then, as the world
demand for whale oil increased and they found that the
seas beyond their shores appeared to possess a limitless
stock of whales, they built small sloops and took them
into the deeper waters of the Atlantic. These sloops
were only of thirty or forty tons burden at first and they
carried only two whale boats, one of which was a spare.
Such was the island upon which the boy gazed as he
wondered whether to entrust himself to its hospitality, if
indeed there was any to be found there. Perhaps the
mate was right, perhaps the mainland would offer some
place better than this. Yet somehow the very bleakness
of the scene seemed in harmony with his present mood.
T will see what it is like,' he told himself and descended
The Innkeeper and
THE BOY WALKED along the wharf to where a rough track
led to the waterfront. He noticed that the walls of the
houses were mostly constructed of logs and that in
practically every case there was at the summit of the
thatched roof a sort of balcony, the reason for which he
was to discover later.
Coming to a house bearing a small sign on which was a
picture of a spouting whale and the inscription, Black
Whale Inne, he stopped and looked around towards the
wharf He seemed to be the only one of the survivors
THE INNKEEPER AND HIS WIFE 9
who had ventured this far from the ship and this appeared
to be the only inn along the single row of buildings. He
wondered how he would be received if he entered and
asked for shelter.
As he stood there shivering and trying to choose
between pushing open the door or retracing his steps
and rejoining the ship, a man's head appeared at one of
the open windows above the inn sign.
'Bless me, but look what the sea has washed up!' the
man exclaimed and turning his head inwards towards the
room he called, 'Come and see, Mrs. Mather,' whereupon
two pairs of curious eyes stared down at the boy.
'Why the poor mite is shivering with the cold,' exclaimed
the woman. 'Come in,' she called to the boy, 'come in
and we will give you a bowl of hot soup.'
The boy pushed open the door and met the woman
hurrying down the stairs, followed by her husband. She
was a short round motherly type with a rosy shining face
and a great mass of grey hair drawn tightly to the top of
her head on which rested a small white lace cap.
'Without doubt, you must be one of those rescued by
the packet that has just come in,' she said.
The boy nodded. 'Yes, Ma'am.'
'And what is your name?'
'Jonathan. Jonathan Oakley,' he replied.
'Come to the fire in the parlour,' she said, putting an
arm round his slim shoulders and then, feeling the damp-
ness of the blanket that he still wore, she thrust her other
hand beneath its folds.
'Bless me, your clothes are still wet,' she cried. 'That
good-for-nothing trading master ought to be flogged
letting you come ashore in such a state. Off with them
at once and I'll rummage out some of our Joseph's for
Jonathan assumed that Joseph must be the son of these
kindly people and if the measurements of his clothes are
10 THE WHALE HUNTERS
any guide, thought Jonathan, as he donned homespun
breeches and doublet several sizes too large for his boyish
frame, he must be quite a big fellow; but he was grateful
for the warmth they brought to his body.
As he crouched over the fire warming his hands, Mrs.
Mather entered with a bowl of steaming soup which she
set on a wooden stool by his side.
'There, Jonathan boy, drink that and you'll feel better,'
she said, *and when you've finished that you might like a
slice of baked cod. If you want me you'll find me in the
kitchen at the end of the passage. But here is Mr.
Mather with a jug of ale.'
As she left the room she added, 'You'll have to grow a
bit yet to fill out those clothes of Joseph's.'
Mr. Mather put the jug of ale on the flagstones of the
fireplace and seated himself opposite the boy in a large
rocking chair. He was a large robust man with a face
even more pink than his wife's. A small periwig sat
precariously on his bald head.
'Is the soup to your liking?' he asked.
'It is indeed welcome, sir,' replied Jonathan. 'But, but
I am unable to pay you, sir,' he stammered. 'I have no
money. I had forgotten that I lost everything when the
ship went down.'
He put the soup bowl on the table and stood there
confused and embarrassed.
'Sit down, my son, and do not trouble your mind with
such thoughts,' said the landlord and there was a kindness
in his tone that was intended to reassure the boy. 'It is
but a small thing, a meal and a board for a shipwrecked
'But I am no true mariner,' said Jonathan, 'I am, or
was a passenger from England. I was travelling with
my father and mother when the ' His gaze wandered
to the fire and he swallowed hard to stifle the clutching
sensation in his throat. A tear trickled down his cheek
THE INNKEEPER AND HIS WIFE II
and he wiped it away with the surplus end of Joseph's
Blinking his moist eyes he turned again to the landlord.
*If, if I am to accept your hospitality I promise you, sir,
that I will seek to repay it at the first opportunity. I shall
find work of some kind and shall not always be without a
silver piece in my purse.'
The landlord looked into the boy's face and his eyes
narrowed so that the crowsfoot wrinkles reached nearly to
his large ears. He said, 'I can see that you come from a
God-fearing home, my son, and I like your honest ways of
thinking. You can stay here as long as you wish and if
your conscience worries you you can relieve it by helping
Mrs. Mather and me. There are the pigs and the fowls
and the cow as well as the running of the inn, unless, of
course, you feel like seeking a berth in one of the ships.'
Further discussion of Jonathan's future was interrupted
by the entry of Mrs. Mather carrying a plate of baked
'Don't let the boy sit there starving, Mr. Mather,' she
scolded. 'See that he fills that empty stomach of his,
After this warning Mr. Mather called out to his wife
each time the boy's plate became empty. Another helping
of cod was followed by a plate of cold salt pork, then some
bread and cheese and finally the jug of ale to wash it all
down. For the first time in several days Jonathan was no
longer hungry; only very, very tired. Through half-
closed eyes he saw Mr. Mather clearing away the dishes
and then, lying back in the wooden armchair, he was fast
When he awoke daylight had gone and the parlour was
in candlelight. Opposite him Mr. Mather was seated by
the fire smoking a long churchwarden pipe. Jonathan
blinked his sleepy eyes and looked towards the darkened
12 THE WHALE HUNTERS
*Yes, son, she has sailed,' said Mr. Mather, reading his
Somehow Jonathan was not sorry ; he had had his fill of
sea voyaging for the time being. Refreshed by his sleep,
short though it had been, and no longer burdened by
indecision, he felt in much better spirits.
'Mr. Mather,' he said, rather solemnly, 'I would like to
accept your offer of employment, if it is still open. I am
quite ignorant of the business of innkeeping but I promise
you I will try to learn it and be of service to you.'
The man smiled at the boy's serious face and formality
'I shall be pleased to have you help me, my son,' said
Mr. Mather, 'but to-night you are my guest, so be at your
ease. To-night you'll sleep in a warm bed and to-
morrow will be time enough to talk of toil.'
The next day Mrs. Mather insisted that Jonathan did
no work because in her own words 'his poor skinny body
needed nourishing first.' So he spent the day exploring
the inn and the small farm that the Mathers ran. At
suppertime he sat at the table in the parlour with two
sailors. One of them was a ruffianly looking man with a
great mass of whiskers. All three ate their meal in silence
but when it was finished the boy's tongue was the first to
'What sort of ships do you sail in, sir?' he asked of the
sailor with the black whiskers.
'Whalers mostly,' replied the man.
'And what do the people of this island do?'
The man looked surprised. 'What do they do, he asks.
What do they do? Why, in a place such as Sherburne
there ain't nothing else a man can do but catch fish and
sell it if he can. There's a bit of Indian trading to be had
but that ain't much.'
'Are there plenty of fish on these shores?' asked
THE INNKEEPER AND HIS WIFE I3
Tlenty, and big ones too; biggest there is in the sea/
rephed the man.
The other sailor, a young fellow in his twenties, spoke
for the first time.
*If you speak of whales — and I believe you do — would
it not be better to acquaint the boy with the differences
between them and the ordinary fishes Hke cod and
mackerel ?' he said with civility.
* 'Old your tongue, young whippersnapper,' growled
Blackwhiskers. *I was 'untin' whales on these shores
before you were born and I tell you sure as the Devil, the
whale's a fish like all others and there ain't another man
in Sherburne 'Id say different.'
*And that, Nathan Sykes, is where you are as far adrift
as a pig in mid- Atlantic,' boomed the voice of Mr. Mather
as he entered the parlour. T would for one. Take no heed
of his talk, lads, except when he says that there are many
as ignorant of God's works as himself
Nathaniel Sykes rose to his feet and his face, where it
was not covered by his whiskers, went red with anger. He
tried to speak but words failed him and he stalked to the
door and disappeared into the passage muttering.
Mr. Mather turned to the young sailor. 'Be cautious
of that man, sailor. He makes a bad enemy to those
that cross him.'
*He seems to have much influence with the Indians,'
said the sailor.
'Yes,' replied Mr. Mather, 'but only by reason of the
fire-water that he takes to their villages. The red man is
strong enough in the bow of a boat with a harping iron
in his hand, but give him a sniff of Nathan's nectar and
he's no more will than a babe in arms.' He lifted his
wig and scratched his bald pate. 'And there is precious
little that Godfearing folk can do to stop it.'
The sailor rose to take his leave. 'It is good,' he said,
*to meet an older man who shares my beliefs about the
14 THE WHALE HUNTERS
nature of the whale. My ship sails on the tide but when
she returns I hope we shall be able to discuss the matter
*Good hunting, sailor/ said Mr. Mather as the young
man went on his way.
'That's what I like about keeping an inn,' he said
turning to Jonathan, 'you meet all types of men, good
'But how is it, sir?' asked Jonathan, 'that you, an
innkeeper and farmer, know about these strange creatures
of the sea?'
'On this island, Jonathan, whales are as much part of
our livelihood as innkeeping, tilling the poor soil or raising
hogs, sheep and cattle. I am too old to chase whales now
but I still watch them being brought to the shores and
stripped of their blubber. In my youth before I came to
the new country I sailed with the big English whalers to
Spitzbergen and Jan Mayen.'
'And what is it that distinguishes whales from other
fishes?' asked Jonathan.
Mr. Mather reached for one of the churchwarden pipes
over the fireplace and tucked the bowl in his doublet
whilst he carved some flakes from a plug of dark tobacco.
He was not sure, as we are to-day, that whales are
mammals but he had observed many things about them
that seemed in strange discord with their fish-like shape.
'There are several differences, my son,' he said, puffing
up clouds of smoke. 'I think the first thing you would
notice would be the tail. A whale's is flat like the top of
the sea but the tail of an ordinary fish is up and down like
the rudder of a ship. A whale breathes the atmosphere
through a hole in the top of his head and must refresh his
lungs by coming to the surface frequently but an ordinary
fish has no lungs and seems to be quite content to pass
water through its gills. In short you'll never find a whale
with gills. There's another thing too; a whale bears its
THE INNKEEPER AND HIS WIFE I5
babes the same as do any of the sows in my yard, save
that it only has one or two at a time; and the mother
suckles its young as they float together just below the
surface; other fishes, with the one exception of sharks
which also bear their young, spawn their eggs all over the
sea and take no interest in the fate of their offspring. And
when you feel the flesh of a fresh killed whale it is warm
like that of an ox, but other fish are cold through and
through when you take them from the sea. It is the
whale's blubber that keeps out the cold of the sea and it
covers him all over like a thick blanket. It is the reason
why men kill the whale for from it comes the oil which
is so precious.'
Mr. Mather puffed at his pipe in silence for a while.
Then he said, 'There are many different kinds of whales
you know, son. Those within my experience I have
always been able to separate into two families; the first
with teeth which includes the big spermaceti and smaller
ones like the killer, the bottlenose, the white whale and the
narwhal and all the small dolphins; and the second
without teeth but having curtains of bone which we call
fins hanging from their upper jaws; of this family there is
the black right whale which you may see off our own
shores, and there is the Greenland right whale that the
Dutch and the English seek in the northern seas; there is
the humpback that loves to frolic close to the shore and
many others of this family. But the biggest of all whales
is still stranger to me for he was always too fast for any
boat that I was in, though I've heard tales of him being
found stranded and measuring over a hundred feet in
length. The oceans are wide and there are many I have
not sailed and only the Lord knows what wonders are to
be found there.'
*In truth, Mr. Mather,' said Jonathan, 'this business of
whaHng is a big subject and you make me wish I knew
more of it. Until now my knowledge of whales had
jkcre are ■many species oftke Cetaceco order of mammals, knoum
as Whales. Ikese are the ones mentioned in ih's bookJkeu <^
BALEEN orWHUEBONE WHALES
include all the hnpcriani cms hicnied for commercial pur-
poses, both past (xn^ present & axe divided mio two ^ah- orders.
l8 THE WHALE HUNTERS
not reached beyond the story in the Holy Bible. What
kind of whale would you say it was that swallowed
*Might have been a spermaceti, son. He feeds on big
cuttlefish and has a bigger gullet than any other. It
could not have been a killer because, though he might
make a meal off any man that might be so foolish as to
offer himself, he is too small in the gullet. And it most
certainly was not one of the whales with fins in their
mouths for they feed only on very small creatures like
shrimps. It is a terrible thing to see one of them coming
towards you with his cavernous jaws wide agape, scooping
up his victuals off the sea's surface, and though you'd
think at the time that he could swallow you and your boat
at one gulp his gullet is made very small. All these
whalebone whales can take into their mouths tons of
water at a time and the whalebone curtains hanging
from their jaws act like big shrimp nets. The water is
forced out at the sides of their mouths and the small
creatures are left inside for them to swallow. That is
why their gullets are so small.'
Mr. Mather's pipe had gone out and he lit it with a
spill from the fire.
*If it was not a spermaceti that swallowed Jonah,' he
said, 'then it must have been some whale of which I am
Jonathan was trying hard to digest all this information.
He had not expected Mr. Mather to give his simple
question such deep consideration.
*I think,' he said, 'that I shall have to see all these
things for myself before I can fully understand them.'
'You'll see much,' said the innkeeper, 'just by taking a
walk around the shores of this island. But now it is time
you were in bed.'
Along the Shore
so JONATHAN worked at the inn and learned his various
tasks with a rapidity that both amazed and pleased Mr.
Mather and his good wife. They were more than ever
amazed to find that Jonathan could read and write, a thing
so rare among the boys in the colonies. His father had
been a notary and had educated his only son as well as
his means had permitted. It had been in the capacity of
20 THE WHALE HUNTERS
a lesser envoy of George II that Mr. Oakley had left
England for the colony of New England. He had not
been a wealthy man but what little he had possessed had
gone down with the ill-fated Jane Seymour, for the Oakleys
had anticipated a long stay in New England, his appoint-
ment having been of a permanent nature, and they had
taken with them all their worldly belongings. Jonathan's
sole inheritance from his father was the education he had
received; but that, in a lad of mettle, is more than the
value of silver and gold, as Jonathan found when later he
grew to manhood.
In addition to feeding the livestock and helping in the
inn he was able to relieve Mr. Mather of the task of keep-
ing the accounts and was kept so occupied with one
thing and another that he had little time to grieve about
the past or to worry about the future. As the weeks
passed he quickly regained the weight he had lost and Mrs.
Mather was as proud of him as if he had been her own
son. Joseph, her youngest son, she told him, was away
on the other side of the island hunting the whale, and the
three older boys were in whaleships somewhere in the
One fine spring morning as the sun peeped through the
sea mist Jonathan slung a satchel of food over his shoulder
and waving farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Mather at the door
of the inn he set out across the island for the south-east
coast to find the whaling camp where he knew that
Joseph Mather was employed and to see for himself the way
in which whales were hunted from the shore. Stepping
out at good speed he followed the low ridges of sparse
pasture that encircled the marshes and after a few hours
came in sight of the tall lookout spars that stretched
at intervals of several miles along the coast ahead of
It was still not yet noon when he sighted the cluster of
huts and trying-out ovens. He quickened his pace to
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 21
shorten the distance but he was still a quarter of a mile
away when he stopped suddenly and Hstened.
From the man on the lookout spar came an oft repeated
'Town ho! Town ho! They blow, they blow!'
It was the call that was to echo again and again through
the coming years of Jonathan's life, the whaleman's call to
action that in other versions Ottar the voyager had heard
in King Alfred's time, that the Basques had heard along
the Biscay shores in the twelfth century and the Dutch,
German and English whalemen had heard in the bays of
Spitzbergen for several hundred years.
It was the cry that the islanders used on first sighting
the whale to call out the whalemen from their towns,
villages and camps and which in later decades of American
deep-sea whalers was to change to the well-known cry of
There She Blows!'
Jonathan's gaze followed the direction of the lookout's
pointing arm. From his position on the summit of the
dune he had a clear view of the sea but for a moment he
saw nothing but the white specks of a flock of seabirds
wheeling over the Atlantic rollers. Then his sharp eyes
caught sight of a crystal white fountain that lingered over
the sea and then dissolved itself into the sunlit atmos-
phere; again within several seconds the white fountain
shot upwards. It came from the head of a whale which
now emerged from the water to reveal its black shining
back. He saw more spouts of white vapour as other
whales came to the surface to replenish their lungs with
fresh air and he knew from the things that Mr. Mather
had told him that this was a pod of black right whales.
In response to the cry of the lookout the camp came
suddenly to life. White men and Indians came hurrying
from the huts carrying lances, harpoons and other equip-
ment which they tossed into the four slender, canoe-like
boats that lay on the beach. Each boat was launched
22 THE WHALE HUNTERS
through the surf by six men. Jonathan thrilled at the
manner in which their bows lifted to the crashing seas as
the oarsmen fought to make the blades of their oars bite
the white water. With men baling out the water that
had washed into them the boats reached the smoother
water clear of the surf and then with their sails filling to
the south breeze they steered towards the spouting whales.
Jonathan ran to the foot of the lookout spar which stood
on a high dune overlooking the camp.
'You will see the sport more easily from up here,'
called the lookout from his tiny platform, as he hoisted
a signal flag on a short mast. 'Come up here and we'll
watch the fun together.'
Jonathan climbed up and seated himself next to a
skinny youth in his teens who wore a broad straw hat to
shade his eyes from the sun.
'You are not by chance one called Joseph Mather?'
'No, stranger, I am Ebenezer Small. Joseph is in one
of the boats out there where I would be if they had not
sent me up this spar. That is Joseph's boat coming up
to the whale now with our Master Jackson at the steering
oar. And that is Chimoo pulling the bow oar. He's the
finest harpinger in all New England.'
He put a large telescope to his eye. 'Stand up!
Stand up, you red devil. Not too near those flukes or
they'll stove your boat, Master Jackson,' he howled in
anguished tones. 'Stand up, stand up, Chimoo, or she'll
sound before you can strike.'
He gasped with impatience. 'Here, you take a spy
through this glass, lad, for I cannot bear to watch longer.'
Jonathan looked through the long telescope and as if in
response to Ebenezer's imploring words the tall figure
with feathered head-dress shipped his oar and stood like a
bronze statue with harpoon lifted high. The long brown
arm flashed and the harpoon flew through the air, its
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 23
line uncoiling from the bows and taking with it a cumber-
some wooden drogue that the Indian threw over the side.
'The spyglass, quick,' said Ebenezer and clasped it to
his eye. 'See, he sinks another iron and the other boats
close in; but there go flukes; the whale sounds and they'll
have to wait a while now before they can sink others.'
'More boats are coming from the north,' observed
'You are right, lad. They have seen my signal and
are joining the hunt.'
The principle adopted by these shore whalemen was
based on the long drawn harassing tactics that the
Indians used against whales long before the first white
settlers came to the New England shores. The lightly
built cedar-planked boats manned by mixed crews of red
and white men almost invariably carried an Indian
harpooner and were owned and usually commanded by
white men. Their method was to launch all available
craft into the chase and to sink into the whale as many
harpoons as possible during the periods that it was
refreshing its lungs on the surface. The sharp harpoons
weakened the whale and the drogues that were attached
to them retarded his progress when trying to escape,
whether along the surface or in a deep dive. As his
strength waned more and more harpoons and drogues
were fastened to him until, often after many hours, he was
despatched by thrusting a long sharp lance into his lungs.
Never at any stage in this method of hunting were the
boats actually attached to the whale as were the boats of
the deep-sea whaleships.
Jonathan and Ebenezer took turns to visit the kitchen of
the camp. The cook who was an old Indian with a face
set in a thousand wrinkles presented them each with a
platter offish which, together with some of Mrs. Mather's
pastries from Jonathan's satchel, was enough to satisfy
their midday appetites.
24 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Fourteen boats had by now entered the fray and a
second whale was fighting for its Hfe further along the
shore, the rest having taken fright and disappeared; but
for Jonathan it was Master Jackson's whale which now
became the central figure in the drama that was being
enacted within the narrow circle of the telescope's vision.
And into the circle now came Master Jackson's boat, and
the hunter and the prey were two long dark shapes against
a patch of water lashed to white foam by the tail of the
The boy saw that the Indian harpooner was now at the
steering oar and that Master Jackson had taken Chimoo's
place in the bows. Boat and whale fused to a single dark
shape and he knew that this was the moment when the
white hunter was thrusting his long lance deep into that
part of the whale which was known as his 'life.'
Goaded to fury the whale lifted its tail twenty feet into
the air and brought it down with such force that the boat
was momentarily lost from view in a cloud of spray.
With a gasp of surprise Jonathan saw that the next
spout was not white but blood red and he knew that the
whale was vanquished. He lowered the telescope from
his eye and for a few moments the thrill of the hunt and
his admiration for the skill and bravery of the whalemen
gave way to a feeling of pity for the doomed creature.
Ebenezer took the telescope from him. *They have
killed him!' he cried. 'He lies fin out. Well done
Master Jackson, well done!' and, taking Jonathan by the
hands he made the rickety lookout post fairly shake as
he bounced with joy.
Pity vanished and jubilation flowed into the boy's
breast. Few sights stir the heart of man or boy so deeply
as that of his brothers responding victoriously to the
challenges of nature.
The low westering sun sent its beams over the sea and
touched the sides of the six boats with gold as they
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 25
formed a tandem and towed the whale slowly and
laboriously to the shore. Thirty-six men pulled as a
single crew. The sun went down and the sea wind lost
its warmth. Jonathan shivered.
'Let us go down now/ said Ebenezer.
Darkness had covered the sea when the whale was
finally brought to the shore and made secure.
In the flickering candlelight of one of the huts where
the crews were enjoying a well earned meal Jonathan
found Joseph Mather. He was, as Jonathan guessed
from the size of the clothes he had borrowed, a tall, well-
built fellow and looked about seventeen years old. Under
a mop of dark curly hair his bronzed eager face lit with a
friendly smile when he learned that Jonathan was the boy
who was employed at his father's inn and over the meal of
fish and whale steaks there was much for them to talk
about, for Joseph had not visited his home for several
That night Jonathan slept in a rough wooden bunk
against the log wall of the hut. The bunk was hard with-
out a mattress and in another bunk over his head the sound
of Ebenezer's breathing was like a saw cutting through a
whale's backbone. From around the hut came a
chorus of other various unmusical sounds and from
outside came the deep bass roar of the surf. But none of
these affected Jonathan for he slept the sleep of deep
After a hurried breakfast in the cold light before dawn
Jonathan went to where two black carcasses each nearly
sixty feet long lay in the white surf. Already the two
rows of baleen (or whale fins as they were then called) had
been cut from the twenty-foot long upper jaws of one of
them. They lay in bundles on the beach to await clean-
ing. From this came the strong flexible substance known
as whalebone which, although even in those times could
command a good price, reached its highest value in the
THE WHALE HUNTERS
nineteenth century when it was eagerly sought by the
manufacturers of such articles as whips, umbrellas and
The huge tongue which was as long as an elephant's
body had also been removed and would be boiled down
to produce as many as fifteen barrels of whale oil.
The most important task for the whalemen, however,
was the removal of the blubber that covered the whale on
whose slippery sea-washed surface men were now making
deep incisions with specially made cutting spades. They
severed off long strips and as turf is cut from the soil so this
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 27
foot thick oil-bearing blanket was cut from the whale's
flesh. Capstans or 'crabs' mounted on the beach supplied
Jonathan jumped in behind one of the capstan bars and
joined the circle of toiHng men. He sKpped and fell
and the long brown legs of an Indian stepped over him.
The men laughed but with bleeding Hp he leapt back to
*Walk it around, my chummies, walk it around!'
Llcuzk Tb^kk ujka.les killai offtke lYaniicckd beackes
28 THE WHALE HUNTERS
chanted one. Tut thy hearts into it. Come, come, is
that the best that thou canst do? Thou, boy, put thy
chest to the bar and show me something of the man thou
hopest to be one day.'
As each blanket piece of blubber came up the beach on
the end of the capstan rope it was unhooked and loaded
into a horse-drawn cart which when full took its loads to
the trying-out ovens nearby. There the blubber was
chopped into fine pieces before being sent up in baskets to
the tops of the ovens where it was dropped into the
boiling coppers. The fires had been started with wood
but soon the frizzled tissues of the blubber were scooped
from the bottoms of the coppers, strained and used as fuel
so that the plumes of smoke from the chimneys changed
from blue to black and the clean sea air became fouled by
the stench of burning flesh.
Then the men standing on the platforms around the
coppers ladled the boiling liquid into wooden troughs
each of which led to a complicated system of wicker filters
and wooden barrels. From this primitive plant whose
only power was the simple force of gravity the cooled and
purified oil emerged at ground level and flowed into the
casks in which it would be stoppered and stored; and in
which, in due course, it would be shipped to Boston,
Massachusetts, which was the marketing centre for the
whale oil of New England.
In the late afternoon when the last cask had been
stoppered the great Master Jackson himself came and
walked between the rows counting off with his forefinger
the total yield from the two whales.
'Three hundred and eighteen barrels!' he cried and a
cheer went up from the tired band of whalemen.
As the crowd dispersed Jonathan was joined by Joseph
and Ebenezer, who despite their weariness were showing
broad grins, evidently in anticipation of their own particu-
lar share of the profits.
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 29
Jonathan looked towards the late afternoon sun. 'I
think I must return to the inn now,' he said, addressing
Joseph, Tor I am employed by your father and not by
Master Jackson, you know.'
'Do not worry yourself, Jonathan,' said Joseph reassur-
ingly. 'Father knows that whaling is the only thing for
a man to do in this island. Keeping an inn is but a hobby
for an old man who has had his fill of whaling. You
know, of course that he is part owner of several of the
'Yes, I have been employed keeping his accounting
books and guessed that he had other interests besides the
inn,' replied Jonathan.
'And there are some bigger ships being built in the
yards that he is interested in,' said Ebenezer.
'That is what this island needs, more ships,' said Joseph.
'Father says whales are not so plentiful along the shore as
they were, and if we are to stay in the whale fishery we
must have more and more ships. There are plenty of
whales waiting to be taken in the Greenland waters,
provided the great European whaleships do not kill them
all before we arrive there. But the sea mist is rising,
Jonathan, and you must be on your way. Take the path
yonder that runs by the Indian village. You will find
it much easier than the one by which you came yester-
The three lads walked to the huts and after Jonathan
had collected his satchel he bade his companions farewell.
As Jonathan strode along the sandy track the mist
drifted in from the sea and wrapped the land in a cold
damp blanket of grey. As he walked on he found that the
track led through one of the few wooded areas of the
island. Ahead the yellow sandy track receded into the fog
so that he did not at first notice the tall figure of the Indian
striding towards him from the opposite direction. Then,
as the man came nearer he saw him and stopped ; he was
30 THE WHALE HUNTERS
a little afraid for he was still in awe of the natives and had
not before encountered them in or near their villages. As
he stood summoning his courage to come face to face with
the stranger he saw something move among the dimness of
the trees and at the same moment there was an explosion.
The Indian clutched his side and then fell limply to the
ground where he lay quite still.
From the trees the grey shape emerged and became the
dark clad figure of a man. Smoke still drifted from the
barrel of the pistol in his hand as he gave the body a
push with his foot. Then out of the corner of his eye he
saw Jonathan standing speechless and motionless on the
In the same moment that the boy turned to run he
recognised the black-bearded features of Nathaniel Sykes,
the ruffianly man he had seen on his second night at the
Fleeing through the wood Jonathan heard the man's
footsteps behind him on the dead leaves and then felt a
hand grip the tail of his coat. He spun round and the
large ugly bearded features glowered down at him.
'Now, young Jonathan/ the man breathed, 'you and me
'ave got to have a bit of a parley and come to an under-
He waited till he had got his breath, then he went on,
T don't want it known to no livin' soul what you've seen
just 'appen. In fact, as far as you know, it never did
'appen, did it?' and he crushed the boy's shoulder in his
large hand. 'Did it?' he repeated and a knife in the
other hand touched Jonathan's throat till it pricked the
skin and the blood ran on to his collar. The grip on his
shoulder tightened like a vice. 'Swear you never saw it
'I swear, I swear!' gasped Jonathan and felt the grip
'If you ever let out even a word of what didn't 'appen
THE WHALES ALONG THE SHORE 3I
I'll know of it and I'll feed your liver to the gulls if it's
the last thing I do.'
With that he turned and walked away through the
wood and Jonathan ran until he reached the track ahead
of the spot where the Indian had fallen. Glancing back-
wards he saw in grey silhouettes Sykes dragging the
dead Indian from the track. Then the boy made for
home as fast as his legs could take him.
AS SOON AS Jonathan entered the parlour the observant
Mrs. Mather noticed the wild flushed look in the boy's
normally calm face and thinking that he had a fever sent
him to bed with a drink of warm goat's milk. Through
long hours of sleeplessness he lay wondering why Sykes
had killed the Indian.
In the days that followed, time slowly healed the shock
of his experience in the wood and the activities of the
islanders became of increasing interest to his enquiring
One evening after he had said goodnight to the inn-
keeper and his wife he sat on the bed in the flickering
candlelight of his room and feeling strangely wakeful did
not undress as usual. Instead he went to the small table
on which lay an old and tattered accounting book which
Mr. Mather had given him *to scribble in if he felt so
He ripped out the used pages and sat on the wooden
chair. The whalehunt that he had seen a week ago on
the southern shores returned now in crystal clear images
to his restless mind.
He dipped the point of the goose-quill in the ink and
then with the thoroughness that was always so typical of
him he wrote:
The Diary of Jonathan Oakley, commenced the last
day of May in the year ly^i at Sherburne,
On the next page he began to write in his own quaint
fashion a description of the wonderful things he had seen
at the whaling camp.
As the days passed there were many things to record but
it was not until a year later, when time and events had
lifted the burden of fear from Jonathan's mind that he
made the entry telling of the murder of the Indian.
Let us take a few entries at random and form our own
picture of the everyday life among these people who were
destined to find their green pastures not in their island
home but upon the broad waters of the Atlantic.
Sixth of June. On hearing the people called out I went
to the wharf and watched the gambolling of a pod of
humpback whales. All during the flood tide they
frolicked in the water outside the bar. It is evident that
they obtain their name from the arched shape of their
backs. As they rolled their bodies with a forward
motion I saw that each had a tall fin upon his back which
is not found in the black right whale although both are of
the family that carry whalebones in their mouths. When
they rolled sideways I saw that the side fins were very
large in proportion to the body and later when I was able
to approach one of the dead whales I found that these
34 THE WHALE HUNTERS
fins measured more than twice the height of two tall men
and that the whole body measured as long as eight men if
they lay head to toe on the sand alongside it.
So many whale were there that a signal was sent to the
whale camps and among the men who arrived I found
Joseph. Every boat along this coast was manned and
upon being asked if I could pull an oar I replied that I
could which was not truthful since I have had but little
practice in the boats. But I sat next to Joseph and we
joined in the sport. The tide having risen we coaxed
the whale across the bar and confined them within the
outer harbour where amid great confusion many were
slain. These humpback whales showed an inclination to
sink below the surface when dead, but the water around
the harbour being very shallow, the whales were soon
hauled up the shore and their blubber taken off and sent
to the ovens nearby for boiling.
Eighth of June, At dawn I was awoken by the voices of
men who were loading a donkey cart with the cutting
tools. Hearing them speak of a drifted sperm whale I
dressed and overtook them. We walked to the southern
shore and found a sixty foot male sperm whale lying dead
among the surf. In its side we found two harpoons
inscribed with names of foreign vessels. With great
labour the men saved the blubber and carried it to the
town for trying out. They also took from the head the
spermaceti oil that is found in a special reservoir.
THE DIARY 35
Ninth of June, The harbour crews to-day gave chase
to a pod of right whales that were sighted in the sound
but they returned without reward. Some complained
that the right whale has become sensible to the sharpness
of the harpoons and is in fear of our shores and the fate
that there awaits them.
Twelfth of June. This forenoon I heard the cry of
'Sail ho!' and climbed to the lookout platform on the
roof of the inn to watch two whaleships entering harbour.
They are such small vessels that their holds cannot con-
tain more than the blubber of two or three whales and in
consequence their voyages last at the most only a month or
two but if they are fortunate enough to meet with whale
and kill them early in their voyage they may return to
harbour after only a few days. Mr. Mather came up to
the roof and I learned from him that these vessels have
been seeking the sperm whale in southern waters and that
after overhauling and recruiting (taking on fresh victuals)
they will sail to the northern waters in search of the Green-
land right whale which is similar in many ways to the
black right whale but prefers the colder seas.
Fifteenth of June. Many dolphins came over the bar
to-day and Joseph was permitted to practise throwing the
harping irons with which he killed three. I pulled an oar
with great vigour but little skill and several times missed
my stroke and tumbled to the floor of the boat. Whilst
we were engaged with the dolphins the steersman of the
seaward boat called out, 'Town ho!' and we all gave
chase in earnest to a pod of small whales and several were
killed and towed ashore.
Joseph struck his first whale and is now a real whale-
man, but I fear that I shall have to spend much more time
at the oar before I am permitted to handle the irons.
Perhaps I gave too much attention to the details of the
chase and too little to the task of pulling my oar. I saw
yellow coloured streaks in the water and during a lull
36 THE WHALE HUNTERS
when we ceased pulling I was able to gather a little of this
water in a can. The water was not discoloured but it
contained many small sea creatures which one of the oars-
men told me was the food of the right whale.
Eighteenth of June, Mr. Mather has granted me my
release from his service in order that I may journey to the
whaling camps with Joseph and seek employment there
for I am determined to master the crafts of whaling and
intend that with the aid of the education that I received
from my father to stand one day as master upon the poop
of my own whaleship.
Twenty-third of June, After several days employed in the
menial tasks of the whaling camp I was given the midships
oar of one of the boats and we gave chase to a pod of
small whales but I fear that I made such a sorry mess of
the task that Master Jackson will not permit me to enter
in the boats again. He made known to me his conviction
that my ambition is greater than my ability and that I
shall need to grow some more muscle upon my bones
before I am able to pull a whaleboat's oar.
Twenty-fourth of June. Joseph and I are firm compan-
ions now. Upon seeing my disappointment over being
kept at cleaning whale fins and other dull tasks on the
beach whilst he is in the boats he made the suggestion that
we should both return to the harbour and seek berths in
the whaleships bound for the north. So we drew our lay
of the profits and made for home.
Jonathan finds a Berth
THE boys' unexpected arrival at the inn caused some sur-
prise to Mr. and Mrs. Mather and put the good woman
in quite a flurry for the inn was full of whalemen waiting
for the northern season to commence and every bed,
including those of the boys, had been let for the night.
Joseph put his arm around his mother's waist.
*Do not fret, mother,' he said, 'there is plenty of dry hay
in the barns and we will be just as comfortable there.'
They sat at the long table in the main parlour and ate
supper with the whaling crews who were gathered here in
Nantucket to man the brand new fleet of whaleships in
which the islanders had invested and which was expected
at any hour to arrive in the harbour.
As the men sat smoking their after-supper pipes the
door flew open and a youth rushed into the parlour shout-
ing that the ships had been sighted. The boys followed
some of the men up to the lookout platform on the roof
and presently Joseph pointed to the westward and
shouted, 'There they come.' They were hull down over
the horizon but with all sail set and travelHng at a good
speed towards the harbour.
The next day one of the whaling masters of these ships
came to the inn and asked for Mr. Mather. Jonathan,
who happened to be writing a new entry in his diary, rose
38 THE WHALE HUNTERS
from the parlour table and conducted the captain to the
private room at the back of the building.
*Your name, sir?' enquired the boy.
*Captain Slocum. Captain Jeroboam Slocum.'
He was a very tall man, gaunt of feature and bony
limbed. His clothes were in the style of a merchant
service captain of the time with something of the simplicity
of the Quaker cut about them, and the severity and
aloofness of his manner caused Jonathan to feel at once
very small and very insignificant, so that it was with some
relief that the boy announced his name to Mr. Mather
and closed the door upon the two men.
He found Joseph cutting wood in the yard and told him
of the visitor. After a while Mr. Mather called the two
lads into the house.
* Captain Slocum, this is my son, Joseph, and this boy
whom you have already met is Jonathan Oakley. They
are both set on finding berths in one of the whaleships.
Joseph has already struck his first whale and would no
doubt serve you well as an oarsman or even a harpooner,
but Jonathan ' and Mr. Mather placed his hand upon
the boy's shoulder. *Are you still of the same mind, lad ?
You are. Well then, Captain Slocum, here is a cabin
boy for you.'
The captain's deepset eyes frowned upon the two lads
for a second. Then he turned to Mr. Mather. 'I will
take thy sons in my ship, friend. Tell them to report on
board to-morrow forenoon.'
When he had gone Mr. Mather said, *His manner may
seem a Httle abrupt but he is a godly man and one of the
best whaling masters on these coasts. We both hold a
share in the vessel and having that in common with me I
am sure he will serve my sons well.'
It was obvious to the boys that something was troubling
Mr. Mather. They waited while he seemed to struggle
with some indecision. Then he leant forward in his chair
JONATHAN FINDS A BERTH 39
and said, *I wish in some ways that I could have arranged
for you to sail in one of the other sloops but this was the
only one with a berth left for a cabin boy. She is the
biggest yet to sail out of here and is of sixty tons burden.
She is bound further north than the others on an exped-
ition to the Davis Straits. She will hunt whale but the
main purpose is to discover the possibilities of extending
the activities of our fleet in those waters. There may be
dangers and I would not be sorry if you changed your
minds. Do you still want to go?'
'I do,' said the two lads with one voice.
'Very well then, if you are set on it you must give me
your solemn promises that you keep the ship's destination
a secret. The vessel is called the Pilgrim.^
The boys murmured their promises.
In the captain's cabin of the whaler Pilgrim the next
morning the members of the crew were assembled to sign
'Look, Joseph,' whispered Jonathan as they took their
places at the end of the line, 'is that not Chimoo, the
Indian harpooner from Master Jackson's camp?'
'Indeed it is,' replied Joseph. 'We should be certain of
killing a few whale with him in the bow of a boat.'
'I do not see Eb Small,' said Jonathan. 'Perhaps he has
signed with one of the other ships.'
When all hands were present the captain, with Mr.
Mather and the two other men who held shares in the
vessel standing behind him, broke the news that the ship
was to visit the Davis Straits. He assured them of the
soundness of the enterprise and finished his brief address
with a warning that any man or boy who wished to
withdraw should do so at once.
Two of the men left the cabin without a word but the
rest moved into line and each came singly to the table to
give his signature or mark as the case might be.
According to the rank or trade each was allotted a lay or
40 THE WHALE HUNTERS
share of whatever profits might be made from the voyage.
Jonathan, as cabin boy, received a mere i /150th lay but
Joseph, being old enough to sign as able seaman was
allotted a i/75th lay, whilst Chimoo, as harpooner, or
boatheader as this rank was sometimes called, received
the princely lay of i/50th. The carpenter and the
cooper also received lays of i/50th and the *short lays'
ranging from i/25th up to i/8th went to the three mates
and the captain. In this case the captain also drew
extra share as one of the four owners.
An advance of money was made to each man for the
purchasing of personal equipment and then with a last
word from the captain that every man was to be on board
to make sail at dawn to-morrow the meeting broke up.
The boys did not follow the rest of the crew ashore.
This was their first ship and the purchases could wait
while they proudly looked over her.
She was a sixty tonner as Mr. Mather had said and
straight from the builder's yard. Already they had looked
at her from the wharf. With her broad beam and bluff
bows, her low freeboard and raised poop-deck, and her
single mast and fore-and-aft rig she looked not unhke a
smaller version of the Dutch ships that had been seen to
visit those shores, and which the marine painter Van de
Velde was so fond of portraying. She was typical of the
many sloops seen along the New England shores of that
day. Their small drafts enabled them to enter the shallow
bays and harbours whilst their fore-and-aft rig made them
fast and easy to handle.
All this they had observed before boarding the ship and
now they began an inspection of the main deck.
The objects which attracted the boys' interest most
were the two whaleboats that lay in their chocks on the
midships deck. In contrast to the bluff sturdiness of
their mother ship these boats were long and narrow and
lightly constructed of thin cedar planking on finely cut
42 THE WHALE HUNTERS
oak frames, pointed at both ends. They were in fact
descended from the Indian canoes in which the natives of
New England had first hunted the whale and they re-
tained all the qualities that had made the canoe fast and
manoeuvrable whilst being stronger and more seaworthy.
At this stage in their evolution they were about twenty-two
feet long and similar to the boats the islanders used on the
beaches, having five thwarts and a small triangular
platform in the bow and stern ; but in addition they were
fitted for the task of fastening to the whale and for this
purpose carried a bollard or loggerhead on the stern
platform and a narrow channel or fairlead lined with lead
between the converging gunwales of the bow. A wooden
pin bridging this fairlead served to prevent the whale fine
from jumping free. The wooden loggerhead in the stern
provided a means of checking the speed at which the line
ran out of the boat and enabled the man manning it to
strike a balance between the extravagance of allowing the
line to run free and the fatal folly of securing its inboard
end and being towed under by the whale; this resulted
very often in the boat being taken for what was later known
as a 'Nantucket sleigh ride'. The oars, paddles, mast and
sail lay ready for use but the tub that contained the whale
fine would not be put in the boat until lowering for whale.
The sleek boats were a great advance on others the boys
had seen and it was no wonder that they captured their
imagination so readily.
The boys went forward and climbed through the hatch
to the cramped forecastle, in which with thirteen other
mariners they were to eat and sleep during the coming
weeks. Furnished only with a table and two seating
forms, all of which were bolted securely to the deck, and
with a plentiful crop of iron hooks in the beams and bulk-
heads for the purposes of swinging hammocks and hanging
clothes, this tiny triangular compartment might have
been partitioned from the main hold as an afterthought
JONATHAN FINDS A BERTH 43
by the shipbuilder who, in the final stages of his task,
was suddenly reminded of the necessity of providing a
place of shelter for the men who were to man the ship.
It was only a little bigger than the officers' cabin in which
they had just signed their articles and Jonathan realised
that the custom of providing each officer with about four
times the space allotted to each seaman was in itself
sufficient incentive to a greenish cabin boy to aim at
attaining in the vague and distant future a place of
authority upon the poop-deck.
The lads made a quick survey of the galley which
adjoined the forecastle and in which Jonathan was to
receive from an old Basque cook his initiation into the
mysterious craft of preparing shipboard meals on the
rolling seas, a prospect over which Jonathan was unable
to muster much enthusiasm but which he knew must face
every boy embarking on his first whaling voyage.
In the afternoon, having completed the purchasing of
their outfits the boys loaded their kitbags on to a hand-
cart and upon the bags Jonathan placed an iron-bound
wooden box, a present from Mr. Mather. It contained
a jar of ink, a supply of paper and quills, a copy of John
Bunyan's Country Rhimes for Boys and Girls and a small
brass crucifix given by Mrs. Mather.
The good lady stood at the door of the inn and watched
with moist eyes the youthful figures disappearing towards
As soon as they had stowed their kit they joined the
others in helping to bring on board the last of the stores
and equipment and by dusk the Pilgrim was in all respects
ready to proceed to sea; except for one very important
item — her crew.
Four of the fourteen forecastle hands had apparently
deserted. At the dawn roll call they were still missing
and two of the mates spent the day in a fruitless search
of the island. After dark the captain himself went aishore
THE WHALE HUNTERS
with the mates to recruit fresh men and when Jonathan
and Joseph slung their hammocks there was still no news
that their efforts had been successful.
But when they were called to scrub decks at dawn they
saw that all but one of the hammocks in the forecastle
had been slept in.
'Other one, he in boat,' Chimoo explained, nodding
towards the whaleboats on the deck.
After breakfast mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts
came to wish their menfolk farewell. Mrs. Mather
gathered up both boys in one big tearful embrace and
then at a sharp order from the first mate the decks were
cleared. The warps were taken in, the headsails hoisted
and the vessel ghosted away from the wharf into the
morning mist leaving behind her a sad little group of
people, amongst whom there was one, Mr. Richard
Mather, whose mind was troubled by having just been
told the identity of the man who still lay in a drunken
sleep at the bottom of one of the Pilgrim^ s whaleboats.
THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS delay had soured the captain
and angered the mates and the general temper of the
ship's company was not improved by the absence of a
good sailing breeze. The ship was still in sight of the
harbour when Jonathan and the steward carried the mid-
day meal aft to the officers' quarters where the atmosphere
struck Jonathan as being very tense.
None of these matters had much effect upon the boy to
whom everything was so new and exciting; but as he
emerged from the after hatchway bearing a pile of dirty
dishes he was confronted with what he could only believe
at first was a horrible vision. Staring at him from over
the gunvv^ale of the larboard whaleboat was the black-
bearded, sleep puffed face of Nathaniel Sykes.
'So you 'ave chose to ship along with old Nat, 'ave you,
young Jonah? Well, well, let's 'ope we 'ave a merry time
The voice of the mate on watch bellowed from aft, 'Get
your lazy carcass out of that boat and turn to at once,'
and Sykes climbed slowly out on to the deck.
The dreaded secret of the murder in the wood lay heavy
on the boy's spirit but he remembered his vow of silence,
which even though made to a blackguard like Sykes
could not be broken without loss of honour. Chimoo he
knew came from the same village as the murdered brave
46 THE WHALE HUNTERS
and it was probable that the other two Indians in the crew
came from there too. He would try to discover by
watching the behaviour of the three Indians whether
they knew or suspected the identity of the murderer of
their fellow tribesman.
The news of Sykes's presence spread quickly through the
ship for he was an infamous character, but it was too early
yet for Jonathan to detect any signs of enmity between
Sykes and the Indians, although he was able to learn from
Joseph that the man had signed in the Pilgrim in order to
escape from the wrath of the tribe whom he had cheated
in a trading deal.
As the two lads sat discussing the matter in the fore-
castle something of Jonathan's uneasiness must have been
evident in his manner for Joseph said, 'Why do you look
so troubled, Jonathan ? Surely you have nothing to fear
from the rascal?'
Jonathan forced a smile and replied, 'No, of course not,'
but he wished in his heart that he could share his secret
with his friend.
'Captain Slocum and the mates will see that he is kept in
his place,' said Joseph.
Indeed, as the wind became favourable and the ship
headed north, Sykes settled into the routine of the
voyage as well as the rest for he was an experienced
whaleman and a good seaman.
The ship's company was assembled on deck and divided
into watches and the captain, as was the custom at the
commencement of a whaling voyage, expounded a few
of his views on such subjects as discipline, hard work,
courage, cheerfulness and faith in the Almighty. He used
the Quaker 'thee' and 'thou' and this, combined with his
Biblical style of speech, made it seem that the Ten Com-
mandments with which he rounded off his address were
not quoted from the Book but inventions of his own mind
like the rest of his harangue.
jjosejh Icddncf over ^..^ ..^^„^
eye oj^ the proud (Quaker Cajdhitu
THE WHALE HUNTERS
It occurred to Jonathan as he watched the tall gaunt
figure that the man might even think himself some sort of
god, so superior was he in his attitude to his men.
On the third morning the lookout sighted two of the
sloops that had sailed ahead of the Pilgrim. The vessels
were hove to in a southerly breeze and their boats were
away to leeward of them. At first the Pilgrim^ s men
thought they were after whale but on drawing closer
they found that the boats were being exercised.
*Bring her close to leeward of the Red Rose, helmsman,'
ordered the captain, but the poor man at the wheel was
not so familiar with Sherburne whalers as was his com-
mander who, on seeing that the man was steering for the
wrong sloop, roared, 'To starboard, thou fool ! Dost thou
not know the Red Rose when thou seest her?'
As the Pilgrim and the Red Rose came beam to beam
Captain Slocum cupped his hands to his mouth and
called to his colleague across the water, 'Why dost thou
waste such a fair breeze, Master Jason.'
'We sighted black whale. Master Slocum,' came back
the reply, 'but these men of ours are greener than spring
cabbages and made such a sorry affair of the chase
that we chose to keep them at it in the boats so that
they may be sure of the difference between an oar and
a harping iron the next time we meet up with the
50 THE WHALE HUNTERS
As the Pilgrim drew away the remaining words of the
Red Rose's captain were lost on the wind.
During the following day the Pilgrim passed at different
times two of the Nantucket sloops returning to port and
on each occasion, upon being hailed and asked what
success they had had, they reported full cargoes of
blubber. There were murmurs of envy from the Pilgrim's
men for although these sloops were of only about thirty
tons burden and their cargo capacity not much more than
required for the blubber of one large whale, they had
been at sea for only eight days. In addition to their
cargoes of blubber they reported good catches of cod, for
it was customary in these small ships for men not employed
on lookout duties to employ their time catching fish. In
fact, most whaling voyages about this time were not con-
fined entirely to the hunting of whale but to alternative
pursuits such as catching fish, seal and walrus and trading
On the tenth day the ship was beset by a dead calm near
the southern entrance of the Belle Isle Straits between
Newfoundland and the mainland. After hours of pacing
the deck and calling upon his Maker for a capful of wind
Captain Slocum stopped suddenly in his tracks and
shouted, *There are whales two miles on your starboard
bow! Call all hands ! Lower the boats !'
Even the mate of the watch looked dumbfounded as he
scanned the sea in vain for the sight of a spout.
*Mr. Todd!' roared the captain. 'Didst thou hear me
or art thou deaf? Those whale will escape us before we
sink a single iron. Stir thyself, man ! Wake up, wake up !'
After that the sleepy ship came suddenly to life and
within a few minutes the two boats were in the water and
the crews pulling as if their very lives depended upon it.
But they had barely cleared away from the ship's side
when the Captain's voice boomed at them across the
ON PASSAGE 51
*Why, thou art like a lot of snails. Hoist the boats and
let me see thy bottoms seated in half the time.'
No matter what operation was attempted, whether
loading the gear into the boats, pulling, hoisting and
lowering sail or sterning the oars the captain's desire for
speed could not be satisfied. But on the fourth lowering
even he grew tired of his own bellowings and the boats'
crews pulled away from the ship to find some peace out of
range of their commander's fiery nature.
Then to the southward the oily surface of the sea became
marked with the catspaws of wind and the boats returned
to the ship, their sails taut and their oars dipping. They
were hoisted laboriously to the deck, and the Pilgrim
continued on her voyage.
When the ship had settled down one of the green hands
looked up from coiling down a rope. There was a frown
on his youthful face as he spoke to Todd, the second mate.
'I saw no sign of a spout, did you, sir?'
'No, my lad, but the captain has a most wonderful sharp
pair of eyes,' replied the diminutive Todd with a laugh.
The Pilgrim passed through the Belle Isle Straits and
then followed the rocky coast of Labrador until she
arrived at Esquimo Bay where she anchored and took on
As the casks were being hoisted over the side Jonathan,
on his way along the deck to the officers' quarters, over-
heard Sykes talking with some of the men.
'Not a single spout 'ave we raised this whole voyage,' he
was saying. 'Not one. I tell you we should 'ave gone to
the Grand Banks and cruised there like the others. Their
casks will be full of blubber by now, but look at us, not
even a porpoise 'ave we taken and not a stain upon the
lilywhite decks. I tell you ' and the rest of Sykes's
words were lost to Jonathan as he descended the after
That evening the ship was still at anchor in the calm
52 THE WHALE HUNTERS
waters of the bay and Jonathan availed himself of this
opportunity to make some observations in his diary. As
he sat at the forecastle table, the only sounds were the
scratching of his quill and the muffled creak of slack
rigging. Yet he sensed something disturbing in the
quiet of the dimly lit forecastle and he turned and looked
up at one of the swinging hammocks. Through a haze of
tobacco smoke and screen of matted black whiskers the
baleful eyes of Nathaniel Sykes were watching him closely.
Nothing was said and Jonathan went on with his writing
but all the time he knew that those eyes, full of suspicion
and hate, were boring into his very soul.
The Pilgrim weighed anchor and continued her voyage,
but no whales were sighted until one morning there came
into view a fleet of Esquimo oomiaks which it soon
became obvious were in pursuit of a large right whale.
The captain ordered sail to be reduced in the hope that
other whales would be sighted; but it is not the habit of
right whales as it is with the sperm to remain in the vicinity
of a stricken comrade and none were sighted.
As the ship ghosted along at slow speed Jonathan stood
upon the forecastle head and watched the Esquimos.
Each narrow craft, constructed with sealskins stretched
over frail wooden frames, was being propelled at furious
speed by a crew of fur-clad Esquimos with paddles. They
were continually dashing in and thrusting their stings
into their massive prey, like a swarm of angry wasps.
Each of the oomiaks carried a supply of spears to which
were attached bladders of inflated sealskin and as one
after another of these spears was implanted by the intrepid
Esquimos more and more of the sealskin bladders became
attached to the whale. They bobbed and bounced in the
white water beside the whale as he swam but did not
appear to make any appreciable reduction in his speed.
But, when he dipped his head and hfted his flukes to
sound, the bladders clung to the surface until the last
ON PASSAGE 53
moment and the cunning method of the Esquimos at once
became obvious to Jonathan. Those bladders must
retard his downward motion through the water and the
greater number that were attached the smaller was the
whale's chance of escape ; which was of course the reason
why the hunters had attacked so furiously and in such
large numbers. Furthermore, although Jonathan was
unaware of the fact, these hunters employed a cunning
toggle device which turned the barb of the spearhead and
caused it to stick fast and prick the flesh of the whale when
the line became taut.
When the whale surfaced again the Esquimo oomiaks
crowded in on him once more approaching from ahead to
avoid the great tail flukes that thrashed through a wide
arc which reached even to the creature's side fins. One
of the craft within that arc was swept away as easily as a
fly is swept away by a horse's tail. Then the monster
tried to dive but came up quickly carrying one of the
oomiaks to the summit of its body and in the brief second
that the frail craft poised balanced there the Esquimo in
the bows reached out an arm and thrust a spear deep into
the whale's side. The next instant the craft slid down
the whale's side throwing the crew into the welter of white
water that surrounded the whale.
The spear of that brave hunter must have found its
mark for Jonathan saw that the next spout was blood red.
The oomiaks withdrew after rescuing the Esquimos
and waited ; the Pilgrim, still under reduced sail, slid past
the scene; the native hunters and the New England
whalemen watched the drama of the whale in all the fury
of its last flurry as it thrashed, rolled and spouted red.
Then it turned upon one side and the ten foot side fin
pointed to the sky.
The ship passed on.
As Jonathan walked along the deck to resume his duties
he heard the guttural voice of Nathaniel Sykes saying,
54 THE WHALE HUNTERS
'Even the Esquimos find whale. I tell you there's a Jonah
aboard this ship and I've a pretty good notion who it is.
'Is name fits 'im well and 'e's for ever scratchin' away
with a quill like some seaborne agent of the Devil.'
Jonathan's face coloured as he heard these words, so
obviously intended for his ears.
A HIGH SEA was running as the Pilgrim crossed the entrance
to the Hudson Straits and her company was very relieved
when the captain sailed her into the lee of Resolution
Island at the southern tip of Baffin Land.
As the ship lay hove to waiting for the storm to pass
Jonathan stood on deck and gazed for a while at the
distant snow-clad peaks, but the icy north wind cut
through his clothes and he was soon glad to seek shelter
below decks where a different kind of coldness awaited
him in the sidelong glances of some of the white men.
Jonathan guessed that the superstitious talk of Sykes had
had some effect upon the simple minds of these rough
seamen and although they were in the minority it made
him feel miserable to be regarded as an omen of ill luck
in the ship. As he lay in his hammock listening to the
sea slapping against the ship's hull it occurred to him that
although Sykes himself might be the victim of such super-
stitions the real reason for infecting the men's minds
with them might be to gain the backing of as many as
possible of the crew should it become necessary to rid the
ship of the one person who could expose his guilt. Once
the three Indian members of the crew had proof that their
tribesman had been murdered by Sykes the man's own life
would be in danger. Chimoo and his two friends probably
56 THE WHALE HUNTERS
knew that the Indian had died ; they might even suspect
Sykes but it was evident that they had no real proof.
When Joseph came below at the changing of the watch
Jonathan leant over the edge of his hammock and whis-
pered anxiously, 'Is there any sign of whale yet?'
Joseph smiled. 'No, Jonathan, and even if there were
we would not be able to hunt in this weather.' His
smiling face became suddenly grave. 'I know you are
still troubled about the superstitions of that fellow Sykes,
but it often happens that a ship does not sight a whale for
weeks together and then a malady known as whale sick-
ness comes over the company and they fall prey to any
kind of foolish talk. Be of good cheer, Jonathan, for we
are bound to find whale soon and then these chummies
will have no time for Sykes and his superstitions. Chimoo
and his two kinsmen hate the man and I am sure that it is
not merely because he cheated their tribe.'
Once again Jonathan pushed aside the impulse to tell
Joseph the truth.
Joseph tousled the boy's fair curls and then playfully
pulled him out of his hammock on to the deck and as they
rolled over and over in a mock wrestling match Chimoo
descended the companionway.
'Jonathan call Chimoo if he want help,' said the
Indian showing his fine white teeth in a grin.
Jonathan glanced up from under his opponent's elbow.
'Perhaps I shall when I really need you, Chimoo,' he
As soon as the wind abated the Pilgrim felt her way out
into the open waters of the Davis Straits where a line of
five icebergs sat sedate and unmoved by the high swell
that still rolled down from the north. As Jonathan stood
upon the bows fascinated by their monumental aloofness
the sun suddenly shone through the clouds and changed
their colour from a cold flat white to blue and gold. He
watched the ever present fulmars wheeling around the
'she blows !' 57
ship; a lazy seal slid reluctantly from an ice floe as the
vessel approached. The ship was sailing into a wonder-
ful new world where days and nights begin to merge into
one long afternoon, but for Jonathan one thing was
needed to make it complete — the spout of a whale.
A haze covered the sun and cut short the brief glory of
the sub-Arctic summer and one by one the icebergs to the
eastwards became wrapped in an advancing bank of fog
until only the summits of the highest were still visible.
On the poop-deck Macy, the burly first mate, took final
compass bearings of the bergs and the distant peaks of
Baffin Land. The fog bank advanced and Jonathan felt
its cold touch as it covered the ship, whose upperworks
now became mere grey silhouettes which lost their
sharpness of definition as they receded from the eye into
the grey yet oddly luminous murk.
Jonathan went below to the galley where old Pierre the
Basque cook reviled him for having stayed so long on deck.
Normally Jonathan would not have been worried by the
outburst for Pierre was always scolding him for being on
deck instead of in the galley but on this occasion he could
detect real anger in the Frenchman's manner and he
knew at once that yet another of the ship's company
had fallen prey to the belief that there was a 'Jonah' on
The fog grew thicker. On a well-charted coast the
captain would probably have sought an anchorage as
soon as he saw the fog approaching but the coast of
Baffin Land was only vaguely defined upon his charts and
he decided to sail slowly north-eastwards under a single
staysail away from the dangers of the rocky shore and into
the open waters which he realised were only slightly less
dangerous by reason of the risk of collision with icebergs.
For two days the ship crept through the murk with
lookouts stationed aloft and on the bowsprit and nothing
58 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Many times Jonathan noticed the brooding eyes of
Sykes cast in his direction and once when Jonathan and
Chimoo stood together on the foredeck the boy saw those
eyes darken with hate and fear. Chimoo saw them too but
he said nothing.
On the third day of fog came a call from the forward
lookout, 'Ice ahead ! Ice ahead ! Starboard your helm !
To starboard, to starboard! ' and the rest of the
words that he continued to shout as he scrambled to
safety along the bowsprit were swallowed up by the spine-
chilling crash that followed as the ship hit a towering cliff
Jonathan had been serving the midday meal to Macy
the first mate and now he followed the man up the
companionway and along the main deck to the bows which
had taken the main brunt of the collision. The smashed
bowsprit hung in a tangle of sails and rigging and the
forward bulwarks had been stove in; the single staysail
was still filled by the faint breeze which kept the ship
pressed against the face of the ice and with each lift of
the swell came a sickening grinding of wood against ice.
'Lower that sail!' shouted Macy and through the fog
came the reply, 'The halliard is jammed, sir, and will not
'Then go aloft and free it, you fools!' cried Macy.
But no man moved for the topmast was scraping an
overhanging buttress of the ice and the larboard crosstree
had already been smashed. The masthead lookout had
already forsaken his dangerous perch and Joseph and
Chimoo were engaged in trying to clear away the tangled
Jonathan saw Macy move but in the same second that
it took the mate to reach the starboard shrouds the boy
leapt ahead of him and scrambled aloft to the crosstrees.
The ship rolled and the mast moved through an arc away
from the ice; then, like an inverted pendulum, it stopped
Jonathon cuin^ on gnTtdy Irifinci tojCmCf
UTKid the confusion ofrig^iKq, ike halliard
IfuU keU, the ujayuia^d ^taysaiL
60 THE WHALE HUNTERS
and swung back through the same arc and crashed against
Jonathan clung on grimly with beating heart trying to
find amid the confusion of rigging the halliard that held
the wayward staysail. At last he found it and drawing
his knife from its sheath he hacked it clear of the block in
which it had jammed. The sail tumbled down to the
foredeck and the men with spars were able to push the
ship's bows clear of the ice. Jonathan saw the white
overhanging cliff recede into the fog and disappear.
Just then he felt a strange warmth touch his face and
above him the grey fog grew lighter and lighter till it
dropped like a veil and left him isolated in a new world of
clear and sparkling sunlight. The deck below was still
invisible and nearby, the iceberg rose like a white rocky
island out of the grey sea of fog. Away to the eastward he
saw the blue line of the horizon which even as he watched
grew broader and broader as the fog drifted westward.
On that horizon he saw another iceberg that looked
curiously like a crouching white rabbit. Then upon the
blue band of the sea he saw something that caused his
heart to beat anew. A tall white plume rose up for
about three seconds and then disappeared.
Summoning all the strength of his lungs he called out to
those below the words that they had waited so long to hear.
*Town ho! Town ho! She blo-o-ows!'
And from below, out of the fog, came the response.
*Where away?' in the deep bass tones of the captain's
*Two points on the larboard bow!' called Jonathan.
'How far off?'
'About two miles!'
Up through the fast disappearing fog came the wide-
eyed faces of men eager for the sight of the whale.
*Come down from the rigging, all of you,' called Macy.
'None of you had the spunk to climb it when I ordered.
*SHE BLOWS !' 6l
You left it to the child to show you the way. Come
down, I say, or I'll have you all flogged.'
Jonathan followed them down the ratlines, but the
captain called out to Macy, *Keep the lad in the rigging
and tell him to keep the whale in sight. Hoist the main-
sail if thou art able.'
The boy remained on the ratlines until the sail was
hoisted and then he climbed once more to the damaged
crosstrees. As he did so the last of the fog cleared away so
that everyone on the deck was now able to see the whale.
'It is a lone Greenland whale, Mr. Macy,' called the
captain as he inspected it through a telescope. *Steer
Nor'-nor'-east,' he ordered and the helmsman leaned on
the tiller and Todd, the second mate, trimmed the main-
*Mr. Todd, prepare to lower the starboard boat!'
boomed the captain and at once the deck became the scene
of rapid activity as the whaling gear was fetched and
loaded into one of the boats; harpoons, lances, linetubs
and drogues, all were stowed into their allotted places in
the long frail-looking craft.
'The rest of the company under Mr. Macy will start
repairing ship,' and the captain looked up at Jonathan.
'And thou, boy,' he shouted, 'keep thine eyes open for the
sight of other whales.'
The Pilgrim limped slowly towards the whale which
continued to spout until the ship was about a mile distant.
Then it sounded and when after fifteen minutes it broke
surface it was about a quarter of a mile on the larboard
beam and to leeward of the vessel.
At once the captain ordered the mainsail to be lowered
and the boat to be swung out. The davits or cranes that
were such a prominent feature along the sides of whalers
later in the eighteenth century had not yet been devised
and the lowering of the whaleboat took many precious
minutes to complete by the much slower method of using
62 THE WHALE HUNTERS
tackles suspended from the main rigging; but with some
of the crew working at the windlass and others man-
handling her over the side the boat was eventually got
into the water. The crew scrambled into their places,
Chimoo with his bright coloured headdress seated in the
bows, Todd wielding the long steering oar in the stern
and Joseph one of the five oarsmen. They pulled clear of
the ship and then hoisted sail. With the wind astern and
the five oars dipping rhythmically the boat bore down
upon the whale which was swimming away from them
and spouting at regular intervals. The head of the
Greenland right whale was arched at the top and it was
this curious feature which caused it to be given the name
of 'bowhead'. It sounded before the boat could overtake
it but Todd pressed his craft onwards. A mile astern the
Pilgrim followed Hke a mother watching her venturesome
In about a quarter of an hour the whale broke surface
only a few hundred yards from the boat.
Now Chimoo shipped his oar, took up his harpoon and
stood poised in the bows. The sail was lowered and the
oarsmen manoeuvred the boat to approach the bowhead
at an angle which would keep them clear of the tail.
Then Chimoo's arm swept forward thrusting his harpoon
through the air across the few feet that divided him from
the whale. Another harpoon followed in quick succession
and the whale set off at full speed along the surface, taking
with it the line and the wooden drogues designed to check
its speed. There was 250 fathom of this hemp line coiled
down in the big tub near the stern of the boat and it
passed between the larboard and starboard banks of
oarsmen, over the looms of their oars and out of the boat
through the specially shaped fairlead on the extreme point
of the bows.
Todd the mate now left his steering oar trailing astern
and began checking the outward run of the line by passing
'she blows !' 63
it a few times around the stout wooden bollard or logger-
head that was built into the small triangular platform in
the stern. When about fifty fathom had run out of the
tub he took two more turns with the line and gripped it
firmly in his hands. At once the boat began to plane over
the surface in tow of the whale and the crests of the long
swell plucked at the taut hempen line making it quiver
like a bowstring and drop little white curtains of droplets.
The white plume under the boat's bows grew smaller
and it became obvious to Jonathan that the whale was
slackening speed. The strain on the line eased and the
crew, who had shipped their oars as soon as the wild ride
had begun, now commenced hauling in on the line.
Meanwhile Todd had moved from the stern to the bow
and Chimoo, having accomplished the first and most im-
portant part of his duties as harpooner, had taken the
mate's place in the stern where he coiled down the line as
it was hauled in by the rest of the crew.
When the boat was only a few fathoms away from the
whale the men manned their oars and with Todd waving
instructions to Chimoo the boat was brought into a favour-
able position for the attack with the lance. Todd,
gnome-like in a pointed woollen hat, stood ready with his
weapon lifted at arm's length. Then the whale sounded
but its strength was waning fast and it could not remain
below the water for more than a few minutes. When it
broke surface the boat leapt towards it like a hungry lean
beast of prey and this time Todd's lance found its mark,
for the monster spouted red and with a final lash of its
tail rolled over and died.
With a cheer from the men who were still at work on the
repairs, the Pilgrim closed in upon the scene and the whale
was secured alongside.
Jonathan in his perch aloft kept watch for more whales
but this seemed to be the only one in the area, which
indeed was not surprising seeing that the Greenland right
.y> ,''S Block ri(/kt
f ^ I ; i^h/iUs new i/eru ^.
' I '
X- s I
"■ \ Capel^^'k\\ ^ U f C A
ienhaJi hunts '-t i ^ / C '^,€A:\
^^ Sperm LOhales ^Sff \
■lielicopdcrs are seerC^^
Spottina -jbr ujlta/es
X-y t \ K
.,^y^e Soict/jern Ivandererand he
catchers hw}il blue a-nd jtn uhlles IyS3
r I c X-
<gr,tca^^€y uJ^<uJZS^i^ _
66 THE WHALE HUNTERS
whales were lovers of the ice fringe and that the Pilgrim
was still not yet in those higher latitudes where they could
be expected to be found in plenty.
The boy looked down at the dead whale as it wallowed
under the ship's side. It was dark in colour and not
unlike the black right whales he had seen on the shores of
the island ; but it had a white patch on its chin and on its
head that peculiar bump that he had noticed when it was
swimming; another difference was that it did not have on
its snout the barnacle-clustered 'bonnet' that the black
right whales had. He recalled how Mr. Mather had
told him that it was the thick blubber of the Greenland
whale and its high yield of oil that had attracted the big
Dutch, German and English whaleships to the inhospit-
able Arctic waters. The other reason they had gone
there, he had said, was that ever since the days of the
Basque whalers in the twelfth century the right whales
which once swam in great numbers around the European
coasts had been hunted until there were none left and the
whaleships had had to seek fresh ground in more distant
Jonathan had also learnt that the same process was
taking shape along the New England shores as the right
whales there grew less and less plentiful. The sperm
whale which was a much more formidable opponent than
either of the right whales was already being pursued in
the warmer southern seas and throughout the next
hundred years it was to provide the New England whale-
men and the Nantucketers in particular with a seemingly
endless source of oil.
The task of stripping the blubber from the whale in mid-
ocean was a long and arduous one, for the Pilgrim was
barely twice the weight of this immature Greenland
whale and even had her men known of the more efficient
method of hanging a cutting tackle in the rigging they
could not have used it in so small a ship.
'she blows !' 67
Some working from the boat and some upon the shppery
whale itself the men hacked away big hunks of blubber
whilst others hauled it aboard with ropes and grapnels.
They used the capstan when they could but most of the
effort came from the strength of their arms.
Jonathan could not help laughing at the sight of the
men slithering about on the back of the whale but his
amusement was suddenly cut short when one of them
tumbled into the icy sea. In a few seconds his shipmates
had him safely in the boat; and none too soon, thought
Jonathan as he watched a pod of killer whales cruising
inquisitively at a short distance.
The killer is the only cannibal member of the whale
family. In shape and speed it is like a porpoise and the
males measure in length up to thirty feet.
Suddenly the killer whales closed in and like a pack of
hungry wolves began attacking the dead whale. Jona-
than noticed that no one ventured from the boat now.
Even as the men worked to remove the rest of the blubber
the killers were biting at the jaws of the dead bowhead
and the boy watching from the masthead wondered at the
reason for this until he saw them tear out the huge tongue
which otherwise might have filled several barrels with
During the 'cutting in' the wind had increased and the
Pilgrim now rolled so badly that the captain decided it was
not worth trying to remove the whalebone from the
mangled head. So the boat was hoisted and course set
for the west coast of Greenland where whales were sure to
be found in plenty.
When at last Jonathan was relieved at the masthead and
descended to the deck he read at once in the faces of the
men that the prejudice which had turned some of them
against him had been replaced by admiration at his
having saved the ship and sighted the whale. Some
were open in their praise and clapped him on the shoulders
68 THE WHALE HUNTERS
whilst Others, ashamed of their earher superstitions or
their lack of courage in the face of danger, were more diffi-
dent; but the attitude of Sykes towards the boy had not
changed ; nor could it be expected to do so whilst the fear
of his guilt being communicated to the Indians gnawed
deeper and deeper into his black heart.
There was no room now in the minds of the men for
any scheme he might have for turning them against the
boy and as the ship sailed on its way he found himself
shunned and alone.
The task of chopping up the large pieces of blubber
and stowing it in the casks in the hold was soon completed.
The decks, christened at last with the blood and oil of the
whale, were scrubbed as clean as ever.
With her rigging repaired and all sails filling the little
Pilgrim reached for the Arctic Circle. The fulmars in her
wake heard the voices of men chanting songs of their
homeland and joined chorus with their own sad cries.
The Elusive Bowhead
*WHEN I WAS in Spitzbergen,' old Pierre the cook was say-
ing as he and Jonathan stood in the galley picking weevils
from the flour, 'the Dutchmen, they have their tryworks
on the shore and men live there during the season in huts.
The ships bring the whales to the shore and the men they
cut them up and boil out the oil just like in New England.
Then when the season is finished and the bad Arctic
weather come the ships they take the oil and the whale-
fins to their homelands. The German and the English,
they do the same thing, but always it is the Dutchmen
who are the finest whalemen. Before that it was my
people along the Biscay shore who catch the whale best.
Then we kill all the whales on our shores and we do not
prosper. So we go in the ships of other countries and
show them how it is that we catch the whale.'
*Is that how you came to sail in a Dutch ship?' asked
'No; the Dutchmen 'ave learned by then; but it is why
mon grandpere sail in her,' continued Pierre, 'et mon pere
aussi, Mais pour moi,^ and he shrugged his broad, bent
shoulders, T go because it is in the blood of my family to
hunt whale. In our villages on the Biscay coast a man
can fish or catch whale. I catch whale. But now I have
too many years and they say I am good only to cook. So
70 THE WHALE HUNTERS
I come to the new country but there they say again I have
too many years to go in the boats. It is a country for the
young, this America and I send a letter to my three sons
to come and they will find much to do in the whaleships
because the whalemen here know so little of how to catch
'But surely the New Englanders are experts in the art
already?' Jonathan interposed.
'Only on their own beaches,' replied Pierre. 'Perhaps
you see something of the ships from Europe in these
Straits, yes? And then you find that the Quaker ship
you sail in is not such a fine whaler after all. Now fetch
me some salt pork from that cask and then tell Mr. Macy
that we shall need some more flour.'
Jonathan found Macy with a telescope clasped to his
eye and looking in the same direction the boy saw a line of
snow covered peaks that were the mountains of Green-
land. Patches of drifting ice scattered the sea and the
helmsman was picking a way for the ship between them.
As often as he could get away from the galley Jonathan
went on deck watching the ship's progress.
By the time that the watches changed at midnight the
coast was in full view in the light of the midnight sun.
Snow covered all but the lower fringe of that mountainous
land. It was the month of July and soon the ruthless
Arctic would repulse the bold invasion of summer and
cover sea and land alike with a cloak of white that would
last until May or June of the following year.
With this knowledge the captain steered his ship
towards the ice to seek the Greenland whale and fill his
holds with blubber as quickly as possible.
Soon the cry of 'Town ho!' sent the men tumbling into
the boats which had been lowered and towed in readiness.
They sped across the water and one of the boats quickly
made fast to one of the whales which swam off along the
surface with the boat in tow. It reached a large iceberg
THE ELUSIVE BOWHEAD 7I
under which it dived for refuge so that the harpooner was
forced to cut the Hne to save the boat from disaster.
Though they cruised around the berg for a long while
neither boat sighted that whale again and the rest of
the whales had been 'gallied' or frightened and had dis-
appeared as soon as the first had been struck.
When they found a school of humpback whales gambol-
ling around a berg they killed one but the body sank before
they could bring it to the ship.
They sighted several big blue whales and finback whales
but these fellows quickly outdistanced the boats by
swimming away at great speed.
So the boats returned to the Pilgrim^ the crews crest-
fallen at their failure to repeat the success they had made
of their earlier hunt.
Taking the craft in tow the Pilgrim cruised between the
ice and soon found more Greenland whales. But again
their efforts were thwarted for in addition to running for
the ice there were other tricks these whales could play.
Most animals tend to develop defensive tactics if they are
hunted by man or beasts of prey; such was the case with
these whales which the ships of Europe had been hunting
for many decades. One of their disconcerting habits was
to settle below the surface as the boats approached so that
although visible to the eye they were invulnerable to the
harpoon. Then there was the trick of arching their backs
and presenting an impenetrable target of curiously taut
blubber to the dismayed harpooner whose iron rebounded
as it would from a metal shield. At other times an area of
sea would seem one moment to be swarming with Green-
land whales and the next they would disappear as if by
magic. In the open sea it would not have been difficult
to find them again but among the ice where there were so
few passages a boat could follow it was almost impossible.
At last by dint of their persistent eflforts the men of the
Pilgrim attached both their boats to one and hung on to the
72 THE WHALE HUNTERS
lines until it broke surface exhausted after a deep dive.
This one did not escape them and once it was at bay the
ease with which the monster was despatched seemed
The Pilgrim was secured to the ice by means of a special
anchor in such a way that she was held by the wind in a
clear patch of open water. The whale was taken in tow
by the two boats and in line ahead the procession made
at a very slow pace for the ship, for even the combined
power of ten oars and two sails could make but little
impression on sixty- five tons of dead whale.
Gutting in commenced at once and this proved much
easier with the ship in the shelter of the ice than it had
been in mid-ocean and by the end of the day all the
blubber was stowed in the barrels and the bundles of
whalebone in the hold where they would await a more
leisurely period before being scraped and cleaned. On
this occasion the whale's tongue was not stolen by the
killers and provided a valuable yield of blubber.
In the clear Arctic air the scent of meat soon reached
the keen nostrils of several polar bears which usually feed
on seals. They came lumbering over the floes and
swimming through the water that divided them. When
these creatures ventured too near the boats Macy the
mate was forced to scare them off with musket shot but
they continued to linger expectantly on the nearby floes
and eventually he took one of the boats on an expedition
in which Jonathan proudly pulled an oar and carried
Macy's spare musket. When they had killed two bears
and scared off the rest Jonathan caught sight of an
animal that looked like a fierce overgrown seal with
long tusks and at once Macy ordered the boat into
Tt is a sea morse,' said Macy, 'and I'll have his hide as
soon as you chummies can row me to him.'
He landed on the floe and with Jonathan bringing up
carried (Macys spare musket
74 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the rear with the spare musket he was able to approach
and kill the walrus with one shot.
Jonathan ran to where the animal lay and together he
and Macy stood looking down at the curiously formed
body with its tusks in the upper jaw and its four flippers
that were neither quite feet nor fins.
'Did you ever see a creature less able to make up its
mind whether to be a four-footed land animal or a fluke-
tailed whale?' chuckled Macy.
'His tail flippers are not nearly so like the flukes of a
whale as those of seals,' remarked Jonathan examining
the dead animal very closely.
Macy threw a quizzical look towards the boy. 'That is
very true, lad,' he said, 'and uncommonly observant of
you.' He would have been less surprised had he known
that Jonathan was in the habit of making careful
drawings in his diary of all the creatures he saw on the
'Look!' cried the man, 'there's another swimming
through the water. Listen to his puffing. Hand me a
musket, lad, for I do believe he intends to present himself
as a target.'
The walrus clambered awkwardly on to the far side of
the floe and waddled across the ice. Macy's gun went off
and the animal fell dead.
'Now men,' he said, 'set to work and flay these carcasses
for the hide will plait us some fine ropes and we'll fill a
barrel or two with his blubber.'
The smell of flesh attracted more polar bears and as
soon as the walruses were stripped the expedition re-
treated to the boat and left the bears to devour the
The Pilgrim was already under way when the boat
returned, for the ice had begun to close in around her.
On board the last of the casks were being sent down the
hatchway to the hold. Jonathan and Joseph joined in
THE ELUSIVE BOWHEAD 75
helping to scrub the decks and were glad of the oppor-
tunity to talk with each other after the excitement of the
day but Jonathan noticed that his friend's manner was
much more subdued than usual and he instinctively
associated the change with the dreaded person of Sykes.
At once his own only too familiar uneasiness of mind
returned and for a while the two friends scrubbed in
Then among the others working at the far end of the
deck Jonathan saw Sykes straighten his back from the
scrubbing. In the jnan's eyes there was a furtiveness that
betrayed his ill-concealed fear, and when they looked at
the boy they were full of utter hate.
Joseph's silence was unusual. He was always so ready
to talk and so gay in his manner. It occurred to Jonathan
that his friend was concealing something from him.
'Tell me, Joseph,' he murmured softly, 'something has
happened, has it not?'
'Yes,' replied Joseph, 'but wait until we can be alone.'
When the scrubbing was finished they went to the ship's
bows and pretended to be looking at some dolphins that
were frolicking near some floes.
'I know now,' said Joseph, as they leant on the bul-
warks, 'what it is that has troubled you for so long. Last
night Chimoo awakened me and we stood by your ham-
mock listening to you talking in your sleep. Your words
were disjointed but they told Chimoo that which he has
long suspected — that Sykes murdered his brother.'
'Chimoo's brother!' cried Jonathan in astonishment.
'Yes, of course. I thought you knew that,' said
'I only knew that he was an Indian. Does Sykes know
about my talking in my sleep ?'
'No, he was on watch and Chimoo and I were the only
ones who heard. Chimoo will say nothing to him yet
because we heard you mumbling something about Sykes
^6 THE WHALE HUNTERS
feeding you to the gulls if you break your vow. It is
obvious from Sykes' manner that he is in constant fear
that you will tell the Indians ; so use great caution, Jona-
than, not to reveal anything in your looks and do not
be afraid, for Chimoo and I will never be far from
The Ship Imprisoned
THE Pilgrim's cargo of blubber was now almost complete
and many a whaling master would at this point have
contented himself with his catch and sailed for home,
stopping on the way perhaps to hunt seal and fill the
remaining space with pelts; but thrift and thoroughness
were the watchwords of this Quaker captain and he was
determined that those twenty-odd empty casks that lay in
the hold should be filled with blubber before his ship
sailed out of the ice. So he pointed her nose eastward
and brought her closer than she had yet been to the Green-
land shore. Between the bergs and the floes she sailed
in bright sparkling sunshine with every man on deck and
aloft looking out for the spouts of whale.
Captain Slocum had not long to wait for the words he
wanted to hear.
The sharp-eyed Joseph Mather, perched on the cross-
trees, bellowed the call to action this time.
'Town ho! She blows, she blows!'
'Where away?' hailed the captain.
'Two points on the starboard bow, sir. About a mile
and a half away, but the other side of the ice.'
'Keep thine eyes glued to them, Mather, and I will find
a passage through,' called the captain.
He took the ship into the first channel that led through
78 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the vast area of pack ice and brought her to where the
whales had been sighted.
'Where are they, Mather, where are the whales thou
sawest?' cried the captain, angry at finding nothing there
but a few seals clustered on a floe.
'He come to them much too quick,' whispered old
Pierre in Jonathan's ear. 'The ship, she frighten the wise
old fellows and they dive under the ice.'
'Gone to earth, eh?' said Jonathan, but the phrase was
wasted on Pierre.
An hour later there was still no sign of whale and the
company had settled down to the workaday chores of
In the small foul-smelling galley Jonathan was cutting
up some whalemeat for supper. Pierre was away in
another part of the ship and when behind him there came
the sound of someone entering the boy thought quite
naturally that it was the cook returning; but when he
turned he saw, leaning against the closed door, the large
figure of Nathaniel Sykes.
Jonathan faced the man squarely enough but his knees
suddenly felt very weak.
Sykes broke the silence that followed. 'You've been
talking, I know you 'ave.' He still leaned heavily with his
back against the door.
'I have not broken my vow of silence if that is your
meaning,' replied Jonathan with beating heart.
'That Indian friend of yours knows something,' the
deep guttural voice insisted.
'Nothing that I have told him.' Jonathan fought to
keep his voice from trembling.
Sykes lurched towards the boy and with the door no
longer supporting him he was unsteady on his feet.
Jonathan caught the smell of rum.
'You lie,' growled Sykes.
Jonathan felt for the knife that he knew lay upon the
THE SHIP IMPRISONED 79
table behind him, but a horny hand gripped him by the
collar and pulled him away.
'You told Chimoo. I've seen it in the way 'e looks
at me. You broke your promise to old Nat, did you
'No, no!' Jonathan cried.
The grip on his throat tightened. Then through the
mist that was covering his eyes he saw the door open
behind Sykes. A long brown arm went round the man's
neck and the choking sensation in his own throat
suddenly ceased. As he collapsed on the deck of the
galley he heard as if far away the thud of a man's weight
against a bulkhead. His head cleared and the mist
passed from his eyes. He sat up and saw in the passage-
way outside the tall figure of Chimoo standing with
tomahawk in hand over the half-stunned figure of Sykes.
'You plenty bad white man,' the Indian was saying in
a deep fierce voice. 'You bring bad liquor to Injun
village and many strong braves grow sick and go to meet
Injun gods. Then one Injun brave tell bad white man
go 'way from village and you bad white man killem.'
At last Jonathan knew why Sykes had committed that
foul crime and he listened apprehensively as the Indian
continued his condemnation.
'You bad white man afraid Injun tribe know who killed
their brave and you sign on Pilgrim. You sleep with
much liquor inside you and when you wake up you find
Chimoo brother of dead Injun and then you more scared.
But Chimoo still not sure and wait for more signs. Then
Injun god visit white boy in sleep and makem tell Chimoo
who kill brother. He say you bad white man, you killem
and you kill white boy too if he speak. Chimoo no can
take bad man Sykes to shore and fight him like true
brave. Injun god say Chimoo kill bad man now!' and
Chimoo raised his tomahawk.
Sykes rolled over in an attempt to avoid the blow.
*No, no!' cried Jonathan leaping to his feet, horrified
at what was about to happen.
But now Joseph was thrusting himself between the two
men and down the companionway came Mr. Macy and
several men who had heard the sound of Chimoo's angry
voice. They pulled the struggling Indian away from
'What in the name of St. Christopher is going on down
here?' roared Macy; but before anyone could make a
reply there came from above a call from the lookout.
'Town ho! She blows again. She blo-o-o-o-ows!'
'On deck with the lot of you!' roared Macy. 'We'll
sort out this affair when we've dealt with those whales.'
With the dazed Sykes bringing up the rear everyone
climbed to the upper deck where men were already clam-
bering over the side into the whaleboats. Away to star-
board Greenland whales were sending up their white
fountains. Even the sober-minded captain was elated at
the sight of so many whales.
'Oh, for a ship ten times the size of this cockle-shell!' he
cried. 'I would fill her holds with blubber and all our
pockets with gold. Away with thee, men, and catch me
just one and we'll barely have room for that. Move thy
sluggish body, Sykes, and take thy place in the boat or I
will send that boy in thy stead. Move, I say. Move
As Jonathan watched the boats depart his mind raced
with wild conjectures of what would happen now that his
secret was out. He shivered in the biting wind which
had sprung up during the past few hours. Looking
upwards he watched grey clouds racing low and eastwards
for the Greenland shore. Ice was bumping the ship's
hull as she cruised under shortened sail in the rising sea.
Away to windward the ice floes stretched as far as the eye
He watched the boats pick their way to the nearest
THE SHIP IMPRISONED 8l
whales and saw one of them quickly made fast without
delay. It was Todd's boat and seated at one of the oars
was Sykes, his quarrels forgotten for the time in the all-
absorbing task of hunting the whale.
The whale sounded at once and the line went down at
a steep angle so that Todd was forced to let it run freely
around the loggerhead.
Soon Todd called out to Macy's boat in which Chimoo
was about to cast his harpoon at another whale and Macy
came alongside and bent his own whale-line on to the end
of Todd's; and not a second too soon. The last of Todd's
line whipped out of its tub and now it was Macy's boat
which was attached to the whale.
They did not know that a 'gallied' Greenland whale
would take as much as eight hundred fathom of line and
both crews waited tensely as the second two hundred and
fifty fathoms length of hemp rope was taken out of the
boat and down into the green depths. But unlike the
deep-feeding sperm whale the Greenlander was not fitted
to remain long in the enormous pressure of those extreme
depths and when to the great relief of the whalemen the
line ceased to run o" t it was not very long before Macy's
men were hauling in hand over hand.
Over Jonathan's head the wind howled through the
rigging as it steadily rose to gale force. Captain Slocum
looked anxiously away from the boats to windward. The
ice was drifting in more thickly than ever, past the
Pilgrim which was now almost hove to and tov/ards the
boats which pitched and tossed in the choppy sea.
Macy's men were still hauling and nearby Todd's boat
waited for the chance to be in at the kill when the whale
broke surface. High upon the small bow platform stood
Todd himself, lance poised and ready for the climax.
Then to his great surprise Jonathan saw Todd reel
backwards. The boat's prow was lifted suddenly from the
sea by the vast power of the breaching whale which shot
82 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Upwards, head, shoulders and belly clear of the water,
carrying the shattered craft upon its snout. Then, as the
upward momentum of the monster spent itself, it fell back
on to the water with a confusion of splintered timbers,
oars and men spilling from it like confetti.
'Cut the line!' shouted Macy. Chimoo's knife went
through in one sweep and Macy steered his boat to the
rescue of his stricken shipmates.
Then a veil of driving snow shut off the scene from those
on the deck of the Pilgrim. The captain, concerned now
as much for the safety of his ship as for those in the boats,
pointed her closer to the wind and edged her away from
the ice that was now massing dangerously along the coast
under the force of the gale.
For the first time there came to Jonathan the full
realisation of the immense responsibilities that rested upon
the shoulders of his commander. For a brief second
he saw himself upon that poop-deck and the question
flashed through his mind of how he would behave in such
a situation if he were in command.
The snow shower passed and he saw, more distant now,
Macy's boat picking Todd's men from a small area of
ice-fringed water. Three figures stood separately on the
surrounding floes beckoning for help ; but the men in the
water were in greater danger; for around the whale that
remained spouting upon the surface with the harpoon
still sticking from its side Jonathan saw the killer whales,
attracted by the scent of a stricken prey. At the first attack
the whale, his lungs now replenished with air, humped
his back, flipped his tail and disappeared. Some of the
killers followed in pursuit but a few remained to investi-
gate the strange scent of Man that still lingered in their
waters ; but by now all the men were safely out of the sea
and only the three on the ice awaited rescue.
One was reached without difficulty but floes separated
the other two from their would-be rescuers and they tried
THE SHIP IMPRISONED 83
again and again to reach the boat by leaping from one
floe to another only to lind that the ice at the edges, still
soft from the warmth of summer, would not support their
weight. Then Macy drove his boat's bow into the edge
of the ice and one of his men with some difficulty landed on
a floe that fringed the pool and with all the weight of the
wind to help him cast a line to the nearest of the two men
who was soon safely in the boat. Only one man remained
and it was not until then that Jonathan recognised the
distant figure as that of Sykes.
Again a blanket of snow covered the scene from the five
men and the boy watching anxiously on the deck of the
Pilgrim. When it lifted a little they saw to seaward an
endless barrier of white ice lying low upon the sea.
'Larboard thy helm!' the captain ordered.
With her nose to the southward the little ship sailed
through an ever-narrowing channel formed on the one
hand by the ice that had packed against the shore and on
the other by that which was advancing from the westward.
To the problem of getting the whaleboat safely back to the
ship was now added that of finding a passage through or
around the approaching ice to the open sea that could be
As the ship reached southward the whaleboat was once
more hidden from their view by the driving snow.
The lane of water narrowed until the ice on either side
joined to form a cul-de-sac; The Pilgrim wore round and
bore away to the northward and her tall captain bade his
men come to the poop-deck where he knelt with them and
prayed for God's guidance and protection in that difficult
hour. As they listened with bowed heads to the words of
their captain the boy stole glances at the men around him.
His eyes roamed from the erect figure of the helmsman
tensely gripping the tiller and peering ahead, to the two
84 THE WHALE HUNTERS
older whalemen and to old Pierre who knelt beside him
muttering in French; and then on his other side to the
captain whom he had thought nothing could ever humble.
He closed his own eyes and the deep chanting tones of the
voice beside him became only a background for his own
Suddenly and sharply the helmsman's voice rang out,
'Captain, sir, look!'
They all rose to their feet. In the direction of the
helmsman's pointing finger they saw in the distance a
great fissure opening in the ice on the landward side and
heard the roar of floe crushing against floe.
An area of the vast white desert that reached out from
the Greenland shore was swinging independently of the
rest, pivoting at some point in the greater distance, and
propelled by an unseen natural power of wind or current.
On one edge of the ever widening V-shaped gap stood the
lone figure of Sykes; on the other, twisting and turning
among the tormented floes, the whaleboat was fighting to
get into more open water. Then as they watched, the
ice on which Sykes stood detached itself quite suddenly
from the main mass and bore him slowly towards the
centre of the gap. Around him on the same floe three
seals lay apparently quite unconcerned.
Captain Slocum pointed his ship in the direction of the
stranded man. Macy and his men still strove to free
their boat. Even Chimoo, in the bows, was fiercely
thrusting at the floes with his oar in helping to get clear.
The better qualities of men were rising above their hates
and enmities to meet the challenge of the greater forces of
Then, at the edge of the floe on which Sykes stood, a
large, black and white shape appeared ; it rested there for
an instant and its weight tilted the floe at an angle that
sent the man sprawling and two of the seals sliding into
THE SHIP IMPRISONED 85
*Those are killers!' cried one of the men in the Pilgrim
as two more black and white heads emerged from the
water and depressed the rim of the floe to send the third
seal sliding to a quick death. Sykes sprawled to within
a few feet of the edge but recovered his hold as the floe
settled back to the horizontal.
The whaleboat had got clear by now and was heading
towards him and the Pilgrim was entering the wide V-
shaped fissure in the ice. As the two converged towards
the same point the killers made a mass assault on the floe ;
it tilted steeply and the man's last cry for help was cut
short as he slid into the cold green sea. There was a
flurry of black fins cutting the surface and sleek black and
white shapes darting through the green spume-flecked
sea; then nothing but the floe rising and falHng on the long
undulating swell remained to mark the spot where the
drama had taken place.
'The Lord rest his soul!' murmured the captain but the
rest of the men and the boy watching from the Pilgrim's
deck were too stricken with horror to speak.
In Jonathan horror slowly gave way to an involuntary
feeling of relief as he became conscious of a great burden
being lifted from his aching soul.
The battered whaleboat limped towards its mother
'Waste no time, Mr. Macy!' hailed the captain as he
brought the ship into the wind. 'The ice is closing in
As Chimoo cHmbed over the side of the ship he met
Jonathan standing with tears rolling down his young
cheeks. The big Indian put an arm around the boys'
'Bad man finish now,' he said. 'Injun god send him to
other hunting ground.'
The drenched, shivering men were helped aboard. In
the forecastle a cask of rum was broached at the captain's
86 THE WHALE HUNTERS
command and for a while at least they found comfort in
the realisation that they were safe in the ship again.
Soon, however, the word spread that new dangers
awaited them and those who had sufficiently recovered
climbed to the upper deck again and gazed with dread
upon the endless stretch of pack ice that obstructed the
ship's escape to the open waters beyond.
In the hope of finding the northern flank of his enemy
Captain Slocum now sailed his ship northward through
the ever narrowing lane of water; but it soon became
evident that here too there was no escape. Once more he
found the ice on either hand converging towards an impass-
He brought his imprisoned vessel to the centre of the
long crescent-shaped pool and tacked her to and fro in the
howling gale in the hope that the wind might drop and
halt the remorseless advance of the dense barrier of pack
ice or that a gap might form that would lead the ship to
safety. Once more he bade his men kneel in prayer.
When they arose to their feet there was barely sailing
room in the narrow pool.
One forlorn hope remained. Giving his ship all the
canvas she could carry he put her on a close-hauled tack
and drove her into the advancing ice barrier.
A steam vessel of later centuries would in all probability
have forced her way through but the Pilgrim possessed
only the power of her sails. Though her men strove
valiantly with spars to push the ice from her path the time
came when further progress was impossible.
Locked in the ice she awaited her fate.
BUT FOR AN unexpectedly early onset of winter in the
Davis Straits during that late July the ice that held the
Pilgrim in its grip might well have dispersed sufficiently for
the little whaler to gain the open water; but the falling
temperature caused the massed floes to freeze together into
a solid area of ice that completely covered the sea as far as
the distant Greenland shore to the eastward and for several
miles out into the Straits to the westward.
As the days passed the ship's timbers bent inwards
under the merciless pressure of ice and all hope of saving
her was slowly abandoned.
The blizzard passed and the low sun shone on a desert of
Alongside the brave, shattered little whaler that had
now become almost obscured by a mantle of snow the
gaunt-faced Quaker captain gathered his men around
'My friends,' he began in a voice that was now tinged
with humbleness, 'we have ventured beyond the limits
that God intended and He has ordained that we shall
forsake this ship and all the fruits of our recent labours.
We must repair the boat and fit her with sledges,' and
turning to the diminutive second mate he said, 'That will
be the task of thy watch, Mr. Todd.' Then, addressing
THE WHALE HUNTERS
himself to his stalwart first officer, 'And thy watch, Mr.
Macy, shall be responsible for the removal of stores from
the ship and the loading of them into the whaleboat.
Take food, muskets and ammunition and enough sailcloth
to make tents. We shall need some whale blubber for
fuel and light and also to make smoke signals, and a few
casks of rum to keep us warm. With God's help I hope
that we shall reach the edge of the ice where it meets the
sea. There we should sight the foreign whalers sailing out
of the Arctic for it is still July and there should be many
not yet returned to Europe. Take courage, my friends,
for the good Lord is with us in our trials.'
When, after several hours, the preparations were
completed he called them around him once more and
bade them kneel in prayer.
Then, refreshed with new spiritual strength they arose
and set their faces to the westward to meet the ordeal that
they knew awaited them.
Jonathan pulled tight the cord of the canvas bag in
which amongst the few other personal possessions and a
quantity of food lay the tattered diary, now more precious
to him than ever. It also held the small brass crucifix and
the copy of Bunyan's Country Rimes for Boys and Girls which
he had never found time to read.
He slung the bag over his shoulder and with one last
sad look at the doomed ship still flying her tattered New
England flag he took his place in the single line of men
following in the tracks of the whaleboat which on its
improvised sledge runners was already moving off as
a dozen men hauled at the two lines that had been
attached for that purpose.
By the next day the blue-green line of the sea was well
within sight but down from the north moved a line of five
huge icebergs which, propelled southward by the currents
that flowed under the ice, crashed their way through the
white desert like giants breasting the thin covering on a
Unless the expedition could pass ahead of the oncoming
go THE WHALE HUNTERS
bergs its path to the sea would be cut off by the Hne of
broken ice left in the path of that line of giants.
Fatigued by many hours of arduous travel with little rest
and half blinded by the glare of the snow the party
increased its pace in a desperate race to the sea.
Snow began to fall and soon the bergs were hidden from
their view. Only the direction of the ever increasing
roar of crushing ice could now tell them whether their race
would be won.
Now the sound was almost directly on their right and so
loud that they knew that the next few minutes would
decide their fate.
Jonathan and Joseph joined with the others who were
not pulUng upon the sledge ropes and pushed at the boat
with strength that comes only from great fear.
Two men who had become lame with frostbite fell
behind the main body of the expedition and as the deafen-
ing roar approached its climax two others ran back
through the blizzard to help them.
Those ahead toiled onwards ignorant of the fate of their
four comrades and not until the noise behind them began
to recede into the distance did they stop to rest their weary
bodies. It was the boy among them who first noticed
that the men were missing. He had been concerned for
the faihng strength of old Pierre and after he had lain
exhausted in the snow for a while he sat up and looked
about him. Thinking that the old cook might be one of
the many dim shapes in the snow around him he crawled
from one recumbent figure to another. He found the
captain seated on the snow with his head on his chest.
'Captain, sir,' murmured the boy, T think that old
Pierre and some others are missing.'
Captain Slocum raised his head wearily and his blood-
shot eyes regarded the boy with a certain gentleness of
expression that Jonathan had not noticed in his captain
THE RESCUE 9I
*Thank 'ee, lad, I will take a party back to look for
'May I be one, sir?'
'Thou art a brave lad, Oakley, and thou has a sharp eye
so fetch thy friends Chimoo and young Mather quickly for
I hear another berg approaching.'
The captain led his party back along the tracks that
were already almost obliterated by snow till they came to
broken ice that the berg had left in its wake and could go
no further. Though they shouted into the blizzard and
searched left and right they neither heard nor found any
sign of their four comrades.
*We can stay no longer,' shouted the captain but
his words were drowned by the increasing roar of
the next berg and he signalled with his arm for them to
When, many minutes later the search party returned,
they found that the boat was already on the move as the
sound of fresh danger grew louder.
Onwards through the blizzard again they drove their
numbed and frozen bodies, until suddenly the foremost
man on one of the hauling lines fell through the ice and
the party halted.
The man was hauled to safety but it was at once evident
that they were nearing the edge of the ice; so they
returned a short distance along their tracks and made
camp. Tents were improvised from old sailcloth, snow
was melted over a blubber fire to make a warming brew
of rum. Jonathan tasted this spirit for the first time and
though he hated its taste it sent a welcome glow of
warmth through him and helped him to eat the salted
beef and dry tack that followed. Then Chimoo, Jonathan
and Joseph crawled into the tiny tent that the Indian had
erected and with Jonathan in the middle the three fell
asleep hugging each other for mutual warmth.
How long he slept Jonathan never knew but he awoke to
92 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the sound of excited voices outside the tent in which he
now found himself alone.
He pulled his stiff aching body into the open. A
watery sun shone over a world of white and the glare hurt
The men were standing round the fire which was send-
ing up a column of black smoke and some were pointing
towards the blue stretch of sea that lay only a few hundred
The boy joined them and found that they were watching
a line of ships that were sailing southward in line ahead
along the horizon ; they were tall square-rigged ships with
three masts and high sterns ; they were the ships of which
the captain had spoken; and they were now the one means
of escape from the Arctic for the band of New England
whalemen standing on the fringe of the ice.
'Keep that fire going, Mr. Macy,' cried the captain.
*Throw on anything that will make smoke. These may
be the last of the ships bound out of the Arctic'
Slowly the eight ships moved along the horizon and the
hearts of the watching whalemen became faint with the
fear that their signal would not be seen.
Then the line of ships altered course not directly towards
them but in the direction of a group of bergs that floated
near the edge of the ice to the southward and on their
'I would hazard that they have sighted whale around
those bergs,' said Macy, 'and if they can see the white
spout of a whale there is no reason why they should not
see the black spout of our fire. Pile on some more fuel,
my chummies, for I'll have a column of smoke that will
catch their eyes if I have to give you every piece of cloth
I stand in.'
'And I could not be any colder,' said one of the men, 'so
you can have mine too,' and he threw his sealskin hat
upon the fire.
THE RESCUE 93
They watched with anxious eyes as the ships manoeuvred
through a group of icebergs. Then suddenly from the
leading ship came a puff of smoke and in a few seconds
they heard the sound of a cannon rumbling through the
'They have seen us!' cried one and at once a hoarse
cheer went up from the ragged little group.
The commodore of the fleet now bore in their direction
followed by three other ships from the line.
Soon boats were seen being lowered from the sterns of
the vessels which now lay to the wind while their craft
approached the ice.
'Haul away on the boat, lads,' cried Macy, 'for we'll
never make the edge of this cursed ice without it. Rope
yourselves together in two lines on either side. You
Oakley, jump into the boat.'
'With your permission, Mr. Macy. I'll join with the
others,' said Jonathan.
'Have it your way, son, but don't let go of the gunwale
of that boat because if you fall into this water it'll freeze
your blood solid in a few minutes.'
Jonathan roped himself between Joseph and Chimoo
and slung his canvas bag into the boat. They pulled
the boat over the floes and when they came to gaps
between them they launched it, paddled it across still on
its sledge runners and hauled it up on to the next one.
Never had the lightness of the American whaleboat been
so appreciated as it was then by the men of the Pilgrim.
They reached the edge of the ice without losing another
As he tumbled into one of the waiting Dutch boats
Jonathan heard words spoken in a foreign tongue and
felt strong arms enclose him. A beaker touched his lips
and a fiery liquid trickled down his throat and set his
stomach on fire. His head touched the hard boards on
the floor of a boat and then he knew no more.
The Dutch Whaler.
WHEN JONATHAN awokc from the long deep sleep of utter
exhaustion he found that he was lying in a hammock
under the massive deck beams of a forecastle that was
much bigger than the tiny one he had known in the
Pilgrim. Hearing a familiar voice he peered over the
edge of the canvas and recognised with a surge of joy
the figures of Joseph and Chimoo silhouetted against the
light of a lantern standing on the mess table. He tried
to lower himself to the deck but fell back when he found
that he could not summon the strength.
At the sound of the boy stirring Joseph arose and came
to the side of the hammock. He moved slowly and pain-
fully for his limbs were still stiff and sore from the recent
'Hello, Jonathan,' he said, 'how do you feel ?'
'A little weak, Joseph, I fear. But what of the rest of
the crew? Where are they?'
'They were picked up by boats from other ships. Only
Chimoo and ourselves were brought to this vessel.'
Suddenly Jonathan remembered his diary.
'My bag, my canvas bag!' he cried anxiously. 'Where
'Never fear, Jonathan. When we reached the edge of
the ice you took it from the boat and clung to it Uke a
THE DUTCH WHALERS 95
mother to her child. Here it is on the deck below you;
a little wet perhaps, but all there just the same.'
He opened the bag and spread the contents to dry upon
*Thank you, Joseph,' said Jonathan. 'But tell me
about this ship in which we find ourselves.'
'When I have brought you some food I will. You must
As Jonathan munched hungrily at salted pork and
hard tack Joseph told him about the ship.
'She is the Der Browery of Hoorn and she is one of a
fleet of nearly a hundred Dutch whalers working in the
Davis Straits this season. She is about four hundred
tons and carries at least six whale boats and she has a
hold big enough to contain the blubber of many whales.
She spends the summer in the Arctic and then returns to
Holland to boil the blubber in the try-works there. I
have learned this much from one of the crew who speaks
English but there are many new things we shall see when
we are able to go to the upper deck.'
Joseph climbed with some difficulty into the hammock
next to Jonathan's.
'Yes,' said Jonathan. 'I remember poor old Pierre
telling me how expert the Dutch whalemen are. But
what are the chances of our returning to New England
now that we are in a Dutchman?"
'Poor, I fear, seeing that the Pilgrim was probably the
only American vessel to visit the Arctic this summer,'
replied Joseph, 'but perhaps we shall be transferred to one
of the English whalers of which I know there are a few
After another full day's rest Jonathan and Joseph
ventured to the spacious upper deck of the Der Browery.
They looked aloft with wonder at her three tall masts
and gazed with awe upon the features of this massive ship
against which their beloved little Pilgrim would have
gS THE WHALE HUNTERS
seemed but a mere shallop; and all around them the sea
and sky was patterned with the shapes of similar vessels
whose tall hulls and delicate traceries of masts and
rigging stood out in sharp relief against the white and
The ships of this great fleet all lay to ice-anchors dug
into the floes, which, having six-sevenths of their bulk
below the sea were very little affected by the force of the
winds compared with the ships.
'Look, Jonathan!' cried Joseph. 'That big armed
vessel there ! She must be the commodore that fired the
cannon. She appears more suited to fighting than
'Yes, none of the others have gunports,' said Jonathan,
and he followed Joseph on an eager inspection of the
Der Browerys upper deck.
'What can that be ?' asked the younger lad pointing to
a huge wooden beam that lay horizontally across the poop-
deck and jutted out over each quarter.
'Perhaps it is used to hoist and lower the whaleboats,'
suggested Joseph. He leant out from the ship's side.
'Yes, there is a large tackle with a hook on the lower block
hanging from the end of the beam. And there is a boat
moored under the stern with rings in the bow and stern
to take the hooks; but I can only see one tackle — no,
there is the other in the mizzen rigging.'
Joseph's deductions were, in fact, correct. The large
fixed beam or shear as it was called was actually the fore-
runner of the cranes or davits that came at a later date
in the evolution of whaleships.
'Do you suppose, Joseph, that these Dutchmen chase
the whale in that clumsy shallop?' asked Jonathan.
He pointed to the craft under the stern.
The only noticeable feature in common with the
American whaleboat was that it was double-ended. With
its shorter length, broader beam and heavier construction
THE DUTCH WHALERS 99
it looked indeed a cumbersome craft to manoeuvre in a
whale hunt. The reason, of course, was that it did not
share with the American whaleboat the advantage of
having an Indian canoe for an ancestor. The New
Englanders might still be only on the threshold of deep-sea
whaling but they took with them in their little sloops
boats that were much more highly developed for whale
hunting than those of the European whalemen.
Tt is fitted with gear for hunting,' replied Joseph, 'so
I can only assume that it is one of their whaleboats, though
I find it difficult to believe. Do you notice how the
loggerhead is in the bows and not in the stern?'
'Yes, it is just an extension of the stempiece,' replied
Then from across the water there came a new strange
The call echoed through the fleet as one ship after
another took up the cry.
Only about a half-mile from the Der Browery bowheads
were shooting their tall crystal fountains into the air.
The Greenland whales were not gregarious creatures
but on this occasion as so often happened the yellowish
streams of minute sea creatures known as brit on which
they fed had drawn them together in search of food.
With their wide opened mouths forming caverns each big
enough to admit a horse and cart they scooped up many
tons of water containing these myriad minute Crustacea.
Then the great jaws would shut with a snap and the
water would be forced from the corners of their mouths
by the piston action of their tongues and the tiny sea
creatures strained off by the curtains of hair-covered
whalebone as if by giant shrimping nets.
Jaws opening, scooping, shutting and all the while
from their close-set twin blowholes sending up their single
tall spouts, the whales swam down the wind and between
100 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the floes till it seemed they must charge straight into the
large floe to which the Der Browery was anchored. But the
school divided and as they passed on either side of the ship
the shallop, now manned by seven blond Dutchmen,
pulled away from under the stern and attacked the flank
of a big cow whale even whilst her mouth was still wide
agape. At the prick of the first iron, snap went the jaws,
up went her tail and in a second she had sounded. As if
by magic the other fifteen whales disappeared from sight
leaving only the squat shallop to hold the stage.
Over her bows the line ran out rapidly and the linesman
standing by his loggerhead could only stand and watch it
uncoiling first from one and then from the other of the
two tubs; but as the speed slowed he took a turn and
checked it a little using pads of sailcloth to protect his
On the high poop-deck of the Der Browery the Dutch
whaling master cupped his hands and shouted orders in the
direction of a small berg. Looking in that direction,
which was on the opposite beam, the lads saw four shallops
in line ahead, attached bow to stern by short ropes.
They were towing a dead Greenland whale to the ship
but at the captain's order the lines were cast oflf from the
three foremost craft and they joined their comrade whose
linesman was now hauling in on the whale line.
The whale surfaced and was soon despatched and
brought to the ship's stern where it was moored to await
its turn for cutting.
The other whale was brought to the starboard side
where a long gap in the bulwarks always remained open
during the period of catching whales.
With a speed born of long experience some of the Dutch-
men who wore spikes on the heels of their boots climbed
on to the whale and removed the tongue and cut out the
lips. These alone would be boiled down to a dozen
barrels in the try- works at Hoorn. Then the crownpieces
THE DUTCH WHALERS lOI
from which hung the two sets of three hundred black
whale fins, were cut out in sections and brought on
deck. With these preliminaries completed the Dutch-
men proceeded with the main task of stripping the
blubber. The windlass creaked; the Dutchmen swore;
the ship careened as the mainmast felt the fifty-ton weight
on its cutting tackle ; the blubber shd into the hold and the
decks ran with oil and blood. The mates bellowed orders
and the flocks of hungry sea-birds quarrelled in plaintive
tones. The stripped carcass was released from its
chains and sank from sight into the green depths; the
next whale was brought to the side, the stage was set
and the players repeated their performance.
Sometimes it was a humpback whale that was brought
to the ship and then every available boat had to lend its
buoyancy to supporting the carcass that might otherwise
have sunk. And once it was a twenty-four-foot baby blue
whale that had failed to swim away with its mother from
Day after day the hunting, the kilHng and the stripping
continued, the fleet of ships stopping only to spread its
sails and move southwards as the season shortened and
winter threatened. Somewhere hundreds of miles to the
northward lay the httle Pilgrim that the lads would never
see again. And in the harbour town of Sherburne, later
known as Nantucket, women wept for sons and husbands
who did not return.
The English Whalers
BY THE BEGINNING of August the Dutch whaling fleet had
been driven by the advancing ice fringe to the southern
tip of Greenland.
As whales became more scarce in those lower latitudes
those ships with full cargoes of blubber were ordered by
the commodore to proceed to one of the fiords and take
on water and then to return to Holland.
A cold north wind was blowing as the Der Browery took
up her station in the homeward-bound line of ships.
Jonathan and Joseph in their white coats made from the
fur of polar bears counted nine ships in the line and
speculated upon how many of their companions might
be making the passage in them.
To the westward they watched a flotilla of heavy Ger-
man whaleships running under shortened sail before the
wind for Cape Farewell. In a few weeks those ships
would be discharging their cargoes in the port of Bremen
The shrill note of a bosun's pipe called the lads to the
midday meal and they joined the watch at the long table
in the forecastle. Chimoo was there already sipping his
THE ENGLISH WHALERS IO3
hot soup and keeping a place on either side of him for
each of the lads.
As the trio stood by the galley door waiting for the cook
to fill their plates with boiled cod they heard the sound of
a distant cannon.
'Engelsmen!' muttered one of the Dutchmen and leav-
ing his plate on the mess table he scrambled up the com-
panionway with a dozen others behind him. Jonathan
was last to reach the upper deck but he was just in time to
to see the splash of a second cannon ball as it fell across
the bows of the leading ship which was nosing her way
close-hauled into the entrance of a broad ice-free fiord.
As the Der Browery rounded the protecting headland the
Dutch crew swore and waved their clenched fists at two
ships which now came into sight. They were fine tall
vessels distinguishable from the Dutchmen only by the
red ensigns of the English merchant navy that fluttered
from their spankers. Along the bulwarks of the nearer
of the pair Jonathan recognised the black squares of the
gunports that told him that she was armed like the
Dutch commodore; and even as he watched there came
from her side a spurt of red flame followed by a puflf of
white smoke and another shot fell across the bows of the
Dutch leader. Surely, he thought, England is not at war
with the European countries now; he would have been
less puzzled if he had known of the jealousies that had
so long existed between the whaling fleets of the two
countries; jealousies that had started a hundred years
ago over the possession of the once famous whaling bays
'Come, Jonathan,' said Joseph, *let us seek out our
Enghsh speaking friend and ask him what it is that ails
these countrymen of yours.'
They found their interpreter, a short, round, blond-
bearded man in his forties who had served in the whale-
ships of many countries, sitting on a cask philosophically
104 THE WHALE HUNTERS
smoking a stubby clay pipe as if content to leave any
swearing that the occasion demanded to his more demon-
'It is the Englishman's belief that he has but to show his
flag in any part of land or sea to make it at once the pos-
session of King George,' he explained dourly. 'Or per-
haps he has sighted a porpoise in the fiord and is afraid
we shall steal it from him.' He pointed the stem of his
pipe towards the Englishmen. 'The South Sea Company
gives them fine enough ships to hunt the whale but they
have lost the art of the trade and have left it to we Dutch-
men to show the world how to kill whales for profit.'
The sound of bunting flapping in the wind caused him
to look aloft at the signal that was being hoisted.
'It seems,' he said, 'that our captain wishes to hand you
over to these English ships.'
'Shall we be able to return to New England?' asked
'What port will they take us to?' asked Jonathan,
hoping that it might be the Bristol which he knew so well.
'I think that they will go to London,' replied the Dutch
sailor. 'There you will be able to find a ship more easily
than in the Dutch whaling ports.'
'Shall we meet others from the Pilgrim in the English
ships ?' asked Jonathan.
The Dutchman looked into the boy's serious face under
its hood of white fur. 'No, my son, they are in the ships
from which we parted company.' He swung his gaze
to the English whalers. 'I see the affirmative signal flies
on one of the Englishmen so you should prepare your-
selves for a change of ships.'
The two lads found their Indian companion and told
him the news. Soon the trio stood waiting on the deck,
Jonathan with his precious canvas bag resting at his feet.
They watched one of the EngHsh ships come smartly into
the wind and lower a boat which was soon under the
THE ENGLISH WHALERS IO5
Der Browerfs lee side. With a final wave to their
rescuers the three shipwrecked mariners clambered down
the sloping sides into the waiting boat.
Not a word had been spoken between the Dutch and
the English but as the boat drew away there came from
the deck of the Der Browery the sound of derisive laughter
which seemed to say, 'Keep your precious fiord, proud
Englishmen, for we can find our fresh water elsewhere.
Our holds are full of blubber and you are welcome to any
whale you may find in the short time you have left before
the ice drives you homewards.'
But the young English officer, in his neat coat of seal-
skin and tricorn hat trimmed with gold, turned his back
on the Dutchmen and steered his boat towards the
fourteen-gun ship which lay with mainyard hauled aback
awaiting its return.
As the boat ran under the ship's stern Jonathan looked
up and read the name inscribed in gilt letters on the high
trzxisom.: Rose of Kent,
The captain in whose presence they soon found them-
selves was a big round man with a merry red face under a
white powdered periwig and was dressed so smartly in his
coat of blue and gold, white doublet and blue breeches
that one might have thought him preparing to step ashore
to the South Sea Company's offices in London, at any
After a brief interrogation he concluded jocularly,
'Now off with the three of ye and see that ye earn your
salt till we reach London,' and turning to the officer in
the sealskin coat who waited by the door. Tut them to
work, Mr. Johnson, as soon as you like.'
Mr. Johnson, the fourth mate, however, was more
concerned with the whales that he hoped were being
pursued by some of the shallops inside the fiord and giving
the trio brief instructions about hammocks and ship's
routine he left them to their own devices. After finding
I06 THE WHALE HUNTERS
their berths in the forecastle they watched the five whaHng
shallops saihng down the wind as they returned from an
'Look there, my chummies,' exclaimed Joseph as one of
the shallops dropped her sail and closed under the Rose's
lee. 'Have you ever seen the like of that in a whaleboat?'
In the bows of the boat was mounted a weapon that
looked like a small cannon.
'It must be for firing harpoons,' suggested Jonathan.
'But what a heavy burden for a boat to carry.'
'It seems to be built for the task, though,' said Joseph.
'Him plenty much heavy boat to catchem whale,'
'Heavier than the Dutchman's even,' said Jonathan,
'but the same in other ways.'
An EngHsh sailor with a big black beard joined the
'It's the new toy o' the South Sea Company, maties,' he
explained. 'They 'opes to brighten the future of the
English whale fishery with it. The 'Olstein 'arpingers
don't hke it. They won't 'ave nothin 'to do with such
trappin's and they say that you can only kill a whale
with a 'and 'arpin' iron — and I agree with 'em. Why
you couldn't catch a jellyfish in that shallop, let alone a
The crew of one of the other shallops were chmbing up
the ship's side. One of them was haranguing the rest
in a loud voice that had a pronounced German accent.
'You English have no respect for the cunning of the
whale; you charge him like a bull at a gate and then
complain when he becomes afraid,' he was saying.
He was the harpooner of the boat, a blond-haired man
from the port of Hamburg and one of the many Holsteiners
signed by the South Sea Company at a high share of the
profits in an effort to re-kindle the charred embers of the
once flourishing English whale fishery whose fame had
THE ENGLISH WHALERS IO7
been almost extinguished in the last few decades by the
success of the Dutch and German whalers; to such an
extent, in fact, that there were only twenty-two English
whalers in the Arctic whaling grounds that year, as against
several hundred Dutch and German.
The sailor with the black beard laughed. 'We'll learn
in good time, 'Olsteiner, and then your maties'U wish they
never let you put foot aboard the Company's decks.'
There was great truth in the lighthearted banter of the
English sailor for in later years, when the keen young
English whalemen were to find themselves as proficient
as their German teachers they were gradually to displace
them. With a government bounty to assist it the EngHsh
whaling industry was to flourish and prosper whilst the
Dutch industry in particular was to reach a low financial
ebb through wars and the heavy harbour dues imposed by
its government. It was to decline once more when the
bounty system was abolished. By 1825 the American
whalers, whose forefathers had been Indian canoes, shore
boats and humble little sloops like the Pilgrim, were to
attain a prosperity unprecedented in the history of the
The Holsteiner spat towards the harpoon gun in the
boat that now lay moored alongside. 'As for that heap
of wood and iron you can throw it into the sea for all the
good it will bring you,' he growled.
His words were as true as those of the English sailor for
this first tentative experiment had already proved a
failure and as long as men were to pursue the whale in
wooden boats the harpoon gun in all its experimental
shapes and sizes was to be continually cast aside to make
room for the muscular arm of the harpooner. A craft of
the size required to carry such a gun could not be readily
manoeuvred under sail and oar and it was not until the
middle of the nineteenth century when a gun invented by
a Norwegian named Svend Foyn coincided with the
I08 THE WHALE HUNTERS
arrival of steam powered vessels that the practice of cast-
ing the harpoon by hand was superseded by that of firing
it from a small cannon.
The next day Jonathan and his two companions
watched with great interest as the harpoon gun was tried
once more but though it could cast the irons a much
greater distance its aim was inaccurate and it was left to
the hand harpoons to account for the only whale that was
killed in several days' hunting.
Then from the north came the rest of the English ships,
some heavily armed like the Rose of Kent. One of their
number had had to be abandoned in the ice and their
catch brought the total of the whole fleet to only fourteen
whales. Since it needed at least three whales per ship to
make an expedition profitable it could hardly be expected
that the South Sea Company would be pleased with the
results of its venture.
But if the officers were apprehensive about their
reception at Deptford there was no depression amongst
the men for the Arctic winter was closing its grip on those
inhospitable shores and the ships were heading for home.
Their spars white with a coating of ice, the twenty-one
vessels fought their way through a blizzard to the south-
ward and after five weeks arrived at Deptford.
One evening early in September Jonathan stepped
once more on to English soil after many months of
wandering. With his canvas bag over his shoulder he
walked between Joseph and Chimoo over the wet cobbles
of the quayside.
A sailor at the Rosens gangplank, watching them dis-
appear into the mist of the London river, turned to one of
his shipmates and said, 'You know, you couldn't blame
those Yankees if they 'ad a bit of a spell ashore, could you ?'
Part Two : Thomas
The Yankee Whaler
IN THE YEAR 1 848 a sailor, perched in the crowsnest of a
smart British merchant packet homeward bound through
the Southern Trade Wind belt, sighted a vessel lifting over
the northern horizon.
*Sail ho!' he called to his shipmates on the deck below,
and clapped his telescope to his eye.
As the distance shortened he recognised the un-
mistakable features of a whaler ; first, the dark specks at
the three mastheads which he knew were the lookouts;
then the tall white cranes or davits that carried the four
whaleboats ; and as she loomed larger in the circle of the
telescope's vision, the odd-looking hump between the
foremast and the mainmast which he knew to be the try-
works that all whalers carried on their upper decks.
'She's a blubber-hunter!' he called out to those
'They don't build 'em singly in America, they just saws
'em off in lengths,' quipped the bosun loudly and the men
laughed as they watched the sturdy squat-hulled vessel of
about three hundred and fifty tons hove into view. She
was one of over seven hundred whalers to sail from the
ports of New England that year.
The merchantman, with the wind behind her, gave
way and as she passed under the whaler's lee the lookout
112 THE WHALE HUNTERS
eSpied the letters on the white-painted bows: Meribah
On the poop-deck of the whaler a young, fair-haired
man of twenty watched the merchantman as she passed
and then returned below to the officers' space in the stern
where on his bunk lay several old and tattered leather-
bound volumes. They had been given to him by his
mother who had discovered them in an old bureau in the
house of the Oakleys at Nantucket, and she had expressed
the hope that this old journal would provide her son with
a means of passing away in a pleasant manner a few of
the many thousands of hours of tedium that must be
endured during a four-year voyage in search of sperm
whale in the Pacific.
He sat on the bunk and as he turned the age-soiled
pages of neatly written script he was in his imagination
no longer Thomas Oakley, third mate of the Yankee
whaler Meribah, but Jonathan Oakley, promoted to first
mate of a hundred-ton whaling brig sailing in search of
bowheads in the northern waters that had been opened to
the fleet of New England whalers by the bold but ill-fated
Thomas had already read during the run down from the
Cape Verde Islands of how his ancestor had watched as a
boy the longshore whalemen on the Nantucket beaches;
of how, after the wreck of the Pilgrim and the passage to
England, he had returned with Joseph and Chimoo to be
greeted by the Mathers in old Nantucket; and of the lad's
frequent voyages into the Atlantic in search not only of
right whales but also of sperm whales which abounded in
the warmer southern waters. He read of Jonathan's
pride at striking his first whale which entitled him to
wear a toggle badge in his buttonhole; of Jonathan as a
fully fledged harpooner, schooled by the faithful Chimoo.
As the Meribah reached for the Roaring Forties and the
remote island of Tristan da Cunha Thomas found himself
THE YANKEE WHALER II3
reading Jonathan's diaries at every available spare
moment. He read of the pretty girl from Boston who
became Mrs. Jonathan Oakley; of Captain Oakley,
whaling master and father of five boys and two girls; of
Captain Jonathan P. Oakley, shipowner and merchant;
and of the old man's visit to his native Somerset in 1805,
the same year that one of his friends made the last
entry in an unfamiliar hand stating that 'they buried
this fine old man in the Nantucket dunes that he loved so
When Thomas had closed the leather cover of the last
volume he climbed into the evening sunlight of the upper
deck and as he stood with the breeze rustling his fair hair
114 "THE WHALE HUNTERS
he felt himself deeply moved by the thought of this great-
great-grandfather of his who had been the founder of the
Oakley family of whalemen and shipowners. It was not
until twilight covered the sea that he returned to his cabin.
There he took from a locker a thick log-book and open-
ing it at the first page wrote: 'The diary of Thomas
Oakley, at the time of commencement third mate of the
whaling barque Meribah of Nantucket.'
His pen moved slowly over the ruled lines for this
Thomas Oakley was not the scholar that Jonathan had
been. Generations of Oakleys separated the two and a
century of whaling had toughened the breed. Yet in the
blue eyes of this stalwart young man you might have seen
at times something of the dreamer that had been so marked
When he put down his pen after half an hour of steady
writing in which he told of the Meribah^ s departure from
Nantucket, he became, with the quickness that was so
typical of him, the man of action once more.
He looked at the large timepiece he carried in the pocket
of his reefer. It was time for the night watch to take over
and his turn to make a report to the Old Man.
He passed through the cabin in which thrice daily
meals were served in two sittings, first to the captain and
his mates and then to the harpooners who in rank were
somewhat equivalent to petty officers. From here he
climbed the ladder to the after deck where Hodge the
burly first mate had just taken over the watch. He
wondered why Hodge always scowled at him in that
Barefooted and with legs slightly astride to meet the
movement of the ship he walked forward under the great
billowing sails and between the whaleboats that hung
from their massive wooden cranes of davits. He paused
when he reached the try-works which lay between the
foremast and the mainmast. This construction of bricks
THE YANKEE WHALER II5
and iron erected incongruously on the wooden deck was
only partly disguised by the wooden casing that flanked it.
Thomas had read in Jonathan's diary that as early as 1 743
an ingenious whaling captain had first conceived the idea
of taking his own try- works to sea on the deck of his ship,
thereby enabling him to bring back casks filled with oil
instead of the less profitable blubber.
From one of the pair of huge coppers that were sunk
into the top of this oven Thomas was greeted by the black
solemn face of an African negro.
'Dey ain't nobody kin shine a pot like dis ole Sam, Mars
Oakley,' he croaked. 'En you kin tell d'Ole Man dat
dey is my pride and joy fer de whole voyage.'
Thomas laughed and continued his way forward where
the men off watch were seated on and around the windlass
smoking their pipes. They were the usual mixture that
made up the crews of the Yankee whalers of that time; for
this world wandering industry gathered to itself men of all
races, colours and creeds; brown men from the island-
studded Pacific, jet black men from the coasts of Africa,
Portuguese from the Azores, white settlers from the
American plains and the youngsters who had been born
with harpoons in their fists from the whaling ports of New
England and others too numerous to mention.
'I found a weevil in my hard tack, Mr. Oakley,' sang
out a youth who Thomas strongly suspected had signed
aboard to escape the consequences of his misdemeanours
on the American mainland.
'The first of a long line of 'em, Matheson, you'll
find,' replied Thomas as he descended the forecastle
He cast a quick critical eye around this small compart-
ment that housed the twenty-six forecastle hands. Much
the same as in Jonathan's day, he thought; bigger but no
more space to each man ; no wonder that the hands prefer
to live on deck as much as possible. The bunks, he
Il6 THE WHALE HUNTERS
concluded were the only improvement since Jonathan's
time when the men slept in hammocks.
He looked into the galley where the old negro cook was
humming a hymn as he polished his pans.
*Doan you come in dis yer galley till Ah've finished ma
cleaning, Mars Oakley.'
*A11 right, old Ebony,' said Thomas with a grin. *Rub
away and make 'em shine like new dollars, even though
they'll be as black as your old face to-morrow."
He climbed into the cleaner air of the upper deck and
made his way aft to the captain's cabin where he knocked
'All's well, sir,' he reported.
'Good, Oakley,' said the grey-haired man in blue
pilot cloth as he looked up from the chart he was
Captain John Galloway was a man of nearly sixty with
a face like old weathered oak. He was of Quaker
descent but unlike the Quaker captain of the Httle Pilgrim
had always tempered his ambitions with shrewd judge-
ment ; and unlike Melville's Captain Ahab he was intent
not upon some strange metaphysical quest but upon
reaching the Pacific whaling grounds, filling his holds with
oil and returning home in the shortest possible time, a task
which with every fresh voyage he hoped by his own discip-
Hne and the Grace of God to accomplish within four years.
He shared this aim with the rest of the ship's company for
it was the custom in whaling for everyone, from cabin boy
to captain, to receive a share of the profits proportionate
to his rank.
Thomas had an additional reason for wishing the
ship a successful voyage ; his father, now retired from active
whaling, owned half the shares in her.
'How did your crew shape up in the boat practices
yesterday, Oakley?' asked the captain.
'Two of them are as green as cabbages, sir, but they'll
THE YANKEE WHALER II7
settle down after a windward chase or two. Jameson, the
harpooner I chose, is no giant but I must say he harpooned
those blackfish as well as the best.'
'I think we all need a fat school o' parmaceti to set us
on our mettle, Oakley. In my grandfather's day we'ld
have seen plenty in the Atlantic but that day has gone.'
His heavy brows lowered in a frown. 'You know, if we
go on killing right whales and sperm whales at the rate
we do there'll be precious few left for our grandsons unless
they build boats fast enough to catch the "razorbacks." '
He gazed at the inverted compass set in the cabin roof
and then smacked the palm of one hand with the clenched
fist of the other. 'But our job, Oakley, is to kill parmaceti,
so off with you and tell Mr. Hodge that I expect to raise
Tristan by breakfast.'
Hodge, the first mate, was a man of thwarted ambition.
In his younger days he had risen steadily enough through
the whaling ranks by reason of his courage and abiUty
in the boats. Fifteen years ago when he had reached the
rank of first mate the last rung of the ladder, commanding
his own whaler, had seemed within easy reach. But
voyage after voyage he had found himself signed as second
in command. Those fifteen years of vain hoping had
soured his attitude towards the younger men of shorter
experience who had attained their own commands or were
well on the way to doing so ; and he had no less reason to
feel grieved against the shipowner class who promoted
them over the heads of more experienced men such as
himself. Indeed, there was not a task in the whole of
the whaling craft at which Hodge was not expert, whether
decapitating a whale or pin-pointing the ship's position
on the wide expanse of landless oceans.
Then why had those old fogies way back on the Nan-
tucket wharves sent him off for another four years as only
second in command ?
Hodge was asking himself this question for the
Il8 THE WHALE HUNTERS
hundredth time as Thomas approached him on the
'Mr. Hodge, sir/ said Thomas. 'I'm to report from the
captain, that he expects to raise Tristan da Cunha by
'As if I didn't know that already,' growled Hodge,
'after all the times I've done this doggarned trip.'
Thomas could not suppress his amusement at this reply.
The voyage was still too young for him to know Hodge
very well and he beheved the remark to be made half
But the roar that came from Hodge left him in no doubt.
'Take that grin off your face, Oakley. I know your old
man practically owns this ship but that doesn't mean
you can take liberties with me. You think that you'll
step roughshod over others and be lording it on your own
poop-deck in a few years, don't you? But you're not
there yet, so pick up that bucket and broom and give
this poop-deck a swab down. Jump to it !'
Hodge's tirade and humiliating order stung Thomas to
'You are wrong, Mr. Hodge. You should know my
father as a fair man and for myself I expect no favours.'
'Swab this deck!' shouted Hodge.
Slowly and resentfully Thomas filled the bucket,
emptied it upon the spotless deck. As he wielded the
broom several of the hands working amidships found it
hard to stifle their amusement at the sight of an officer
engaged in so menial a task.
It was an incident that was to rankle in Thomas's
memory for a long, long time.
Across the Indian Ocean
CAPTAIN GALLOWAY brought his ship to that one place on
the precipitous shores of Tristan da Cunha where a land-
ing can be effected. A boat was lowered and he was
rowed ashore to return after an hour or so with a cargo of
hogs, chicken and vegetables which would provide a
welcome relief to the monotony of the salt beef and hard
biscuit diet during the passage across the Indian Ocean.
With her boat back on its cranes the Meribah squared
away from the island and soon found her sails filHng with
the brave west winds that blow right round the globe in
those latitudes known as the Roaring Forties. With her
long jibboom climbing and dipping she set her prow to
the eastward for Australia.
'Secure and lash everything,' sang out the captain above
the howling of the wind through the rigging.
'Hoist the boats high on the cranes!'
As the days passed and the winds rose to gale force one
sail after another was taken in until only her reefed
topsails and foresails remained; and so with two oilskin-
clad men continually wrestling with the wheel to keep her
I20 THE WHALE HUNTERS
from broaching to, the brave old ship's passage across the
wide Indian Ocean became an endless succession of wild
toboggan slides as the twenty-foot seas lifted her stern and
sent her racing down their long slopes to the troughs where
she wallowed and waited for the next one to uplift her.
Then one day the single lookout swaying in his pre-
carious perch on the main topmast bellowed the call
which in better weather would have brought joy to the
hearts of everyone.
'Th-e-e-re she bl-o-o-o-ws!'
Thomas, standing his watch on the poop-deck, saw
three large sperm whales on the weather quarter. As if
mimicking the antics of the hard-pressed ship they slid
playfully down the long grey-green slopes and their
bushy white spouts rising obliquely from their box-like
heads were caught by the following wind and flung ahead
of them before dispersing their vapour into the spray-
Thomas went to the after hatch. 'She blows. Captain !'
Hodge the first mate was superintending some men
overhauling the rigging and heard Thomas's words.
'Goddam you, man, d'you think he'd let you lower in this
weather,' he bawled derisively.
Tld be willing to try for one,' retorted Thomas.
The captain coming on deck at that moment heard the
'Mr. Hodge is right, Oakley,' he said, 'a boat would
never live in this sea and anyway you could never bring a
dead whale to the ship's side till it eased — and you might
have to wait weeks for that,' but the captain's tone was
not one of chastisement and there was something in the
look that he shot at Hodge which made Thomas believe
he would later say something to the first mate about
criticising an officer for making what amounted to a
normal and proper report.
ACROSS THE INDIAN OCEAN
That evening Hodge found Thomas making an entry in
his diary at the cabin table.
'Making a report to old man Oakley, eh?' he jeered.
'Giving him the lowdown on the officers he employs, eh?'
Thomas did not reply but continued with his difficult
task of writing whilst swaying his body against the pitching
motion of the ship.
The ship ploughed valiantly onwards and as she drew
near to the south-western tip of the Australian continent
the wind eased and the sun shone through breaks in the
clouds. Reefs were shaken out of the sails and strings of
wet clothing fluttered in the rigging.
The harpooners climbed the jibboom to practise their
skill on the porpoises that danced under the bows.
'Jamie's gotten himself a big one,' cried the cabin boy
as peering over the bows he saw Thomas's harpooner score
a hit and watched the sleek black and white sea mammal
hauled up and over the side by the men who had taken
the harpoon line.
'You's gonna have porpoise steaks for supper to-night,
honey,' chuckled old Ebony the cook.
'Jamie!' called Thomas. 'When you've done amusing
yourself perhaps you'll give the boat a run over with me.'
'Aye, aye, Mr. Oakley, I'm just coming.'
Jameson came aft with a broad grin on his round red
face. Thomas was never quite certain whether he was of
122 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Irish or Scottish descent. The unusual breadth of his
body made him look even shorter than his five feet three
inches. Against the other three harpooners, one of
whom was an African negro several inches over six feet, he
looked shorter than ever. Perhaps, thought Thomas as
he regarded the squat figure with the long muscular ape-
like arms, this Jamie is the new style in harpooners,
for after all, it must be much easier to balance a body
with such a low centre of gravity than a tall and lanky
Together they climbed into the boat and began their
The American whaleboat had reached by now the peak
of its perfection. Every plank, timber and nail along its
twenty-eight-foot length had evolved to the point where it
gave the maximum strength with the minimum weight.
There was a brass roller where the whale-line ran out of
the bows and, fitted to the gunwale just astern of the bow
platform, a plank with a semi-circular section cut out to
take the thigh of the harpooner and known as the 'clumsy
cleat'. In addition to the five oars and the steering oar
there were five paddles lashed to the undersides of the
thwarts in readiness for the calm weather occasions when
the noises caused by the oars might frighten or 'galley' the
whale from the surface. The third means of propulsion
was the sail which could be raised by fitting the mast into
the hole in the second thwart or lowered and laid flat
according to the state of the wind.
So efficient had the American boat proved itself that
its design had been adopted by all the European countries
then engaged in the whaling industry.
The harpoons and lances rested in their crotches but
the whale-line, now of flaxen-coloured manilla instead of
the brown hemp of Jonathan's time, was not in the boat.
The tub containing its two hundred and twenty fathoms,
so meticulously coiled in concentric layers by Jameson,
ACROSS THE INDIAN OCEAN I23
would not be put into the boat until the moment before
lowering, when it would be fitted between the two after
'Everything seems to be in good trim, Mr. Oakley,' said
Jameson, 'but I'll just give her undersides a poHsh.'
THOMAS WAS STILL in the boat when from the lookout on
the main topmast came the cry that was sheer music to the
'There she blo-o-o-ows!'
* Where away?' hailed the captain from the quarter-
*Right ahead, sir. One mile off. A big school of
As the ship rose on the crest of a sea Thomas saw the
unmistakable low spouts of the sperm whales and leapt
to the deck.
SPERM WHALE I25
*Steady as she goes, helmsman,' ordered the captain.
*Lines in the four boats! Stand by to lower!'
The watch below poured from the hatches struggling
into their jackets and the fore and mizzen lookouts sUd to
the deck like monkeys.
'Starboard a little,' said the captain. 'Steady,' and
the ship's head moved a point or two so that her boats
could be dropped to windward of the school which
was swimming with the wind at two or three knots.
'Haul aback the mainyard!' cried the captain and the
ship's speed was slowed.
'Lower away! And the good Lord be with you, lads.'
Thomas and Jamie were already in their respective
places in the stern and the bow. The boat had barely
smacked the crest of a wave before they had the falls
unhooked and the other four of the crew were leaping
from the ship's side to their places at the oars.
'Pull her clear, lads,' urged Thomas as the ship rolled
towards their cedarwood cockleshell.
'Hoist the sail and we'll reach them before they show
flukes,' he cried.
He gripped the long vibrating steering oar as the craft
planed before the strong following wind down the long
slopes of the waves. More than once she became almost
unmanageable and when after about ten minutes the
whales were only a few hundred yards ahead he gave the
order to roll up the sail and use the oars.
Now the boat poised itself in the tumbling white water
at the crest of a sea and below him in the trough swam the
rearguard of the school.
'Stand up, Jamie,' he thundered and the harpooner
shipped his oar, jumped to his feet and stood ready with
his harpoon raised as the boat plunged downwards to-
wards its prey. The bow shot past the tail of what
Thomas took to be the rearmost whale and as he pressed
his chest to his steering oar the boat turned towards the
126 THE WHALE HUNTERS
wallowing brown flank. Jamie's arm flashed twice and
two harpoons went deep into the unsuspecting Leviathan.
He threw clear from the bows the few coils of 'stray line'
and at Thomas's 'Stern all!' the oarsmen backed the boat
away from the whale.
The whale arched its hump, threw up its flukes and
sounded. The Hne sped out of the tub, round the logger-
head, between the two banks of oarsmen and over the
looms of their oars and out through the fairlead in the bow.
Hodge's boat shot past Thomas's and fastened a
harpoon to another of the whales just as they were all
diving out of danger; all, that is, with the exception of an
old bull, which, in the excitement of the moment, Thomas
had failed to notice was following in the wake of the main
school. It was not until he felt the steering oar being
knocked from his grasp that he saw the wrinkled head of
the big fellow in the act of sounding under his boat's
stern. For a second the broad tail-flukes cast their
shadow over the boat; then as they entered the sea the
tip of the nearest one touched the boat — only the tip —
but it was enough to put the craft on her beam ends. Two
of the midships oarsmen were thrown into the sea and
when the boat righted herself she was a quarter full of
water and the starboard gunwale was smashed.
The whale-line was still being taken down by the har-
pooned whale and Thomas dare not check too severely
round the loggerhead for fear of having the bows pulled
under. He reached out and helped one of the men from
the water. The other, alas was not to be seen.
'Bale with anything you can find,' he yelled, 'and keep
clear of the snags in the line,' for the neat coils of the
whale-Hne had been thrown askew in their tub by the
water that had entered it, and he knew of many cases in
which a fouled line had caught a man by a limb and
whipped him out over the bows.
With only a few coils still left to run out Thomas
SPERM WHALE 127
called to the one boat not yet attached to a whale and
Hamm, the lanky fourth mate, brought his craft along-
side. Thomas's tub oarsman had just taken the other
boat's line and was about to bend it on to the eye splice
which hung over the edge of the tub ready for such an
emergency when the outgoing speed of the line slackened.
Thomas took it in his hands and there was almost no pull
'The whale's rising! Haul in!' he cried, and hand over
hand the five of them pulled the line back into the boat.
DkoTnas pyohed his Lance
into the while's "life
Swish! The whale shot from the water a hundred
yards away. His huge body hung for a split second in the
air with water streaming from it and then with a resound-
ing smack it fell back on its side sending up fountains of
'Haul up to her!' cried Thomas as he and Jamie
quickly changed places.
He took up his lance and stood ready in the bows.
'Oars!' he ordered, and the men rowed the boat over
the last few yards till they felt the bows touch the whale.
Thomas probed his lance into the whale's 'life' till he
saw the red blood gush from its spout hole.
Choosing a school''
of sbirm cukales
130 THE WHALE HUNTERS
'Stern all!' he shouted and the boat, having been
brought to the lee side for this very purpose, was easily
backed away from the whale which now fought with all
the fury of its waning life to smash its tormentors with its
tail and its snapping jaws.
Hamm's boat riding nearby had reached the whale too
late, despite the efforts of his oarsmen, to be in at the
The Meribah came alongside the whale and its tail was
secured with a heavy chain to her starboard bow.
Thomas's battered boat was hoisted on to the deck for
repairs and he and his crew went below to change their
When he went on deck again the first and second mates,
Hodge and Jacobs, were steering their boats into the
'We lost two lines, Cap'n,' reported Hodge disconso-
lately as he came over the side. 'He took mine first and
then Jacob's and the rate he was diving I reckon he'ld
have taken a third.'
'Never mind, Hodge,' said the captain, 'the ship has
one whale to her credit and we'll commence cutting as
soon as the hands have had dinner.'
And whilst the men of the Meribah are enjoying a well
earned meal let the reader enlighten himself if he so wishes
on some of the peculiarities of the type of whale which
wallows in the shark infested sea under the ship's side.
The spermaceti whale is called the sperm whale for
short. In the American whalemen's vocabulary it was
often called the 'parmaceti' and the English, borrowing
from the French, named it cachalot. Whereas there are
several large varieties of the baleen or whalebone whales,
the sperm whale is the only large member of the toothed
family. The male sperm whale is bigger than its wives
SPERM WHALE I3I
and grows to a maximum of sixty feet, but in the baleen
family it is the females that are the larger of the two sexes,
sometimes reaching a length of over a hundred feet. The
sperm whale does not feed on the myriad minute creatures
that live on the surface of the sea but upon the giant
cuttlefish which it can only reach by diving to the ocean
bed and which it first has to fight and kill. There are
many reports of torn and crooked jaws found in sperm
whales and it is fairly certain that these injuries were
acquired during their struggles with their prey. For this
task nature has equipped the sperm whale with a row of
sharp teeth set on either side of its sword-shaped lower
jaw and each tooth, which can weigh up to four pounds in
weight, fits, when the mouth is closed, into a socket in the
upper jaw which has only a few small vestigial teeth.
Whereas the two close-set nostrils or blowholes of the
baleen whales are set well back on the top of the head the
sperm whale's are set nearer the fore part of the head and
only the left one is active. The females with their young
wander in schools like herds of cattle from one feeding
ground to another and the polygamous males battle with
one another for mastery of the schools, the defeated bulls
often retiring to the polar regions; and although the
schools are found in the colder seas too it is the tropical
and sub-tropical regions that they prefer most.
This whale obtains its name from the unique spermaceti
oil which can be extracted in liquid form from a large
reservoir in its head. Before the days of electricity this oil
fetched a higher price than any other whale-oil by reason
of its fine quality and the bright smokeless light that it
gave. To-day one of its uses is the lubrication of fine
machinery such as typewriters and sewing machines.
Its function in the whale's body is believed to be the
hydrostatic control of the breathing tubes when the head
is subjected to the enormous pressure on the ocean beds.
The eyes set on each side of the head are no bigger than
132 THE WHALE HUNTERS
those of a cow ; and you might search diHgently and never
find the pinprick holes through which it seems miracu-
lously to be able to hear the splash of an oar a mile away.
Sometimes the whalemen found in the stomach of a sick
sperm whale a substance known as ambergris which
seemed to form itself around the undigested beak of a
cuttlefish. It possessed the singular quality of being able
to retain the scent of highly volatile perfumes and perfume
manufacturers paid many pounds for a single ounce of it.
The sperm whale now lashed to the Meribah was a
female and its fourteen-inch thick blubber would yield
about fifty barrels of oil which although of lower quality
than the spermaceti oil contained in the head would also
be used for lighting purposes.
^Cutting in' and
AFTER A HURRIED MEAL Hodgc and Thomas, armed with
long-handled cutting spades, climbed on to the staging
that had been rigged on the ship's side to overhang the
whale and for the time being the differences between the
two men were overshadowed by the important task of
While Hodge decapitated the whale by cutting away
the flesh and severing the backbone where it entered the
skull Thomas made a broad semicircular incision in the
coat of blubber near the side fin ; and within this arc he
cut out a hole big enough to receive the fluke of the big
iron blubber hook.
The head, which occupied about a third of the whale's
length, was hoisted by means of tackles on to the deck
where it would eventually be opened at the top by a
harpooner and the precious spermaceti oil baled from the
case. So pure was this oil that it was poured straight
into the casks and required no further treatment.
The long lower jaw would be unhinged and the teeth
would provide ivory for the men to carve into the decor-
ative forms known as 'scrimshaw' work during the long
134 TUB WHALE HUNTERS
idle days when whales did not present themselves to
provide more exciting activity.
But the head had to wait till the body was stripped. So
down came the lower block of one of the two large cutting
tackles that always hung ready like a bunch of grapes in
the maintop and on to it was shackled the big blubber
And now Jamie fastened the canvas belt of the *monkey
rope' around his middle and leapt down on to the whale.
It was the duty of another harpooner on the deck above
him to hold the other end of this rope and to prevent
Jamie accidentally offering himself as a second course to
the dozens of sharks which were gorging upon the whale's
Another rope was fastened to the blubber hook and its
free end was passed down to Jamie who, steadying
himself as well as he could upon the slippery, heaving
surface, began to haul towards him the several hundred-
weights of hook and tackle.
He wrestled with this swaying mass until he had got the
fluke of the blubber hook into the hole that Thomas had
cut. Then, leaping back to the ship, he called out, 'Hook
fast. Haul away!' and the men at the windlass began
cranking and the three-fold tackle tautened till the mast
to which its upper end was attached felt the weight and
leaned towards its burden. There was a sudden snap as
the semicircular section of blubber was rent from the
whale and the ship rolled back to the upright position.
At the same time the two mates on the staging extended
the two ends of the semicircular cut with their spades and
so commenced the continuous strip that would be peeled
in spiral fashion from the whale. With a helping hand
from the heaving swell the tackle tugged at the blubber
and the mates cut it away whilst all the time the whale
rolled with each fresh pull.
Now the two blocks of the tackle met high above and the
71 he first blanvkeh piece cominq up.
136 THE WHALE HUNTERS
dripping strip reached from the whale right up to the
maintop. Jamie, armed with a broad-bladed sword,
stepped up and hacked a hole in that portion which was
level with his arm and the second hook and tackle was
'Stand back!' cried Jamie and with a few sweeps of his
sword severed the blubber in twain so that the upper
portion, the first 'blanket piece,' swung free on the one
tackle whilst leaving the next piece to be hoisted by the
As each 'blanket piece' was cut it was lowered through a
'gutting in' and *trying out' 137
hatch to the blubber room to be cut into the smaller
*horse pieces' ; and these in turn were sent up to the deck
in tubs to be chopped into even smaller pieces by the
man known as the mincer who worked at a wooden
The try-works were already belching wood smoke and
the two try-pots now received the minced blubber.
When the last of the blubber had been removed the
captain ordered that the whale be cast off. As the
chains were slipped from its tail Thomas watched the
white carcass, now relieved of its buoyant covering, sink
into the depths like a disappearing ghost. It was pursued
to the last by the insatiable sharks.
Spreading her sails the Meribah departed from the scene
of the slaughter and pointed her prow once more to
All through the night the try-works blazed and the
stench of burning flesh fouled the air as the fires were fed
with the fritters of the boiled whale blubber.
Into the Paciji
Hearts and minds grown tired by months of monoto-
nous voyaging thrilled anew at the welcome cry. The
south-western tip of Australia was coming up over the
eastern horizon and the stormy Indian Ocean was
That evening, with the Meribah lying peacefully at
anchor on the calm waters of Two People Bay, Thomas
took a boatload of men to a white beach that was com-
posed of the powdered bones of a million cuttlefish.
Whilst the men stretched their legs he discovered the
spring where the captain had said they could find fresh
water. Then knowing that this bay was frequently
visited by whalers he looked for signs of their visits to this
desolate beach; but not a single old cask nor a strand of
rope could he find. As he walked back to the boat the
reason became only too obvious for the eyes of two black
aborigines were peering inquisitively from the trees. He
was glad that he had left an armed guard to watch the
On returning to the ship he reported having found the
spring to Captain Galloway and then under the shade of
a whaleboat he commenced to record his visit in his
Hodge's suspicions flared up as soon as he saw that
INTO THE PACIFIC I39
Thomas was writing. 'Have you nothing to do but
scribble more reports?' he growled.
His tone and manner were so offensive that Thomas
leapt to his feet and gave free vent to the anger he had so
*What I do with my spare time is my own concern and
I'll not seek your permission to write or do anything else
that amuses me. As for what I am writing you can believe
whatever your darn-fool nature tells you and go to the
Hodge's arm flashed and the back of his hand hit
Thomas on the mouth. Recovering, Thomas lunged at
his senior officer with clenched fist but before he could
strike he felt his legs swept from under him by someone
'Tom, you fool, stern all!' cried his second attacker as
the two fell locked together to the deck and it was not until
Thomas saw that it was his friend Hamm, the fourth mate,
that he ceased his struggling.
'Thanks, Hamm,' he breathed as he rose to his feet.
'You're right and you probably saved me from spending
the rest of the voyage as a fo'castle hand.'
But the shrewd Hamm was not satisfied until he had
coaxed Thomas well away from the first mate.
The second day in this bay was spent in taking on water
from the spring. The full casks were rolled down the
beach and lashed together into the form of a raft which
was floated out to the anchored ship.
When the task was finished Thomas removed his clothes
and swam naked in the sea. The sight caused great
surprise among the company for fishermen and whalemen
have always been notoriously poor swimmers preferring,
if fate should offer them a watery grave, to enter it with
the least delay.
Refreshed by four days' rest, the men sang as they
weighed anchor and unfurled the sails. Soon the
140 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Meribah^s dolphin striker was dipping again to the swell of
the open sea and the brave winds of the Roaring Forties
were driving her with a bone in her teeth across the Great
Australian Bight. Within a week she was passing through
the Bass Straits into the Tasman Sea.
Between Tasmania and New Zealand the watchful
eyes aloft espied the prey once more and the boats were
lowered to give chase. With two more black silhouettes
of sperm whales in the margin of her logbook to mark
the kill for the day the ship put her head again towards
Cape Reingo on the northern tip of New Zealand.
In the beautiful tree-fringed Bay of Islands, famed as a
port of call for whaleships, she anchored again and took on
fresh fruit, vegetables, hogs and wood for her cooking and
trying-out fires. The men were granted a day's liberty to
enjoy themselves ashore at the inn where mine host was the
typical bluff Englishman.
Thomas and Hamm were entertained by an English
farmer and his family and late that night as they found
their way back to the landing stage they overtook a
strange procession of men from the Meribah. They had
all supped too well of the local vintages and those who had
completely succumbed to its potency were being wheeled
along in borrowed wheelbarrows. The merry mariners
pushing the barrows were not finding it very easy to keep
to the rough roadway and two of them were only too
ready to hand over their duties to the two officers.
'She's all yours, Mr. Oakley,' sang out one of the men,
'course nor'-east by east and watch 'er, sir, 'cos she's
rolling like a barrel.'
'Aye aye, cap'n,' laughed Thomas and pushed the
barrow towards a narrow bridge where in the moonlight
he could see that one of the noisy procession was finding
some difficulty in m.aking the crossing. Suddenly the
man's barrow crashed through the rickety wooden rails
and a moment later its occupant, roused from his slumbers
INTO THE PACIFIC I4I
by the cold douche, was sitting waist deep in the shallow
stream singing the opening lines of Stephen Foster's
sentimental song 'Open thy lattice, love.'
'Split my topsails!' cried Thomas, recognizing the deep
bass voice, 'if it isn't old Jamie. Haul him ashore, lads,
before he founders.'
It was two hours later that Thomas and Hamm got
the last of the liberty men safely on board ship.
At first light all hands were called, the anchor was
weighed and sail was set.
Then seven months out from Nantucket and the pre-
liminaries, as it were, completed, the ship felt her way
through the silver light of a February dawn out into the
Pacific where her true objective lay.
For her company it was the commencement of three
long years of cruising from one whaling ground to another
according to the seasonal movements of the sperm whale ;
three years of burning sun and sudden tropical storm ; of
constant dangers from hidden reefs in poorly charted
seas; from hostile natives whose greatest delight was to
massacre a crew and plunder the ship; from sickness and
disease that awaited them on the island shores; from the
dreaded scurvy that knocked the men down like skittles
when their diet was deficient in fresh fruit and vegetables ;
and with every new chase after the prey the danger of a
boat stove in or men drowned by an enraged sperm whale
which, unlike the right whale, was armed at both ends.
Three years of fighting the boredom and 'whale sickness'
that descended upon men during the long weeks when, as
often happened, no spouts could be sighted ; three years in
which to fill the hold with oil and even then another six
months to cross the ten thousand miles to home. It is no
wonder that these men referred to a whaling voyage of a
mere few months as a 'plum-puddin'er'.
During dayhght the ship cruised over the grounds with
the eyes of her three lookouts sweeping a ten-mile wide
142 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Strip of ocean but at night the ship was brought to the wind
and the canvas that had not been furled was so arranged
that she remained stationary. For Thomas and his fellow
officers night was the time to sleep whilst a harpooner and
a few men kept watch on the poop-deck; for upon the
alertness and cool judgement of the mates depended the
conduct of the chase and the killing of the whales during
the hours of daylight. At every dawn the systematic
search of thousands of square miles was resumed and the
endless routine of cruising, sighting, chasing and killing
the whale, cutting and boiling, sleeping and eating,
coming on and going off watch was relieved only by an
occasional visit to an island and by any hobbies which
these men found to their liking. One of the whaleman's
favourite spare-time occupations was 'scrimshawing',
which was their term for carving into decorative shapes
the teeth of the sperm whale.
Thomas's diary became his hobby. He described in
detail all the islands that the Meribah visited; he wrote of
the luxuriantly vegetated archipelago of the Fijis; of the
friendliness of the people of the Tonga Islands; of the
breath-taking loveliness of Honolulu in the Hawaii
islands where every March a huge fleet of whaleships
made their final preparations to spend the summer in
the colder waters of the Okhotsk Sea and the Bering
Straits which were now the only grounds in which the
bowhead had not been almost exterminated. He told the
story of how the Meribah repulsed an attack by fifty
canoes manned by the bloodthirsty natives of the Gilbert
Islands. For Thomas, as it had been for his ancestor
Jonathan, sea travel was a constant source of joy and not
of boredom as it was to Hodge the first mate.
This rough-grained officer did not abandon his preju-
dice towards Thomas even when the lean and solemn-
faced Hamm sought to mend the breach between the two
men by assuring Hodge that Thomas was not making
INTO THE PACIFIC I43
reports to old Mr. Oakley but keeping a diary. Hodge's
suspicions of the third mate's motives for writing, however,
were a superficial matter compared to his jealousy of the
younger man's ability and blithe, friendly and adventur-
But the time was to come when the differences between
the two men were to be put to the real test.
Stove Boats and
THE Meribah had been in the Pacific just over two years and
had cruised along the Equator to the arid volcanic Gala-
pagos Islands. Entering Post Office Bay in Charles
Island to post letters home in the barrel that had been
erected for that purpose on the beach she had found at
anchor the Joseph P. Hart, 2l Yankee whaler homeward
bound from hunting bowheads in the Bering Straits. The
right whaler had taken the Meribah' s letters and stayed for
an evening's "gam".
The right whalemen had spoken of bowheads in which
they had found the harpoons of ships known to have been
in Greenland waters years before and of their belief that
those whales must have travelled the ice-bound passage
north of the American continent. Late into the tropical
night there had been talk of ships met, of boats stove and
of the New England men who had found their graves in
the blue waters of the Pacific and the green cold waters of
the northern seas.
Then at dawn the two ships had sailed away together
each dipping her ensign in a final farewell as she went her
STOVE BOATS AND DEAD WHALES I45
Now with the last volcanic peak dipping below the
horizon astern the Meribah commenced her return cruise
westwards along the Line.
The deck bore ample evidence of the recent visit in the
form of several giant Galapagos tortoises munching at the
leaves of cactus. Fresh meat and tasty soups were
ensured for another few weeks.
The wind that had borne the ship away from the
islands failed and the broad spread of canvas hung limply
overhead. Suddenly the lethargic atmosphere was
pierced by the sharp call from aloft.
'There she blo-o-ows! There, there, the-e-re!'
In a few minutes four crews of sweating oarsmen were
pulling over the glassy sea in a broad line towards a large
school of sperm whale four miles to the southward. Fly-
ing fish shot from under the boat's bows and skimmed
over the water.
With still two miles to go Hodge made a silent signal
that all boats should ship oars and use paddles. Native
fashion the crews sat along the gunwales and the rhythmic
dipping of their paddles sent the boats gliding noiselessly
towards the prey. A single tap of wood on wood could
'galley' the whales and stampede them like cattle. The
boats still had a mile to go when the whales showed their
flukes and went down; and now each mate was left to
manoeuvre his boat to the best of his judgement.
Thomas, whose boat was on the left flank, was sure that
146 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the whales had not been 'galHed' by the casual manner in
which they had sounded. 'They have gone down to
feed/ he thought, 'and it will be at least a half-hour before
they rise again — if Hodge and Jacobs do not scare them.'
The other boats could go paddling over the whales if
they wanted but he was not going to risk 'galleying' them.
If they did take fright and flee, however, he knew from
long experience that it would be in the direction from
which the wind had last come. So he would move to the
south-eastward and be ready to intercept them.
He pulled the steering oar towards him a little and the
boat's head swung to larboard. 'Slowly, now, men. Softly,'
he whispered and the paddles merely kissed the water.
He saw that Hamm was following his example but that
Hodge and Jacobs were still forging ahead on the same
'Easy all,' and he brought his boat to a stop. Standing
now upon the stern platform he waited.
Thirty minutes, thirty-five, and then in the same
position as before the first hump broke the surface and a
white spout shot into the air.
'They are still quiet, men,' whispered Thomas, as he
saw more whales rising. 'Give way with the paddles.'
With Hamm close astern and Hodge and Jacobs about
two miles away beyond the school he closed to make his
'Stand up, Jamie,' he ordered and the harpooner
shipped his paddle and stood ready.
Then in one of the four boats someone whose nerves
were not perhaps so steady as usual must have touched
the hull with his paddle ; for, led by a huge hundred barrel
bull, the whole school suddenly set off along the surface at
about ten knots, which was three times their normal cruis-
ing speed. Their direction, as Thomas had expected,
was to the south-eastward and they were coming straight
towards his boat and Hamm's.
^ /^ Ifie' quickly ascertained
"^^ tke^eneral state of Ihekunb
148 THE WHALE HUNTERS
'We'll go for the big bull at the front, Jamie, and take
him by the head,' said Thomas in a voice that was only
just audible. 'Just a few silent strokes, men, to keep us
between his eyes.'
Now the sperm whale has its small eyes set in the sides of
its broad head and is unable to see right ahead any more
than it is able to see right astern ; and it was probable that
this big bull leading his family of wives and children away
from the noise that it had heard was quite unaware of the
boat that waited in its path.
Hamm's boat, however, had taken up a similar position
in front of one of the smaller female whales grouped on
either quarter of their leader and the old bull must have
seen this craft as it came within the vision of his left eye,
for he suddenly swerved a httle to the right.
'Give way together,' cried Thomas and the paddles bit
the water shooting the craft towards the oncoming whale.
Jamie's two barbed harpoons flew through the air in quick
succession and sank into the big fellow's back. He
sounded at once and the whale-Hne hummed as it flew
out of the bow. Thomas checked the line and the
friction became so great that smoke rose from the logger-
'Wet the line!' cried Thomas and the nearest man
plunged his cap into the sea and dashed water over the
loggerhead and into the tub.
Glancing round he quickly ascertained the general
state of the hunt. Hamm's boat had fastened to the
female whale which had not adopted the usual tactics of
sounding but was taking the craft on a 'Nantucket sleigh-
ride' at great speed over the sea. Hodge's boat had
caught up with the stragglers of the school and the burly
first mate was standing on the bow platform throwing his
lance in the manner known as 'pitchpolling'. Unable to
bring his boat within harpoon range of the fast swimming
whales he had taken the harpooner's place in the bow and
STOVE BOATS AND DEAD WHALES I49
with a line attached to his barbless lance was successively
casting it at the rearmost whale and retrieving it into his
hands. Jacob's boat had still not made contact. One
by one the cachalots were sounding but Thomas knew
that they must be winded after their fast swim and would
soon be up again to blow and fill their lungs. All this he
observed in the few seconds that he took his eyes from the
'Haul in, haul in!' he called as he felt the line slacken in
his hand; and he ran along the thwarts to take up his
position for lancing in the bows, while Jamie took his place
in the stern (hence the harpooner's alternative name of
'boatsteerer' and the mate's of 'boatheader').
Then directly below him in the blue depths Thomas saw
something large and white rising quickly to the surface.
It was the inside of the bull whale's wide open mouth.
*Vast hauling and stern all!' he shouted.
Before his crew could execute the order the whale's
lower jaw, rising uppermost as the monster rolled on its
back, grated the boat's midships planks on one side whilst
the bulky upper jaw appeared from the water on the
The boat, held in the whale's mouth, was lifted clean
out of the water and the men scrambled to the bow and
stern. Then the jaws closed with a snap and the craft fell
back into the water in two shattered halves.
Thomas came to the surface unhurt among a mass of
splintered wreckage. He saw Jamie and two others
clinging to the severed stern and caught the collar of Sam
his negro oarsman as he was about to bid farewell to the
whaling life. Alas, the little Portuguese who manned
the second oar had already done so, for the only sign of
him was his straw hat floating sadly nearby. The whale-
line had apparently escaped being broken, for the bow
half of the boat had been towed under by the whale.
Even as he made this last observation Thomas saw the
150 THE WHALE HUNTERS
bow rise to the surface a hundred yards away and knew
that the manilla Hne had at last parted under the strain.
He bore his half-drowned comrade to the submerged
stern and Jamie gave him a hand to keep the negro
Then hearing shouts he raised his head and saw a
boat hauling up to a whale that had just surfaced nearby.
Hodge had at last got near enough to sink a harpoon into
his whale and was standing in the bows with his lance
ready. With only a few yards to go the whale suddenly
began rolling and like a huge spindle wound the line
around its body and jerked it from the men's grasp.
Somewhere in the boat a coil must have fouled; perhaps
it caught an oar or a man's limb. Before Hodge could
draw his knife and cut it free the boat was being pulled
down bows first under the whale's spinning body. Hodge
fell clear but so quickly did the whole thing happen
that only one of his five men had the presence of mind to
jump and save himself from being pulled under with
the boat. That man was yelling lustily for help but
STOVE BOATS AND DEAD WHALES I5I
Hodge, obviously hurt, was struggling feebly in the
tormented waters around the whale.
'Any of you who can swim follow me,' said Thomas.
'Jamie, you can't, I know, so look after Sam.'
He reached Hodge just in time but none of the others
were able to relinquish the support of the wreck to go to
the help of the other man. As he towed Hodge to safety
he could see the fellow now quietly holding on to a large
piece of wreckage ; but of the other four men there was
It was not until Hamm and Jacobs had killed their
whales that they fully realised the fate of their comrades.
When they saw what had happened they brought their
boats alongside and rescued all survivors from the sea in
which several sharks were already growing dangerously
Two whales had been killed at the cost of five dead men
and two stove boats. The whaleboats were replaceable
but the Meribah would find herself short of men for the rest
of the voyage unless fresh volunteers could be found
among the natives of the Pacific islands.
Two days later Hodge, lying in his bunk on board the
Meribah sent word by the cabin boy that he would like to
speak to Thomas. He looked up from under his band-
aged brow as the younger man entered the cabin.
'Hamm has just told me that you saved my life, Oakley,'
he said gruffly, 'and I'd like to — to thank you.'
Thomas said nothing. He was looking for the first
time at six miniature paintings on a shelf over Hodge's
The older man followed his gaze. 'They'll be thankful
too,' he said, 'even though they only see me for a few
months every four years.'
'It's a long time to be away from your family,' said
'Makes a man a bit crusty as he gets older,' said Hodge.
152 THE WHALE HUNTERS
*but I don't suppose a young bachelor like yourself would
realise that, eh?'
'He might/ replied Thomas thoughtfully, 'if there was
a lass waiting for him in New England.'
Hodge closed his eyes and Thomas standing by the bunk
looked down at the face so pale now from loss of blood.
He saw the rough features twitch nervously within their
framework of bandages and he guessed that the man was
struggling with some deep emotion.
Slowly the eyes opened again and when Hodge spoke
all trace of the old harshness had gone from his voice.
'You know, Oakley, being bedridden gives a man a
chance to do a bit of thinkin'. It's like — like as if a man
goes into the wilderness away from all the devils that have
plagued him. He's able to see himself anew; I suppose
you might say to — to see himself as God might see him.'
He paused and looked straight up at the younger man's
face. 'I was young and keen Hke you once but my runnin'
riggin' got fouled somehow. After I was made first mate
I always hankered after a command of my own but it
never came my way. I blamed everyone but myself and
that's where I went adrift. I thought that being a good
whaleman and navigator was enough but I was wrong.
It needs more than just that to take a ship and thirty-odd
souls on a four-year voyage round the world : it needs an
understanding of men and that's something I never gave
much thought to. Ah well, it's too late now for an old
shellback like me to change his markin's. Perhaps if '
But his soliloquy was cut short by the old time-worn cry
'There she blo-o-o-o-o-ows!'
Automatically Thomas leapt for the companionway but
half-way up the ladder he stopped and called back over
'It's never too late to try Mr. Hodge. There isn't a
better whaleman than you in the whole Nantucket fleet
STOVE BOATS AND DEAD WHALES I53
and I've got a feeling there's a new star shining for you
this voyage if you'll only put your jibboom towards it.'
'Maybe you're right, son,' called Hodge with a note of
humour in his voice, 'but it ain't no time to stand gammin'
with whales spoutin'. . . .'
But Thomas was already on deck racing towards his
CAPTAIN GALLOWAY had become very impatient. The
return cruise along the Line had done Httle to increase the
oil cargo. The Merit ah had met a big English whaler
which had filled her holds twenty-three months out from
Hull and a German whaler seventeen months out from
Bremen which had killed only eleven whales.
Having taken on fresh victuals and found three replace-
ments for his crew among the natives in the Marquesas
Islands the captain decided to let his ship try her fortune
on the grounds that lay south of the Equator offshore of the
Spanish Main ; for it was November, the month when the
season there began.
During the two months that followed there were many
in the Meribah who believed that all the sperm whales in
the Pacific had assembled within a small area of the tropics
between the latitudes of go and i oo degrees west. Some
days whales were killed at a greater rate than the blubber
could be cut and tried-out and the cargo increased so
rapidly that soon there was not an empty barrel in the
ship. When every odd tub and bucket had been filled
and sealed the men caulked their sea chests and filled
those with oil.
When at last one of the men asked if he could use the
coffee-pots Captain Galloway decided that it was time to
set course for home.
HOMEWARD BOUND I55
He stood upon the poop-deck and beamed down at
the men who stood expectantly by the smoke-blackened
try- works. He knew full well the words they were wait-
ing for him to speak.
'All right men, over the side with that pile of bricks,' he
To the accompaniment of yells of joy the now super-
fluous burden of the try-works was thrown brick by brick
into the sea until only the coppers and the shallow cooling
'You can keep those to float your toy boats in,' called
the captain for he had seen some of the men making ship
models during the earlier weeks of inactivity. 'And now,
Mr. Hodge,' addressing the first mate who had long
recovered from his injuries, 'set course for Talcahuano on
156 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the Chile coast. We'll recruit fresh victuals there and
head for Cape Horn and home.'
Off Cape Horn the relentless west winds blew with their
utmost fury and twelve barrels of the precious oil were
emptied on to the mountainous seas to help the battered
ship to safety. She limped into the Falkland Islands for
repairs and then spreading her patched sails set her
jibboom northward. As the latitudes grew lower spirits
rose high, for this was the Atlantic whose waters lapped
the Nantucket shores.
In the pale sunlight of an April morning Thomas was
helping to warp the Meribah alongside the wharf at Nan-
tucket when he caught sight of his father and mother arm
in arm with a girl of twenty among the cheering, waving
crowd on the shore. As soon as the ship was made fast he
leapt on to the wharf, embraced his mother and shook his
father warmly by the hand. The girl stood shyly apart
with eyes lowered until Thomas taking her by the hands
kissed her softly on the cheek.
Captain Galloway leant over the taffrail and waved to
*We did it again, Henry,' he shouted with a broad grin
on his weather-beaten face. 'We filled her holds to
the hatches inside the four years. But it's the last time
for me. I'm getting too old. You can let Mr. Hodge
take her next voyage.'
That evening in a room of the Oakley house overlooking
the harbour the diaries of Jonathan and Thomas rested in
an honoured place next to the family Bible for all future
generations of Oakleys to read.
Part Three :
Peter, Carl and Hans
The Old Oaken Chest
IN THE WESTFOLD district of Norway there lives to-day a
community which is a modern counterpart of that which
once flourished in Nantucket. It owes its prosperity to
its speciaHsed knowledge of whale hunting and yet, like
the people of old Nantucket its roots are in its homeland
In one of the farmhouses of this district on a wintry
February evening in the year 1 954 a broad weatherbeaten
man in his middle fifties was replacing some old documents
and books in an oak chest. His name was Olafsen; Peter
Oakley Olafsen, and this was the first winter since boy-
hood that he had not sailed south with the whaling fleets.
Gout had finally forced him to bid farewell to the rigours
of the Antarctic whaling and to admit that it was a life
for younger men like his son Carl.
The twelve-year-old boy sprawling at Peter's feet before
l60 THE WHALE HUNTERS
the roaring log fire was Carl's son and his blue eyes
watched intently as the rough hands of the farmer whale-
man replaced the contents of the chest.
'Are they very old, Grandpa, those books ?' he asked.
*Yes, Hans, they are indeed,' replied Peter, his grizzled
features lighting with pleasure at the boy's interest.
'They are the diaries written by our whalemen ancestors
on my grandmother's side; she came from Scotland but
was American by birth. A lad named Jonathan Oakley
wrote the first of these when he was the same age as you
and the other set was written by Thomas Oakley who was
'Yes, I've heard father talk of them and know a good
deal about them, already,' said Hans. 'And all those
papers and letters, some of those are in English too, aren't
they?' he asked.
'Yes,' replied his grandfather, but all the recent ones
are in our own Norwegian.'
'How did the EngHsh diaries come to be in this farm in
the Westfold ?' the boy asked, looked very serious.
'That, Hans, was something that I wanted to discover
for certain when I started delving into this old chest a
few weeks ago. It makes quite a tale. Let me put
another log on the fire and I'll tell you about it — if you're
interested, that is.'
'Of course I am. Grandpa,' said the boy eagerly as he
watched Peter put the log on the fire and then sit back
and light his stubby pipe.
'Thomas Oakley,' began Peter, 'started his diary as a
young man when his mother presented him with the one
written by Jonathan. His home, as you may know, was
in Nantucket in America and his fortunes first thrived
and then dwindled as the sperm whaling industry of that
once prosperous little island fell into decline. From about
1850 kerosene began to replace sperm oil as a means of
lighting streets and houses and by 1870 the ships that
THE OLD OAKEN CHEST l6l
Thomas owned lay rotting at their moorings. Nantucket
had weathered many storms but this time Thomas knew
that its days of prosperity were ended. But sperm
whahng was the only business that Thomas and his only
son Edward knew, so they refitted one of their whaleships
and sold up the rest together with the house and shipyard
that Jonathan had founded, then with Mrs. Oakley and
the three daughters they sailed to Britain where the sperm
whale industry was still thriving. They settled in Dundee
where sperm oil was wanted for the jute industry and
once more Thomas and his son sailed to the Pacific after
the cachalots. These were not so easy to find after being
hunted so intensely for a century but the Oakleys brought
back enough oil to show good profits.
'Then Jane, Thomas's second daughter, met a man
from our own country. His name was Erik Olafsen and
he was mate of a Norwegian whaler visiting Dundee.
Jane married him and sailed with him across the North
Sea to his home in Norway. Here great new changes
were taking place in the old industry of whaling.
'The firing of a harpoon from a gun which so many men
had attempted through the centuries had at last been
perfected in 1872 by a man named Svend Foyn; and what
is more, the barbed harpoon head had been fitted with a
charge that exploded on entering the whale and so killed
it more quickly. Foyn had mounted his guns in the bows
of schooners propelled by the new-fangled steam engine
and had made it possible at last to kill the bigger species
of the rorquals, the blue and the fin whales, which had
always been too fast a target for the hand harpoon
thrown from a rowing boat. It was their speed which had
saved them from being killed oflf like the right whales.
'The rorquals, which you can tell by the fluting on
their throats and the fin on their backs, are members of the
baleen family but are more streamlined than the right
whales ; and the blue and fin whales are the largest of all
l62 THE WHALE HUNTERS
living creatures. I have killed cow blue whales over a
hundred feet long, though sad to say, not so many in
recent years. They feed on the small creatures we call
"krill" and you can make your own guess as to how
many pints of these shrimps it must take to build up a
body weighing a hundred and twenty tons. Why, even
their babies are twenty-four feet long at birth. The
rorqual's baleen is shorter than the right whale's, but that
did not matter to Foyn. He knew that it was their oil
that the world needed, for such things as soaps and the
treating of textiles.
*My grandfather, Erik Olafsen, sailed in Foyn's steam
whalers from the land station at Varangerfiord on the
Finmark coast. They used to bring the whales to the
shore for flensing just as they used to do in Jonathan's
days — only then it was called "cutting in". They did so
well up there in the Arctic that other countries tried to
copy them and Foyn was forced to protect the industry he
had created by obtaining from the King the right to
exclude all other nations for a period often years. At the
end of that time the other countries sent their whale
catchers swarming into the Arctic with the new lethal
harpoon guns. When they were too far from land stations
they brought their whales to a mother ship equipped with
boiling vats. In a few seasons the rorquals in the Arctic
were practically exterminated and it was the sad story of
the Greenland whale all over again.
'So Foyn made up his mind to find new grounds and
in 1893 sent a ship to the Antarctic on the other side of
the globe. She returned with reports that the sea there
was teeming with whales. Shortly afterwards Foyn died
in the happy knowledge that the future of the industry was
'By now the four sons of Grandpa and Grandma
Olafsen had grown up and followed their father into the
whaKng industry. They sailed from the harbours of
THE OLD OAKEN CHEST 163
Sandefiord and Tonsberg on the west side of the great
Oslo Fiord. Those boys made plenty of money at whaling
but old Grandma Olafsen made sure they didn't waste
it. She still remembered the sad days of the Nantucket
whalers rotting at their moorings and whalemen sitting
idle on the wharves. So she got them to invest their
money in farmland here in the Westfold. To these, she
said, they and their sons after them could return when
they grew too old to hunt the whale; and if fortune
ceased to favour them on the sea they could work on the
'Every few years Grandma stole time from her busy life
of farming and looking after my father and his brothers to
visit her side of the family in Dundee across the water. It
was on one of these occasions that her brother Edward
suggested that the proper place for all the old whaHng
relics and heirlooms was in her home in Norway. He had
retired from whaling and had no sons to carry on the
tradition. So she brought them back with her to the
farm in this oak chest and it lay in the attic, unopened as
far as I know, until one day after I had retired I took it
into my head to see what was inside. And that's how it
came about, Hans, that I found the diaries and all these
old documents and letters.'
Hans was lying on his back looking up at the ceiling.
*And I suppose some of these letters were written by you
and your father, Grandpa?'
*Yes, Hans, and they could tell the rest of the story.'
'Let me hear it then, please. Grandpa,' said Hans
rolling over on his tummy.
Tt's late and near your bedtime, boy, but as my ship-
load of thoughts is still bowling along with a bone in her
teeth, as you might say, I might as well give her her head.
'In 1904 my father, Roald Olafsen, went with Larsen as
a gunner on the expedition that opened the first land
whaling station in the Antarctic. The British granted
164 THE WHALE HUNTERS
them concessions to operate from South Georgia, one of
the Falkland Island Dependencies. Every season the
Norwegians sent more and more catchers down there.
At first they brought their whales to the shore for flensing
and the blubber was boiled in the factory on the shore in
the old-fashioned way. But as the area became scarce of
whales and they had to go further afield they began to
use ships of about ten thousand tons which carried the
factory on board. The factory ships usually had to find
a quiet anchorage in some bay on the Antarctic coast
because the open water was too rough for them to receive
whales and flense them alongside. Then small catchers
were still not fast or manoeuvrable enough to keep up with
the fast swimming rorquals. So they lay in wait in a
likely area and harpooned them as they broke surface and
after a bit of a battle got them alongside and took them
to the factory ship. They did not kill a lot by modern
standards and the factory ships wasted a great deal
because of their limited plant. By now the world wanted
whale oil for the newly invented margarine as well as for
other things Hke soap and explosives. A better kind of
factory ship was wanted to cope with the demand. Then
someone suggested that if a ship could cut her whales on
her decks instead of alongside she would not have to sit
in the quiet bays but would be able to work anywhere
no matter how rough the sea. So the shipbuilders went
to work and we moved on to the modern age of whaHng —
deep-sea or pelagic whaling as it is sometimes called.
'It so happened that I went south in a catcher in 1924
with the first factory ship to have a whale slip built into its
stern. You can imagine the excitement when the first
whale was hauled on deck. Then there was the improved
factory plant and to match all this we had bigger and
faster catchers that were quicker on the helm. For the
first time we found that we could keep on to the tail of a
blue or a fin whale.
eio blg^ jixctoru
6 kips covdcC soualloco
Iweritii t4jkale6 a day
l66 THE WHALE HUNTERS
*The world was hungry for oil and we were the ones to
get it. Britain, Holland, Germany, South Africa and
Japan sent their ships to reap the harvests of oil from the
Antarctic waters and in every case, if the ships were not
actually manned by men of Sandefiord and Tonsberg then
the crews had been trained by them.
'New big factory ships could swallow twenty whales
a day through the tunnels in their sterns. Their improved
factories could boil oil not only from the blubber but
from the flesh, the bones and the insides ; and to-day they
can take the oil from the liver to help sickly children grow
strong; they can turn the meat into concentrated extract
for invalids, they can dehydrate the flesh into meal for feed-
ing livestock ; and they can produce valuable by-products
such as insulin, hormones and fertilisers. Strangely
enough the one part of the whale which is discarded is the
baleen which before the invention of plastic substitutes
could fetch as much as £2,000 per ton.
'Yes, Hans, the whales in the Antarctic have played
their part in helping a troubled hungry world through
the difficulties of this twentieth century.'
But Hans looked puzzled. 'But, Grandpa,' he asked,
'isn't there a danger that the whales down south will be
almost exterminated like the ones up north were?'
A new look of caution came into Peter's blue deep-set
eyes. Han's question had hit him quite unexpectedly in
the most vulnerable corner of his conscience and he needed
a few puffs of his pipe to recover his mental equilibrum.
'That's quite a question, Hans. It was something
that we harpooners never gave much thought to until
others with more foresight brought us to our senses.
Luckily our government saw the danger and in 1929
they stopped us killing whales with young, and then they
forbade the old out-dated wasteful factory ships to
operate. Then they got together with the British and
put a little more common sense into our heads. The
THE OLD OAKEN CHEST 167
hunting period was limited and each expedition was
allowed to take only a certain quota of whales. They
gave us another difficult pill to swallow just before World
War II when they told us we were not to kill whales below
certain lengths. Somehow I think they overlooked the
humpback whale so we gunners made use of him to bring
up the average of our kills and boost our precious reputa-
tions — so much so, that after the war they made him
absolutely taboo south of the fortieth latitude. They have
lifted the taboo recently but they still keep a very watch-
ful eye on the welfare of Mr. Humpback. After the war
all the nations with whaling ships engaged in the Antarctic
fishery formed an international commission for the
regulation of whaling and in 1 946 they issued a long list of
restrictions that made many a poor gunner dizzy to read.
South of the fortieth latitude the season for baleen whales
was reduced to a period of just over three months between
January 2nd and April yth. It was forbidden to kill a
blue whale under seventy feet, a fin under sixty feet, a sei
(one of the smaller rorquals) under forty feet, a humpback
under thirty-five feet and a sperm under thirty-eight
feet. I had to learn to judge the whale's length by the
breadth of the part he showed above the water and that
wasn't so easy when there was a gale on and the catcher's
bows doing a jig. The total catch of baleen whales for all
expeditions in the Southern Ocean was fixed at sixteen
thousand blue whale units for each season. One blue
whale equalled two fin or six sei and each factory ship had
to make weekly radio reports of the numbers caught. If
the sixteen thousand units was reached before April 7th
then the Commission headquarters declared the season
ended and we had to console ourselves with killing some
sperm whale before we came home. All the whales
had to be flensed within thirty-three hours of being killed
to ensure good quality oil. And to make sure that all
these rules were observed the Commission put a pair of
1 68 THE WHALE HUNTERS
inspectors on each factory ship. It was woe betide any
gunner who left his number on a whale below the mini-
mum length or one that he had killed before he realised
that it was with young.
'I can tell you, Hans, I did some swearing at first, but
I realise now that if it had not been for all these restrictions
there would not be many whales left in the Antarctic for
Hans looked up at his grandfather. 'Nor for me
either, when I go whaling,' he said. 'Father will be home
again in a few months. I wonder what sort of season he
will have had.'
Carl Olafsen had signed as a harpooner to a British
expedition and had sailed from Tonsberg last October as
the brown autumn leaves were falling.
Steel Ships and
CARL WAS THIRTY-FIVE, fair-haired and blue-eyed like the
rest of his family and the chill Antarctic air had still not
reached the bones of his broad frame after seventeen
seasons whaling. His whale catcher was waiting for him
in South Georgia where with others she had been refitted
during the southern winter. The gunner already appoin-
ted to her had gone sick and to join her it was necessary to
take passage either in the British factory ship or in the
tanker assigned to the expedition. Carl went in the
Wanderer, the massive twenty-five-thousand-ton floating
She carried a hundred men for the catchers and towing
boats as well as the four hundred who navigated her,
170 THE WHALE HUNTERS
worked her engines and her factory and flensed her
whales. She carried scientists, meteorologists, men from
a film company and a young English doctor not long out of
medical college. Her captain and lord over all the fleet
of catchers was a burly Norwegian of forty; her chief
engineer was a small wiry Scot from Glasgow and the tall
mate in charge of the whaling deck could remember the
days when the Scottish whalers sailed from his native
Dundee; the factory manager was from Tonsberg and
almost the whole of the rank and file came from the
Westfold district of Norway.
From the distance the ship herself can be distinguished
as a whaler chiefly by the twin funnels abreast her after
deckhouse and the huge square port in her stern; but on
board it is the uninterrupted expanse of her main deck that
is most noticeable. You can stand under the bridge and
look aft through the archway in the midships deckhouse
as far as the whale slip which slopes down to the sea under
the after deckhouse. This broad deck where the whales
are flensed and cut is the dividing level between the upper
and lower storeys of this floating industrial town. Above
are the quarters of the men who work the ship, the wheel-
house which contains every modern navigational device,
the numerous winches and the derricks which haul the
whales, the mechanical saws which cut up the bones and
the lifeboats which everyone hopes will never be used in
earnest. Below are the great oil-burning engines that
drive the ship and supply the power for her plant, the
tanks that can be used for storing either fuel or whale oil,
the deep holds that contain the sacks of whalemeal and
last of all the factory plant itself which stretches nearly the
whole length and breadth of the ship on the deck below the
whaling deck. The factory is fed with its raw material,
blubber, flesh and bones through the rows of circular
holes that can be opened in the whaling deck by removing
the iron discs that cover them.
STEEL SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS I7I
The Wanderer put into Leith in Scotland to complete her
final preparations at the whaling company's headquarters
and then with all the paraphernalia of modern whaling
heaped upon her spacious deck she steamed south to take
on fuel oil at Fawley in the Southampton Water.
Down channel she groped her way through a dense
November fog and in mountainous seas in the Bay of
Biscay was joined by two of the catchers which had been
undergoing repairs in South Shields.
There was no mistaking those fast cheeky little four-
hundred-ton ships with their catwalks reaching from
bridge to gun platform and their narrow hulls low in the
middle and rising steeply to the bows. Carl knew only
too well how uncomfortable life must be on board those
catchers at that moment as he watched them plunging
into waves that sometimes seemed to wash right over them.
During the passage the whole area of the Wanderer^ s
broad whaling deck and every other deck and alleyway
where the spiked boots of the whalemen would tread
during the fishing season were covered with a protective
layer of planking to avoid damaging the permanent
The big ship with two of her children at her heel sailed
over the blue sea of the tropics and through the Roaring
Forties till she found the rest of her brood waiting for her
off the island of New Georgia. There was a big tanker
with them, ready to refill the Wanderer's fuel tanks.
Catcher No. 9 waited her turn and then came alongside.
Carl with all his belongings climbed into a huge basket
which was swung by a derrick off the Wanderer's deck and
down to the catcher lying under her tall iron sides.
Between the two a large newly killed sperm whale acted as
a fender. On the catcher's bridge Carl was greeted
warmly by the bearded mate who handed over command.
Then when the catcher had taken the rest of her crew,
her harpoons, ammunition, food and other stores Carl
172 THE WHALE HUNTERS
gave the order to cast off from the mother ship. The
engine telegraphs rang, the screw churned the blue water
to white foam and Carl's eighteenth season began.
During the rest of November and the whole of Decem-
ber the expedition could kill only sperm whale for which
the season was open eight months of the year. You never
know what price sperm oil is going to fetch to-day for its
uses are quite different from those of oil from baleen
whales, but the British Ministry of Food will always pay
a fair price for the meal that can be dehydrated from
It was in search of the more valuable baleen whales that
this ;£'3 million worth of shipping had come from the other
side of the globe on a ^(^i million expedition.
On Christmas Day Carl's catcher sheltered from a
howling gale under the lee of a big iceberg and her
company did their best to celebrate while the little ship
rolled her scuppers under.
As the baleen season approached the tanker arrived
from South Africa and moored to the Wanderer. In return
for fuel oil she took the factory ship's cargo of sperm oil.
Then she headed north bound for Liverpool and the nine
catchers and the two towing boats nestled up to the
mother ship while she gave them fuel oil, food stores and
long awaited letters from home.
The factory's empty tanks, vats and plumbing were
STEEL SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS 173
cleaned of the last remnants of sperm oil with boiling salt
water, for the oil of the big toothed whale is quite different
chemically from that of the baleen whales.
The radio chattered with cross-talk in Norwegian,
Dutch, German and English as the Wanderer^s operators
tuned into the wave lengths of rival expeditions. Every-
one was closing into the edge of the ice that sits like a white
cap on the south polar regions.
Then at 24.00 hours on January ist the catchers were
released like a pack of hungry hounds and the hunt for
baleen whales was on. It was now every catcher and
every expedition for itself and the devil take the hindmost.
With the catcher throbbing along at fifteen knots Carl
stood on the bridge peering through the half-light of the
early dawn that follows the brief Antarctic night. Aloft
in the crows-nest the lookout circled his big binoculars
around the flat mirror of the sea on which the ice floes lay
scattered like pieces of broken white china. On some of
174 THE WHALE HUNTERS
them seals with large pathetic eyes seemed completely to
ignore the grey catcher ploughing the smooth green sea
into white foam.
*There she blo-o-o-ows !' The cry from aloft sent every
man running to his station. 'Two points on the port
Carl took the wheel and put the catcher's bow on the
bearing. Then through the wheelhouse window he saw
a single whale spouting a mile ahead.
'Take over, Berndt,' he said to the mate and ran along
the catwalk that bridged the space between the wheel-
house and the gun platform. Below him as he ran men
were manning the whaleline winches on the foredeck.
The gun was always kept loaded when hunting was in
progress and the head of the harpoon projected from the
nozzle. Hanging from it and coiled down on the fore part
of the platform was the sixty fathom of light nylon rope
that connected the harpoon with its thick manilla whale
line hidden below.
Carl gripped the slender butt of the gun in one hand
and kept the other free for signalling orders to the mate
in the wheelhouse behind him.
The whale which he could now see was a big blue,
rolled its back, showed its fin and sounded a few hundred
'Stop engine!' The catcher glided to the spot where
the whirlpools still showed.
Everything was suddenly very still. Everyone waited
tense and ready ; Carl at the gun, Berndt at the wheel and
the engineers below with their eyes on the telegraphs.
Five minutes, ten, then
'There she is blowing to port! Full ahead! Hard
Again the fifteen-knot chase was on but again the whale
sounded before Carl could get near enough to shoot.
Four more times the catcher drove the whale under,
STEEL SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS 1 75
giving her no time to refresh her lungs. Then she broke
surface to starboard well within the hundred yards range
of the gun.
Carl swung the gun, sighted and pressed the trigger.
The ship shook with the explosion and the harpoon
flashed through the air with the nylon forerunner snaking
after it and as it hit the blue-grey shape there was a
second duller explosion. The whale sounded and the
manilla whale line went whistling out through the fairlead
in the bows.
'Fish on!' The cry echoed through the ship. Whale-
men still call the whale a fish though all the world now
knows that it is a mammal.
But this is coarse fishing compared with the light rod
and fly methods in the days when the wooden whaleboat
with a thin manilla line running round a loggerhead
played a monster a hundred times her own weight. Now
it is a four-hundred-ton ship with a 2000 h.p. engine, a
manilla line three times as thick, winches to haul and veer
and big steel springs to take the shock from a whale that is
usually mortally wounded from the start anyway. But
let no one say that it is not still the most thrilling of big
Very carefully so that the harpoon should not be pulled
out the whale was hauled to the ship. It lashed once with
its tail and then dying, rolled on its side to reveal the
white corrugated skin of its throat.
When it was hauled to ship a hole was made in its side,
a valve inserted and air pumped in to prevent it from
sinking. The hole was stoppered, the tail flukes were
trimmed and a wire sling fitted round the small of the tail.
The number of the catcher and the whale were carved on
its side and a bamboo with a flag on it erected on the
summit — and all at great speed for there was a school of
fin whales spouting to the southward.
Away went Catcher No. 9 with Carl standing ready at
JcuZofif Skip hkndcrer ' receiving, fUnsi n^ and cuUl n^
bculecn ojha.Us killed by catchers and diUv&yed hif toujin^
vessels. 7ke tanker steams OMay a-yui oid aw^on^ the.
loose pojok'ice the C/Uchers ccnti7w.e JiuydiTy-
178 THE WHALE HUNTERS
his gun on the high bows. A wind was rising and the
salt spray was caking on his beard.
While the catchers continued hunting whales the two
towing boats, converted ex-naval corvettes, plodded round
collecting the inflated carcasses. With two or three
lashed by heavy chains on either side they took them to
the factory ship where they were moored to her stern
to await their turn to go up the slip. Killer whales
cruised among them waiting for a chance to bite out the
Carl's big blue was whale No. i. A hawser was
shackled to the sling on its tail. One of the fishing
winches above the slipway spat steam as its drum began to
rotate. The hawser went taut and the whale parted
company from the others and entered the square tunnel
tail first. It surged in the waves that washed the slipway
and would have snapped the thick wire but for the big
steel springs hidden under the deck plates near the
fishing winch. Another winch rattled and massive iron
claws descended from the roof of the tunnel to clasp the
tail of the whale. Now the midships winches took over
and whale No. i continued its way up the incline and
reached that half of the main whaling deck known as the
Here the Commission's inspector, a retired naval com-
mander, armed with notebook and tape measure, made
sure that it was not in milk. He could see at a glance that
this big blue was well above the minimum length.
The tail claws were lifted clear and sent aft for the next
whale while the razor-sharp knives of the flensers were
already making deep cuts from head to tail. Soon the
longitudinal strips were being torn from the whale by
the smaller winches. In a short while the white carcass,
looking like a huge peeled banana, was hauled under the
archway in the midships deckhouse by yet another set of
winches mounted on the forward part of the ship. The
STEEL SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS 1 79
whale as such had reached the end of its journey. This
was the meat plane and no place for the squeamish.
Flesh, intestines, heart, liver, everything was separated.
The dark figures of the high-booted men moved like an
army of ants among the huge, dripping, shapeless masses of
red and white. Mechanical saws hummed as they cut
through the bones. Winches rattled and white vapour
floated like smoke over the scene of a bloody battle.
The littered pieces that less than an hour ago had been
whale No. i were gradually swallowed through the
factory's gaping mouths that lay in rows along the deck.
Whale No. 2 was a white ghost of its former self and No. 3
was on its way up the slip. Twenty whales a day and
every one worth an average of £1,500.
Yes, like all great industries whaling has been mechan-
ised. No longer is the whale the enemy as it was in the
times of Jonathan and Thomas. It is only the weather
that the modern whaleman has to fight; especially in the
Carl would sight whales in a flat calm and an hour later
would be chasing them in a roaring gale. He would run
his ship to the shelter of a berg and curse the wasted days
that the catcher lay there waiting for the wind to stop
screaming. Sometimes fog would lay a veil over the sea
and make it impossible to sight whale, or ice would cover
the catcher with a coat of white that jammed the whaling
gear. No wonder that men like Carl had to be tough and
Yet in Carl there was also the rare quality of imagin-
ation just as there had been in old Svend Foyn. Perhaps
it was the blood of Jonathan in his veins.
One day far out of sight of the Wanderer he pointed his
catcher's bows towards a spot where seabirds were wheel-
ing over the water. It was a sign that often revealed the
l80 THE WHALE HUNTERS
presence of whale. To his surprise a helicopter appeared
from out of the blue sky and dropped a smoke marker
amongst the screaming birds. Hull down over the
horizon he saw through his binoculars the three islands'
of a strange factory ship and on the stern island a big
structure which was obviously an aeroplane hangar.
Bustling across the water with a white bone in her teeth
was a rival catcher. She was making for the smoke
marker, guided no doubt by radio-telephone directions
from the helicopter.
A school of fin whales broke surface near the marker and
for the next hour Carl was too busy trying to outwit both
whales and the rival catcher to think of much else. But
when with justifiable pride he had stuck his flags on two
dead whales to the stranger's one and was leaning on the
windbreak of the bridge enjoying a pipe he found that the
incident had made a deep impression on his mind.
That helicopter had only been spotting whales. Was
there any reason why some time in the future it should not
be able to kill them as well ?
The traditional whaleman in Carl fought in vain to
banish this idea which, nourished by earlier rumours
heard in the Wanderer, persisted in his imagination.
During the war he had seen planes firing rockets at
submarines. Why could not a helicopter do the same
to whales but with all the added advantage of being able
to hover at point blank range? The whale could be
killed quickly. No need for a harpoon line to stop it
from going down. Carbon dioxide released by the
explosion could inflate the whale and prevent it from
sinking. It might be used, not for the purpose of killing
more whales — the Commission would see to that — but to
cut the costs of an expedition if the price of whale oil
dropped. A half-dozen helicopters housed in hangars on
a factory ship would probably be much cheaper to man,
equip and operate than a dozen catchers and yet be able
STEEL SHIPS AND HELICOPTERS l8l
to kill just as many whales, despite the limitations of the
Carl turned to the burly mate. 'Berndt,' he said, 'those
helicopters — suppose the companies ever decided to use
them instead of catchers?'
Berndt grunted. 'Don't worry, Carl, they never will.
They tried electrocuting whales once — said it was more
humane or something — but it never came to much, did
'No, the gunners didn't like it. But you've got to face
facts, Berndt. We lose a lot of whales through broken
harpoon lines and the one catcher they tried it on lost
'If it was such a good idea then why didn't it take on?'
grunted the mate.
'Because, Berndt, our folk do not like changes,' replied
'But people are always trying new things. Look at the
scheme the British tried in Africa — getting margarine
from ground nuts so as to give the whales a rest. Some
said that that would threaten our livelihood but it didn't,
because it failed.'
'It was a brave effort though, Berndt. The British
know that the whales in the Antarctic must be given a rest
sometime and that the world must discover other ways
of producing edible fats. We gunners all go for the biggest
whales ; that is only natural, but if you look at the statistics
you'll see that it causes the average lengths to fall every
year. It is that and not so much the actual numbers that
the governments worry over because they know that the
whales cannot reproduce themselves below certain lengths.
Make no mistake, Berndt. If the world of commerce can
find better ways of getting oil it will use them and think
afterwards about the whalemen of the Westfold.'
'Huh!' grunted Berndt. 'You've been reading too
many Whaling Gazettes, Carl.'
l82 THE WHALE HUNTERS
Carl turned away and his blue eyes were on the far
horizon. Changes will come, he thought, and unless we
move with the times the profession that we grasp so tightly
and jealously may slip like quicksilver through our fingers.
After all, it happened to the Basques, the English, the
Dutch and the New Englanders in earlier days.
He watched a lone albatross gliding on motionless
wings. Who knows, he concluded, my son Hans may
have to learn to fly if he is to be a whale hunter like his
lOLOGlCAL : I
WOODS ISC'.:. MASS.
W. !;. 0. I.