Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLIV, No. 2 (Aug 1876)
pp. 172-174

172 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

. . . .



      "Joe," said little Phil the carpenter, as he was running over the columns of a newspaper some six or eight months old which he had brought from the ship "just out from home," spoken the evening before. "Here’s a yarn that reads rather tough, though it must be true because it's in the papers."

      "What is the yarn?" demanded the old boatsteerer, gruffly. "Read it up."

      And so little Phil, thus adjured, read aloud an item concerning the fishing schooner Vestal, how, lying at anchor on the Banks of Newfoundland, a whale ran foul of her cable in the night, got the anchor foul in his mouth, and weighing it actually towed the schooner some miles at great speed, until the cable parted, and the monster went off dragging a part of it in his wake, and still champing away upon the anchor in his jaws!

      "The account doesn’t say what kind of whale it was," said the carpenter. "Probably a right whale, and if so he got the flukes of the anchor toggled in among the comb of whalebone plates, and clinched so that he couldn’t clear it. After all, the thing might be possible."

      "Possible!" echoed Joe. "Why, it isn‘t even very strange. I could tell you a yarn to beat that."

      "And that’s not strange at all," said Phil, dryly. "I never heard a yarn yet since I have been in this ship, but you could tell one to beat it."

      Old Joe Hayden was indeed the most inveterate yarn-spinner to be found on board the Midas, and in view of his performances on the longbow, he might have claimed relationship with Tom Pepper himself. The newspaper item in question was a sufficient text to give him a start, and we composed ourselves to listen and be entertained, while the carpenter requested him to "fire away."

      "When I was in Japan in the old Peruvian," he began – "that’s now some fifteen years since – we went down to one of the Bonin Islands and anchored, and when we came to get under way, the shackle broke, and we hove in the cable without any anchor attached to it. We hadn't taken the pains to buoy the anchor, and didn't of

"Trapping" for Whales. 173

course know exactly where to fish for it, and it would have been an everlasting job even if we had known. So we gave it up and went to sea, one anchor short. Soon afterwards we fell in with the Grand Turk of New Bedford. and her skipper said he had an anchor, an extra one that he would be glad to sell cheap, to get it out of his way. So the price was agreed on, and the old man bought it. Now the next thing to be done was to get it from one ship to the other. Now how do you suppose we went to work to do this?" And old Joe looked triumphantly round to see what sort of answers the youngsters would make to this puzzling conundrum.

      "Don’t know," said two or three voices.

      "Couldn‘t guess."

      "You might lash it athwart two boats, and then tow them," said the carpenter.

      "Well so you might, Chips, and that isn’t a bad idea. But we took another way. The Grand Turk was in sight next morning, and it was dead calm. The two ships were fully a mile apart, and we took two large empty casks, bunged them up tight and lowered them overboard. Then we lowered away the anchor and lashed it firmly round the bilges of both casks, so it would hang between the two. The casks acted as buoys and floated it very well. But the weather was threatening by the time we got the whole machine ready for towing, and the old man sent the second boat to hook on with us, for he could get no nearer with the ship until the breeze should strike. Well, when it did strike, it came with a vengeance, a white squall, and butt-end foremost.

      We were about midway between the two ships when we perceived our danger. The old man saw it about the same instant, and down went everything by the run. The signal of recall was run up at the mizzenpeak, and short-handed as they were on board, they were doing their best to get the light canvas taken care of. We let go of our raft, and stretched out lustily for the ship, getting there none too soon. The first force of the blast threw her nearly on her beam-ends; but we worked for our lives to get all snug, and for a time nobody stopped to think about the anchor we had abandoned. The main fury of the squall was spent in an hour or two; but it left us with a steady gale that lasted two days.

      After the gale was over we worked back as near as we could judge to our old position, but although we cruised over the ground several days with fair weather, we did not fall in with our casks. As for the anchor, we had made up our minds that it must have worked adrift in the gale and gone down to the bottom; but it certainly could not carry the casks down with it. We spoke our old friend, the Grand Turk again, but she had seen nothing of it, though cruising in the same neighborhood, and the matter was charged to profit and loss – the loss to fall upon our ship of course, as the anchor had been delivered to us alongside the Grand Turk.

      It was about two weeks afterwards that we were gamming with an English whaler, the Bermondsey of London. I had been on board of her with the mate, spending the evening, and the light was set at two bells – nine o’clock – for us to return. It was delightful weather and smooth sea, but quite dark, as there was no moon at the time. We stretched out on our oars, steering for the light of the signal lantern at the Peruvian’s gaff, and our light boat was going very swiftly through the water, when we brought up, all standing, with a shock that threw every man completely over upon his next neighbor, while the mate was jerked off his feet, right over the sternsheets, into the sea. From the crash it was evident that our boat’s bow was stoven in, and by the time we had collected our wits, and helped the stunned officer into the boat, she was thwart-deep with water and sinking rapidly. Such yells as went up from six pairs of sturdy lungs, were enough to frighten everybody on board both vessels, and it was not many minutes before another boat from our ship came to the rescue, closely followed by one from the Englishman.

      When they arrived, the wreck of our own boat had rolled over, and we were all struggling some on the boat’s bottom, and some on the casks that we had been wrecked upon – for it was our own anchor-raft that had done all the mischief! But the best thing about it was, here was a large sperm whale floating buoyantly alongside of it, but with his body and afterparts highest, as if he were in the act of diving under it. The whole seemed to be strongly attached together, and we had only to stream a tub of line, and haul it alongside the ship. We lay by until daylight before the mystery could be fully explained.

      The whale it appeared had grabbed the

174 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

fluke of the anchor in his open mouth, and with such tremendous force that the sharp prong of iron had pierced through the roof of the mouth into the brain.

      "Hold on, there, Joe?" interrupted little Phil. "The sperm whale has got no brains, only the case and junk full of oil."

      "That’s as much as you know about it," retorted the veteran. The sperm whale has a brain, and if you split down through the scalp towards the back corner of the mouth, you’ll find it. Don‘t try to tell me, now, because I‘ve seen ’em, and I’ve eaten ’em too. from a small-sized whale."

      "Well, I give it up there. Go on with your story."

      "There isn’t much more to tell. The whale was hooked so solid to the anchor, that no struggle could clear him, and indeed all his tugging and jerking must have only forced the fluke of the anchor still deeper into his head. Of course, his struggles couldn’t have lasted long after his brain was pierced. And it came about that we recovered our anchor, and our two casks, and cut and boiled ninety barrels of sperm oil, which paid us pretty well for our stoven boat."

      "If you’d only put some bait on that hook before you left it, the story would have been more probable," said the carpenter. "Why didn’t you set some whale-traps like that one, Joe?" I asked. "You might have done a profitable business."

      "How much tobacco have you got, Joe?" queried the cooper, who had listened and smoked in silence throughout. "We'll believe anything, if you've got tobacco enough to put it through."

      "O hold up your chaff!" said the old man, with great apparent indignation. "Don’t care whether you believe it or not – but it’s just as true as that yarn about the Gloucester schooner – and you’ll believe that because it’s in the newspapers."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: "Trapping" for Whales.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 44, No. 2 (Aug 1876)
Pages: 172-174