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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms

No. 8.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXIV, No. 2 (Aug 1886)
pp. 145-149.


. . . .



No. 8.

Off Cape St. Thaddeus. – Our First Battles with the Walrus. – Sinking of the "Carnatic."

      Cape St. Thaddeus, in latitude sixtytwo, north, forms the western promontory o f the bight known as the Sea or Gulf of Anadir, where the polar whales were found in great abundance and of immense size during the first few years subsequent to the pioneer voyage of the enterprising Captain Hoys. Here, as well as in the higher latitudes of the Arctic Ocean proper, the huge monsters had revelled and fattened, undisturbed, save by the wandering parties of western Esquimaux, who occasionally succeeded in worrying one to death; and for more than two centuries after the Greenland fishery had been prosecuted on a grand scale, little was known of the polar regions of the Pacific hemisphere, except from the discovery voyages of Cook, Kotzebue and Beechey.

      The information to be found in their published accounts on the subject of whaling is surprisingly meagre and indefinite. An occasional mention is made of whales having been seen near the ship, but the reader is left, for the most part, in the dark as to the particular kind or species; while the " fish stories," transmitted at second hand from the Esquimaux and Aleutians, evince wonderful ignorance on the part of naval officers and learned naturalists as to the distinctive features and comparative value of the various species of cetacea.

      In 1848, the right whaling-grounds between the parallels of forty-five and fiftyfive, having been severely "worked" for several years, and failing to yield quick returns, the adventurous Roys, in the " Superior," of Sag Harbor, a small bark, by no means specially fitted or prepared with a view to exploration among the ice-fields, boldly pushed northward, passed through the Straits of Behring into the polar basin,made a successful cruise, and demonstrated the fact that " the great Greenland whale" might be successfully hunted by the western route. At about the same time, this species was also discovered in vast numbers by ships which had passed through the Kurile chain into the Sea of Ochotsk, a whalingground which, considering its small extent, yielded immense returns for many seasons after being opened.

      The vicinity of Cape St. Thaddeus was a sort of rendezvous of the Arctic fleet in May, the ice usually barring their progress for a time. From this point they worked gradually to the north-east, many cargoes being taken in the Anadir Sea, and about St. Lawrence Island, without penetrating Behring's Straits, which are seldom passable before July.

      Near this cape, in the early part of the season, it was no uncommon thing for the man at the mast-head, in clear weather, to report from fifty to a hundred sail within his visible horizon at one time; while, during thick fogs, constant care and vigilance were requisite to avoid collisions, which were sometimes unavoidable, in spite of the almost incessant clanging of ships' bells, and blowing of fog-horns. The anxiety to steal


a march upon others, by taking the first whale, led to many ludicrous scenes and incidents, while the same emulative spirit was also productive of more serious results, as in cases where some enterprising captain attempted too early to force his vessel in advance of others among the ice. The sight of a single whale, or even a false alarm from a finback or a walrus, was sufficient to occasion a concentric rush of swift whale-boats, "armed to the teeth," from every point of the compass—in most cases to diverge again, with much good-humored "chaff" interchanged as they took their way more leisurely back to their respective ships.

      There was much passing back and forth on matters of business or curiosity, and for delivery or reception of letters from home, with many pleasing and unexpected reunions of relatives and old acquaintances. Boats, astray from their own ship, went alongside of another, till the fog lifted— like army-stragglers "falling in" with a strange regiment, till a general halt may enable them to join their own standard.

      One whale was taken in sight of us, on the day we joined the fleet, and this by the clipper ship which had spoken us in the morning. We saw her boats trinmphantly "ride him down," while a hundred others swung away, disappointed, our own among the number.

      As the beautiful ship wore round and stood towards us to take her prize alongside, she presented a broadside of pure white, though she had been painted black when she ranged alongside of us a few hours before.

      "Why! what ship fait?" asked Captain Stetson, struck with astonishment at the phenomenon.

      "That's the ship that hailed us this morning, sir," said the Bishop. "The ' Manifest Destiny.'"

      "The what? 'Star of Empire,' he said his name was."

      "Oh yes, sir. I knew it was something of that kind. It amounts to about the same thing."

      "But that was a black ship," pursued the captain, dogmat'ca'ly.

      "So is this, sir, on one side. 'Chameleon,' perhaps, would be the most appropriate name for her, as she has only to go in stays to change color."

      "Well, that's an eccentric style of painting a ship, I must say," said the captain.

      "It's not original with him, though,*' put in the second mate; "for when I was going out in the old ' Samuel,' the captain wanted her painted with ports—that is, an imitation of them; but the owner was a Quaker, and wouldn't hear of it, as her appearance would be too warlike. So, after we made our first port, wre laid out ports on one side of her, and still wore the varniehed waist on the other. One side was for the owners, the old man said, and the other for himself.''

      "There's a big seal astern of us!" cried the man at the mast-head. "With horns!" he added.

      "Walrus! walrus!" said Mr. Bishop, who was the only man on board who had ever seen one before. "There's another—and another."

      And more heads popped above the water, and their voices swelled the strange chorus, till some forty or fifty were grouped in sight, and the noise became terrific to our unaccustomed ears.

      "Let us go down and strike one, sir," pleaded the mate.

      "I don't care," said the captain. "(jo, if you want to. You and Mr. Paddack may go. I can't spare the whole of you."

      Down went the two boats in a twinkling, every man eager for sport. We had hardly dropped out clear of the counter, when reinforcements, or rather competitors, were seen pushing off from half a dozen other ships, who were too distant to be certain whether a walrus or a bowhead had been seen. It was enough that boats were down, and of course some sort of fun must be in prospect.

      "Paddles," said Mr. Pomroy. "Peak the oars, and don't make a noise. I guess we can paddle right into 'em. You don't want but one iron up, Frank."

      Scarcely anything could be more startling than the appearance of these animals as we approached them. Huddled together in a sort of irregular phalanx, with their bull-dog heads elevated, and thrown a little backward, so as to display the full length of their formidable tusks, contrasting finely with their dark muzzles, they glared defiance at us with their great, staring eyes, and sent up a sort of guttural, roaring concert, which might be heard about as far as the beasts could be seen from the ship. I thought, as I perceived how bravely they stood their ground, and allowed us to paddle up to them, that they were ugly-looking cus-


tomers to hook to, and involuntarily laid in the paddle to stand by my oar, as the mate cried out :—

      "Give it to him, Frankl Here, this big fellow on the other bow."

      Chugl went Frank's iron into his hide, just abaft the shoulder, the bright blood following it with a gush, and, with a short jerk upon the line, the animals were gone, as if by magic.

      "I got him solid, anyhow," said the Portuguese, in high glee.

      "Yes; come here, and let me get my lance up!—or the spade will do better. Give me the boat-spade."

      But before he could clear it, so as to be prepared to " repel boarders," the enraged beast was up again, and five or six of his comrades round him. Rearing his head high, he drove his tusks at the boat's gunwale, throwing himself forward, as if in the act of sneezing. Crash went the outer ribbon of the gunwale, and a large piece of wood split off from the " clumsy-cleet," and luckily for us, too; as, if he had fairly hooked his ivory inboard, we should have been rolled over without ceremony. "Stern! Stern hard!" But the walrus, with another dash forward, caught the mate's hand, raking the skin and flesh from two fingers. As he threw his head backward again, he received the sharp edge of the spade in his exposed throat, and with a loud roar, he vanished under a pool of blood.

      "Hold on hard, Frank! Don't give him any line! I can't see anything under that bloody water, but he's whirling round, round, like a spin-button down there. There! he's gone," said the mate, with a blank look, as he pulled in the pole, socket, and half the shank of the harpoon, the soft iron fairly twisted off by the wringing, rotaton- movement.

      No wah-uses were near us, but several had risen at some distance off, having deserted their wounded mate apparently satisfied that his case was now hopeless.

      "Live and learn," said Mr. Pomroy, "serving" his bleeding fingers with tarred ropeyarns. "This is a new branch of the whaling business for me, and I'll own up that I was green. But I think I'll know enough next time to have my lance or spade ready to follow up the iron. Confound him! He nearly took charge of the boat, before I had anything ready to fight him with."

      "Is your hand badly hurt?" I asked.

      "No, that's of no great consequence. But just look at my spade. Only one chop at his hide, and it's of no more use than a hoe, till it sees the grindstone again. But where's Mr. Paddack?"

      "There he is, close to the ship," said I; "and close on to a walrus, too. There he darts!" ,'

      We saw Westcott's iron flash, and the next moment the waist-boat started swiftly forward, heading directly for the ship's broadside. We pulled ahead, to get a better view, as well as to get a chance to attack another one, the mate taking care this time to have an iron and a lance both up in the crotch. No walrus was to be seen, but he appeared to be running smartly under water.

      "He's going right under the ship's keel," the mate said. "You'll have to cut soon, Mr. Paddack, or you'll bring up all standing, if you keep on that course."

      On darted the waist-boat. To haul line was useless, as it only increased her< speed. To slack outline answered better, but it was too late to stop her way entirely. A dozen shipmates' eager heads were thrust over the rail.

      "Stem on for Dover Castle!" roared Mr. Bishop, as the frail craft met the ship's broadside with force enough 10 knock the chocks adrift, and start the ends of the upper streaks.

      But still Mr. Paddack hung on, shoved his boat off, and fell astern, but his line caught between the ship's rudder and stern-post, and he had nothing for it but to cut.

      "Guess you'd better come aboard and repair your boats now," said the old man, endeavoring to smother his uncontrollable laughter under an appearance of vexation.

      We both went alongside rather iguominiously, saluted with a roar of m?rriment, not only from our own shipmates, but, what was less endurable, from the crews of a dozen or more strange boats scattered about the field, who were all lying on their oars, enjoying the ridiculous scene.

      "Weil, Mr. Paddack," the mate said, after the boats were hoisted, "we have both made laughing-stocks of ourselves, it seems, but neither of us can laugh at the other."

      "Better luck next time," he answered. "It will be our turn to laugh, by-and-by."

      Later in the day, several of the nearest ships closed with us, and the captains came


on board, to smell the blubber, as they said, and pay their respects to the captain.

      "You are just in time," said Captain Stetson; "for I shall cool down before morning, and you'll have a new flag-ship tomorrow."

      "Oh, yes," replied Captain Winters, he who had spoken to us, in the morning; "here's Manchester, under the lee, has christened his new ship. He'll start his fires tonight."

      "Hold on a few days, and we will all wear a broad pennant," said one of the other captains. "As soon as this ice moves, and lets us go up among the steeple-tops, the whole fleet will be cutting and boiling."

      "I believe we might smash through it now, if we chose to risk it," said Winters. "What say you, Stetson—will you keep me company, and push into it tomorrow morning? I think the ' Rob Roy' will stand the pressure; but still I don't want to risk it without a consort."

      "Not I," answered our captain, decidedly. "I've done it once, already, off Karaghinsky, and chewed my cutwater way through. Another nip like that would gnaw it chock down to the bone."

      "Did you get through?" asked the other skipper.

      "Yes. And I got three whales up there; a bowhead, a humpback and a scrag."

      "Did you see any more bowheads?"

      "No. I got the only one that was there, and he acted as if he had lost his reckoning, and strayed into unknown seas."

      Another boat shot alongside, and the cheerful salute of Captain Church, of the "James and Margaret" was heard, before his head could be seen above the rail.

      "How are you, Stetson? Most got through smoking? I'm going to begin after you cool down."

      "Church, how are you?" with a hearty shake of the hand. "Where's your ship?"

      "Up yonder, running down."

      "Why, haven't you raised a smoke yet?"

      "No. I kept my humpback to fatten. I figured he would make fifteen barrels, and thought if 1 fattened him a week, he might make sixteen. But I say, Stetson, how many walruses did you get today—eh? Got any ivory to sell?"

      "How did you know about our walrus affair?"

      "Didn't I have two of my boats down there, to see it well done? There's a gun! Who is that firing? Out ahead, here, somewhere, by the sound."

      "It's that bark up yonder in the ice," hailed the man who was just coming down from the mast-head. "She has a signal set, I believe, sir."

      The bark to which he alluded had been observed all the afternoon, gallantly trying to force a passage among the heavy floes of ice, sometimes with her maintopsail a-back, and again with everything braced full, and had penetrated a mile or more, where she appeared to be beset, and to have come to a stand. She had now wore round, endeavoring to stand out again. Another report from her gun followed, before the spyglass had been handed from one to another of the shipmasteis for a look at her, and, although after sundown, the twilight was sufficient to make out her ensign—union down!

      "There! he's in the kelp, or something worse!" exclaimed Captain Church. Man my boat, here!"

      "What do you think, now, Winters, about smashing through tomorrow morning ?" the old man asked.

      But Winters did not stay to answer. The crews were hurried into their respective boats, and the captain's " stood not upon the order of their going."

      "Mr. Pomroy, I am going myself," said the captain. "Stand on nearly to the edge of the ice, and then wear round and lay a-back. I can find you easy enough by your try-fires. Lower away the starboard boat!"

      One of her crew not caring to go, I jumped into his place, impelled by curiosity, and we were soon pulling towards the ice-drift. Every ship that was within sight had a boat down, and as the twilight faded into darkness by the time we reached the edge of the ice, the splash of oars and thump of rowlocks could be heard converging from all points.

      "Who is it? What bark is it?" was hailed from one boat to another, just as people rushing to a fire, ask, "Where is it?" Somebody in the crowd is supposed to know.

      "It's the 'Carnatic,' of New London," sung out a clear voice, in the tone of oue who knew whereof he spoke.

      "Oh, dear—that's Green?" said Captain Church, whose boat was now close to ours. "Green is a crony of mine, and a mighty good fellow, too. He is just out from home, on his first season."


      The bark was struggling her wny towards us, under all sail, which was evidence that they considered their case as hopeless, and were reckless as to whether she received further damage or not. We paddled in between the ice-floes, but did not venture to go alongside, as our boats would certainly have been crashed in the ice, with the vessel under headway.

      "Are you badly crippled, Green?" asked Captain Church, as we lay off within easy hail.

      "Ay, ay—it's all up with her," was the answer. "The water is nearly up to my lower deck beams now, but I think I can drive out into the clear before she leaves us. Who is it? Church?"

      "Ay, ay! How did you do it, Green?"

      "Undertook to wear round, and met a corner of a big piece right on the bluff of the bow. Knocked a hole so that I could hear it rushing into her like a cataract."

      We kept aloof till she emerged from the ice, when she was surrounded at once by a crowd, eager to lend a helping hand. But little could be done but take off the men, with their clothes, and save the chronometers and some other portable articles of value; for her chain-bolts were already immersed, and the sea swashing between decks, as she wallowed heavily back and forth.

      I know of nothing that ever impressed me

      more sadly than to see that stout ship steadily going down, in fair weather, with plenty of willing hearts and strong arms at hand, and to know that we were powerless to avert her fate. Some one made a suggestion to cut away the masts.

      "No; let them stand," said Captain Green. "She'll be more dangerous, in the track of the rest of you, without her spars than with 'em."

      And so we took off the crew, and left her hanging, with her upper deck a-wash, sails snugly clewed up, and everything standing in all its fair proportions, a melancholy sight, which I can never erase from memory.

      The crew were divided among the different ships, each taking a man or two so as to lighten the burden. A Chinaman, who had joined her at Hong Kong, fell to our share. Thus the late shipmates were all separated, and must spend the whole season on board other ships; for of course no one could leave the ground to dispose of them.

      "You'll stay the season with me, of course," said Captain Church to his unfortunate townsman. "It's a hard case for you, Green, that the ' Carnatic' is gone, and I don't know what I can say to console you, except that her funeral was well attended. Never mind; it's the fortune of war, and perhaps you or some one else may pick me up before the voyage is over."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Up North in the "Gorgon" - No. 8.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 64, No. 2 (Aug 1886)
Pages: 145-149