Clifford W. Ashley
(1881 – 1947)


The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

The Collected Works of William Hussey Macy

The Seizure of the Whaleship George Howland of New Bedford, by Convicts at Charles Island, Galapagos, March 1852

The Documents

1827-1830 Journal

First page (Image)

Illustration (Image)


1830-1834 Journal

First page (Image)

Maloney fragment



Lewis Monto's Seaman's Certificate

Boat Signals

Plough Boy's Boat Signals

Coastal Views

   Ascension Island

   Bonin Islands

   Boning Islands

   Diego Ramirez

   Ferdinand Noronha

   Martin Vass

   Pitcairns Island

   Sandwich Islands



   Society Islands



   Sulpher Islands


Honolulu Note 1828

Honolulu Note 1829

Related Material

Sailing Vessel Identification

Types of Sailing Vessels

The Ship

Spars and Rigging

A Ship's Sails

Frame of a Ship

A Whaling Vessel

Deck Plan


A Whale Boat

Whale Boat


      Whale-Ship Stores

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms

Clifford W. Ashley's


To Which are Added Certain Words Applying to the Trades of Cooper, Caulker, and Rigger.

from his:

The Yankee Whaler. 1926.


Advance: Money allowed to whalemen before starting on a voyage, for the purchase of outfits and for settlements with the boarding-master. It is charged against their subsequent earnings.

Adze, Cooper's: A small short-handled adze, similar to a brickmason's hammer.

After House: The whaler's "Round house".

After Oar: The stroke oar of the whaleboat. He sits on the port side of his thwart, and his rowlock is on the starboard gunwale.

Agent: The managing owner of a whaleship.

Ah! Blows! See "There she blows!"

Air up, To: To blow up stronger, said of the wind.

All Gone, Sir! The sailor's reply after obeying the order "Cast off!" or "Let Go!"

Alow from Aloft! The lookout is called to deck with this order.

Alow: The deck, as distinguished from Aloft. The hail from the masthead to the deck is "Alow, there!" There is little doubt that the landsman's hail, "Halloa!" is a corruption.

Ambergris: A foreign substance found in the alimentary canal of a Sperm Whale, used as an agent in perfumes.

Apeak: The position of the oars when the boat is fast to a whale.

Articles: The ship's papers. Signed by all hands when shipping.

Away: Said of the boats when lowered, as, "They lowered away"; "Three boats were away." More stress is put on the second syllable than is customarily employed.


Bailer: A long-handled copper dipper, holding about two gallons. For removing oil from try-pots.

Bailing: Process of removing spermaceti from the case, or head of the Sperm Whale.

Bailing-Bucket: See Case-Bucket

Baleen: Black whalebone from the mouths of toothless whales.

Baleen Whale: All whales, except Sperm, that were commercially hunted.

Barrel: A barrel exists aboard a whaleship only as a unit of measure for oil, 31 1/2 gallons. Everything is carried in large casks.

Beards: also called stop-withers. Small reverse barbs on an English two-flued harpoon.

Bearers: Upright stanchions between the davits upon which the boat cranes are hinged.

Beckets: Chest-handles of rope, often elaborately knotted.

Beetle: A caulker's heavy driving-mallet.

Bellow: The sound made by the Right Whale, when in violent action. Whales have no vocal cords. The sound may be in the lungs or it may be abdominal.

Beset: Progress stopped by the closing-in of ice.

Bibles, or Bible Leaves: See Books

Bilge-Hole: Bung-hole.

Bilge of a Cask: The fat or bulging part, the waist.

Biscay Whale: North Atlantic Right Whale.

Blackfish: A small cetacean. The forehead or "melon" makes the finest lubricant known. Used exclusively for watch oil.

Blackskin: The thin slimy outer covering of a whale, so tender that it is easily scraped off with the finger-nail.

Black Whale: An inclusive term for all commercially hunted whales except Sperm and Fin whales; that is, Bowhead, Right, and Humpback.

Blanket, or Blanket-Piece: A long strip of blubber hoisted from the whale to the maintop. Subsequently cut into smaller horse-pieces before being minced.

Blasted Whale: Swollen from the formation of gas in the belly. Also a decomposed whale.

Blink: "Halation" over ice and snow.

Blow, A: A spout. The moist visible breath of a whale.

Blows! See There she blows!

Blow, to: To spout. The whale's act of breathing.

Blow up! The order given when the time has arrived to inflate the poke.

Blubber: Thick oily outer casing of the whale which serves as protection and insulation against pressure and cold.

Blubber-Fork: A long-handled fork for tossing blubber-"books" into the try-pots.

Blubber-Gaff: A long-handled hook for dragging blubber about deck.

Blubber-Hook: An iron hook, from fifty to one hundred pounds in weight, suspended from the cutting-tackle, for hoisting blubber.

Blubber-Hunter: A whaler.

Blubber-Pike: A single-pronged instrument for pushing and forking blubber about deck.

Blubber-Room: The space in the upper hold near the main hatch reserved for the temporary storage of blubber, when deck space is insufficient. If a whale is small and the weather good, the blubber-room is not used.

Blubber-Toggle: An oaken pin buttoned to a strap in the blanket-piece, used instead of a blubber-hook.

Blue Whale: A Sulphur-Bottom.

Board Ho! The warning shouted from the gangway when a blanket-piece is about to swing inboard.

Boarding-Knife: The two-edged long-handled sword-like knife which severs the blanket-piece.

Boarding-Master: A crimp who housed and supplied men for the crews of whalers.

Boat-Crew: The six men who comprise her full complement, or the four men who row a whaleboat, generally the former.

Boat-Crew Watch: When on the whaling grounds instead of the starboard and port watches serving "watch and watch," boat-crew watches were established. As there were four boats, a quarter of the crew instead of one half was kept on deck. The men were fresher and more alert as a result.

Boat-Crotch: A forked upright in a whaleboat on the starboard gunwale forward, to hold the "live irons"; that is, the first and second irons. Called a "milk" in the British Greenland Fishery.

Boat-Davits: The curved wooden arms that suspend a whaleboat overside.

Boat-Falls: The hauling ends of the davit tackles.

Boat-Gear: Everything in a whaleboat except the crew and the tools of capture; that is, not the guns, harpoons, lances, and spades.

Boat-Header: The man who steers the boat in going on a whale, and afterwards kills it. Generally a mate, but sometimes an experienced whaleman with no ship duties save masthead and cutting stage, whose only title is boat-header.

Boat-Skids: Stern davits for a spare boat. Sometimes called "tail feathers." Also an unroofed frame formerly used instead of a forward house.

Boat-Spade: A short-handled spade carried in a boat and used to cut a hole when attaching a line to a dead whale before towing. See Fluke-Spade.

Boat-Steerer: Harponeer. The man who pulls the harpoon oar, darts the iron into the whale, and then steers while the mate or boat-header lances him.

Boiling: Trying-out.

Bollard: English name for loggerhead. Usually a bollard is an upright timber on a wharf.

Bolt, To: Said of a whale when he half breaches and starts to run.

Bomb-Gun: Heavy shoulder gun which fires a bomb-lance.

Bomb-Lance: Shot from a shoulder gun. Generally a brass tube about fourteen inches long filled with explosives and fitted with a short time fuse. It is iron-pointed and "feathered" at the other end.

Bone: See Whalebone.

Bone, To (an iron or lance): To strike a rib or other bone with the implement. This generally implies a miss.

Bone-Spade: A spade with a long flat shank.

Bonnet: Cheever defines the bonnet of a Right Whale as being "the crest or comb where there burrow legions of barnacles and crabs, like rabbits in a warren, or insects in the shaggy bark of an old tree." It is a pitted horny cap situated on the nib end of the Right Whale's snout, and it is generally infested with whale-lice.

Books: Bibles or minced horse-pieces. The blubber is sliced thin, and left adhering to a rind, so the pieces can be easily forked into the pots.

Boots: All whalemen's footgear is of leather, wooden-pegged to prevent wear on decks. Oil rots rubber.

Bow Boat: The boat on the forward davits on the larboard side.

Bowhead Whale: The Arctic or Polar Whale, same as Greenland Whale. He gives the greatest amount of oil and bone.

Bow Oar: The second oar next to the harponeer. This is the third responsible position in a whaleboat. The bow oar sees that all whalecraft is clear, and attends the wants first of the boat-steerer and then of the mate. In pulling up to the whale, for lancing, it is his duty to grasp the line forward of the chocks and fetch it to the bow. This causes the boat to "veer" and tow parallel to the whale. His task requires both strength and a horny palm.

Box: Sunken cuddy-board in the bows of a whaleboat, where the forward end of the whale-line is coiled.

Box-Line: The line coiled in the bow box.

Box-Warp: Same as Box-Line.

Breach, a Full: A whale's leap, clear of the water.

Breach, a Half: A whale's leap, partly clear of the water.

Bread-Bag: Canvas bag used in the forecastle for holding hard bread.

Break Water, to: When a whale first comes to the surface he is said to break water.

Breaming: The method of cleaning a ship's bottom, formerly employed by whalers when heaving down. Torches either of twigs or oil-soaked oakum were held against the bottom. This loosened the weed, grass, slime, goose clams, and barnacles that encumbered the sheathing, so that it was easily scraped and brushed off.

Bring-to: To come to a full stop, said of whales.

Brit: Small red shrimp-like crustaceans that float in fields or beds near the surface of the sea, the food of the Baleen Whale.

Brogans: A high Blucher shoe with only two eyelet holes at each side, to admit of easy removal.

Broken Voyage: An unprofitable voyage.

Bull: The male whale.

Bunch: The prominence at the back of a sperm whale's neck.

Bung-Borer: A two-handled auger for making a bung-hole.

Bung-Hole: The hole in the side of a cask. Formerly called bilge-hole.

Bung-Starter: A wooden-headed hammer with a thin flexible hickory handle. The bung is loosened by tapping around the hole.

Bung up and Bilge Free: The best position for a cask.

Buried to the Hitches: A successful dart. The iron has penetrated to its socket. See Hitches.

Busk: A wide front stay for a corset. Frequently made at sea of white bone.

Buy in or Own in, to: To acquire or have a share in a whaleship.


Cachalot: French name for Sperm Whale.

Calf: Sucker, the young of the whale.

California Grey: A humpless whale with two "ginger rolls," often mistaken for a Right Whale.

Camboose: Whaler's name for caboose or galley.

Can-Hooks: Iron hooks used in hoisting casks.

Cant-Hook: Used in spar-yards to roll over spars. The same as cant-log, and similar to peavy, except that the pole of the latter is iron-shod.

Case: The forehead of a sperm whale. It is outside the skull, and is composed almost entirely of spermaceti. See Junk.

Case-Bucket: For bailing the spermaceti from the case. It has a round or pointed base, and is forced down into the case with a beam and tackle.

Cask: General name for the large barrels employed on a whaler.

Caulk, to: To drive oakum into a ship's seams to make them tight.

Caulker: A man whose trade it is to caulk.

Caulker's Seat: A small wooden box which also contains his tools.

Caulking-Irons: Short iron chisels with which oakum is directed into the seams of a ship. See Horsing, Making, Rasing, and Reeming irons.

Caulking-Mallet: A short-handled, long-headed mallet of wood, iron-hooped. See Beetle, Reeming-Beetle.

Chamfer Knife: A heavy iron-handled draw-knife with which to bevel the inside of the chines or stave-ends.

Chawed Boat: A boat which has been chewed by a Sperm Whale.

Chimney: "His chimney's afire!" was the Amagansett exclamation when the whale began to spout blood.

Chincing Iron: A caulking-iron used by a cooper to caulk around the head of a cask.

Chines: The rim of a cask.

Chine-Hooks: Same as Can-Hooks.

Chine-to-Chine: Casks stowed end-to-end.

Chips: On merchant ships, the carpenter; on whalers generally the cooper.

Chock-Pin: A slender oak pin passing through the chocks to keep the whaleline from jumping. Sometimes made of black whalebone.

Chocks: A groove in the stem of a whaleboat through which the whaleline leads. It is either bushed with lead or fitted with a bronze roller.

Churn, to: The boat-header churns his lance when he works it up and own in the whale's anatomy without withdrawing it.
  A whale's flukes are said to churn when their up-and-down motion makes a commotion on the surface.

Clean Ship: A whaler without oil. In Starbuck (p.190) is the following entry regarding the sloop Keziah of New Bedford: "Lost a man overboard, and returned home clean."

Clear Away, to: To prepare for lowering. Gripes are cast off, line-tubs are put aboard, the boat-falls are cleared, and stops are removed from whalecraft and sails, preparatory to the order, "Lower away!"
See Clear Boats.

Clear Boats, to: To give them a preliminary overhauling when whales are first sighted. Lines of drying clothes are removed from between the davits, stowed articles are taken out, the boat-plug is tapped home, line-tubs are uncovered, and the water-keg is examined. See Clear Away.

Clumsy Cleat: A thick thwartship plank which forms the after edge of the bow-box. The edge is notched to fit the officer's left thigh, and so steady him at his job of darting and lancing.

Commander: A heavy wooden rigger's mallet.

Cooler: A metal tank in which oil stands after boiling. There is a small one beside the try-works and usually two large ones between-decks.

Cooling down: Said of a whaler when her fires are dying or out, and the last gallon of oil has been bailed to the coolers and is waiting a temperature low enough to permit "drawing off."

Cooper's Adze: See Adze.

Cooper's Devil: His portable anvil. It usually stands on a cask-like pedestal, and it has no horn.

Cooper's Vice: A small implement resembling a corkscrew used to lift the head of a cask.

Cow: Female whale. Scammon, in his "Marine Mammalia," describes the cow Sperm Whale as about one third or one fourth the size of the male. "she is likewise more slender in form and has an effeminate appearance."

Crab: A winch used in the early days of Nantucket to haul a whale out on the beach. The power was insufficient to haul him to dry land. It merely got the whale into shoal water at high tide, and he was cut-in as the tide receded. The carcass easily floated off at the next high tide, since its displacement was considerably reduced.

Craft: See Whalecraft.

Cranberry Pudding Voyage: An early name for Plum Pudding Voyage, which see.

Cranes: Hinged triangular brackets of wood which swing out from the bearers and support the boats.

Cresset: An iron, basket-shaped grate, filled with burning chips and employed to heat casks when coopering; also a deck torch used when cutting and boiling at night.

Crossjack Yard: Pronounced "Crotchet" by whalemen; "Crojek" by merchantmen. The name of the lower yard on the mizzenmast.
 On a whaling bark this sets no sail, and consequently is called "dummy crossjack." The mainbraces lead to it.

Crotch: Boat Crotch and Tub-Oar Crotch.

Crow's-Nest: An enclosed shelter for the lookout, used only in the Bowhead Fishery.

Croze: (1) A plane for grooving the ends of the staves. It makes a slot which holds the head of a cask.
     (2) The groove into which the head of the cask is fitted.

Cruise: A whaler was said to "cruise" when, on the whaling grounds, she either lay-to or went under shortened sail at night, and set sail again in the morning. She tacked back and forth across the grounds, heading westward in the mornings if possible, and eastward in the afternoons, so that a spout ahead could be seen in a favorable light.

Cuddy Board: A short deck over the bow or stern of a whaleboat.

Cuntlines: Spaces between the sides of stowed casks.

Cut, a: Any number of dead whales alongside a ship at one time. "We had five whales in a single cut."

Cut Flukes, to: To lift the flukes out of the water and to strike out with them.

Cut-In, to: The process of removing blubber from a whale. See "flenzing," and "flinching."

Cutting-Gear: Apparatus used for cutting-in a whale.

Cutting-Spade: A wide, flat, long-handled chisel-shaped implement for cutting blubber. Specifically, one used on the cutting-stage, as distinguished from one used on deck which is called a deck spade.

Cutting-Tackle: Huge blocks and falls hung under the maintop and led to the windlass, which hoist the blubber over the main hatch when cutting in.


Dart, to: The harpoon is darted, hove, pitched, or tossed – but never thrown.

Darting Distance: Near enough to the whale to strike. The limit is about thirty feet. Fifteen feet is considered "good darting distance," and "wood to blackskin" (actual contact with the whale) is preferred in the Sperm Fishery.

Darting-Gun: A gun carrying both a bomb and a harpoon. The whole apparatus is darted.

Darting-Iron: The peculiar harpoon of the darting-gun; also the whole instrument.

Deck-Pot: A try-pot not enclosed in the brickwork of the ovens and used either to hold scrap or cool oil.

Deck-Spade: A short-handled cutting-spade for use on deck.

Devil Fish: A whaleman's name for the California Grey Whale.

Ditty-Box and Bag: The first is shaped like a wooden spice-box and generally holds a sailor's toilet articles, brush, comb, and mirror. The ditty bag is about a foot long, and contains needles, thread, buttons, knives, etc.

Doctor, the: The cook of a whaler, a much-maligned man.

Donkey's Breakfast: The corn-husk or straw mattress of the forecastle. The outfitter's price used to be a dollar apiece, and one was part of each sailor's outfit.

Double Card Steering Compass: A "transparent compass" with a card visible either from above or below. It hung inside the after coaming of the companion or cabin skylight, and served both as a steering compass and a telltale.

Double-Ender: A boat with a sharpened stern similar to the bow. A canoe is a double-ender, and so were all recent whaleboats except some in foreign fisheries that were made square-sterned to support heavy bow guns.

Draw-Off, to: To fill casks with oil from the coolers.

Draw, to: Said of a harpoon when it pulls out. "We drawed our iron." "Both our irons drew."

Drift: The set of a current either with or without ice.

Drift Ice: Broken sheet ice.

Drug, Drogue, Drudge: A square block of wood fastened to a whaleline and used to check the whale. Nowadays only used when the whale if about to take the last of the line. It acts against the water exactly as a kite does against the wind. Derived from "drudge," the earliest form of the word ("to labor patiently for others"), and not from "drag," as usually stated.

Dummy Crossjack: See Crossjack.

Dungarees: Overalls and jumpers.

Dunnage: Wood for chocking, used in stowing casks and other cargo. About the same as cord wood. The same pieces carried voyage after voyage became smooth, round and oil-soaked.


Enter, to: To penetrate, said of a whale iron, as, "His iron entered."

Eye to Eye, from: The scope of a Right Whale's flukes when "sweeping."


Fall! A: A strike. A term used in the British Greenland Fishery, meaning that a boat had got fast.

Fast: Signifies that the boat has harpooned a whale and is attached by means of the line.

Fast Boat: A boat fast to a live whale.

Fast Fish: A live whale with a boat in tow.

Fasten, to, or to Get Fast: To strike or harpoon a whale.

Fenks: Name for scrap in British Greenland Fishery.

Fid: A large, long-pointed wooden or bone tool for splicing, similar to a marline-spike, except the latter is of iron. See Pricker.

Fiddles: Racks which fit on top of the cabin table. They serve to keep dishes in place in a sea-way.

Fights at Both Ends: Said of a Sperm Whale which fights with both jaw and flukes.

Fight Shy, to: Whales are said to "fight shy" when they will not allow boats to approach.

Finback: The commonest of whales. A medium-sized variety with high dorsal fin and very racy lines.

Fin-Chain: A short chain strapped around the small of the fin. Used for the first blanket when cutting-in a Right Whale.

Finner Whale: See Fin Whale.

Finning: The action of a whale when, listing to one side, he strikes and splashes the water with his fin.

Fin Out or Fin Up: The position of a dead whale, as, "He is fin out"; "He turned fin up."

Fins: The flippers of a whale.

Fins: English name for Whalebone, which see.

Fin Whale: A term which includes the Finback and Sulphur-Bottom, both of which have prominent dorsal fins.

Fire-Pike: An instrument for poking the try-works fires.

Fish: General name for whales, used by whalemen.

Fishery: A name applied to the entire fleet of any town, nation, or locality. Also applied collectively to the ships fishing on an important whaling ground; that is, the New Bedford Fishery, the American Fishery, the Sperm Fishery, the Arctic Fishery.

Five and Forty More! Shouted by the crew when the last piece of blubber from any catch is swung inboard. It refers to forty-five barrels, which is the average take from a single whale. No matter what the size of the whale may be, the call is never varied.

Five-Boat Ship: One that lowers five boats.

Flag: "There's the Flag!" or "The Red Flag's Flying" means that the whale is spouting blood.

Flag a Cask, to: To put rushes between the staves, a method of caulking.

Flagging-Iron: An iron instrument with which to pry apart two staves of a cask so that a flag or rush may be slipped between them.

Flemish Coil: A layer of line in a tub. The line is coiled spirally layer upon layer.

Flenze, to: To cut in, the old English term.

Flesh an Iron, to: To drive it through the blubber and into the meat.

Flinch, to: To cut in, the modern English term. Said to have been an old Nantucket term.

Flipper: The fin of a whale, or the hand of a sailor.

Floe: A large sheet of ice.

Flue: The barb of a whale harpoon, probably from "fluke."

Flukes: The horizontal tail of a whale.

Fluke-Chain: The chain strap put around the "small" (the root of the tail) which holds a whale alongside. It leads to a hawse-pipe forward.

Fluke-Spade: A name applied to the boat-spade when it is used as an offensive weapon for "hamstringing" a whale. It carries a light line by which it is recovered.

Flukes, to cut: To strike out with the flukes.

Fluking: The gallied flight of the Right Whale, in which his flukes are lashed out of the water from side to side.

Flurry: The dying struggle or flight of a whale. As a whale weakens he lists to one side and swims in a narrowing circle making a last effort to escape. At the end he summons his reserves and frequently dies in the midst of a terrific commotion of thrashing flukes.

Foreganger: The English iron had an eight- or nine-yard warp hitched to it. This was kept coiled and stopped to the end of the pole until going into action, when the end was loosened and bent to the whaleline.

Forehead: The front elevation of the Sperm Whale's head.

Fore-and-Aft Cutting-Stage: Short single-plank stagings, hung overside.

Forward House: A roofed superstructure which supports the spare boats.

Footgear: All whalemen's footgear was made to admit of instant removal. In the Sperm Fishery the men lowered either barefooted or in stocking feet. In the Arctic Fishery they wore either pumps or brogans which could be kicked off instantly. Sperm whalemen frequently went barefooted in warm weather, but this was not permitted when cutting-in, as toes were liable to be clipped. Leather boots were worn at this time, and also in cold or wet weather.

Foul Line: A whaleline which has kinked or looped, and caught hold of some object in the boat.

Four-Boat Ship: One that lowers four boats.

Fritters: Early English name for scrap.

Fu-Fu: Mush and molasses.

Full Ship: A ship with a full cargo of oil, hence, homeward bound.


Gaff: See Blubber Gaff.

Gallie or Gally, to: To startle or frighten a whale.

Gallied: Frightened, said of a whale.

Gallows: A name sometimes applied to the skid beams.

Gam, a: A visit between whaleships at sea.

Gamming: Visiting, as practiced between whaleships at sea, also said of Sperm Whales when they are herded and not in motion.

Gear, Boat: Material other than craft carried in a whaleboat.

Get Fast, to: See Fasten.

Gig Tackles: Small fore-and-aft tackles to secure whaleboats on the cranes.

Ginger Rolls: The whaleman's name for the belly furrows on Finback, Sulphur-Bottom, California Grey, and Humpback whales.

"Give it to him!": The invariable order from the boat-header to the harponeer, directing him to dart his iron.

"Giving the Whale the Boat": To tie the end of the whaleline to the boat and then jump overboard, a practice of the British Greenland Fishery.

Glip: English name for Slick, which see.

Go Down, to: To sound.

Going Quick: A common log-book entry is "Raised whales, going quick."

Go into his Flurry, to: To commence the death struggle, said of a whale.

Go on the Whale, to: To row or sail up to him for the purpose of getting fast.

Goney: Whaleman's name for the albatross.

Goose-pen: The water-tank under the tryworks.

Gouge-Spade: A half-round spade with which to cut holes in blubber, for reeving chains or ropes or embedding hooks.

Grains: A harpoon-like instrument with several barbs, something like a trident, used for fish, seals, etc.

Grampus: A small variety of cetacea often found close to ships. They grunt or puff very audibly; hence the expression "puffing like a grampus."

Grapnel: A five- or six-fluked grappling-hook carried in a whaleboat for recovering lost whaleline.

Great Rorqual: The Sulphur-Bottom Whale, also called Blue Whale.

Greener Gun: A heavy swivel bow gun for shooting harpoons. Used in the Scotch Fishery and in the California Bay Fishery the last half of the nineteenth century.

Greenie or Greenhorn: Inexperienced man on his first voyage whaling.

Greenland Whale: The Bowhead Whale of the Atlantic Arctic.

Gripes, Boat: The lashings which hold a boat laterally secure on the cranes, after hoisting.

Grounds: See Whaling Grounds.

Ground Tier: The bottom layer of casks in the lower hold, always stowed "fore-and-aft."

Gurry: The slime, oil, blackskin, etc., that encumbers the deck while cutting-in.


Hail from, to: (1) To come from. (2) To announce your home port.

Hand-Lance: A long-shanked instrument, flat-headed and sharp-edged, for killing a whale. It has a six-foot pole for a handle which fits into a socket, giving a total length of eleven or twelve feet.

Hamstring: To sever the fluke tendons at the small, with a boat-spade, in order to stop a running whale.

Hard Bread: Thick square biscuit, made very hard in order to resist dampness and deterioration.

Hardtack: Another name for the above. [I.e. hardtack]

Harness: All chain gear attached to a whale while cutting-in, jaw-strap, fluke-chain, etc.

Harness Cask: The cask in which brine is soaked from salt beef preparatory to cooking. The cask generally is partitioned, and the beef stays one week in each of the two sections.

Harping Iron: The old name for harpoon.

Harpoon: An iron or steel instrument with a barbed head for fastening to whales. It is mounted on a pole and is commonly called an "iron."

Harpoon Oar: The forward oar of a whaleboat which is pulled by the harponeer in approaching a whale.

Harponeer, or Harponier: The boat-steerer who pulls the forward oar in the boat, harpoons the whale, and then steers while the mate kills it.

Harpooner: A term not used by whalemen. See Harponeer.

Head to Head, to go on: To attack a whale "head first" or bow on.

Head, to: To command a whaleboat; that is, to fill the office of mate or boat-header.

Head Matter: Spermaceti from the case of the sperm whale.

Head out: When a whale is said to be "head out" it implies that he is swimming rapidly, "going quick."

Head-Spade: A long and round-shanked cutting-spade for separating the case from the junk and the junk from the white horse.

Head-Strap: A chain strap for hoisting the case and junk.

Heave down a Ship, to: To careen. Whalers being of very strong construction were "hove down" long after the practice had been given up in other services. The last vessel to "heave down" at a New Bedford wharf was the Josephine in 1893. It was a custom of the New Bedford ships in the South Seas to remove their cargoes at a convenient island, and with heavy tackles to heave their ships over on their beam ends in order to repair and clean bottoms.

Heaver: An instrument with which to pull or tighten a strand. Used in knotting or splicing. A rigger's tool.

Heaving-Bar, Cooper's: An oak beam five or six feet long with a flange near one end, similar to a can-hook which gripped the chines of a cask. To the other end was attached a rope. A dozen or fifteen men tailed on to this rope, and turned over full casks of oil on the wharf. If a low horse was placed beside the cask, and the rope was hove on smartly, the cask was "tripped" over the horse and turned completely "end for end."

Heaving-Beetle: See Reeming-Beetle.

Hen Frigate: Any ship with a woman aboard. Not infrequently a captain took his wife with him on a voyage. Many a woman has wintered north of the Arctic Circle, and many a New Bedford child has been born there.

Herd, to: Said of whales when they gather together on the feeding ground.

Hitches, the: The round-turn and eye-splice of the line at the socket of a harpoon.

Hold, to: To remain fast, said of an iron, as, "His iron held."

Holiday, a: Any slighted task on shipboard, specifically an unslushed place left on a spar.

Hollow the Back, to: A trick of the right and Bowhead Whales. An iron will not penetrate the slack blubber so formed.

Hook on, to: To get fast. "We hooked on to a whale."

Hooker, Old: Familiar name for a whaler.

Hoop of a Cask: One of the encircling members that keep the staves of a cask together.

Hoop-Driver: A cooper's tool, a grooved instrument to be held against a hoop and struck upon with a hammer to drive the hoop into place.

Hoops, the: A pair of spectacle-shaped rings bolted to either side of the royal mast breast high above the topgallant crosstrees. Their purpose was to steady the lookout.

Horse-Pieces: Pieces of blubber cut from the blankets, about six inches wide and several feet long.

Horsing-Iron: An iron with a withe handle (to spare the hands) used by a caulker for heavy driving in a deep seam. Held by his helper.

Hose-Scuttle: A scuttle in the deck through which the hose is led in filling casks that have been already stowed.

Howel: A cooper's plane for smoothing the inside edge of a cask.

Hump: The dorsal fin of a Sperm or Humpback. (The Right, California Grey, and Bowhead Whales have neither humps nor fins on their backs.

Humpback Whale: An inshore whale with very long curved flippers and a humplike dorsal fin.

Humpback, to: To fish for Humpbacks.


Ice Anchor: An ice anchor has but a single fluke, which is dropped into a hole cut in the ice.

Iron: The name commonly applied by whalemen to a harpoon.


Jaw back, to: Said of a Sperm Whale when he rolls on his back and fights with his jaws.

Jaw-Strap: A chain sling for hoisting the jaw.

Join, to: To sign ship's articles or papers.

Junk: The wedge-shaped lower half of the Sperm Whale's forehead, which is above the skull and white horse. It is about equally composed of white horse (meat) and oily matter, both oil and spermaceti. There is no blood in this section, which accounts for the whiteness of the meat, and consequently the name white horse. See Case, and White Horse.


Keep your Eye Peeled or Skinned: Keep a sharp lookout.

Kicking-Strap: A rope across the top of the clumsy cleat and fast at each end, under which the whaleline is led. It prevents the whaleline from sweeping aft if it should chance to jump from the chocks.

Killer Whale: A variety of the dolphin family, the enemy of Baleen Whales.

Knockdown the Try-Works, or Cask: To take apart or remove.

Knuckle-Joint: The joint of the whale's flipper which connects with the shoulder blade.

Kreng: The stripped carcass of a whale. Term used in the Greenland Fishery.


Lance: Instrument for killing whales. See Hand-Lance.

Lance-Line: A light line, twelve- or fifteen-thread stuff, with which to recover a lance after it has been tossed.

Land Shark: Common name for a sailor's outfitter, applied because of his supposed rapacity.

Lane: A narrow defile in the ice, through which a ship may sail.

Lantern-Keg: A keg about two feet long, shaped like a truncated cone with a base about twelve inches and a head about six inches across. Contains lantern, candle, flint and steel, matches, tobacco, and hard bread; to be used in an emergency.

Larboard: The port side of a ship. A term obsolete except aboard a whaler. It is not applied to the rigging or used in navigation. Generally it refers to the position of some article of whaling gear.

Larboard Boat: The boat at the port quarter of a whaler.

Lash-Rail: A strong rail bolted along the inside of the bulwarks to which the junk, casks, and other deck hamper are lashed. Peculiar to whalers.

Lay: A whaleman's proportionate share of the earnings of a voyage.

Lay the Boat on, to: To direct it with a single sweep of the steering-oar into the most advantageous position for darting, generally at the right side at right angles, with the bow opposite the flipper.

Lay the Boat off, to: To direct the boat out of danger.

Lay the Boat around, to: To turn the boat around by means of the steering-oar.

Lead (in the ice): A crooked lane, or one that is not clearly open.

Lean, to: To cut off any meat which may remain attached to the blubber.

Leaning-Knife: Knife employed in leaning.

Leaning-Spade: Spade employed in leaning; has a very wide blade.

Leveler Plane: An arc-shaped tool for planing the heads of casks.

Life, the: The vulnerable spot in a whale, generally the lungs.

Line: See Whaleline

Line-Tub: A large shallow tub in which the line is carefully stowed in successive Flemish coils.

Linesman: A seventh man sometimes carried in a British boat during the early nineteenth century, whose duty it was to coil line when not pulling at his oar.

Lipper: An oblong piece of blubber with a slotted finger grip, used to squeegee the deck after cutting-in.

Lipper the Decks, to: To scrape the decks with a lipper.

Live Irons: The first and second harpoons which rest ready to hand, in the boat crotch.

Lobscouse: Salt beef and hard bread hash, sometimes vegetables are added.

Lobtail, to: The act of the Sperm Whale in violently beating the surface of the water with his flukes.

Loggerhead: The projecting timber in the stern of a whaleboat around which the whaleline is snubbed.

Lone Bull: An aged outcast Sperm Whale. He appears to bear about the same relation to a pod of whales that a rogue elephant bears to the elephant herd.

Long Jointer: A great plane well over six feet long used in cooperage for beveling and trueing the edges of staves. The front end is supported on a horse and the back end rests against a solid object. The plane is face up and stationary. The cooper thrusts a stave down the face of it.

Long Lay: The cabin-boy's lay, about one two-hundredth or one two-hundred-twenty-fifth of the voyage. See Short Lay.

Lookout: The masthead sentinel, whose chief duty it is to discover whales. Also the night watch at the forecastle, who reports anything of moment.

Loose Boat: A boat which is not fast to a whale.

Loose Irons: Irons without lines attached. Sometimes used to weaken a whale. An old practice was to dart them into the "small" or root of the tail, which served to slow the creature down.

Loose Whale: A whale with harpoons embedded and lines trailing, but no boats fast; one that has broken away.

Lower away: The order to lower boats for whales.


Make, to: To see or discover anything, generally from a distance; as "We made No-Man's-Land."

Make a Passage, to: To pass from one whaling ground to another with all sail set.

Making-Iron: A grooved caulking-iron used in finishing off a seam.

Making-Off: Skinning, mincing, and stowing blubber in casks; a name and process of the Greenland Fishery.

Marlinespike: A long, tapered, pointed iron, used to open strands in splicing rope. See Fid, and Pricker.

Masthead, the: The lookout, whose task it is to sight whales. Also his station at the topgallant crosstrees.

Masthead Lookout: Same as above. See Lookout.

Mate, to: To cruise together and divide the catch, said of two whalers. Ships may mate when gamming, or they may not. One is a social arrangement, the other is a business arrangement.

Melon: The case of a blackfish. See Blackfish.

Midship Oar: The waist oar of a whaleboat, the middle or third and longest oar, usually eighteen feet. Generally the term applies to the man who pulls the oar. He sits on the port side, and his rowlock is on the starboard gunwale.

Mik: The Greenland Fishery name for a boat-crotch.

Mill, to: To turn, said of a whale when he makes any considerable change in the direction of his course. More specifically, it means to turn while stationary.

Mince, to: To slice blubber into books.

Mincing-Horse: A plank with a forked end and guiding pegs to hold the horse-pieces while they are minced.

Mincing-Knife: A knife about thirty inches long with a handle at each end, which serves to mince the blubber into thin slices.

Mincing-Tub: The tub which supports the mincing-horse and receives the "books."

Mixed Voyage: One in which whaling was combined with some other venture or ventures; such as codfishing, seal, walrus, bear, and sea-elephant hunting, or trade and barter for hides and pelts.

Monkey Jacket: A short coat. Nothing "long-tailed" was allowed in the boats on account of danger from fouling line.

Monkey Rope: A rope which was either knotted or belted around a man who was sent down on a whale overside for various purposes connected with cutting-in.

Morse: Early English names for walrus, used in the Greenland Fishery.

Mount, a Harpoon or Lance, to: To secure the implement to its pole. The British Greenland Fishery term was "to span in" a harpoon.

Mux: To botch a job.


Nantucket Sleighride: A ride in a "fast" boat" behind a "gallied" whale.

Nib, or Nib End: The tip of a Baleen Whale's snout.

Nipped: To be pinched in the ice, said of a whaler.

Nipper: A quilted piece of canvas eight or nine inches square which protects the boat-steerer's hand while throwing a turn of the line on or off the loggerhead. A glove or mitten might foul and carry away the hand.

Nisket: The after opening of the alimentary canal of a whale.

Noddle End: The front upper part of the Sperm Whale's snout where the spout hole is located.


Oakum: Old rope picked apart and used for caulking seams.

Oar Apeak, or Peaked: When the boat is fast, the handle of each oar is slipped into a hole in a cleat fast to the ceiling opposite the rowlock. This "peaks" the oars up at an angle of about twenty degrees, sufficient to clear rough water. The angle of the looms guides the whaleline down the center of the boat.

Off Soundings: Water too deep for a hand lead.

Old Man: The captain. The common way of referring to the captain, but never employed in addressing him.

One: If an officer requires hands, he calls out, "Come here, One!" or "Two!" or "Three!" according to his needs.

Outfit: The equipment for a voyage, either a sailor's or a ship's.

Outrigger Cutting-stage: The modern three-plank staging from which a whale was cut-in.


Pack: Large body of drift ice.

Palm, Sailor's: A leather harness around the hand, with a thimble surface at the root of the thumb: for heavy sewing.

Pan-Bone: The large flat slabs of white bone from the jaws of the Sperm Whale.

Pans, Jaw: Same as Pan-Bone.

Parmaceti: Old name for spermaceti.

Part, to: To break, as a whaleline.

Part, a: A share in a voyage, also called a "piece."

Pay, to: To pour tar or pitch into a seam after caulking.

Peak, to: To stick the handles of the oars in the peak cleats.

Peak Cleat: The cleat which holds the oak apeak. See Oar.

Pick-Haak: Blubber pike and gaff combined, similar to a boathook. Used in Greenland Fishery.

Piece, a: (1) Old term for a part or a share in a whaleship.
       (2) A common abbreviation for blanket-piece.

Piggin: A small bucket-like vessel for bailing a boat. One stave is extended to form a handle or ear.

Pike: See Blubber Pike

Pitch, to: To dart an iron, or a fluke-spade.

Pitching: The motion of a whale when, after spouting, his head settles and the hump emerges from the water.

Pitch-Pole, to: (1) To dart an iron a long distance by tossing it upward and allowing it to describe a considerable arc before striking.
                  (2) Said of a whale when he stands vertically with his head out of water, bobbing up and down.

Plum Duff:
 1 lb. Flour
 1 teaspoon soda
 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
 2 oz. Dripping
 pinch of salt
 6 oz. Raisins
 4 oz. Sugar.

    Sift the flour, soda, cream of tartar, and salt, and add the dripping. Stone the raisins and add the sugar. Mix all together with water. Make into balls and boil for four hours or steam five hours. If allowed, serve with sweet sauce.
    This is the plum duff of recent years. Previous to this, potash was used instead of the soda and cream of tartar.

Plum-Pudding Voyage: A name for a short or "tween seasons voyage. Also a name applied by the New Bedford whalemen to the short voyages of the Provincetown whalers, the implication being that a Provincetown voyage was a mere picnic.

Pod: The common name for a school, herd, or shoal of whales.

Poke: Blackfish or sealskin poke. A skin, bladder, or stomach which is inflated and used as a drug.

Pole: The shaft of a harpoon, lance, or spade. The harpoon pole is of hard wood with the bark still on, as this gives a better hand-hold.

Porpoise-Iron: An old name for the toggle-iron, which was originally called "Temple's Gig."

Pots and Pans: The two tin dishes from which the foremast hand eats and drinks.

Preventer Boat-Steerer: A substitute boat-steerer. The foremast hand who is next in line for promotion. He pulls bow oar.

Preventer Pin Rails: Pin rails in the main rigging above the sheer poles to which running rigging is belayed while cutting-in.

Pricker: A small wooden-handled pointed instrument for splicing and knotting small rope. See Marlinespike, and Fid.

Pumps: Worn by whalemen in good weather, but kicked from the feet before lowering.

Put the Boat on a Whale: See Lay the Boat on


Raise Whales, to: To discover them; to sight and announce them.

Rasing-Iron: A tool for cleaning a seam preparatory to recaulking.

Reamer: Instrument for enlarging and tapering bung-holes.

Recruits: (1) Fresh provisions and supplies.
    (2) Various articles taken for purposes of trade, required when replenishing provisions at out-of-the-way ports – calico, beads, powder, tobacco, axes, soap, etc.

Red Flag: See Flag

Reem, to: To wedge seams open with a reeming-iron, so that oakum may be more easily admitted, when caulking.

Reeming-Beetle: The caulker's largest mallet.

Reeming-Iron: Used by a caulker for opening seams.

Riders: The upper tier casks of the lower hold.

Ridge: A whale's back between the hump or fin and the small. On the Sperm Whale, beginning at the large dorsal hump, the ridge presents a succession of smaller protuberances diminishing in size as they approach the small.

Rigger's Belt: A strong belt which suspends a marlinespike, a grease-horn, and a sheath-knife. The knife is "square-pointed" – that is to say, it has no point..

Rigger's Horn: A docked horn containing grease, worn on a rigger's belt.

Right Whale: The Whalebone Whale of temperate waters; the whale sought by the Yankees in the early shore fishery. He has no hump and is smooth-bellied.

Ripple: Disturbance made on the surface when a whale swims just below, without rising, or before rising.

Rising: 1. Motion of a whale when the hump settles and the head lifts out of the water preparatory to spouting. 2. The term applied to each reappearance of the whale at the surface; as, "We"ll get fast this rising."

Roll, to: To rock from side to side in order to add scope to the snap of the jaw when fighting. Peculiar to Sperm Whales.

Rolling Whale: See Roll

Rounding Out, or Rounding: Arching the back nearly at right angles preparatory to turning flukes and sounding.

Round-to, to: To come to a full stop; said of whales.

Rugged: Rough or boisterous. Said of the weather or the sea.

Run, to: A whale runs, or sounds, settles, bolts, breaches, or rounds-to, but he seldom "swims."

Rush a Cask, to: To insert rushes between the staves as a sort of caulking.

Rushes: Used in flagging casks.

Ryer or Wryer: A long narrow cask six or eight inches across the head, made for stowage in the cuntlines between larger casks. It is probable that the name is a corruption of Rider (which see).


Sag Harbor Iron: A toggle-iron somewhat smaller than that used by the whalemen of other ports.

Salt Horse: The common name aboard ship for salt beef: similar to corned beef but more briny. It contains a liberal amount of saltpetre, and has to be soaked in the fresh water of the harness cask for about two weeks before it is edible.

Salt Junk: Another name for the above.

Savealls: Scoops to recover oil and spermaceti from the deck.

Save, to: This is an inclusive term for cutting-in and trying-out; as, "We saved our whale."

Scarf: The line or score around a whale made by the spades in cutting-in.

School: A pod of whales.

Schoolmaster: A bull whale much larger than the rest of the school.

Scooping: Descriptive name for the Right Whale's method of feeding. He rushes through a field of brit with his mouth distended, gathering great quantities at a single scoop.

Scrag Whale: A name formerly used to designate a Baleen Whale of poor quality – either a thin Right Whale or a Fin Whale, it is not certain which.

Scrap: Blubber from which the oil has been tried. Scrap is the common fuel of the try-works.

Scrap Hopper: A bin for scrap beside the try-pots.

Scriber: A tool for marking casks. It is a compass-like instrument, and the rotating leg makes a circular incision. Straight lines are made with a gouge attachment on the side.

Scrimshaw: The art of the whaleman. Pictorial, ornamental and useful things made of the bone and teeth of the Sperm Whale. Other forms of the word are: Scrimshandy, Scrimshander, Skimshander, Skrimshander, Scrimshonter.

Scrimshaw, to: To practice the Art of Scrimshaw. The usual tools are a saw, a knife, and a file.

Scull, to: To work the steering-oar tailwise to assist in propelling the whaleboat.

Sea-Pig: Porpoise.

Serving-Board: A flat piece of wood with notched edges which answers the same purpose as a serving-mallet, except that it is usually employed for small jobs.

Serving-Mallet: A cylindrical piece of wood with a groove on one side, to fit against a stay, and a handle at the other side, for serving or covering the rigging. It is revolved around a stay, winding and tightening the yarn as it goes.

Set, to get a: To get an opportunity to lance.

Set up, to: To assemble a cask.

Settle, to: To sink without turning flukes or making other observable movement.
Peculiar to the right Whale, although sometimes reported of the Bowhead and Sperm.

Settle a Voyage, to: To divide the proceeds between the owners and the crew.

Shank: Of a harpoon, lance, or spade. The part between the head and the socket.

Share, a (of or in a voyage or ship): Usually an eighth, sixteenth, twenty-fifth, thirty-second, or a sixty-fourth. Also called a "piece" or a "part."

Shark: See Land Shark.

Sheathing, Bottom and Deck: Seven-eighths-inch pine boarding is added to save the structural parts of a ship from wear and deterioration. Copper sheathing is nailed outside the wooden sheathing on the bottom.

Shipkeeper, the: Usually the cooper, who acts as sailing master while the boats are away.

Shipkeepers: Men left to man the ship while boats are away.

Shoal: A school or pod, generally applied to blackfish.

Shooks: Staves, baled for easy stowage.

Short Lay: The captain's lay, or proportionate earnings in a whaling voyage, one-eighth to one-eighteenth. See Long Lay.

Short Warp: (1) The line bent to the second iron. It is attached to the main line with a bowline knot, which runs up on the main line if the iron is fast, or drifts back to the boat if the iron is loose.
              (2) The short rope which, in the early New England shore fishery, connected the harpoon and drug.

Single-Flued Iron: An early hook-shaped harpoon.

Size Bone: Whalebone six feet or over in length.

Skeeman: An officer on a British Greenland ship who directed the stowing of the blubber.

Skid Beams: A superstructure for storing spare boats.

Skids: Two thick parallel planks reaching to the gangway from the wharf upon which casks are rolled.

Skimmer: A long-handled copper instrument for removing small bits of scrap from the surface of the boiling oil in the try-pots.

Skipper: "The Old Man"; master or captain of a whaler.

Slack Blubber: The Right Whale when attacked has a habit of sagging or hollowing his back. This leaves a slack, wrinkled section where the blubber does not offer sufficient resistance to be easily penetrated.

Slick: The smooth and oily spot left by a whale in sounding.

Slide Boards: Bent strips on a ship's side, to fend boats in hoisting.

Slop-Chest: The ship's store of ready-made clothes, knives, tobacco, etc., which is drawn upon by the sailor.

Slops: Sailors" garments.

Slumgullion: Refuse of the blubber.

Slush-Tub: A tub in which the fat and grease of the galley is saved. The cook and the ship divide equally whatever this brings when settling a voyage.

Small: The slender part of the whale's after-body where it joins the flukes.

Smooth-Bellied Whales: Sperm, Right, and Bowhead Whales.

Snub, to: To check the whalelines by taking turns around the loggerhead.

So! An order to stop or stay temporarily.

Socket: A hollow cone in a harpoon, lance, or spade, at the base of the shank, into which the pointed pole is fitted.

Soft Bellied Whales: Inclusive name for Humpback, Sulphur-Bottom, and Finback Whales.

Sound, to: To turn flukes and start for the bottom, said of a whale.

Spade: See Cutting-Spade.

Span in, to: To mount an iron on its pole, a term of the British Fishery. (Scoresby, 1820.)

Speak, to: To hail a ship or boat.

Spectioneer: The man who had charge of "flenzing" and "making off" in the Greenland Fishery.

Spermaceti: The case or head matter of the Sperm Whale.

Sperm Whale: The great toothed whale of temperate and tropic waters, absolute monarch of the seas, and the only whale that could have swallowed Jonah.

Spiracle: The spout-hole of a whale.

Spout: The moist visible breath of a whale.

Spouting Blood: Blood appears in the spout when the lungs have been lanced, the sign that the whale is going into his flurry, hence, dying.

Spreaders: Sticks put in the whaleboats, while on the cranes, to keep the gunwales from contracting and warping.

Spring, to: In rowing, to pull hard, to raise from the thwart as the stroke is started.

Spring on the After Oar, to: The act of the mate, who pushes against the after oar to help speed the boat.

Spurs: "Creepers" strapped to the instep to give the men a sure footing while walking on the whale. Used in the old Greenland Fishery.

Square Tier: Said when the heads of the ground tier casks and the riders are stowed to the same line.

Squid: Cephalopod Octopus, Sepia Cuttlefish; the food of the Sperm Whale.

Starboard Boat: The after boat on the starboard side. In a "four-boat ship" there is no other on that side. In a "five-boat ship" there is also a "starboard bow boat."

Stave: One of the curved side pieces of a cask.

Steerage: The quarters of the boat-steerers. Usually forward of the cabin on the larboard side. Reached through the booby-hatch.

Steering-Oar: A twenty-two to twenty-three-foot oar for steering a whaleboat. It has a peg at right angles to the loom, one foot from the handle end, providing a grip for the left hand.

Steering-Oar Brace also called Steering Brace: The fulcrum of the whaleboat's steering-oar, located on a sort of bumpkin, projecting over the larboard side, just forward of the stern post.

Stern All! The order to back the whaleboat away from trouble. Given after striking or lancing.

Stern-Sheets: The space between the after thwart and the stern-cuddy where the wet whaleline is coiled while hauling in.

Stirring-Pole: A stick for stirring oil in the try-pots.

Stocks: British name for harpoon and lance-poles.

Stop-Withers: The reverse barbs or beards on a British two-flued iron.

Stove, to: To smash up a whaleboat; as "He stove his boat"; "The boat was stove"; "It got stove"; "I am stove"; "Who stove you"; "You"ll get stove"; "I"m all stove up."

Stove Boat: A boat that has been damaged by a whale. A whaleboat may also be stove in hoisting and lowering.

Strike, to: To get fast, to fasten, to harpoon.

Sucker: A young suckling whale, the common name for a calf.

Suds: Foam on the surface of the water caused by the actions of a whale.

Sulphur-Bottom: Whalemen's name for the Great Rorqual, or Blue Whale.

Sweep Flukes, to: Said when the whale lifts his flukes from water and swings them from side to side in complete arcs "from eye to eye."
A practice of Bowhead and Right Whales.

Swivel Gun: A heavy gun for shooting a harpoon; secured to the bow of a boat.

Sword Fish: The Orca or killer whale.


Tackle, to: To close with, to attack a whale.

Tail Feathers: Stern davits or beams, where boats are stowed on small whalers, usually schooners and brigs.

Take, the: The accumulation of a voyage; as, "Our take was 2000 barrels."

Take, to: To capture a whale. The invariable expression; as, "We took two whales."

Take Care of, to: To perform the necessary offices, as, "We took care of the junk."

Take the Line, to: To escape with the line attached. Said of a whale.

Telltale: A small compass with a card "upside down" which hangs over the captain's bed. A name also applied to the underside of the double-card steering compass.

Temple's Gig: See Temple Toggle-Iron

Temple Toggle-Iron: The most successful harpoon ever made. Invented by Lewis Temple, a negro whalecraft-maker of New Bedford, in 1848, and at first called "porpoise-iron" and "Temple's gig." It became the universal whale iron, and has never been improved on.

There! A word added for emphasis aboard ship. "What are you doing there?" "Get into that boat, there!" "Hello, there!" "On deck, there!" It has no meaning.

There She Blows! This is the common announcement of the discovery of a whale. The call is repeated each time the whale spouts; often the form is varied, as follows:
 Ah blows!
 She blows!
 There she breeches!
 There she whitewaters!
 She blows and breeches!
 There go flukes!
 A fish! A fish! (English, 1820)
 Awaite pawana! (Natick Indian; said by St. John to have been used by Nantucketers, 1782. Pawana means whale in Natick.)
 Towno! Towno! Or Town ho! Town ho! The old hail of the Nantucket Shore Fishery. With this cry the Lookout summoned the townspeople when whales were sighted. The shore fishery was abandoned in 1760.

Thief: A cylindrical pail about ten inches long, and small enough to enter the bunghole of a cask. Its capacity was about one cupful. Used on whalers at the freshwater butt. It is claimed that when water was scarce, it was kept at the mainmast head. A sailor had to climb to get it and return it when he was through.

Thole Mats: Thrummed mats to muffle the sound of oars in approaching a whale.

Thrash, to: To roll and lash the water with flukes and flippers.

Thrasher: A species of shark which attacks baleen whales.

Three: Collective name used in addressing the starboard oars of a whaleboat; as, "Pull Three," "stern Three." See Two.

Three-Boat Ship: One that lowered three boats.

Toggle, Blubber: A hardwood pin, several feet long and about six inches in diameter, used in hoisting blubber. It is buttoned through a strop in the blanket-piece which is fast to the cutting-tackle.

Toggle-Head: The hinged head of a harpoon.

Toggle-Iron: A harpoon with a hinged head, which turns at right angles to the shank when pulled. See Temple Toggle-Iron.

Tormentor: The two-pronged fork of the galley, with which salt beef is dished.

Toss Flukes, to: To lift flukes from the water.

Tow-Iron: Early American name for the harpoon used in fastening a boat to a whale. The earlier American iron was used with a short warp and drug and did not tow the boat; it was of much lighter construction and had a spike and shoulder instead of a socket at the base of the shank. One of these early irons is preserved in the Hinsdale collection, and is the only one known to exist. They went out of use between 1761 and 1782.

Tow-rope: A name formerly applied to the whaleline.

Towno! Towno! An old cry of the whaleman when he wanted assistance, usually voiced when in trouble ashore. See "There she blows."

Train-Oil: English name for whale-oil.

Truss-Hoops: Temporary hoops of thick hickory employed while setting up a cask.

Trying-Out: The process of boiling oil out of the blubber.

Try-Pots: Huge iron pots set in the try-works forward.

Try-Works: Brick ovens with try-pots for rendering oil and an insulating water tank beneath. Built on deck just abaft the forehatch.

Tub-Oar: The fourth oar, the one next the after oar. He sits on the starboard side, and his rowlock is on the port gunwale; also his oar.

Tub-Oar Crotch: The rowlock of the tub-oar. It is double-decked; that is, it has a branch supporting a higher notch for use if the sea is rough. This lifts the oar sufficiently to clear the line-tub.

Tubs: See Line-Tub.

Turn Flukes, to: To toss the flukes in the air and dive. This is the almost invariable gesture of both Sperm and Right Whales preliminary to sounding.

"Tween Seasons Voyage: A short voyage, similar to Plum-Pudding Voyage.

Two: Collective name used in addressing the larboard oars of a whaleboat; as, "Pull Two!" "Vast pulling Two!" See Three.

Two-Boat Ship: One that lowered two boats. Few ships previous to 1820 lowered more.

Two-Flued Iron: The old harpoon, the head of which was arrow-shaped.


Up End a Cask, to: To stand it with the head up.

Upper Tier: The second tier of casks in the lower hold; also called "riders."


Voyage: The amount of catch; as, "What voyage did you make?"

Voyage: The duration of a cruise for whales.


Waif (English, wheft): A small dark flag with a sharpened staff with which to mark a dead whale. Also used as a signal by the whaleboat.

Waist Boat: The midship boat on the larboard or port side of whaleship.

Water-Keg or Breaker: A small cask of drinking-water carried in a whaleboat.

Whale, to: To go whaling; to take a voyage on a whaleship.

Whaleboat: The boat in which whalemen pursue whales.

Whalebone: Black "bone" from the mouth of the Right and Bowhead Whales: commercial whalebone.

Whalebone Whale: An inclusive name for Right and Bowhead Whales.

Whalecraft: The iron weapons of capture carried in the whaleboats: harpoons, lances, and spades.

Whaleline: The rope leading from the line-tub to the harpoon, which fastens a boat to the whale. Long fiber, long-laid manila rope about two and one-quarter inches in circumference.

Whaleman: One who has served his apprenticeship on a whaler.

Whale-Oil: The oil of any Black Whale; specifically the oil of the right Whale; called by the English "train-oil."

Whaler: A whaleship.

Whaling Grounds: The charted areas which whales are known to frequent, their feeding grounds.
A list of well-known whaling grounds, Bowhead, Sperm, and Right
      Archer Grounds 7°-20° S., 84°-90° W.
      Arctic Ocean (north of Behring Strait)
      Australian Grounds
      Bahamas 28°-29° N. to 79° W. Behring Sea
      Brazil Banks
      Callao Grounds
      Camilla Grounds, or             }
      Commodore Morris Grounds, } 52°-50° N. 21°-24° W.
      Caribbean Sea (off Chagres)
      Carroll Grounds (between St. Helena and Coast of Africa)
      Charleston Grounds 29°-32° N., 74°-77° W.
      Chile, Coast of
      Congo River
      Crozettes (S.E. of Cape Town)
      Cumberland Inlet
      Davis Straits
      Falkland Islands
      False Banks
      Frobisher Bay
      Grand Banks
      Greenland (the east coast)
      Gulf of Guinea
      Gulf of Mexico 28°-29° N., 89°-90° W.
      Gulf of St. Lawrence
      Hatteras, "Off" (along edge of Gulf Stream)
      Hudson Bay
      Indian Ocean
      Japan Sea
      Kodiak Grounds
      Main Banks
      New Zealand
      North Atlantic
      North Pacific
      Northwest Grounds
      Nova Zembla
      Off-Shore Ground, 3°-10° S., 90°-120° W.
            (discovered by ship Globe, 1818)
      Okhotsk Sea
      Patagonia, Coast of
      River Plate Ground; also called "Off the River"
      Sooloo Grounds (Mindora Seas)
      South Atlantic
      South Pacific
      Steen Ground, 31°-36° N., 21°-24° W.
      Straits of Belle Isle
      St. Helena Grounds
      The Twenty Twenties 20° N., 20° W.
      Tristans (Tristan d"Acunha Island)
      Two Thirty-Sixes, 36° N. - 36° W.
      Two Forties, 40° N. - 40° W.
      West Indies
      Western Grounds 28°-36° N., 21°-24° W.

Where Away?: The first query made by the officer of the deck when whales are announced from aloft. It refers to the direction of the whales from ship.

White Horse: The bloodless meat in the forehead of the Sperm Whale. Specifically, the part of the forehead next above the skull. The sailor's name for all meat is "horse." See Salt Horse.

White Water: The spray and foam caused by a breaching or thrashing whale.

White Water, to: To make spray or suds, said of a whale.

Wood to Blackskin: When the stem of the whaleboat collides with the side of a whale, it is said to lie "wood to blackskin."

Wooding: "To go wooding" is to collect wood for the ship either on the beach or ashore.

Wryer: See Ryer


You! Common method of address, officer to sailor.


      The glossary has been transcribed from pages 123-146 of the Dover edition, 1991.

Clifford Warren Ashley (1881 – 1947)


First Edition:
Clifford W. Ashley.
      The Yankee Whaler.
Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin, The Riverside Press Cambridge, Limited edition (1926)
1st ed. 4to. xxiv, 379pp.

Edition used for the glossary:
Clifford W. Ashley.
      The Yankee Whaler.
New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.
reprint of 2d edition, xxciii, 156pp.

Last updated by Tom Tyler, Denver, CO, USA, September 11, 2018.

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