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Vessels: Whaleships and Sealers

The Bering Sea.

The whaleship was an isolated community that roamed the oceans of the world on journeys that lasted for years.

March 17, 1843, Whalemen's Shipping and Merchant's Transcript, New Bedford
Published by Henry Lindsey,

TO THE PUBLIC: We issue this morning the first number of the "Whalemen's Shipping List and Merchant's Transcript." It is our intention to present to our readers, a weekly report carefully corrected from the latest advices, of every vessel engaged in the Whaling business from ports of the United States ... we have been led to beleive that a paper of this kind would be interesting to ship owners and merchants, and not less so to the parents and wives anthe sisters, sweethearts and friends of that vast multitude of men, whose business is upon the mighty deep, and who are for years separated from those to whom they are dear. Tuesday will hereafter be the regular publication day of the "Whalemen's Shipping List." together with the prices current of our staple commodiies

Sample - One of 8 Pages for March 17, 1843

Whalemen's Shipping List. 1843.

In Etchings Of A Whaling Cruise: With Notes Of A Sojourn On The Island Of Zanzibar, To Which Is Appended A Brief History Of The Whale FisheryEtchings of a Whaling Cruise. (New York, 1846), J. Ross Browne describes the crew's quarters called the forecastle, or, in sailor's parlance, the fo'c'sle:

The larger a vessel, the greater distances it could travel. The whaling schooner, the smallest whaler, generally undertook 6-month voyages, while brigs, barks, and ships might be at sea for three or four years. The longest whaling voyage is believed to be that of the Ship Nile from 1858 to 1869 — eleven years!

New Bedford Whaler

New Bedford Whaler Model Kit.

Each man received a "lay," or percentage of the profits, instead of wages, the size depending upon his status. The captain earned the largest share, perhaps 1/8th, and the green hand (inexperienced crewman) the least, as little as 1/350th. An ordinary crewman might earn only $25.00 for several years work. During most of the history of American whaling, ships drew their crews from men of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. The early deep sea whalers usually carried crews of: Yankees from New England and Long Island; Gay Head Indians from Martha's Vineyard; and Negroes, as African-Americans were called at the time. On some ships, the men on board were all neighbors. It was possible in those days to begin as a foremast hand and work up to the position of captain. As the industry grew and New Bedford became its greatest center, more men were needed for an increasing number of ships. Although Yankees still went whaling, few shipped out as foremast hands more than once. It was a cruel way to make a living and the financial rewards were too few for all except the captain, the officers, and some of the more skilled members of the crew.

Captains and ship owners picked up hands wherever they could find them. On some vessels, the crew was entirely foreign-born. Racial and cultural stereotypes persisted and three groups in particular experienced limitations on advancement: African-Americans; Cape Verdeans; Pacific Islanders (also known as "Kanakas," a term derived from the Polynesian "Te Enata," which means "the men").

The Rebecca of New Bedford sailed around the Horn (the southernmost tip of South America) in 1793, becoming one of the first whalers to enter the Pacific from an American port, launching the era of round-the-world- whaling. Yankee whalers encountered scores of small islands and gave them Yankee names. They saw the mysterious stone faces of Easter Island, the lush isles of Hawaii, the frightening snowfields of the Antarctic. They sailed into Japanese waters and from there into the Arctic Ocean. After Captain Thomas W. Roys discovered bowhead whales in the Arctic in 1848, New Bedford ships soon followed. (See Arctic Whaling for more information.) ~ WhalingMuseum.org

Though whales were never hunted in San Francisco Bay itself, the whaling industry had a long presence along the Pacific Coast. Beginning in the 1830s, whaling ships of British and New England based fleets wintered in San Francisco Bay.

July 24, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


The Charlotte from Tombez, held in company with whaleship Rebecca Simms, New Bedford, 1150 bbls sperm, bound on a cruise: The following vessels have touched at Payta during the month of April: Whaleship Sea Queen, Marshall, of Westport, 130 bbls sperm; ship Clifford Waine, F.H., 300 bbls sperm; ship Congaree, N.B., 450 bbls, 11 months out; ship Roscoe, N.B., 120 bbls sperm, 6mos out; ship Rambler, Nantucket, 120 bbls, ship Susan, Nantucket, oil snot stated.

The Adeline, from Tahiti, left ship Ontario, Cathcart, of Nantucket, 600 bbls sperm, 20 months out; ship William and Eliza, Alled, had sailed for New Bedford.

August 23, 1855, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California


After speaking of the whalers engaged in taking the monsters of the deep in or near the bay of Monterey, the Sentinel give these following extract from an Eastern paper:

A movement is going on in New Bedford to remove the seat of the whaling interest from that place and the other Atlantic ports, to some point on the Pacific coast. San Francisco, Benicia, Oakland and Monterey, are spoken of as places from which the selection will probably be made. Orders have already been given to the whalers in the North Pacific to recruit in California.

If such a movement is going on among those interested in whaling on the Atlantic side, it is certainly a most sensible one. It would save those companies sending out whale ships hundreds of thousands of dollars, if they resolve to remove the seat of the whaling interest to the Pacific side. Inside the Golden Gate they may find a harbor to suit them, and almost upon their own terms.

he stores necessary to fit, out a whaler will soon be for sale as low here as on the Atlantic. Oil can. be freighted upon clipper ships to New York for less than the whalers themselves can carry it, and then get back upon their whaling ground. It would be transported to New York and Boston in clippers in a much shorter time.

By this arrangement whaling voyages would be reduced to one year instead of three, and those engaged as officers and seamen could have their families on this side in place of leaving them at Cape Cod or New Bedford. Such a move successfully carried into effect would accomplish more to wards developing the wealth and resources of the State than has been effected or all the plans and speeches of politicians since the State was organized. Success say we to the effort to establish a whaling port and depot in the the bay of San Francisco.

October 28, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Very Late from Ochotsk Sea.

The ship Charles Carroll, Capt. Hunting, from Ochotsk Sea, Oct. 3d, arrived at this port at a late hour last evening. She brings 660 bbls oil, 10,000 lbs. bone, and is consigned to Messrs. Moore & Folger. There is some important whaling intelligence by this arrival.

Sea of Okhotsk. Russia. c. 1855

Sea of Okhotsk.

The whaling in Ochotsk Sea had been very dull, the ice not having entirely left until the 15th of August. The whales were scarce, wild, and very small. The weather had been foggy, and gales frequent. The Carroll experienced a heavy gale on the 4th of July. Many ships there lost anchors and were otherwise damaged.

Ships Kingfisher, Capt. Palmer, and Enterprise, Capt. Russell, were wrecked on Companies Island, on the 14th of May: all hands saved, but ships and cargoes lost. Ship Jefferson, Capt. Williams, of New London, was wrecked on Cape Elizabeth, about the 14th of June: all hands and cargo saved. Ship Edgar, Capt. Pierson, of Cold Spring, was wrecked on Jonas Island, June 5th; : all hands saved, but ship and cargo lost. Ship Washington, Capt. Halleck, of Sag Harbor, was driven on shore by ice about the middle of August; all hands and cargo saved.

The Charles Carroll, brings the 1st Officer, Mr. Theodore Piersen; 3d Officer, Mr. Paul Coffee, and 4th Officer, Mr. Elihu Pierson, together with four seamen, from ship Edgar. For further particulars concerning the whaling fleet, we refer to our Marine Report.

October 28, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

A Whaleship Discharging in Port

The barque George, a whaling vessel from the sea of Ochotsk, is at present discharging her cargo on Cunningham's wharf. She has 1200 barrels of Polar oil and 17,000 lbs. of whalebone on board, which is intended for shipment to the East, while the vessel proceeds to Oahu for the purpose of repairing, preparatory to another voyage. The George is a barque of 400 tons burthen; was condemned and sold at Oahu in the early part of the present year for $1290; was fitted up at a cost approximating to $8,000, and is now in port as good as the day she was bought, after a voyage of five months, with a cargo worth to the captain $25,000; having in that time cleared 100 per cent for her owner.

The George reports having spoken a considerable number of whalers in the Ochotsk the past season, most of which were doing well. Her crew, composed partly of Islanders and partly of Americans, numbered 40, and she captured 14 whales and lost 18. She did not meet with any accident except the loss of her fore foot, in the mouth of June, by striking against an iceberg.

The George was in the port of Ayan at the time the English steamer Baracouta entered, and was ordered out by the commander of the British vessel, which order he complied with after two days. An American by the name of Packhard was in possession of the principal storehouse at Ayan when the George was there, and he appeared to be doing a thriving business, as a great number of pack animals came into town from the country and carried off the stores he sold. Most of the Russians had fled, but a proclamation from the English commander, asserting that he intended no harm to the people, had the effect of restoring quiet, and the inhabitants were at last returning to their homes. Ayan has about one hundred houses, and the principal laborers are the natives, who have been captured by the Russians and reduced to servitude.

Those who have never seen a whaleship can be much informed by a visit to Cunningham's wharf, the George is discharging. As we approached her yesterday, her deck wore the appearance of a swamp covered with dried flags; the long knife-like pieces of whalebone in its natural state being piled on end all around the ship. The deck of the vessel and the wharf were also occupied by piles of bone laid out to dry, preparatory to packing. A whale will yield an average of 1500 lbs. of bone to the 100 barrels of oil. Whalebone is either polished and hardened for use in the bone, or it is soaked, rotted, and strung out into threads for making cushions, sofas, chairs, etc.

A large number of Kanakas were engaged on board the George, yesterday, bundling the bone up for shipment to the East, where it brings a munch better price than in this city. The difference in the price here and in Boston is thirty per cent, in favor of the latter market.

There is a growing disposition among the whalers to make this port their rendezvous during the winter, and next year a considerable number of the whaling fleet may be expected in San Francisco, as we are informed by the officer of the George; but at present the rates of repairing and fitting out in in this harbor are so much higher than at the Islands, whalers will go there in preference. At Oahu, the cost of heaving a vessel down and caulking her is about the same as in New England; but the probability is that the reduction in prices, and the superior facilities offered here for disposing of a cargo, either by sale or shipment East, will have the effect in a few years of concentrating the whaling fleet of the Pacific in this harbor.

It may not be generally known that Saucelito, among whaling captains, is known as the "Whalers' Bay;" and that when a beef could be purchased in California for $4, as was the case before the Mexican war, there was no scarcity of such vessels in these waters.

October 28, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Marine Report Whalers

Per Chas. Carroll -- Left in Shanter Bay, August 10, ships Thomas Nye, Smiths, New Bedford, 5 whales; Eliza F. Mason, Jernegan, N. B., 600 bbls; 15th, barque Canton Packet, Baden, N.B. 3 whales; Philip I. Sisson, Greenport, 3 whales; 25th ship China, Howes, N.B. 650 bbls; Nassau, Murdock, N.B., 1100; bque Harvest, Spencer, Fair Haven, 4 whales; ships Rebecca Simons, Gavitt, N.B. 450 bbls; Euphrates, Kilmer, N.B. 450 bbls; Ontario, Tucker, N.B., 3 whales, S. Swift, Earl, N.B. 900 bbls; barque Mary Gardiner, Lowen, Sag Harbor, 7 whales; ship John Wells, Bessie, N.B., 5 whales; India, Long, New London; 2600 bbls; barque Venice, Lester, N.L., 3 whales; Delaware, Homan, N.L., 1000 bbls; ships Sheffieler, Green, Cold Spring, 5 whales; Roman, Blackman, N.B., 5 whales; Sept. 25th, bques Covington, Fall River, 500 bbls; Oscar, Cross, Mattapoisett, 450 bbls; Brunswick; Butler, Dartmouth, 450 bbls; Franklin, Richmond, N.B., 900 bbls. The Franklin reports the Japan whalers as having done well. Heard from in Shanter Bay, August 25th, ships Carolina, Grey, New Bedford, 5 whales; Ville de Rheims, Bellow, 4 whales; Montreal, Gray, N.B., 6 whales; Junior, Andrews, N.B., 2 whales; Wm. Badger, Bradley, N.B., 2 whales; Massachusetts, Thompson, N.B., 5 whales.

October 31, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

San Francisco a Whaling Depot -- The Oil Trade Here

We have heretofore, called attention to this subject, so important to the future welfare of San Francisco; and we believe it only remains for our citizens to follow the example of some of the oil dealers of this city, o throw a portion of the whaling business into this port.

The principal objections urged against constituting this port the whaling headquarters of the Pacific, is that sundry peti-fogging "sailor lawyers" of whom the captains make grievous complaint, are ever ready to take advantage of the smallest exercise of discipline on ship board, and breed law suits, often involving vessels and captains in perplexing difficulties. There is also another difficulty of which it is said shipmasters stand in equal fear. We refer to the boarding-house runners, whose business it is to board every vessel entering this port, to entice the seamen away; and this is said to be especially the case with whalemen putting in here for repairs, whose crews usually have considerable sums due them, while the dissipations in this city are greater inducements for desertion than at any other point on the Pacific.

These appear to be the principal objections urged against making San Francisco the place of rendezvous for whalers in this portion of the world. That these objections to a certain extent hold good, we do not doubt, but they are very greatly over rated. There are probably "petty-fogging lawyers" to create difficulty whenever there is money at stake, but our courts are now but little inclined to assist such efforts. Again, the desertion of seamen is a thing not very likely to occur in San Francisco sat present. There was a time when the sailors who landed here could scarcely be retained; but that time, to a great extent, has passed by. Sailors now learn, very soon after reaching San Francisco, that the mines are not suited for them. Hence they seldom desert for the purpose of going there. And besides, should desertions take place, we imagine there would be very little trouble in obtaining another crew; scarcely more than in any Atlantic port. There are men here at all times to be had -- ready for a cruise to any portion of the world.

The other objections urged against San Francisco are found at every important point, and are scarcely worthy of notice. It is admitted however, that whaling gear and stores can be purchased here lower than at any port short of the Eastern States. Casks are now lower in San Francisco than in New Bedford, though, of course, they would rise with the demand created by the arrival of a whaling fleet for supplies. But while the subject is being agitated in the East, the oil trade is actually largely increasing here. There are now several extensive oil firms, doing a large manufacturing business, in San Francisco; among them are R. F. Knox & Co., Pacific Oil Co., Cook, Folger & Co., Fair Haven Oil Co., Gilbert, McCombe & Co. All of these firms manufacture oil of the best quality in the world. Something more than 15,000 gallons per month are produced.

Five firms are now engaged in the manufacture of adamantine candles, equal to the best imported, and an aggregate of 2,000 tons of shipping is employed out of this port, at the present time, in the whale fishery, to say nothing of the amount of whales taken by boats from the harbors of Monterey, Humboldt, and other ports along the coast.

A gentlemen, well known in this city, has recently gone East, for the express purpose of inducing the whaleship owners of New Bedford, Nantucket and Fairhaven to refit and supply their vessels at this port. The inducements are great, and though some obstacles exist at present, we imagine means can be devised whereby these may be removed.

April 7, 1867, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

From the Hawaiian Islands

Four whalers had arrived from windward ports on Hawaii. The following named vessels are reported as having arrived from the California coast : Whale-ships General Scott and Winslow, barques President Kelly and Endeavor.

January 10, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


From the New York Commercial Advertiser, December 24th.

A summary of the Northern whaling business this season shows the catch to be 45,614 barrels of oil and 596,793 pounds of bone. The fleet consisted of 47 vessels, one of which was lost. Forty of these cruised in the Arctic Ocean and six in the Ochotsk Sea. The average per vessel is 991 barrels of oil and 12,900 pounds of bone. This includes sperm, walrus walrus, coast and Arctic oil. . The quantity of walrus ivory is 11,365 pounds. The value of this article has fallen from 60 cents per pound — the price in former years— to 18 and 20 cents.

Whaling Directory of the United States. 1869.

This year's catch amounts to about the same as last season. The whales appeared in the greatest number at the latter part of the season, when the weather was intensely cold, the thermometer being 10 degrees below aero, rendering the work both very laborious and dangerous, owing to the ships getting iced up and the men's hands and feet becoming frozen in the boats.

All the whaling this season has been on the eastern shore, as far north as Point Barrow. No whales were found on tho west coast, though the ocean was free of ice. The season altogether is considered a favorable one. Next season the fleet will be increased by the addition of fire ships from our whaling ports, sent out expressly, and may be enlarged still further by the addition of ships from the line cruisers, attracted North by the seasons success. It is conjectured that the Arctic ground will afford profitable fishing for at least ten years more.

November 7, 1871, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


The loss of thirty-three vessels of the Arctic whaling fleet in the September ice-floes will be a severe blow to our neighbors at Honolulu: These whalers generally go on two and three years' voyages, wintering at Honolulu after the close of the active season, and making the city lively and prosperous by their presence. This year 1,200 of them are cast upon the islands as destitute as shipwrecked mariners. In fact they are such.

Their vessels, oil, earnings and all were left in the frozen sea, and they are now without a dollar in money or credit. Their case is one which calls for both private and national assistance. These 1,200 whalers are our countrymen; brave, hardy, bold and daring seamen, who yearly drag millions of wealth from the dangers of the northern ocean, and whose class have done more than any other to make the American navy what it is: in peace the most useful and intelligent explorer of the unknown; in war invincible. But for our fisheries we should have, like France and Spain, a navy merely; ornamental.

Our whalers make our very best seamen, and on their industry, in a great measure, depends the prosperity of some of the finest towns in the United States. This blow will fall with great severity upon New Bedford, Nantucket, Barnstable and other New England cities. They should not be left alone to deal out the charities needed by this terrible misfortune. The Government should at least send national vessels to the islands to convey these 1,200 wrecked mariners to their homes free of charge, and see to it that they do not suffer for bread and clothing.

They are also among the fattest subjects of private charity, and it is to be hoped San Francisco and Boston may not be miserly in aiding them, and that right speedily. The telegraph offers the means of sending assistance in a few weeks, and the two cities should lose no time in doing so.

As one of over 2,700 whaling ships in the American fleet, the Charles W. Morgan spent 80 years, or 37 separate voyages, hunting whales.

Whaleship Charles W. Morgan.

She was known as a lucky ship because she always returned a profit regardless of rough seas, storms, or cannibals. Whaling expeditions often lasted three years or longer before returning home. She was in San Francisco on multiple occasions and was in the news throughout her career.

A hundred ships or more might be anchored along the San Francisco waterfront, where they stocked up on provisions for their long Pacific and Arctic voyages. In addition to this well-financed pelagic whaling, a small-scale commerce in coastal whales (gray, humpback, orca), hunted from rowboats that went out for the day, developed in several coastal communities, including Carmel, Monterey, Moss Landing, Davenport, Half Moon Bay, and Bolinas.

October 23, 1876, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Estimates of Losses to the New Bedford Whalers

New Bedford, October 22d. — The loss on New Bedford whalers in the Arctic is nearly $600,000, mostly insured In Boston and New York offices, the Boylston, New England, Washington and Manufacturers' of Boston, and tbe Orient of New York.

An experienced ship owner gives the following list and estimates of values of vessels lost, not Including the oil and bone that may have been taken: Acors Barns, J. H. Bartlett & Sons, agents, $38,000; Cornelius Howland, Swift & Perry, $10,000; Jos. Allen, Uldeon Allen & Son, $36,000; Java Second, Joshua 0. Hitch, $16,000; Josephine, Swift & Perry, $40,000; Marengo, B. H. Bartlett & Sons. $40,000; M. T. Wouester, Swift & Allen, $32.000; Ouward, Mathew Howland, $40,000; St. George, George & Mathew Howland, $36,000. The Clara Bell is said to be worth $24,000; the Arctic, $32,000 ; the Desmond, $24,000). Both agents and insurance companies decline at present to give a statement of the Insurance, but it is well known that all the vessels were well insured.

February 4, 1882, Pacific Rural Press

A Valuable

California Publication. 
Marine Mammals of the North Pacific Coast 
Finely Illustrated 
List of Illustrations.

Frontispiece Whaling Scene in the California Lagoons
The California Gray Whale, and the Finback Whale
Embryos of a California Gray Whale. 
Indian Whaling Implements
California Grays among the Ice
Esquimaux Whaling Canoe and Whaling Implements 
Outlines of Northern Finback 
Humpback and Sharpheaded Flnner Whales 
Humpbacks Lobtailing, Bolting, Breaching and Finning
Outlines of a Humpback Whale
Aleutian Islander's Whale Harpoon
Outlines of a Humpback, from above 
Appearance of a Female Humpback Suckling Her Young. 
Eye and Parasites of Baleen Whales
Outline of Roys' "Bunchback."
The Bowhead or Great Polar Whale
Right Whale of the Northwestern Coast
Sulphurbottom Whale
Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale in Search of Food
The Blackfish
Orcas or Killers
White Whale, or Whitefish of the Whalers
Baird's Dolphin, Common Porpoise, and Right Whale Porpoise 
Approximate Outlines of Cowfish, White-headed or Mottled Grampus, Bottle-nosed Grampus, and Panama Grampus 
Sea Elephant and Sea Lion
Club and Lance used in the Capture of the Sea Elephant
Male Sea Lion Sleeping and Male Sea Lion Waking
Appearance of a Male Sea Lion when Roaring, and Female Sea Lions, of St. Paul's Island
Banded Seal, and Fur Seal
Full-aged Male Fur Seal, St. Paul's Island
Head of Female Fur Seal, from below, two-thirds natural size
Head of Female Fur Seal, view of Female Fur Seal from below and attitudes of Fur Seals
Seal Spear of the Makah Indians, Nee-ah Bay, W. T., 1866, and Spear Head, full size, with line attached
Moving Attitude of a Leopard Seal on shore
Leopard Seal and Sea Otter 
Aleutian Islanders' Seal Otter Canoe, or Bairdarka, with Hunters engaged in the chase; Aleutian Islanders' Sea Otter; Spear, and Spear Head, full size
A Whale Scene of 1763
Implements belonging to a Whale boat

Marine Mammals of the North Pacific Coast.

Pierces Harpoon Bomb-lance Gun; Bomb-lance; and Diagram showing inside of Bomb-lance
Mast-head Waif
Diagram showing the manner of cutting in the Bowhead and Right Whale
Blubber-hook and Fin-Chain
Implements used in Cutting-in a Whale
Head-strap: Toggle; and Throat-chain Toggle
Cutting-tackle toggled to the blanket-piece
Outline of a Sperm Whale, showing the manner of Cutting-in
Mincing Knife
Blubber-fork; Stirring-pole; Skimmer; Bailer, and Fire-pile
A Northern Whaling Scene
Whale-boat with Greener's Gun Mounted.
Whaling Station at Carmel Bay
Skeleton of a Balana mysticetus

Table of Contents.

North American Whales and Dolphins.

The California Gray Whale. 
The Finback Whale. 
The Humpback Whale.
The Sharp-headed Finner Whale.
The Bowhead, or Great Polar Whale.
The Right Whale of the Northwestern Coast. 
The Sulphurbottom Whale
The Sperm Whale
The Dolphins
The Blackfish
The Orca, or Killer
The Whitefish, or White Whale. 
The Bay Porpoise.
The Striped or Common Porpoise.
Baird's Dolphin.
The Right Whale Porpoise.
The Cowfish
The Whiteheaded or Mottled Grampus
The Bottled-nosed Grampus
The Panama Grampus
The Puget Sound Grampus
The San Diego Bay Grampus. 
The Squareheaded Grampus
The Brownded Dolphin of Santa Barbara Channel
The Narwhal
The Sea Elephant
The Sea Lion
The Banded Seals
Fur Seals
The Leopard Seal
The Sea Otter
The Walrus
Origin and Ancient Mode of Whale-fishing
The American Whale-fishery
Ships, Outfits, and Manner of Taking the Whale.
American Whaling Commerce
California Shore-whaling.
Life and Characteristics of American Whalemen.
Lagoon-whaling Incidents.
Again to the North, and Home
Catalogue of Cetacea of the North Pacific Ocean.
Description of a Skeleton of the Right Whale.
Glossary of Words and Phrases used by Whalemen.
List of Stores and Outfits.


Naturalists, Scientists, Teachers, Students, and Navigators will find the work not only exceedingly desirable, but in a degree indispensable. It is the only publication of the kind, and should be in all School, Public, Club, and Private Libraries.

Publishers of the Mining and Scientific Press, 
No. 252 Market St., San Francisco, Cal. 
Agents Wanted.

June 17, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Profits of Whale Ships.

Longboat crew attaching a Right Whale

Attacking a right whale, 1856.

The profits of some whaling vessels are still very large, despite the fact that many more are engaged in it now than formerly. Some Scotch vessels have paid from 45 to 65 per cent, for the past twenty years. The black whale fishery shows signs of exhaustion as now prosecuted, but the waters between Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land are declared to be the great black whale fishing grounds of the future, because inexhaustible. The bottle-nose whale fishery is still very successful. Many vessels are fishing for them in Davis Straits and on the coasts of Greenland and Labrador. Only Scotchmen and Norwegians are following this bottle-nose fishery, because Americans have not yet found it out.

With the advent of mechanized whaling in the early 1900s, whalers were able to exploit faster species (blue, fin, sei), and the industry revived for a few decades.

The oil was used most often in oil lamps and to make soap. Baleen or whalebone had many uses including corset stays, men s collars, buggy whips, and cutlery handles. Scrimshaw, the carvings done by sailors in the off watches, were done on whale teeth and the larger bones. The engravings were usually of ships, but could be of any subject.

January 16, 1891, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Renewed Activity Among the Private Sealers. 
A Larger Fleet Than Ever To Go To Behring Sea. 
If the Government Interferes the American Sealers Will Sail Under the British Flag.

The private sealers are beginning to show some signs of life after the torpor of the early winter. The diplomatic negotiations now going on between Great Britain and the United States, and other phases of the Behring Sea dispute seem to have no effect on the preparations being made, both here and at Victoria, for an active season in Bearing Sea. At Victoria almost all the sealing fleet are now preparing lor the early work along the coast, which will keep them busy from now until April or May, when they discharge their coast catches and sail for Behring Sea. Captain Urquhart's little schooner Ventura completed her equipment on Wednesday, signed her crew and cleared for the West Coast. She is commanded by Captain Smith, and will go first to Clayoquot, where she expects to procure Indian hunters. Her equipment comprises eight first class canoes, and she will commence her hunting off the California coast. The Juanita was expected to leave on the 13th and the Maggie Mac on the 14th. The Mary Ellen is receiving new sails, and the Triumph and Sapphire will be brought in to the wharf to refit in a day or two.

The Seattle schooner Henry Dennis, Captain Miner, is nearly ready for sea and will proceed to this port from Seattle on January 20th, to receive her steam launches and boats. Her owner, Mr. Nixon, voices the general sentiment of the private sealers in declaring that he does not credit the statements concerning the massing of so many American cruisers in Behring sea. Should the Government really send the American cruisers to watch the sealing grounds, it is Mr. Nixon's intention to sail his vessel under the British flag, as there would be no show for American sealers. In this city, Ross & Hewlett are fitting out the schooner Mattie T. Dyer for a sealing cruise to the north; A. P. Lorentzen is also fitting out the schooner Helen Blum for a similar purpose. Whaleships and Whaling. In several of the ship-chandlers' establishments at Victoria are to be seen diminutive cannon, of both brass and iron, none of them larger than a 4 pounder. One of these will be carried by almost every one of the sealing fleet this year, but not for any aggressive purpose, it is said. They are to be used in firing bombs, in the event of the boats becoming separated from the schooners by fog or darkness, and are said to make a terrific report. As a weapon they would be of no use whatever against the guns of the cruisers.

The San Francisco whaling fleet is beginning to take wings, and soon all of them will be out on the chase after their wary old enemy. James McKenna is fitting out two of his vessels, the barks Northern Light and W. H. Meyer, which are now at the foot of Fremont street, after undergoing a thorough overhauling at the Union Iron Works. They will probably be ready for sea at the end of the month. The whalers will not go direct to the Arctic sea, but will cruise south until the breaking up of the ice north, about the middle of May. Whalebone may not be in great demand this season, on account of the heavy catch last year.

October 30, 1900, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Old Bark Charles W. Morgan Arrives From the Okhotsk Sea.

Antique Print, Russia, Sibera, Okhotsk Sea.

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan, arrived from the Okhotsk Sea (image right: c. 1811) yesterday with 1400 barrels of sperm oil, 270 barrels whale oil and 3000 pounds of whalebone. She had a very uneventful trip and only spoke one other vessel of the fleet. The latter vessel was the California and on September 9 she had 200 barrels of sperm and 270 barrels of whale oil and 3000 pounds of whalebone. The work of getting the Morgan ready for another cruise will begin at once. 

Shipping Intelligence: Captain Scullum, 30 days from Ahkotsk Sea.

November 1, 1891, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Another Whaler in Port

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan came in last night from the Okhotsk Sea with 500 barrels of oil and 5000 pounds of bone for J. and W. R. Wing.

June 16, 1901, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Take of the Charles W. Morgan Is Lost

VICTORIA. B. C., June 15. The steamer Tacoma, which arrived today from the Orient, reports that on June 2 she sighted a ship on fire which proved to be the San Francisco whaler,Charles W. MorganTacoma bore down, but the fire was under control and the whaler not wanting further assistance, the Tacoma came on. The take of the whaler was reported lost.

January 17, 1892, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Yoda Emon, a fisherman, is saved from the sea by a whale.
Yoda Emon, a fisherman, is saved from the sea.  In thanks, he obtains an order from the Emperor that no whales shall be hunted during his (Yoda's) lifetime.
R. Gordon Smith

The Call is indebted to Mr. M. McDonald, United States Commissioner of Fisheries, for advance sheets of the census return on the whale fishery of the United States. They indicate a gradual decay in an industry which was once very important indeed.

At the time of the War of Independence, 360 whalers sailed out of American ports, chiefly from ports in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long island; in 1846 the number had increased to 735 vessels; in 880 it had declined to about 175 vessels; and now the census report shows only 101 craft engaged in the chase of the whale. Of this number 57 sailed out of New Bedford and 27 out of San Francisco. About half the Yankee whalers fitted out in this port and sold their retell here.

In the last century, and the first half of this, the chief whaling grounds were the seas which wash the coast of Greenland on the north, where the right whale abounded, and the South Pacific and Indian oceans, where the sperm whale was found. Now, there are few whales left in Hudson Bay or on the coast of Spitzbergen, and the era of whale fishing among Polynesian islands, which was the dream of young sailors half a century ago, has come to an end. Of the whole whaling fleet in 1889, only 36 vessels pursued the whale in Atlantic waters from Baffin Bay to the Falkland Islands, and only eight followed their calling in the South Pacific; while 42 fished the icy waters of the Arctic and Behring Sea, and nine the sea of Okhotsk and the waters of Siberia. By indiscriminate slaughter, the whale of our ancestors has nearly been exterminated, leaving behind him a small number of his family, such as is seen off the coast of this State, which possess little commercial value.

In former days the most valuable whale was the sperm whale, which yielded whale oil and sperm for illuminating purposes, and occasionally a lump of ambergris. But the discovery of coal oil has destroyed the value of fish oils and their residuum for illuminating uses, and ambergris is rarely found. Thus the right whale and the bowhead of the Arctic and Behring Sea have come to be more valuable by reason of the whale-bone they yield than the sperm whale. The number of sperm whales taken in 1889 by American whalers was 67 per cent of the total catch, as against 29 per cent of right whales and bowheads; but the latter realized 70 per cent of the total yield of the fishery, as against 30 per cent realized by the sperm whales.

The whaling industry was the first in which cooperation was established. Every man who ships on a whaler except the cook is a partner in the enterprise from the captain to the ship's boy. When the cargo is sold each is entitled to his "lay," as it is called. The lay of a captain sailing out of this port is usually l5 per cent, that of a mate 20 per cent, that of an able seaman a share equal to 1-175 per cent, that of a ship's boy, 1-185 per cent. Most ships pay wages as well as a lay, so that on the whalers who confront icebergs and ice floes, as well as the ordinary dangers of the sea, the wages of the crew are generally pretty good. It is not as easy to spend money off Cape Barrow as it used to be among those lovely isles, where the skies forever smile and the blacks forever weep.

It was a whale which first demonstrated the northwest passage. A whale wounded off Behring Straits was found in Hudson Bay with the iron of the harpoon in him; whereby the existence of a continuous body of water along the north coast of North America was proved. It is on the cards that other whales, emulous of their long lost brother's fame, will presently assist in the exploration of the Antarctic continent by demonstrating that the range of the Southern whale, like that of the right whale of the Arctic, is circumpolar. Our present maps depict a continent to which they give the name of Antarctica surrounding the South Pole, but our knowledge of that continent is derived from distant observations of ice-clad plateaus, mountains and volcanoes, seen from the decks of passing ships. The points observed may be islands scattered round the meridian of 70 , and inside of them there may be an open sea such as surrounds the North Pole. If the exploring expedition which is now being fitted out to coast the border of the supposed continent should find a spot where it could break through that border and get into a navigable sea nearer the pole the Southern whale might prove an efficient ally in the work.

August 24, 1901, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Catch of Whale Ships

SAN FRANCISCO, August 23. Up to July 4 the catch of the whaling vessels out of this port is reported to have been as follows: Charles W. Morgan, 1200 barrels of sperm oil and 3400 pounds of bone; California, 900 barrels of sperm oil; Gayhead, 500 barrels of sperm oil; Alice Knowles, 300 barrels of sperm oil and two small right whales; John and VVinthrop, 180 barrels of sperm oil.

November 20, 1902, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Whalers Start Again

The whaling barks Charles W. Morgan and California have cleared for another whaling cruise, and within a few days all the blubber hunters that are not going to lay up for the winter will be heading for the whaling grounds. A number of the fishermen employed during the summer at the Alaska canneries have shipped on the California and Morgan.

October 27, 1903, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

First of the Whalers.

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan passed Point Reyes at 2:30 yesterday afternoon and will be in port probably some time to-day. She has been In the Okhotsk Sea and is the first of the fleet to put in an appearance. The Morgan is owned by J. and W. R Wing of New Bedford, whose representative arrived here a few days ago.

October 29, 1903, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

First Whaler Docks

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan, which arrived on Tuesday, docked yesterday at the Howard street bulkhead and commenced discharging her cargo of sperm oil.

November 1, 1904, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Whaling Bark Charles W. Morgan Arrives at San Francisco

By Associated Press. SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 31

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan has arrived here with a good catch, amounting to 1450 barrels of sperm oil, 150 barrels of whale oil, the product of forty-six sperm and two right whales, and whalebone weighing 2100 pounds. After leaving Hakodate in July, where the Morgan received the first information of the Russo-Japanese war through a warning in regard to navigating the mined entrance of the harbor, she spoke the whaling bark Andrew Hicks on August 17. The Hicks reported then a catch of 800 barrels of sperm oil. The bark was refused a landing at the Caroline islands.

November 19, 1903, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

First Whaler Gets Away.

The whaling bark Charles W. Morgan started yesterday on her regular cruise. She will hunt whales during the winter months in the South Seas, will later follow the leviathans to Japanese waters and will finish up, late next summer, in the Okhotsk Sea. She is the first of the fleet to get away.


Fogos Island.

Although it is generally accepted that the modern form of Scrimshaw is an original American art form that dates back over 200 years, Native American Eskimos/Inuit artifacts have been excavated from traditional hunting camp sites dating back 6,000 years. Eskimos used Whale and Walrus ivory and bone for many of their tools and utensils, such as harpoon fore shafts, fishing net weights, needles, awls, sled runners, ice probes and even bone armor. While it has been said the Eskimos passed this art form on to the New England sailors and whalers, sailors and whalers led the way to the modern Scrimshaw we see today.

On whaling ships, Scrimshaw engravings were done with a pocket knife a needle from the ships sail maker. The sailor cut and/or scratched a picture into the polished surface. Then periodically during the engraving process the sailor would rub a pigment into the cuts and scratches; since ink wasn't readily available, soot from the chimney of the ship's cooking stove was used, or gun powder mixed with whale oil was rubbed into the cuts and scratches. Common subjects were portraits of the ship they were sailing on and maybe the ship's captain; there were also portraits of wives or sweethearts back home, all kinds of sea creatures, mermaids and such.

Justice Goff's Irish Rescue Party. A True Relation of What Befell When Certain Bold Spirits Sent a New Bedford Whaler Over-seas to Snatch the Fenian Prisoners from a British Penal Settlement.Irish Rescue Party. A New Bedford Whaler.
Difficult to locate copies, but worthwhile if possible: John W. Goff (1848-1924) was an Irish-born lawyer and judge, and also a committed Irish nationalist. In 1875 he played a prominent part in arranging for the rescue of six Fenian rebels imprisoned in a British penal colony in Western Australia. The seaborne expedition, which successfully evaded Royal Navy patrols, involving the New Bedford whaler Catalpa, was popularly known as "Goff's Irish Rescue Party."

On the 3rd of February, Devoy wrote to New Haven businessman James Reynolds saying that a whaling ship could be bought, and could cover its expenses by whaling during the rescue voyage. He insisted it was necessary to buy the ship, but he would need $15,000. Another complication was that many Clan branches wanted to send their own men to Australia, but O’Reilly thought that only one man was needed.

Devoy arrived in New Bedford on March 9th with a young committee member named Goff, ready to make a bid on a ship. They were too late to bid, but Devoy declared ‘I will stay here until a ship is bought’. Hathaway introduced him to John T. Richardson, a shipowner who recommended the Catalpa. Devoy went ahead and bought it for $5,250 plus fees. As Devoy only had $4,900, Richardson advanced his own money on condition that Clan na Gael would repay him – which they did. The Catalpa was 202 tons, 90 feet long and 25 feet broad.

The Voyage of the Catalpa: A Perilous Journey and Six Irish Rebels' Escape to FreedomThe Voyage of teh Catalpa.

Voyage of the Catalpa.

Richardson persuaded his son-in-law to captain the ship. Captain Hathaway was excited by the venture, referring to the ship as ‘the Horse’ in his letters and using racing metaphors. The total cost rose to $18,000.

When the ship left America in April, 1875, almost none of the crew knew of its mission. Dennis Duggan, a Fenian who had been a schoolmate of Devoy’s and was a veteran of 1867, was one who did. Devoy afterward explained that he didn’t go because ‘my disappearance would at once have indicated that I had gone to Australia and the consequent loose talk would almost certainly have ruined the chances of success’. He had to travel quickly between New York, Boston and New Bedford to be in place for the Catalpa’s putting to sea. On the 29th of April, 1875, he described ‘seeing the ship forty miles out to sea, eating our dinner of hard tack, salt beef and cheese abroad’.

The Catalpa was in fact used as a whaling vessel, and on 30th May assisted a brig in trouble. In July, a boat steerer died, leaving room for Tom Brennan, Goff’s chosen representative who was set to join the craft later. However, Devoy wanted to send journalist John J. Breslin, who had assisted in Stephen’s escape from jail in 1865. Breslin didn’t like the Clan’s quasi-Masonic initiation rituals, but Devoy persuaded him to join the organization’s Hoboken Chapter. Breslin left America on the 13th of September with Tom Desmond, a Civil War veteran. The rescue from Australia was a success, and when the news reached Dublin, a procession of thousands of people marched, burning effigies of Disraeli and the Duke of Cambridge. Devoy was in bed with flu in Philadelphia when he received a telegram from Dennis Rossa telling him the Catalpa was in New York.

Smarter than man? Intelligence in Whales, Dolphins, and Humans Whales, Dolphins, Humans.
Karl Erik Fichtelius

Listening to Whales.Listening to Whales.Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught UsListening to Whales.
Alexandra Morton
In Listening to Whales, Alexandra Morton shares spellbinding stories about her career in whale and dolphin research and what she has learned from and about these magnificent mammals. In the late 1970s, while working at Marineland in California, Alexandra pioneered the recording of orca sounds by dropping a hydrophone into the tank of two killer whales. She recorded the varied language of mating, childbirth, and even grief after the birth of a stillborn calf. At the same time she made the startling observation that the whales were inventing wonderful synchronized movements, a behavior that was soon recognized as a defining characteristic of orca society.

Marine Mammals.Listening to Whales.Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast: Baja, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia
(California Natural History Guides)
Marine Mannals of the Pacific Coast.
Sarah G. Allen

Human Impacts on Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters: Integrating Archeology and Ecology in the Northeast PacificSeals, Sea Lions, Sea Otters.
Todd J. Braje

Marine Conservation Biology
The Science of Maintaining the Sea's Biodiversity
Marine Conservation Biology.
Michael E. Soule

Whalers Dictionary.A Whaler's Dictionary.A Whaler's DictionaryWhaler's Dictionary.
Dan Beachy-Quick
After immersing himself in Moby Dick for many years, poet and teacher Beachy-Quick found himself embarked on a “mad task.” Following Ishmael’s lead, he has created a whaler’s dictionary. But unlike Melville’s narrator, Beachy-Quick is hunting concealed aspects of language and attempting to fathom, articulate, and order the oceanic depths and currents of meaning in Melville’s masterpiece. Poetic and metaphysical definitions take the form of brief essays full of yearning, mystery, and discovery that sail beneath such headings as Brain, Fate, Hunger, Idolatry, Omen, Paradox, Starry Archipelagoes, Tattoo, and Void.

The Yankee Whaler.Yankee Whaler.The Yankee Whaler
(Dover Maritime)
The Yankee Whaler.Clifford Ashley
A fine, colorful and definitive study of whaling. Describes whaling trade, rigging, gear and handicrafts; construction and outfitting of ships, with fascinating details and anecdotes about whales and whaling waters, whaling men, methods of attack, crafts and routines, much more. Richly illustrated with 133 halftones, 17 line illustrations.

Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling MuseumScrimshaw, Whaling.
Stuart M. Frank

Sailors, Whalers, Sea Voyages.Sailors, Whalers, Sea Voyages.Sailors, Whalers, Fantastic Sea Voyages
Activity Guide to North American Sailing Life
Sailors and Whalers.
Valerie Petrillo
A history of ships and whaling with more than 50 activities for ages 9-12 years. The book begins with the China Tea trade in the late 18th century and ends with the last whaler leaving New Bedford in 1924. Kids will create scrimshaw using black ink and a bar of white soap;

Scrimshaw Techniques
Schiffer Books
Scrimshaw Techniques.
Scrimshaw.Scrimshaw.Jim Stevens
This guide showcases this unique art form. Pages are filled with tips, techniques, and insights that both educate and demonstrate the steps to creating authentic and beautiful scrimshaw. An examination of ivory includes a wide range of alternative natural and man-made ivory substitutes, including bone, horn, and nuts. With over 200 color photos, this step-by-step guide addresses scrimshaw tools, patterns, inking, and inlays. Originally written as a training manual for studio apprentices.

Contemporary ScrimshawScrimshaw.
Scrimshaw.Scrimshaw.Eva Halat
Scrimshaw is a technique of stippling and scratching on fossil ivory, horn, and bone. Its roots lie in the traditional art of whaling men of the 18th and 19th centuries, but it has developed as a recognized art form. Today, fine scrimshaw miniatures adorn handcrafted knives, jewelry, billiard cues, cigarette lighters, and many other objects. With over 700 photos, this book presents a history of scrimshaw, provides instruction on carving and decorating beautiful scrimshaw, and displays a gallery of 45 international artists. Their fascinating work gives carvers inspiration. This unique book gives artists, collectors, and everyone interested in scrimshaw a great reference.

Scrimshaw Gallery
Sausalito, Marin County, California
The Scrimshaw Gallery, home of a vast selection of nautical art, scrimshaw, paintings and prints, knives, sculptures and other collectibles. We invite you to browse through our treasure trove of nautical artwork by established and emerging artists. We are dedicated to bringing fine art to the experienced collector as well as introducing the fine art of collecting to the novice collector.

Hudson River Port.Hudson Merchants and Whalers..Hudson's Merchants and Whalers: The Rise and Fall of a River Port, 1783-1850Merchants and Whalers.
Margaret B. Schram
The City of Hudson, NY, 120 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, founded in 1783 by seafaring Quakers from Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and New Bedford who transformed a sleepy boat landing at the head of navigation on the Hudson River into a booming city and a bustling port that rivaled New York City. 200 Illustrations.

Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920Petticoat Whalers.
Joan Druett
Petticoat Whalers.The author offers an informed account of little known stories of wives of whaling captains who accompanied their husbands on long, arduous journeys to bring whale oil and blubber to New England. By 1850 roughly a sixth of all whaling vessels carried the captains' wives. Invariably the only woman aboard a very cramped ship, they endured harsh conditions to provide companionship for their husbands, and sometimes even exerted a strong unofficial moral influence on a rowdy crew. Joan Druett provides captivating portraits of many of these wives and the difficult circumstances they endured. Petticoat Whalers, first published in New Zealand in 1991, has been out of print since 1995.

Life on a Whaler.Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison.The Captain's Best Mate:
The Journal of Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison, 1856-1860
Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison.
Mary Chipman Lawrence
This story is the actual journal kept by Whaling Captain Samuel Lawrence's wife Mary who accompanied him for more than three years on the whaler Addison. The Lawrence's daughter, five-year-old daughter Minnie also accompanied them. Mary talks about life and death on the whaler and all of their adventures. Sailors traveled from New England to the Pacific, Arctic and in between looking for whales.

Whaleships and Sealers


The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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