johnny_automatic_whale_icon“Here we commenced fishing for whale, but for a time had bad luck, owing to the drunken habits of our Captain. We sunk twelve whales before we caught one. Then we caught six in the course of two weeks. I harpooned all these, and assisted in taking and towing them along side the ship. After we get a whale along side, we hitch our blubber hooks into the head, after severing it from the body, then, with our windlass, draw it aboard, and dip the oil out, which sometimes amounts to more than fifty barrels. After this, we commence cutting the whale in a circular manner with our spades; then we hitch the blubber hooks into the commencement next to where the head was taken off, and by pulling at the windlass, take off a large piece which will usually when tried and strained, produce ten barrels of oil. Before heaving on board this piece, another hook is fastened below the one to be taken off; when this is done with a cross blow from the spade, the first piece is separated from the rest of the whale. Then the cutting is continued in the same manner as before mentioned, and another piece torn off and swung aboard. This operation keeps the whale constantly rolling over until the mass of flesh is stripped from the carcass, which is then permitted to float off, or sink, and it becomes the sport of sharks, who feed upon the little flesh which remains after it has gone through the hands of the whale men.” (Paul Cuffe, 1839)  

(Read more – Go to Chapter 8. Brazil and the Portuguese Islands)

Transcriber’s Commentary

In the passage above, Paul Cuffe Jr. outlines the complex technical process of whaling. You can learn more about whaling in the nineteenth-century through the New Bedford Whaling Museum website:


-Matt Randolph, Amherst College ’16