The American Whaleman: A Study of Life and Labor in the Whaling Industry.

A very engaging introduction to life aboard the American whaler, the business enterprise behind it, the contrast of cabin and forecastle life, as well as details of the actual pursuit.

p. 71: So little of the precious cargo space was given over to the forecastle, and so little effort was made to keep it decently clean, that the living quarters were not only cramped, but nauseating. A ship’s library, which might have been provided easily and cheaply by simply dumping old books and magazines on board, was virtually unknown.

p. 106: The more worthy and respectable institutions of the community did practically nothing to meet this crying need of the sailor for wholesome recreation and decent care while ashore. The one organization which seemed to have a clear conception of the demands of the situation was the American Seamen’s Friend Society, which was formed in 1828 ‘to improve the social and moral condition of seamen, by uniting the efforts of the wise and the good in their behalf, by promoting in every port boarding-houses of good character, Savings Banks, Register Offices, Libraries, Museums, Reading Rooms and Schools, with the ministrations of the gospel and other religious blessings.’ The Society also published the Sailor’s Magazine, which appeared monthly throughout the greater part of the century.

But unfortunately the aims set forth in this admirable programme far outran the actual accomplishments of the Society. Of libraries, reading rooms, savings banks, and decent amusement places there was no hint in the whaling ports, though such institutions sometimes gained a precarious footing in the large maritime centers….

p. 107: Marine Bible Societies distributed Bibles and religious tracts amongst the crews of outgoing vessels…. In general, however, the orthodox churches, ministers and members alike, regarded the sailor as a moral pariah, and remained comfortably aloof from the forecastles and the waterfront…. The only ecclesiastical doors definitely and invitingly open to the whaleman were those of the Seamen’s Bethel, half-church, half-mission…

p. 127, quotes Henry W. Cheever on life in the forecastle: Here, with no possibility of classification and separate quarters, with few or no books, or opportunity to use them if they were possessed, with the constant din of roistering disorder, superabundant profanity, and teeming lasciviousness of conversation and songs…three-fourths of their forty months’ absence was passed. (Henry Cheever. The Whale and His Captors. New York: Harper, 1850. p. 305-06). By contrast, Francis Olmsted describes a clean forecastle with table, lamp, and a library of about two hundred volumes, but he says these were borrowed from the cabin (Francis Allyn Olmsted. Incidents of a Whaling Voyage, p. 52).

p. 177, on boredom: On the other hand, when no whales were sighted for weeks or months in succession, the very tedium and monotony of the enforced idleness became almost insufferable. The scanty stock of reading matter was soon exhausted; the entire repertory of songs and yards was known to all; the mending gave out; card playing was forbidden or waned in interest; scrimshawing could not be pursued interminably; and even sleep could not be courted both day and night.