Digital Grand Panorama of a whaling voyage

Today, I would like to introduce a very illustrative and creative digital reconstruction of a whaling voyage.1

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, which is in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, is the longest painting in North America and a rare example of a business that used the panorama. In this period, panoramas were an immensely popular form of entertainment, providing audiences with a way to experience far-off lands or journey back in time. They usually consisted of big paintings of exotic places, famous battle scenes, and cityscapes that surrounded an audience and made them feel like they were part of the scene.

The popular panorama craze was driven by the public’s growing appetite for the exotic and spectacular, fuelled by literature, painting, architecture, and fashion. Moving panoramas, which were mounted on several spools and scrolled through the panorama, offered a journey through space and time, and could embody the linear narrative of an expedition or voyage. The Purrington-Russell panorama was based on the artist’s first-hand knowledge. The rolls allow the audience to be somehow part of a Yankee whale ship searching for whales and offer a glimpse of the world beyond through the eyes of a whaleman.

The different tabs show the various islands, oceans and stations, which the whaling ship crossed during the voyage, among them the Azores, Cape Verdes, Rio de Janiero, Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, Hawaii, or the Fiji Islands. The pictures are impressively painted and invite the reader to take a closer look.

  1. Digital Grand Panorama, in: Arcgis.com, https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=19513a5d13964a48aa9d00973c8a9674#, [Last Access: 24.04.2023] []

January month is Moby-Dick Marathon month – This year with Taylor Schilling!

If you read this blog regularly, you might remember the title of this entry. Last year, in January 2022, I spoke for the first time about the Moby Dick Marathon, which takes place every year in New Bedford.1

The annual “Moby Dick Marathon” is a reading of Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick” that takes place at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The event typically lasts for about 26 hours, with members of the community taking turns reading aloud from the novel. The marathon is a way of celebrating the city’s rich literary and maritime heritage.

Participants in the marathon can sign up to read for a specific time slot, and the event is open to the public, so anyone can come and listen to the reading. The marathon has become a popular event in the New Bedford community, attracting a diverse group of participants and listeners. This year, the New Bedford Whaling Museum was able to invite Taylor Schilling to inaugurate the Reading Marathon of 2023. She is an Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress. You can find more information on the Museum’s website and the full Reading Marathon of 2023 YouTube clip here, at least a part of it.

  1. Hussein, Haureh (2022): January Month is Moby Dick Marathon Month, in: Transoceanic Voyages, https://transoceanic.hypotheses.org/242, [Last Access: 17.1.2023]. []

The Online Lectures of Skip Finley: “Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy”

Skip Finley has published 2020 a monograph, in which he focusses entirely on the people of colour, who crucially contributed to the success and participated in the whaling industry between 1750 and 1914

This publication echoed intensively among the (non-)scientific community of New England’s whaling heritage ‘bubble’, as he was invited by various local historical societies, libraries and museums in order to introduce his important contribution to the history of the whaling industry.

Most of the lectures have been taken place virtually via Zoom and have been uploaded on the Youtube channels of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Museum of Martha’s Vineyard, the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, the Boston Public Library, Mattapoisett Museum, Southampton History Museum, the Salem Athenaeum, and surely much more.

Online-Lecture given at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, in: Youtube, William Martin and the Whaling Captains of Color with Skip Finley | MV Museum – YouTube, [Last Access: 27.03.2022]

If you are interested to listen to his key results, you can follow one of his first lectures, which he gave to the New Bedford Whaling History Museum:

Logbook analysis: “William Hamilton” (1834-1837)

Some years ago, the Providence Public Library in Rhode Island has digitized its entire whaling logbook collection, which includes over 750 logbooks of American whaling voyages and covers an amazing time period between 1762 and 1931. The whole collection is now available through archive.org1 In order to receive a certain overview, this collection offers a detailed finding aid to the public.2

During the year of 2020, when most of the world was overwhelmed with the Pandemic, I had the opportunity to analyse a part of those available logbooks of the Swain and Starbuck family, which cruised into the Pacific Ocean. In this context, I would like to introduce you the logbook of the whaling voyage of the WILLIAM HAMILTON whaling ship, which was at sea between 1834 and 1837.3

The whaling ship was owned by Isaac Howland at New Bedford, and William Swain captained the voyage. In this blog article, I want to show you how I have reconstructed the voyage and analysed the digitized logbook, which you can find here.4

For this, I used a simple Excel document, and defined already beforehand, what kind of developments and encounters I am interested in. On the Y axis, I decided to categorize my observations in “Sojourn in”, “Communication with”, “Land in sight”, trading with”, “Recruitment”, “whale in sight”, “Hunting process” as well as “etc.” The X axis marked the timeline. In doing so, I moved from page to page, and “screened” each whaling logbook page for relevant observations, which I noted down immediately. This allows me, to go through the Logbook just by scrolling the document to the right and I have immediately access to the most interesting information for myself.

Private Excel document. Click on the picture in order to view the picture in more detail.

As you can see on this small glimpse of the Excel document, I can immediately reconstruct the sailing route of the whaling ship only by following the ports, which the logbook mentions. In this case, the whaling ship departed from New Bedford and most likely rounded the Cape Horn because he stopped for the first time in Chile, then went further northwards for a stopover at Payta, continued its voyage in the direction of the Society Islands and headed to Aotearoa/ New Zealand, before he sailed to Otaheite and then sailed back to New Bedford. On the whaling voyage, the ship meet many other ships, as you can see.

Stopovers were crucial for whaling voyages. They needed them for refreshment and in order to trade goods, supplies, and also to recruit Indigenous sailors for their voyages. While the logbooks keepers did routinely trace developments during the voyages at sea, they remained disappointingly silent on land, and only continued with entries when they began to sail again. Having these gaps in mind, helps me to realize for how long the ships did stay at harbour.

Now let me go in further detail on one of the stopovers and skip to January 1836, when the whaling ship arrived the Bay of Islands. At the 8th of January 1836, the logbook mentions: “5 PM spoke the LADY AMHERST5 of London 28 month out with 2500 bbl Oil” and then: “Land in sight”. You can read the entry at the end of the left page here.6

Whaling ships saw it essential in coming in touch together and to exchange crucial information, and their current state of their voyage; thus, one often read of whaling ships, which also give their amount of whale cargo which they have hunted and boiled already. As you can see from the page, William Swain did meet at the Bay of Islands also the whaling ship SARAH AND ELIZABETH7. Since the ship was on the end of his voyage, the Logbook just briefly records “spoke the Sarah and Elizabeth, full bound home”. The captain of this London-based whaling ship was also another William Swain, one of his relatives, who lived in London and was regularly with whaling voyages in the Pacific Ocean too. Together with the LADY AMHERST, the SARAH ELIZABETH sailed back to London.

Both William Swain do have the same family background in the Quaker community of Nantucket, and the name of the Ship William Hamilton shows already, that the whaling ship of owners of Howland in New Bedford seem to have been aware of the history of the Quaker whalers, who migrated to Europe roughly between 1790 and 1815 for William Hamilton is considered as the pivotal contributor of the establishment of the Milford Haven. He is known to have invited and supported those Quaker whalers to come to Wales in order to establish and to continue their whaling activities.

The whaling ship William Hamilton arrived at 10th January 1836 the Bay of Islands and seems to have remained until 27th January 1836 at the harbour, because there are no logbook entries for the days in between, which you can see on the right page.6

In the days after they sailed they prepared the stores and the logbook regularly mentions entries such as “all hands employed storing chicken” or “the watch employed in ships duty”. Just two days after they left the Bay of Islands, they saw a whale and lowered the boats, and such whale sightings were even drawn in the daily entries.

On the last pages of the logbook, the keeper shows unusually the crew of the different parts of the ship and shows, how the constitution of the boat-crews changed and differed during the voyages. This proves to be a valuable insight into the multi-ethnicity of the crew, because it also mentions the places and islands from where some crew-members were taken off. Some crew members were taken from Pacific Islands such as the Galapagos, Navigator Islands, Society Islands Tongataboo or New Zealand as you can see on this logbook page here.8

Thank you very much for reading this. This was a very brief overview of a logbook, and in case you have a question to any part or aspect, you are welcome to leave a comment.

  1. Nicholson whaling collection, in Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/providencepublicnicholson, [Last Access: 12.03.2022]. []
  2. Wells, Kate (2019): Finding Aid, Nicholson whaling logbook collection 1762-1931, https://www.provlib.org/wp-content/uploads/finding-aids/003-02-01-FA.pdf, [last Access: 12.03.2022]. []
  3. William Hamilton, 1834-1837, in: whaling history database, https://whalinghistory.org/?s=AV15649, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  4. William Hamilton Logbook 1834-1837, in: Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/journalofwilliam00will/mode/2up, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  5. LADY AMHERST, in: whaling history database, https://whalinghistory.org/?s=BV078010, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  6. William Hamilton Logbook, in: Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/journalofwilliam00will/page/n61/mode/2up?view=theater [Last Access:12.03.2022] [] []
  7. Sarah and Elizabeth, in: whaling history database, https://whalinghistory.org/?s=BV078010, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  8. William Hamilton Logbook, in: Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/journalofwilliam00will/page/n127/mode/2up?view=theater [Last Access:12.03.2022] []

What did whaling had to do with New England’s colonization

The development of the whaling industry in New England and Nantucket had its origin in the wider colonization process of the American continent – and this also reflects the area’s heritage.1 .

From the 17th century onwards, many settler societies along the coast of New England were involved in the whaling industry as a natural extraction industry to varying degrees. Today there is research about the whaling history of various cities such as the Hudson Bay2, Long Island3, New London4, Rhode Island5, Fall River6, Salem7, Dartmouth in Nova Scotia8, as well as Nantucket9 and New Bedford.10

For the period of the whaling industry between 1784 and 1928, Finley lists even over 75 different whaling ports along the North American coastlines.11 Despite the high amount of whaling ports however, the economic power was still concentrated just on few ones. Nantucket belonged to the most famous and successful cities as their fleet amounted almost 70% of all ships cruising along the whale patterns in the Atlantic.

It were not only settlers, but mariners with background of Native American communities or from the African continent, which contributed crucially to the rise of thw whaling industry. Scholars like Karttunen, Nicholas, Shoemaker, Silverman and Vickers localize the whaling industry’s success to the important role of Colonial Others such as Native American communities and of people with roots from the African continent.12 According to research opinions, the arriving settler families, who took part in the whaling industry, grounded their economic success on the extraction of labour force via distinct practises such as indentured servitude13 or a complex system of “indebtedness”.14 The labour forces of the whaling industry, as Vickers revealed, consisted mainly of “hands from the Indian community”15 and from people with roots from the African continent.

Shoemaker reminds us that Native American communities kept a relationship to whales long before the contact with European actors.16 Even before the arrival of the Mayflower with its first Pilgrim and Dutch settlers in Cape Cod in 1619, Native American communities and sachems along the coast of New England were familiar with these seasonal movements and the processing of stranded whales. Shoemaker realizes that “Sachem held sovereign rights to whales that stranded in the shallows or on shore” and parts of the whale like “fins and flukes may have been considered delicacies or, more likely, may have had symbolic and ceremonial value”. The “political and legal practices” of sharing “pieces of stranded whales as gifts”17 seems to have been common in the area and similar observations have been done in neighbouring communties. Nantucket’s geographic position is also close to Cape Cod.

William Bradford was one of the passengers onboard the Mayflower and became the first colonial Governor of the then established Plymouth colony. Based on the accounts of him, Philbrick notes that they “were cutting the whale’s blubber into long strips when they saw the shallop approaching and fled, ´running to and fro, as if they had been carrying something.´”18 The Captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, as Philbrick adds, was himself formerly active in the Greenland whaling industry, and while cruising close to New England’s coastline, he ”claimed that if only they’d had some harpoons and lances they might have taken between three thousand and four thousand pounds’ worth of whale oil and baleen.”19 The settlers arrived in the area of southern New England, which today form the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut20.

 

  1. Daley, Justin (2020): New England Whaling Heritage. The impact of Capitalism on Preservation and Public Interpretation. PhD Thesis. Flinders University, Adelaide. College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, https://flex.flinders.edu.au/file/7c97e563-7828-481c-aa62-3d2175890ab8/1/DaleyThesis2020.pdf , [last access: 10.02.2022] []
  2. Schram, Margaret (2004): Hudson’s Merchants and Whalers. The Rise and Fall of a River Port, 1783-1850. New York: Black Dome Press. []
  3. Strong, John (2018): America´s Early Whalemen. Indian Shore Whalers on Long Island, 1650-1750: University of Arizona Press. []
  4. Shoemaker, Nancy (2015): Native American Whalemen. Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. []
  5. Sherman, Stuart (1965): The Voice of the Whaleman. With an Account of the Nicholson Whaling Collection. Providence RI. []
  6. Lund, Judith (2012): Fall River goes Whaling. In: Coriolis – Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies 3 (2), pp. 1-14. []
  7. Druett, Joan (2009): The Salem Connection. American Contacts with Early Colonial New Zealand. In: Journal of New Zealand Studies 8, pp. 169-194.; Medina, Isagani (1973): American Logbooks and Journals in Salem, Massachusetts on the Philippines 1796-1894. In: Asian Studies, Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia 11 (1), pp. 177-198. []
  8. Follini, Maida (2006): A Quaker Odyssey. The Migration of Quaker Whalers from Nantucket, Massachusetts to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and Milford Haven, Wales. In: Canadian Quaker History Journal 71, pp. 1-21. []
  9. Stackpole, Edouard A. (1972): Whales and Destiny. The rivalry between America, France, and Britain for control of the southern whale fishery, 1785-1825. Amherst MA.; Vickers, Daniel (1983): The first Whalemen of Nantucket. In: The William and Mary Quarterly 40 (4), pp. 560-583; Vickers, Daniel (1985): Nantucket whalemen in the deep-sea fishery. The changing anatomy of an early American labor force. In: The Journal of American History 72 (2), pp. 277-296. []
  10. Gallman, Robert; Davis, Lance; Gleiter, Karin (1997): In Pursuit of Leviathan. Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906. Chicago: Chicago University Press.; Stackpole 1972 []
  11. Finley, Skip (2020): Whaling Captains of Colour. America´s first Meritocracy. Dulles VA: Naval Institute Press, pp. 235-237 []
  12. Karttunen, Frances (2005): The Other Islanders. People who pulled Nantucket’s oars. New Bedford: Spinner Publications, Inc.; Nicholas, Mark (2002): Mashpee Wampanoags of Cape Cod, the Whalefishery, and Seafaring’s Impact on Community Development. In: The American Indian Quarterly 26 (2), pp. 165-197.; Shoemaker 2014; 2015 ; Silverman, David (2001): The Impact of Indentured Servitude on the Society and culture of Southern New England Indians, 1680-1810. In: The New England Quarterly 74 (4), pp. 622-666.; Vickers 1983; 1985. []
  13. Salmond, Anne (1997): Between Worlds. Early Exchanges between Maori and Europeans 1773-1815. Auckland NZ: Penguin Books, p. 316. []
  14. Vickers 1983, p. 577 []
  15. Vickers 1983, p. 568 []
  16. Shoemaker, Nancy (2014): Living with whales. Documents and oral histories of Native New England whaling history. Amherst: University of Massachussetts Press.. []
  17. Shoemaker 2014, p. 32 []
  18. Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006): Mayflower. A story of courage, community, and war. New York: Penguin Group.. []
  19. Philbrick 2006, p. 57. []
  20. Karttunen 2002; Philbrick 2006; Salisbury, Neal (1984): Manitou and Providence. Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643. New York: Oxford University Press.; Zelner, Kyle (2009): A Rabble in Arms. Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip’s War. New York: New York University Press; Bahar, Matthew (2019): Storm of the Sea. Indians & Empires in the Atlantic´s Age of Sail. Oxford: Oxford University Press. []
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