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The Art of Whaling: Illustrations from the Logbooks of Nantucket Whaleships (publicdomainreview.org)
81 points by vo2maxer 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments





I heartily recommend "In The Heart Of The Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" if anyone is interested in learning more about Nantucket whaling. It is a captivating true story that talks about the characters and culture involved in the whaling community. It is also apparently the story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.

For those interested, first-hand accounts from the survivors as collected in “The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale”, and they are gripping. Edited by the same author as above.

Great book! Super interesting analogy to Nantucket being the Silicon Valley of the era, pulling in top young talent from the whole east coast.

Avoid the movie at all costs.


Also throwing out the suggestion of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. I listened to the audio book on Audible and found it pretty interesting.

Yes, great book. The story is completely fascinating and in addition great detail into the culture and process of whaling is given.

Came here to say that this is one gripping book


Wow, just yesterday I was thinking and discussing about how and why to ban tiktok for my kids, but this is great example of the tech being used to create something amazing! Really melts my heart when I see how humans can create marvelous things together, spontaneously!

Maybe I'm a few years too late but I highly recommend reading Moby Dick. The shear amount of information in the book in parallel to the story makes believe Melville had access to Wikipedia in the 1800s.

This is a free audiobook of Moby Dick I listen to in the car when NPR is too gloomy. I have listened to it a lot lately. https://librivox.org/moby-dick-by-herman-melville/

Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series is also rich with detail about sailing in the Age of Sail more generally (with some in-depth details about whaling in many of the books). I've been slowly working my way through them for the past year, and I feel like I've learned so much about what it took to sail a ship in those days.

The Aubry-Maturin books are fantastic. They are a strange mix of adventure, history, survival, romance, sailing manual, and comedy.

If you like them, also check out the nine book series The Baroque Cycle by Neil Stephenson. It's similarly filled with adventure, history, sailing, mining, intrigue, swashbuckling, mathematics, chemistry, science, economics, bloody swordfighting, and cartography. So you know... normal Neil Stephenson books.

Also, raise those royal topgallants, what is this, a whaling ship?!


I must say reading with modern perspective the at points gleeful descriptions of whaling was harrowing in a way that I don't think was intentional. 19th century really was quite a dark period in human history, I'd say far more so than the so called dark ages.

Among the classics I read, this was the only one I did _not_ like. It's an interesting read if one enjoys the setting of a whaling ship of that period. The story itself, I didn't find engaging at all.

The article's price of £10/bbl for whale oil in 1730 would be £2,165 or $2,952 today. WTI crude (rock oil) was trading at $53/bbl today. 40-50 bbl could be squeezed out of a good sized whale, making them worth $118k+ each.

Some more concrete numbers are here, not quite as profitable by the 1830s. Multiply by 29 for inflation. https://research.mysticseaport.org/info/ib69-3/


I would note that trying to do inflation across these time period is tricky. An agricultural worker in England at this time would have made only about 18 pounds per year.

Whalers were a 'sweet spot' for creativity. Lots of resources (whalebone, teeth, baleen, rope etc), a reasonable number of sailors, and stretches of free time. This is where various art forms were perfected including scrimshaw, macrame(!) and knotting. In fact almost all knots (and there are around 5000 of them) were invented on whalers.

Merchant marine and Navy had too many sailors and not a lot of free time. Resources and time were scarce.


I recently received a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots and it has a fascinating narrative on the origins of the different knots intertwined with great illustrations. Apparently whalers were considered the upper echelon of seaman compared to their brethren that were pressed into service. Whalers had access to a lot more rope for leisurely activities (knotting).

A wonderful book! The standard of the field. That's where I got the '5000 knots'.

Appropriately, Ashley had 5 (five!) uncles who were Whaler captains.


These illustrations are gorgeous; i could look at them all day. Luckily there are hundreds of additional journals at archive.org to keep me from doing actual work this morning. It's interesting that the cruelty and brutality of the hunts isn't recorded in these journals. Hard to believe that wouldn't have weighed heavily on these Nantucket Quakers if they were so committed to nonviolence and pacifism, as the author writes.

Your comment about the Quakers sent me googling:

https://chasingflukes.com/reading_guide-overview/glossary-co...

The Whaling-Quaker style of cursing is now very popular on the "Talk like a Pirate Day", especially here in Oregon


I'm not gonna lie: i didn't like "Moby Dick" and i probably would not leave the house on "talk like a pirate day."

Folks might also enjoy the Nantucket PC game on steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/621220/Nantucket/

Why didn't the whales just dive?? Blows my mind a rowboat of sailors could even catch up.

The whales would dive, but whales have to breathe air so come back up again. My knowledge of this is based on Moby Dick, so take it with the pinch of salt necessary. It describes the experienced sailors being able to estimate how long the whale would be under water for, and look-outs on the larger ship could see where the whale broke the surface and head there to attack it in the smaller boats. Then they'd spear the whale with a long rope attached to the spear and the whale would dive under again with the spear stuck in it. As it dived, the pressure of the water would cause it more pain in the wound and it would have to resurface. Repeat, with a grisly finale. But yeah, it does seem pretty insane (and cruel) that anyone would attempt this.

It seems daft but walk into a field of cows some time.

There is a daft meme that whales are cool and intelligent (lol etc) and so on. They are both cool and demonstrably intelligent and yet they insist on doing the same thing that they have done for millenia. There is no way that evolution can kick in for a race that lives for so long, for such a destructive force that was deployed so quickly (us).


Cows is an unfair comparison - cattle have been deliberately domesticated over millennia, selectively breeding for docility and familiarity with humans. Cow herds you might encounter in a field are also artificial constructs, removing the aggressive males that might have otherwise defended their family. Walking into a field of wild bison/Nilgai/Water Buffalo and aggressive behavior will have you hanging from a pair of horns before very long. Even feral dogs are fairly friendly and tend to ignore non-threatening humans in their territory - but you wouldn't want to do the same with wolves.

It kinda hurt for me to read about whaling being presented as an art. Disclosure: I'm vegan. But wouldnt it 100y ago (or even less) be generally accepted to write like this about slave trade, as an art?

Whales are very sensitive creatures, they know family... Why should we be allowed to end their lives and make them "products"? Even weirder: call that an art?


The article does not present whaling as an art. It goes to great lengths to emphasize the cruelty of whaling. The title refers to the variety of art associated more or less directly with whaling.



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