The subject of whaling can hardly be discussed without a mention of Moby Dick, the maritime adventure novel by Herman Melville. Published in 1951, it tells the story of Captain Ahab, and his obsession with catching the "white whale." Mythic in its titanic beauty, nothing serves as a better embodiment of the sea and its risks than the whale. The hunt for this beast consumed the minds, hearts, and lives of many men during the 19th Century, a period that saw both the industry's American peak and decline. As advances in steam power and ship design paved the way for a smaller, more traversable world, the sun began stetting on the age of sail. Long chased mysteries of the deep were becoming increasingly within man's grasp of scientific understanding, though they had been within reach of a harpoon for thousands of years. Despite being an era of industrial and scientific advancement something very primal existed within whaling that was not quite of that time. In a world where civilization was becoming increasingly removed and independent of nature's powers, whaling remained almost strictly within them. At the core of 19th century whaling still existed in the infamously treacherous contest between man and leviathan, a duel whose outcome was never certain.
[...] acted as a gruesome complement to the whaling grounds dotting the Pacific, a precarious coupling that came to characterize 19th century whaling. The most efficient, and perhaps least complex means by which to introduce this relationship is to begin by outlining the plethora of environmental dangers that faced whale men on a day to day basis. Whether it be illness, weather, or the whales themselves, wheelmen faced constant peril from the world beyond the fragile walls of the forecastle. In an era where medicine was still underdeveloped, minor injuries and sicknesses made health susceptible to quick deterioration. [...]
[...] DeBlois knowing the ship was doomed, quickly organized an evacuation to the remaining whaling boats, taking what food they could with them. The Ann Alexander's crew abandoned the sinking wreck and set off northwards in its remaining stoves in hopes of being rescued amidst the vast expanse of the South Pacific. By a stroke of luck the crew was spotted by another whaler, the Nantucket after only two days adrift. It was a rare disaster, however the hunters occasionally became the prey. [...]
[...] Being the dangerous enterprise it was, it could be argued that whaling warranted strict discipline and enforcement of labor. After all green hands and seasoned sailors alike potentially put the entire crew in danger by disobeying orders, or at least that is the argument made in Rhodes's journal. That said much of the blame concerning their “insolent” behavior can be placed on the master's for Rhode's His journal includes several mentions of corporal punishment however Rhode's should have been less tolerant of disobedience. [...]
[...] The hardships and dangers of whaling were well known enough among veteran seaman that few resorted to joining the hunt and the cutting-in for a living. The gullible “green hand” however, was easily persuaded over exaggerated tales of adventure, travel and excitement, which accounts for the large groups of first-time sailors in whaler log books. Indeed whaling was an industry of two fronts: one concerned itself with hunting of the whale for its oil, and the other prospered off the demand for ignorant, inexperienced laborers. [...]
[...] Without a clear seat of authority, impressionable green hands like those aboard the Australian witnessed a troubling precedent that complicated any already complex dynamic of personalities and power. The question of authority, and the tensions it engendered, left whaling as traumatic an occupation on deck as it was in a stove boat. Amidst a visceral discourse of flogging and revolt, crews were perpetually walking the line between the dangers of the natural world and those of the intense personality networks aboard whalers. At its worst this amalgamation of [...]
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