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Whaling during the 19th Century

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The subject of whaling and Moby Dick.
    2. The arena of personality clashes.
  2. Environmental dangers that the men face.
    1. The match-up of a 45 ton whale and a row boat.
    2. The case of the Ann Alexander.
    3. The macabre details of the voyage.
  3. The duel processes of 'cutting-in' and 'trying-out'.
    1. Danger of being knocked overboard.
    2. General sickness.
    3. The risk posed by the economy.
  4. The incentive for green hands.
    1. Scouting at taverns, inns, and brothels.
    2. Untrained and quickly disillusioned men.
    3. The punishment for newcomers.
  5. Sympathy in a perilous working environment.
  6. Conclusion.

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. [...]


[...] Rhodes, celebrates the catch but does not elaborate on the fruitless period before, suggesting that it was just another miserable factor to be expected from time to time in whaling industry. This in part explains the impressive length of whaling expeditions, which could stretch on anywhere from three to five years at a time, depending on the quality of the whaling seasons. Trans-Atlantic merchant voyages were a third or fourth of that length. As sea travel in general became more expeditious over the 19th Century, whaling voyages actually increased in average duration as whalers pushed further and further into the Pacific. [...]

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