The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Searchable 'Whaling History,' part 2

Following up on the last post. More fun with data...

While you're looking at Melville's details in the Crew List (Rank: Greenhand; Lay: 1-175), make a note of the VesselID, AS0819, which unambiguously identifies his ship. (There is second vessel Acushnet in the database.)

Now return to American Whaling Voyages > Voyages. (Wait for it to load.) Enter VesselID: AS0819.

You'll see the voyages of "Melville's" Acushnet, listed chronologically. Click each line to display the details of each voyage. Melville was on its maiden voyage, under Valentine Pease. It was rigged as a ship, and had a tonnage of 359. (Was that gross or net tonnage?)

Striking (pun intended) is the note: Vessel End  Stove by a whale, 1847; lost Aug 16, 1851.

Captain Pease's voyage ended "1845 May." Clicking the second voyage in the list we see the Acushnet sailing from Fairhaven about two months later, on "1845 Jul-16," under William B. Rogers. Rogers returned in "1848 Jun" with a notably smaller haul of sperm oil, whale oil, and whalebone. Captain Rogers' birthdate is listed, so we know that he was nearly 31 years old when he set out on this voyage. It was during this voyage that the Acushnet was "stove by a whale," but it must have been repaired because the voyage end was "1848 Jun."

The third and final voyage of this Acushnet began, again after about two months in port, on "1848 Aug-30," with Destination "N Pacific." It was "lost Aug 16, 1851." Note the Master ID, AM0569, of its captain at the time, "Bradley, Thomas C." Return to Voyages and enter that code for Master ID—this is Bradley's only whaling voyage in the database. Loading the Crew List, we find twenty-six men (Bradley is listed twice), captain included, aged 17 to 35 years. Their Rank and Lay are not given, except for Bradley who is listed with Rank "Master."

Searching the full crew lists data for some of the less common names on this voyage (Schimerhorn; Hutchinson, Henry; Donley, Frank; Durice; Duren), shows the Acushnet as their only whaling voyage. Did the Acushnet meet a sudden, tragic end?

Well, no. According to Alaska Shipwrecks: 1750 - 2010, the Acushnet "went ashore in a fog and sank in 10 fathoms [60 feet] of water at Saint Lawrence Island." Less than 20% of her cargo of 1300 barrels of whale oil was salvaged. One assumes that if 250 barrels of oil were saved, at least some of the crew made it to safety as well. Still, we can look at St. Lawrence Island and count our blessings.

1 comment:

  1. On the subject of tonnage: According to In Pursuit of Leviathan, pg. 74 (U. of Chicago 1997), the method for calculating tonnage was set by federal law, since tonnage had to be reported when a vessel was registered. The formula was changed in 1865. Before 1865, it was based on the vessel's length, breadth, and depth (although for 2-deck vessels, depth was assumed to be half of breadth). From 1865 on, the formula was much more complicated, taking into account, for example, "the average thickness of the ceiling of the tonnage deck, and the depth at a distance of one-third of the round of the beam below the tonnage deck to the upper side of the floor timber at the inside of the limber strake." (Skipper Bercaw Edwards is probably the only person who knows what that all means.)