- Historic Sites
Being Eliza Williams’s own journal of her thirty-eight-month voyage with her husband, master of the ship Florida, from New Bedford to Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk in pursuit of the great whales
June 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 4
September 9th. About the same going on today; the wind is fair, and we are leaveing home far in the distance. They are singing out from aloft, a school of Blackfish. This is a novel sight to me. There seems to be quite a number of them; they are all playing about uncontious of danger, while on board all is confution. The Men are lowering the boats to go after them. It must be sport to them, for they act like crazy Men; now I can see that the first Mate’s boat has taken one, and I can see too that the fish is takeing them along in a hurry; now the seckond Mate’s boat has one; the third I think won’t succeed. The fish seem to be frightened, and are fast scatering. The boats have now returned, and they are prepareing to get the fish on deck. They are a queer looking fish, as black as can be, and much larger than I thought. My Husband says they are smaller much than he has seen. The Men are now takeing what they call the blubber off and the rest they thro overboard.
September 10th. It is quite rugged today, and I have been quite sick; these 3 or 4 words I write in bed.
September 11th. It remains rugged and I remain Sea sick. I call it a gale, but my Husband laughs at me, and tells me that I have not seen a gale yet. If this is not one I know I do not want to see one. Some of the poor sailors are sick, and I presume have wished themselves at home before this; as for me, I lay here, and hear the loud orders of the Officers on deck; the pulling of ropes, the ratling of sails and riging. In the cabin it is about as bad; the dishes and everything is on the move.
September 12th. Quite calm today, and I have been on deck some of the time, though I feel weak. I think that I shall get accustomed to the Ship’s motion after a while so that I will not be sick. Ships in sight today but a good ways off. Nothing of importance today. It seems a monotonous life to me, such a sameness to it all. The Men seem to be getting their boats in readiness expecting that they may see a whale any day.…
September 14th. More wind today, but not fair. There is quite a swell and the Ship rowles a good deal. It makes me Sea sick again; the worst sickness it seems to me that any one can have. I can hear the Men very busy over my head; now crash goes some dish. All I can think of is perpetual motion on board this Ship.
September 15th. More pleasant today. I have been on deck a short time; such a busy lot of Men. It seems to me like a good many work Shops combined; Coopers. Carnenters. Blacksmiths, and sail-makers, they are all to work at something. It makes me think that I am lazy; I have not done much yet but look on. I have seen them tack Ship. That is some excitement, the Officers giveing orders, the Men trying to obey them, but they have not learned the ropes all yet and they make a good many mistakes, though they are all called by name. I am afraid I should be a dull scholar at learning them.
September 16th. Quite calm, do not make much headway. No whale yet all anxious to see one. We are haveing beutiful moonshiny evenings; it is a beutiful sight to see the moon shine on the water. One of the boat steerers, a colored Man, has a violin, and we have some musick occationaly which makes it pleasant these nice evenings. There is a splended comet to be seen.…
September 19th. Fair wind. It is the sabbath, and all is orderly and quiet on board; much more so than I expected among so many Men between 30 and 40. All work is laid aside Saturday night and nothing done on Sunday but what is necessary.…
September 28th. A good breeze today, the wind not fair though; had a shower this morning. It soon cleared away and has been a fine day. After tea heard the cry from aloft of there blowes; then all was confution for a spell. The Men said there was a school of Sperm Whales not far off, and sure enough, in a few moments I could see them plain spouting all around; it looked queer to see them throw the white water up so high. Though it was near night, the Men lowered the boats, determined to take one or more. 4 boats were gone and I watched them through the glass to see what they would do. As they neared them I thought my Husband would stand the best chance of taking one, but the whale went down; then it seemed to me that the third Mate would take one certainly; it appeared to me that he was as near to one as he could get, and that went down. One came along close by the Ship, so close it seemed to me that one could throw a stone and hit him. I had a fine view of him; I could almost see his whole length out of water. He looked dark in the water, but he did not give me much time to look at him, for he made off with himself as fast as he could, as if he was apprehensive of danger. It is getting dark and I begin to think of the boats returning whether they take one or not. The second Mate’s boat has returned; they did not take aney. The third Mate has also returned without aney. It is getting quite [dark] and I can not see the other boats. My anxiety increases with the darkness, and it is quite hazy, too; the Men have put lanterns in the riging to help them see the Ship. Now I hear my Husband’s voise giveing some order to the Officers on the Ship; now he has come alongside, and has sent a boat with a lantern to assist the first Mate. The boats have both returned and the first Mate has a Sperm whale; it is small though, it is a young calf. All is confution now to get the whale fast alongside, and to get the boats back in their places. I am quite anxious to see how [the] fish looks, but it is too dark, and I think I shall have to wait till morning.