- 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 29th. It is an unpleasant morning; the rain comes down in torrents. My Husband has called me on deck to see the whale. It is in the water but fast to the Ship; it is a queer looking fish … I can not say that I think there is much beuty to them; there is not much form, but a mass of flesh. Their flukes and fins are hansome. They are about a mouse color. Now they have hauled him up and have commenced cutting him in, I can tell better how he looks. It looks like a monster to me and not a calf; it is quite long, and verry shiny; there does not seem to be much form to the head; it is rather flat; a large mouth, quite small eyes. I thought they had no ears as I could not see aney but my Husband tells me that they have small holes about as big around as a knitting needle; he says that their hearing is verry accute, and they have to go along as still as possible for fear the whale will hear the boats; before they get to them they take in their oars, and put up the sail in order to go still, for when they hear the least noise they go down. The Officers seem to understand exactly where to commence cutting and how to cut him all, and just where the joints are, they have handled so many. They first take the blubber off with spades with verry long handles; they are quite sharp, and they cut places and peal it off in great strips. It looks like very thick fat pork, it is quite white. They do not save aney of the body but the outside, the blubber; but the head is the greatest curiosity. They part it where there is a certain joint. They call that part the case, and it holds clear oil that they dip out like water; they think there will be a bbl [barrel] and a half in this head. They have a minceing machine, that cuts the blubber up in small pieces. They have large try pots over furnaces, to try it out. They have to tend it very careful, and they have large skimmers with long handles to take out the scraps, which they burn to try the Oil. They tryed it quite fast.
September 30th. a good breeze today; a Merchant Ship in sight; the Oil all in casks this morning. The Men did not leave it till it was done, sometime in the night. They can’t leave it when they once commence; it is necessary to try it right up as it will spoil. They had 9 bbls from that small calf.
October 1st. fair wind today; getting everything in readiness for the whaleing season, the Cooper makeing a large tub for the minceing machine, the Carpenter makeing a box to put the spades in, and getting the signals readey for the boats; those are used in case some assistance is needed when after whales. There has been an increase on board the Ship; we have got 8 pigs in the pen.…
On October 12 the Florida dropped anchor off Brava, one of the Cape Verde Islands, where the crew went ashore to get supplies, and where Eliza rode a jackass up an “inaccessible mountain” to reach the governor’s house. In spite of her terror at the practically vertical ascent, she was delighted with the visit. She noted in her diary that she was “an object of curiosity to the Natives,” many of whom had never seen a white woman .
October 14th. It is quite pleasant today and a fair wind. There are more hogs and hens on deck now than I wish there were. The goat and her little kid I like quite well, but I can’t say the same of those black, wolfish looking hogs. We had some bananas fryed for breakfast. The Men liked them; I could not say that I did. I am not fond of them aneyway. I suppose the next land we make will be the group of Islands called Tristan da Cunha; but that will not be for a month or so.
October 20th. Fair wind today. There have been 6 sails in sight today; we were quite near 2 of them, so that we could see the Men on deck quite plain through the glass. One, a large clipper Ship we could see without the glass; the Men, the Captain, also his Wife. She was looking at me, I imagine, anxious with me to see a Woman; she had the glass up to her eyes, I could see. We could almost make out her name.…
November 8th. It has cleared off and is a splendid morning; ’tis quite calm. The welcome cry of “There blows” came from aloft before breakfast this morning; then all was bustle. As usual, at such times, my Husband went aloft with the glass to find out what they were. He thought they were sperm whales, but they were a good ways off and soon went down. Staid down a good while and we had breakfast in the time, keeping a Man to masthead, which they always do through the day.… We had but just done breakfast when the cry was repeated. Now there was no mistake; they were sperm whales and two or three of them. Two boats were lowered and pulled lustily for them.… On board the Ship, they place signals to mast head in different places, and different shaped ones, made from blue and white cloth, to let those in the boats know in what direction the whales are and whether they are up or down, as it is difficult sometimes for the Men in the boats to tell, they are so low on the water and the whales change their position so often.
The Mate’s boat seemed the most likely to get one; the other boat returned to the Ship. The Mate finally got fast to one. My Husband sent two boats to him to help him tow the whale to the Ship. As he was some ways off and there was no breeze to help him, it was long after dinner before they came alongside. It looked queer to me to see those three little boats, attached together with ropes, towing the whale along. Everything was in readiness on board, to make the whale fast before they got here. I went to the side of the Ship to see him after they had made him secure. It looked like a monster to me. They think he will make 40 bbls. of oil.…