Whaling Wife

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November 11th. A fine morning and good breeze. The Men are still at work on the heads. There is a great deal of work about and the Ship is the dirtiest place that I ever saw when they are cutting in and trying out whales, especially when there is the fat of five on board. The old mincing machine is going yet, and the great fires from the furnaces, fed by the scraps, constantly blazing.

In the afternoon the Mate came to me and wanted me to go with him and take a look down in the reception room, as he termed it. I went, and I could not refrain from laughter, such a comical sight! There the Men were at work up to their waists in blubber. The warm weather had tried out the oil a good deal and made it soft. I don’t see how they could stand in among it, but they were laughing and having a good deal of fun. I had heard the Men tell about the blubber room, but I had not had the pleasure of seeing it before. They do not often have it like that; seldom have they as much blubber together in warm weather. When it is cold it does not get soft like that. The smell of the oil is quite offensive to me. They are not nearly through yet but the heads are all done. They yield a sight of oil, they do not know yet how much. The Men saved the jawbones—I suppose they intend to make something fancy from them when there is leisure. They only save the bone out of the head. It is white out of the sperm whale and black out of the other kinds.…

November 20th. [Off Tristan da Cunha] … The Steward and the Cabin Boy are having some sport trying to catch birds with a hook and line. They use pork for bait. It draws the birds all around the Ship. They have several times taken a bit of the bait; but now one is caught. The Steward has drawn him up and given him to me. He is a beauty and is what they call a Cape Horn Pigeon. He is about the size of a duck, shaped something—the bill and all—like them. He is pure white on the breast and under the wings, with beautiful brown spots on the back and wings. We kept him a spell and let him go.…

November 21st. It is the Sabbath and a very rugged one, too. Nothing but a jar of noises all day; the Sea breaking over the Ship, things rolling about on deck, and the wind whistling through the rigging. The dishes can with difficulty be kept on the table while we are eating.…

November 29th. Quite rugged; going 10 knot. The Ship has gone 220 miles in the last 24 hours. Two Ships in sight today—one that we saw yesterday. Caught a porpoise this morning. Thanksgiving, that day of all others that we take so much comfort in at home with Friends, is over now; we knew nothing about it here. It is the first one I ever spent and did not know when it took place. No-one spoke of it here except when I did. They said that they were used to it.…

At the end of November, they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and early in December caught their first right whale, a much larger variety than the sperm whales they had taken before.

December 4th. This morning the Men were up as soon as they could see to work, cutting in the whale.… I went up on deck when they were hoisting the head up. It certainly is a great curiosity. How can I describe it? It seems to me I should want to examine it for a week to give a correct opinion of it.

I could not stay up but a few minutes, it rained so very hard. My Husband wanted me to walk into the whale’s mouth. He pushed me in a little ways, so I think I can say that I have been inside of a whale’s mouth. Six or eight people could easily go in and sit down at one time. I would not hesitate about going in and sitting down if it was clean, but it was very wet and dirty from the rain.…

December 6th. It is a very fine day, with a good breeze. The oil is all in casks now. It is not far from 100 bbls. All hands seem to be much pleased with the good success they have had so far, and are now ready to see another whale. It seems dull on board, now the excitement is all over. One sail seen this morning from aloft.…

December 20th. It was pleasant this morning, with a good breeze, and before I was up, the cry of whales was given from aloft.…

Now the First Mate has returned. He struck a whale and it capsized his boat. The Men and everything were in the water, but the courageous Men righted the boat and took the same whale. They were so much disabled that the Second Mate took it to the Ship. It is a very large one.… They are all highly elated with their morning’s fortune and are now preparing to cut them in. One of the Men caught a porpoise this morning. That seems to be great fun for them. All hands are very fond of the meat also. I cannot say that I am.…

By Christmas, they were well on their way to New Zealand. The day itself passed unnoticed in Eliza’s journal.

December 26th. The Sabbath has once more come around. All is quiet again on board. It really is pleasant to have it so after so much confusion as has been the last week—the constant noise of heavy chains on deck; the driving of the hoops; the turning over of the casks of oil till it seemed as if the Ship shook; and the loud orders of the Officers—all together, would make a nervous Person go distracted, I think, but it cannot be avoided on board a whale Ship. Oil is what they came after and there is a great deal of hard work and noise, attending it.…

Shortly after the beginning of the new year, 1859, Eliza had exciting news to note in her diary—about an arrival she had not seen fit even to mention in advance.