It seems that the ocean is in our blood.
It isn’t hard to love the water, especially when your home is nestled against the salty ocean of Massachusetts. That was the the case for Lysander W. Gault. Born November 14, 1824 in Wareham Massachusetts, Lysander grew up near the Atlantic Ocean.
There is not much information about Lysander’s childhood, but it must have been adventurous growing up with eight other brothers and sisters. He married Hannah Jane Francis November 11, 1861in New Bedford Massachusetts. Lysander was 36 years old, Hannah was 25.
It doesn’t say when he began his career, but Lysander was a whaler. He spent much time off the coast of the Pacific – including Hawaii. Immediately I had scenes of Moby Dick swirling through my head when I found out he was a whaler.
As it turns out, whaling is a very time and labor intensive job. Lysander was often away from his family for years at a time. According to the National Maritime Digital Library, one trip lasted at least two years! “The ships were outfitted with whaling gear and enough provisions to last for a cruise of up to four years” (New Bedford Whaling Museum).
He departed in June of 1875 and returned May 1879. According to Records his ship the John Carver, caught 972 sperm whale and hauled 375 bones.
When I first read the log, I had two questions, “how do you get that many whales onboard a ship?” and “What did they do with the whale fat and bones?”
Before a world of iPads, before a world of electric lights, lighting was very important. Candles and lamps fueled with oil were used.
“When a whale was killed, it was towed to the ship and its blubber, the thick insulating fat under its skin, would be peeled and cut from its carcass in a process known as “flensing.” The blubber was minced into chunks and boiled in large vats on board the whaling ship, producing oil.
The oil taken from whale blubber was packaged in casks and transported back to the whaling ship’s home port (such as New Bedford, Massachusetts, the busiest American whaling port in the mid-1800s). From the ports it would be sold and transported across the country and would find its way into a huge variety of products.
Whale oil, in addition to be used for lubrication and illumination, was also used to manufacture soaps, paint, and varnish. Whale oil was also utilized in some processes used to manufacture textiles and rope.” Whale bones were the new plastic and used in everything from corsets to piano keys. – (“What Products Were Produced from Whales, Robert McNamara, 19th Century History Expert.)
Whaling was usually strenuous, unpleasant work. It was often said that “the stench of processing whales was so strong a whale ship could be smelled over the horizon before it could be seen” (am history).
The good news is that crews were often close knit.
Below are short notes written to Lysander from John A. Coffin who was a Master Mariner with Lysander on the John Carver.
The notes are short and talk about important things such as, “I have sent a barrel of ale, put it in a safe place.” Or, “please let Julian have his things when he comes for them.” It is remarkable that such simple everyday notes were able to be preserved for hundreds of years.
Standing in a small boat while battling tossing waves, trying to take down a massive and extremely powerful creature takes guts. Serious guts.
It was a grisly job that was probably part courage, and part crazy. It was all or nothing.
Yes, it is true whales are especially majestic creatures and should be preserved, but, I also have to remember that was a different time back then. Ideas were different. Life was different.
Although the age of whaling is esentially gone, the stories and lives of whalers such as Lysander Gault will always be remembered.
Plus, its always cool to say that sailing runs in the family.