|Author||Briton Cooper Busch|
I somehow missed this book when it came out, only discovering it this past week. I have long been interested in whaling. This book is more or less about whaling, but much more along the lines of whaling as an economic institution, sort of a floating factory, with a focus on the life and culture of the whalemen (there were a ew women, wives of officers mostly). I found the book to be informative, the best I have read on the life of the individuals on board whalers--I can't really say sailors, because whaleships needed particular kinds of hands such as harpooners, small boat rowers and such, professional sailors could be a problem, although obviously the ships had o be sailed.
Busch's version of the whaling industry is just that, the industry. Crew were workers, a sort of maritime proletariat, often exploited through fees that reduced a man's "lay," that is share of the profits, to a pittance. Thee were hundreds of ships, some happy ships, some tyranny at sea. There were some changes over the 19th century, as the ethnic composition of the crews lost most of its African American element and replaced them with Kanakas (Pacific islanders, the term not being considered derogatory) and Cape Verdeans (who spoke a creole Portuguese and descended from ethnic Portuguese and various African groups). Busch has an element of statistics in the book, from research utilizing a large number of whaling ship logbooks.
One chapter examines discipline on board, which included the whip (ostensibly abolished in the American merchant fleet by about 1850), locking men in irons, tying them to rigging. shaming and beating. Crew did have minimal legal rights, and these often involved American consuls, who were to be found in many ports of call--a separate and fascinating chapter covers these. There's a chapter on work stoppages, several hundred incidents from the 3,000+ logs examined Mutiny was quite rare. Another fascinating chapter concerns deserters; virtually all whalers experienced some desertion, the more the longer the voyage--which could be four years long. A chapter looks at women, captain's wives but also Pacific islander women mostly in a sexual context with many crews. Busch also discusses ports of call, especially Honolulu, but also including ports ion the Pacific coast of South America--crewmen might desert and/ or be replaced at any of these places.
Chapter 7 discusses religion, both on board and ashore. Ships were not particularly religious (and observed few holidays except July 4th). However, missionaries found their way to many islands, including the Hawai'ian islands. Christianizing the native peoples altered the nature of relationships with visiting whaleships. Among other things, missionaries could teach the true value goods whalers wished to buy, and keep an eye on whalers' recruitment of crew. The relationship was also positive--missionaries often relied on whalers for transport to the islands and for mail and other kinds of contact with home.