ancestryink fisherman

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Whaling Women

Wives of whaling captains refused to stay at home.  Some of them set out to sea with their husbands for years at a time.   Children were born on board, or ashore in places as far distant as the South Pacific, where the whales were plentiful and whaling expeditions met with great success - and calamity and loss of life, as well.  Perhaps only a woman could recount these adventures with so much emotion and share with such attention,  daily life on board a whaling ship.

There are two very good books available at the Falmouth Historical Society which detail life at sea for the whaling wife.

"Whaling Brides and Whaling Brothers:  The Lawrences of Falmouth" is edited by Mary Malloy (of Foxborough, MA), and published by the Falmouth Historical Society, in 1997.

The five brothers of Captain Thomas Lawrence were all whalemen, three were captains, and they were, in the 1850's, all at sea at the same time.  Many Falmouth mariners were on whaling expeditions with the Lawrences, and many were in one way or another, related by a marriage to the Lawrences.  The whaling trips of the Lawrences are well-documented and offer a valuable view of the life of a whaling mariner, in general.

This book opens:

"Most of the men on shipboard were young and single, but for captains - almost all of whom were married - the separation from wives and children was a great hardship.  Consequently, many captains negotiated with the ship owners to bring their families with them on long voyages, and by 1853 there was a captain's wife on one of every five whaleships sailing from New Bedford."

This small book of 25 pages ($3) chronicles many exciting events aboard the Lawrence ships, and the appendix at the back, gives a chronological list of the whaling trips, and a second appendix includes the genealogy of the Lawrence family.

"The Captain's Best Mate: The Journal of Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison, 1856-1860,"  312 pp., is edited by Stanton Garner, and originally published by the University Press of New England Press, Hanover, NH, for Brown University, 1966.

Mary Chipman Lawrence was the wife of Captain Samuel Lawrence.  Her journal of the 3 1/2 year voyage of the whaling ship "Addison" is just a phenomenal account of life on board - particularly from a woman's point of view.  She shares daily details and emotions of life at sea.

After the sad death of Captain Augustus Lawrence, (Samuel's youngest brother) far away from home in Valparaiso, of "lung fever" - leaving a new wife and 5 month old baby - Mary may have felt further influenced to then go on board ship with her husband.

We think of whaling voyages as being long, isolated events for men chasing whales, years at a time away from home.  In fact, I am constantly surprised at the "social life" that was conducted between ships.  There were so many whaling ships on the seas at the same time in the early to mid 1800's that they would often travel quite close to each other.  News would be shared or conveyed to bring home - sometimes of loss of life on board, or success with whales, or births on board, as well.   In the evenings, captains would visit, via boat, for dinners and conversation.  Sometimes there was a playful "race against the wind" between ships, to see who would arrive to a particular whaling ground, first. 

 Mary and Samuel's five year old daughter Minnie was also on board, though not much is mentioned of her, except for infrequent accounts of entertaining her on board.


"27 Nov 1857:  ...We have traveled 36, 985 miles.  For the last 24 hours we have had a fine breeze that bore us 200 miles..."

"7 June 1858:  A sad accident happened to us this morning.  In a thick snowsstorm we hit a lone cake of ice.  No one saw it, neither had any been seen during the morning.  ...The first thing I did was get Minnie up and dress her...I was very calm and composed while dressng her and ready to collect mythings preparatory to leavin the ship..."  And later, after it is determined that the ship is safe enough to continue, she writes: "I am truly thankful that it is no worse, and I retire to rest with a feeling of gratitude that thte Addison is still my home.  There are plenty of ships in sight, and I know that I should suffer for nothing; but for Samuel's sake especially am I thankful."

Besides her journal entries, the book includes a number of Appendices and Notes, pertaining to crew member names, whaling ships at sea, goods that were transported, whaling profits, and much more  - all highly illustrative of whaling activity during the time Mary Chipman Lawrence traveled aboard the "Addison."

In all, her journal chronicles seven whaling voyages. This book is $24.95 and both books can be purchased at the Museums on the Green gift shop.

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