Water Closet for July 7, 2014
By the time you are reading this the restored last surviving wooden whaleship, Charles W. Morgan, will be at the State Pier in New Bedford, MA in early July. The Morgan will be moving on to Boston July 18-20 to tie up alongside the USS Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard. By mid-August, after this voyage, the Morgan will be back at Mystic Seaport resuming her role as a static dockside exhibit. [pullquote]”54,483 barrels of sperm and whale oil and 152,934 pounds of whalebone brought home to profit her owners. I wonder how many whales were killed to acquire this wealth?”[/pullquote] It’s been a six year, $10 million project for the Seaport, all about celebrating the history of New England’s whaling “industry”, for that’s what it was, a hunting and killing of these magnificent sea mammals for oil for lamps and whalebone for corset stays.
A reader from down Mystic way has forwarded to me articles about this occasion from local newspapers. There’s been much said in them about what a great project it has been restoring the historic vessel, certainly the biggest challenge ever undertaken for the Seaport shipyard crew. Somewhere in all this coverage I noted that the Morgan has about 17% original wood still in her. So that’s actually the only part of the ship that goes back all those 170 years or so. Since the Morgan retired from whaling after 37 trips she has had several re-buildings done to keep her in one piece, but not afloat as she has rested on a bed of sand in the Mystic River at the Seaport since 1941, and prior to that she was a shore side exhibit near New Bedford, MA for an organization known as “Whaling Enshrined”.
What this brings me to conclude, once again, is that these restorations of historic artifacts do not result, in this particular instance, in “a 170 year old ship sails again!” She is actually a newly built recreation of the original with some original bits still onboard. A nice job of it but most of the original is long gone.
While reading the various news items I did not run across any discussion of what it was the Morgan was doing on those 37 trips other than to describe it as “whaling.’ Her statistics were there, 54,483 barrels of sperm and whale oil and 152,934 pounds of whalebone brought home to profit her owners. I wonder how many whales were killed to acquire this wealth? I have read several books based on the journals written by those on those whaling expeditions and the killing and “rendering” of the whales was a horrific business.
The Seaport’s website does comment about the Morgan’s new purpose in life as follows:
“Where once she hunted and processed whales for profit, her purpose now is to tell an important part of our nation’s history and the lessons that history has for current generations. The nearly three-month long journey seeks to engage communities with their maritime heritage and raise awareness about the changing perception about whales and whaling. Where once the Morgan’s cargo was whale oil and baleen, today her cargo is knowledge.”
I will be interested to see how this “awareness” all comes down and what will be told to those interested enough to inquire about what whaling really was like. The information that was around when I was in school pictured the whalers as brave men sallying forth in small open boats to attempt to bury a harpoon in a giant creature of the sea. The quintessential engraving was that of the giant whale rearing up and tossing the tiny whaleboat and its crew into the sea. Can’t hardly blame the whale, it only wanted to get away from its tormenters. It hadn’t intruded into mankind’s affairs at all, it was just getting on with its own life when we showed upon its home turf.
It’s easy to celebrate this reconstruction of a historic vessel representative of an era when we did some pretty awful things in pursuit of the buck, but not so easy to celebrate the awful things that were done. We routinely kill animals, fish and fowl for our nutritional needs but the whales, regarded as being the most intelligent of mammals, were used for lantern oil and ladies’ fashion statements. What was done cannot be undone and those who did it operated in a different culture unconcerned about the value of these gentle giants as living examples of the earth’s animal population. But still today several countries are whaling in the Antarctic for “scientific purposes”. We oughta just leave the survivors alone to get on with their lives.
* Bob Hicks of Wenham has been the owner/publisher of his own small boating journal, Messing About in Boats since 1983. Any boater interested may request a free copy from MAIB, 29 Burley Street, Wenham, MA 01984-1943. firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: The Middleton Stream Team recommends Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. 2007. For the black side of an industry infamous for exploiting men read the whaling chapter in Samuel Eliot Morison’s Maritime History of Massachusetts. 1961.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual
|0.0 as of 7/1**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 1, 2014 Normal . . . 15 CFS Current Rate . . . 5.1 CFS
**Updated June and July precipitation data is from MST gage..*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May. Normalsdata is from the National Climatic Data Center.