Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Pan Bone Plaque, Mid-19th Century

This section of oval bone was sliced from a large sperm whale’s pan or jaw bone, then shaved thin, smoothed, and polished. It is extremely unusual, in that the carved scene details a specific event with names and a date. An engraved three-line inscription across the top of the plaque reads:
Joachn Pereiz July 20th 1839,
Fast to a whale got a foul line which took the boat down
American ship Averick in sight
Below the inscription the large whaler Averick sails with four whaleboats in the foreground. The boat on the right is halfway underwater. On the left, smaller, more distant whaleship sails in the background behind a pod of five whales. The inscription describes a common mishap aboard whaleboats sent out from the mother ship to dart and kill a whale. After a whale was hooked with a harpoon, it would commonly sound, or dive deep, to get away from the whaleboat. Aboard the whaleboat, the harpoon line had to run free as long as the whale was active. In this incident, the line fouled and the sounding whale dragged the boat underwater. Since few whalemen knew how to swim in the 19thcentury, this sort of accident meant almost certain drowning. However, the proximity of the Averick and the other whaleboats, along with the existence of the plaque commemorating the incident, suggest a happier ending for the story. In the absence of other information, Joachn Pereiz is presumed to be a boat crew of the Averick in the center of the picture. The Averick belonged to John Avery Parker & Son of New Bedford, MA and is best known for transporting the Fifth Company of Boston Protestant missionaries to Hawaii in June 1832. It was sold into the Chilean whaling fleet in 1845.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw whale bone panel
Physical Description
whale bone (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 9 5/8 in x 3/16 in; 17.78 cm x 24.4475 cm x .47625 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Cultures & Communities
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Work and Industry: Maritime
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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