On the Water

New England Whale Ship

This model represents a typical Massachusetts whaleship of the mid-19th century, fully rigged and ready for a long cruise that might last for as much as four years. The name “U.S. Grant, Edgartown” on the ship’s stern is fictional—no ship by that name ever sailed for the whaling fleet. The ship’s bottom is lined with copper sheathing, to keep out the teredo navalis, a tropical worm that bored into the wood of ship’s hulls and weakened the structure, as the termite does to wooden structures on land.

The whaleboats are the most prominent features. After whales were sighted by lookouts perched at the mast tops, the boats were dropped over the sides of the mother ship to chase them. Also over the side are the cutting stages, where the whale’s fat, or blubber, was sliced off the body in long strips.

The main feature on the ship’s deck is the try-works, or giant pots set into a brick framework, where the whale’s blubber, was boiled down into oil. After the blubber became liquid, it was drawn off to cool and then poured into heavy barrels and stored below in the ship’s cargo hold.

This model was purchased in 1875 at Edgartown, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; it was one of the first objects in the Smithsonian’s National Watercraft Collection.

ID Number:
TR*025726
Material:
wood
Date:
1875
Dimensions:
30 in x 52 in x 22 in; 76.2 cm x 132.08 cm x 55.88 cm; mainmast: 30 in; 76.2 cm; bowsprit: 18 in; x 45.72 cm

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