Page images

romantic objects, for the grasp of national ambition, were but stages and resting places in the progress of their victorious industry. Whilst some of them drew the line and struck the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude and pursued their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what was vexed by their fisheries. No climate that was not witness to their toils."*

At the end of the war, of the 150 ships but 15 remained, the rest had been taken by the enemy. At present, I believe, they have 65 or 75 ships engaged in the whale fishery, with an aggregate of thirty thousand tons of tonnage, and of the value of two millions of dollars. Their history is interesting. An intelligent friend, a citizen of the Island, has furnished me with a note of the progress of this branch of industry, which is in the highest degree honorable to the spirit of enterprise which has animated the people of that place for more than a century and a half. They are well entitled to public encouragement. Their harbour is bad, and in addition to the accommodation of the coasting trade, and other interests, a breakwater would be of the greatest utility to them. I hope their application will not be prejudged. Gentlemen will find the subject to be one full of interest and importance; and as my colleague intends, ere long, to bring it to the consideration of the Senate, I hope it may have a fair hearing.

[ocr errors]

The Island of Nantucket was settled from the County of Essex in Massachusetts, about 1660. Thirty years afterwards, the whale fishery commenced, and was, at first, carried on by boats from the shore. This mode of conducting the business reached its height in 1726, in which year eighty or ninety whales were brought to the shore, and of these, thirteen are said to have been taken in one day. Within thirty or forty years after this, the boat fishing fell off as the whales drew off from the shore, and vessels were required to pursue them. Some small sloops, of thirty or forty tons each, had been employed as early as 1715. During the seventy years that the whales were taken in boats, not a single white man lost his life in pursuit of them. The whale taken from the shore was the right whale, as the spermaceti does not visit soundings.

Soon after vessels were employed in this business, a northerly gale drove one of them from the coast, and when it abated, spermaceti whales were discovered, and one was taken and brought into port. This was, probably, the first of the kind ever taken; and being found more valuable than the right whale, the adventurous whalemen were induced to launch into the deep, and a new direction was thereupon given to the business. There were, in 1730, nearly thirty sail, of from 30 to 50 tons, employed, and they obtained annually, about 3,700 barrels of oil, which, until 1745, was shipped to Boston and there sold. In the last mentioned year, a voyage was made to London, and after that a trade was carried on with that port. In 1746

* Burke's Speech, 1775.

the pursuit of the whale had extended to Davis's Straits; and in 1765 to the Western Islands (Azores.)

Between the years 1755 and 1768, ten sail were either lost or taken, by the French. There were, in 1770, 120 sail, of from 75 to 110 tons, engaged in the trade, and 18,000 barrels of oil were obtained annually. And between 1772 and 1775 there were 150 sail, of from 90 to 180 tons, upon the coasts of Guinea, Brazil, West Indies, &c. and 30,000 barrels of oil were annually obtained, which sold, in the London market, for £44 to £45-making an aggregate of £167,000. There were, at this time, 2,200 seamen employed in fishing, and 220 in the London trade. During the Revolutionary War the whale fishery was prostrated, and the inhabitants of the island suffered much in their property; and toward the close of it, great distress began to appear among them. In 1783, of their large feet, they had remaining, but 7 sail to Brazil of 100 to 150 tons-5 to the Coast of Guinea, and 7 to the West Indies; and they obtained but about three thousand barrels of oil.

The British government availed themselves of the depressed condition of the fishery, and, in 1784, exacted a duty of £18.3 sterling per ton, which almost entirely destroyed the market. Strong inducements were held out to the inhabitants of Nantucket to remove to Halifax, and establish themselves there. In 1786-7 a considerable number removed to that place, but soon abandoned it and returned. After this period, the fishery gradually advanced; and, in those seas where the whale had been taken for years, viz. the Western Islands, the coast of Guinea, Brazils, and some less frequented coasts, the business was diligently pursued until, in 1788, stimulated by large bounties, a ship was fitted from London for the Pacific. In that year, the first Spermaceti, which was ever vexed by man in that ocean, yielded to the skill of the only American on board that vessel, a native of Nantucket, now living in that place. The first vessel which ever went from that town into that ocean commenced her voyage in 1791. The Spermaceti whale continued to be taken on the coasts of Chili and Peru, and the fleet to augment, until the war of 1812 put a stop to the pursuit. At that time, there were employed in the business about 40 ships, of 200 to 250 tons each. One half of this number fell into the hands of the enemy; and at the peace of 1815, twenty ships only, from that port, remained to continue the fishery. These were soon fitted, and speedily took their departure for either the coasts of Brazil, Chili, or Peru. The increase of the business soon spread a large fleet on the last mentioned coast, and the whale became exceedingly scarce. They were, in fact, driven by continued pursuit from their accustomed track.

It became necessary to explore regions unfrequented, even to procure cargoes for vessels already in the Pacific. Accordingly, in the year 1819, steering westward to the longitude of 90 to 100, whales were again found, and large quantities of oil procured in a short time. This “offshore ground,” as it was called, being quite limited, was soon crowded with ships, and other haunts of the whale must be found. In 1821, therefore, the first ship which ever adventured, to the north, as it is called, to the “ Japan Coast,” entered those seas; and her great success richly repaid her enterprising owners. She belonged to Nantucket. Since that period, the principal part of the spermaceti oil imported into this country, has been procured northward of the Sandwich Islands, in various degrees of latitude and longitude-in an ocean almost entirely unexplored, and in which there have been already discovered, by these navigators, a large number of most dangerous reefs and shoals.

The history of the whale fishery from New Bedford, is comprehended, in all important respects, in the foregoing statement as to Nantucket. The fishery of the former has always followed that of the latter. Its local advantages are superior, and have enabled it already to maintain a powerful rivalship in the trade.

In 1827, New Bedford had engaged in whale fishing, 68 Ships and 17 Brigs. There were imported of Spermaceti oil 43,533 bbls-of Whale oil, 22,065 bbls-Bone (whale), 169,581 pounds.

Nantucket had engaged in the fishery, 62 Ships and 1 Brig. Spermaceti oil imported 32,190 bbls.—Whaleoil, 2,000 bbls.- Bone, 12,000 lbs.

There were imported into all other ports:—in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, &c. of Spermaceti oil 16,467 bbls.-Whaleoil, 25,000 bbls.

The Ships engaged in the Spermaceti fishing in the Pacific, are from 300 to 480 tons each, and are manned with 21 to 30 men. In 1827 the value of oil averaged about 70 cts. for Spermaceti, and 30 cents for whale, and 50 cents for bone.

This little spot is the nucleus of the whale fishing of the world. A business of so much importance, and so rapidly increasing, would seem to deserve attention, and such aid as is consistent with other great branches of national industry and enterprise.




I appear before you, gentlemen, for the performance of a duty, which is, in so great a degree, foreign from my habitual studies and pursuits, that it may be presumptuous in me to hope for a creditable execution of the task. But I have not allowed considerations of this kind to weigh against a strong and ardent desire to signify my approbation of the objects, and my conviction of the utility, of this institution; and to manifest my prompt attention to whatever others may suppose to be in my power, to promote its respectability and to further its designs.

The Constitution of the Association declares its precise object to be, “Mutual Instruction in the Sciences, as connected with the Mechanic Arts.”

The distinct purpose is to connect science, more and more, with art; to teach the established, and invent new, modes of combining skill with strength; to bring the power of the human understanding in aid of the physical powers of the human frame; to facilitate the cooperation of the mind with the hand; to augment convenience, lighten labor, and mitigate toil, by stretching the dominion of mind, farther and farther, over the elements of nature, and by making those elements, themselves, submit to human rule, follow human bidding, and work together for human happiness.

The visible and tangible creation into which we are introduced at our birth, is not, in all its parts, fixed and stationary. Motion, or change of place, regular or occasional, belongs to all or most of the things which are around us. Animal life everywhere moves; the earth itself has its motion, and its complexities of motion; the ocean heaves and subsides; rivers run lingering or rushing, to the sea; and the air which we breathe moves and acts with mighty power. Motion, thus pertaining to the physical objects which surround us, is the exhaustless fountain, whence philosophy draws the means, by which, in various degrees, and endless forms, natural agencies and the tendencies of inert matter, are brought to the succour and assis

tance of human strength. It is the object of mechanical contrivance to modify motion, to produce it in new forms, to direct it to new purposes, to multiply its uses,-by means of it to do better, that which human strength could do without its aid, and to perform that, also, which such strength, unassisted by art, could not perform.

Motion itself is but the result of force; or, in other words, force is defined to be whatever tends to produce motion. The operation of forces, therefore, on bodies, is the broad field, which is open for that philosophical examination, the results of which it is the business of mechanical contrivance to apply. The leading forces or sources of motion are, as is well known, the power of animals, gravity, heat, the winds, and water. There are various others of less power, or of more difficult application. Mechanical philosophy, therefore, may be said to be that science which instructs us in the knowledge of natural moving powers, animate or inanimate; in the manner of modifying those powers, and of increasing the intensity of some of them by artificial means, such as heat and electricity; and in applying the varieties of force and motion, thus derived from natural agencies, to the arts of life. This is the object of mechanical philosophy. None can doubt, certainly, the high importance of this sort of knowledge, or fail to see how suitable it is to the elevated rank and the dignity of reasoning beings. Man's grand distinction is his intellect, his mental capacity. It is this, which renders him highly and peculiarly responsible to his Creator. It is this, on account of which the rule over other animals is established in his hands; and it is this, mainly, which enables him to exercise dominion over the powers of nature, and to subdue them to himself.

But it is true, also, that his own animal organization gives him superiority, and is among the most wonderful of the works of God on earth. It contributes to cause, as well as prove, his elevated rank in creation. His port is erect, his face toward heaven, and he is furnished with limbs which are not absolutely necessary to his support or locomotion, and which are at once powerful, flexible, capable of innumerable modes and varieties of action, and terminated by an instrument of wonderful, heavenly workmanship,—the human hand. This marvellous physical conformation, gives man the power of acting, with great effect, upon external objects, in pursuance of the suggestions of his understanding, and of applying the results of his reasoning power to his own purposes. Without this particular formation, he would not be man, with whatever sagacity he had been endowed. No bounteous grant of intellect, were it the pleasure of heaven to make such grant, could raise any of the brute creation to an equality with the human race. Were it bestowed on the Leviathan, he must remain, nevertheless, in the element where alone he could maintain his physical existence. He would still be but the inelegant, misshapen inhabitant of the ocean, “wallowing unwieldy, enormous in his gait.” Were the Elephant made to possess it, it would but teach him the deformity of his own structure, the unloveliness of his frame, though “the hugest of things,” his disability to act on external matter, and the degrading nature of his own physical wants, which lead him to the deserts, and give him for his favorite

« PreviousContinue »