"THE WHAL­ING CAP­I­TAL OF THE WORLD"

In­ter­view about Nan­tucket and its whal­ing his­tory

Vocable (All English) - - À La Une - IN­TER­VIEW WITH PEGGI GODWIN Guide RO­NAN LANCELOT

It is hard to be­lieve that Nan­tucket was the cap­i­tal of the whal­ing in­dus­try world­wide for about 150 years. It boasts a fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum, lo­cated in a for­mer can­dle fac­tory, ded­i­cated to the is­land and its whal­ing his­tory. We were lucky to meet and in­ter­view a guide whose en-thu­si­asm was equally charm­ing and in­for­ma­tive.

Vocable: Can you tell us about the quote at the en­trance of the Whal­ing Mu­seum? Peggi Godwin: "What won­der then that the Nan­tuck­eters born on the beach should take to the sea for a liveli­hood." That is a di­rect quote from Moby Dick and ac­tu­ally the true story of the whale ship Es­sex, which left here in 1821 and was struck by a whale in the South Pa­cific. Out of 20 men, there were only 5 sur­vivors. They were at sea for about three months. It was re­ally a grue­some story that in­volved can­ni­bal­ism. Owen Chase, the first mate of the ship, sur­vived this or­deal. His teenage son went out on a whal­ing voy­age in the 1840s, and told the true story of the Es­sex to Her­man Melville, who was so struck by it that it be­came his in­spi­ra­tion for writ­ing the great Amer­i­can novel Moby Dick.

2. Vocable: How im­por­tant was the whal­ing in­dus­try on Nan­tucket? Peggi: From 1700 through the mid-1800s, that was the only busi­ness, ba­si­cally. It was the whal­ing cap­i­tal of the world at that time. When they dis­cov­ered the amaz­ing sperm whale, they hunted it lit­er­ally all over the world be­cause they had the most oil and the best oil. Many ships would leave here, sail across the At­lantic, maybe make a stop in the Azores or the Cape Verdi; then go around the tip of South Amer­ica out into the Pa­cific where they fol­lowed the whales. A typ­i­cal whal­ing voy­age lasted at least two or three years; some of them four or five years, be­cause they didn’t want to come back till the hold of the ship was com­pletely filled with oil.

3. Vocable: Why was this prod­uct so im­por­tant? Peggi: Whale oil and whale oil can­dles were in high de­mand be­cause it made a huge dif­fer­ence in peo­ple's lives. It was good for pro­duc­ing light and for lu­bri­cat­ing big fac­to­ries’ heavy ma­chin­ery built in the 1850s and 40s and 50s. Eng­land was one of the big­gest cus­tomers up un­til the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War. Then, Nan­tuck­eters sold their whale oil mostly in the United States. By the 1860s, whal­ing was com­pletely done on the is­land, and peo­ple left here in huge num­bers. A lot of men went out to the Cal­i­for­nia gold rush and Nan­tucket be­came a ghost is­land. Very grad­u­ally, they had to find a way to make a liv­ing here, and this started to be kind of an art colony, and a tourist des­ti­na­tion and it's been a very slow build up. To­day, that is the main source of in­come.

(SIPANY/SIPA)

The Whal­ing Mu­seum on Nan­tucket, Mass.

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