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December 14 , 2009

The Arctic Whaleman (Illustrated)


Of all classes of fishermen, the whaleman takes the precedence. This front position will be readily conceded to him, whether we consider the stupendous object of his pursuit, or the vast extent of waters over which he roams to secure his prey, or the dangers and perils peculiar to his avocation, or the immense pecuniary outlay with which the enterprise is carried on.

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Some of the reasons which induced the author to present to the public this narrative containing an account of the wreck of the whale ship Citizen, and the subsequent exposure and sufferings of her officers and crew in the Arctic Ocean, are the following:—

1. The instance has never been recorded in the history of marine disaster, in which a ship's company, consisting of thirty-three persons, lived so many months among the natives in so high a latitude. 2. Being cast helpless and almost destitute upon such a desolate coast, they had to depend principally upon the kindness and generosity of the natives for protection, food, and clothing.8 3. Considering the unfavorable and forbidding circumstances of their condition, in living as the natives lived, and their travels in the depths of winter from one settlement to another in order to avoid starvation, it is remarkable that so many of them, with so little sickness, should be rescued the following year.

A plain statement of these facts the author felt was due to his fellow-townsmen, and would probably be of some considerable interest to all classes of readers, and therefore meriting a permanent record with the varied experience of whalemen.

The limited time the author spent with Captain Norton,A who was then preparing for sea, from whom he received the leading facts in the narrative, after it was concluded to give it to the public, is his only apology for not introducing more extended particulars.

Mr. Abram Osborn, Jr.,B Mr. John P. Fisher,C and Mr. John W. Norton,D now absent at sea, confirmed the report of the captain, besides having contributed important materials to the narrative themselves.

Any information respecting the physical features of the arctic region, and the character of its9 inhabitants, is not only deeply interesting, but highly useful. The recent explorations of Dr. Kane, in the American Arctic, has largely increased the bounds of knowledge respecting that remarkable portion of the earth's surface.

Though less attention, perhaps, has been given to the exploration of the Asiatic Arctic, through Behring's Straits, it is, however, a region which is yearly visited by scores of American whalemen, and who have become quite familiar both with its eastern and western coasts, even to the impassable ice barrier, which forbids all further approaches to the north.

The acquaintance which the officers and crew of the Citizen formed with the natives during the space of nine months in which they lived with them, and thus had so favorable an opportunity to learn their characters and habits, has probably never been surpassed by any other company of men within the present century.

The History of Whaling will give the reader a succinct view of the commencement, progress, and present state of the enterprise. The author would here express his acknowledgments to whalemen who have readily furnished him with many valuable incidents connected with the details of their employment.

L. H.

Edgartown, June, 1857.



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