The city of New Bedford, Mass., has for many years been the principal whaling-port of the United States. From there hundreds of young men have annually gone to different parts of the world to battle with the monsters of the deep, and, after a long and weary absence from home and friends, returned with ships “laden with the spoils.” It is not our purpose to give a description of this far-famed (among whalemen) place, but we trust it will prove interesting to the reader if we briefly sketch the modus operandi of fitting out a whaler, and “shipping a crew,” that if any one shall be tempted to see the world in a whaler, he may be put upon his guard against some of the impositions practiced upon “green hands” by the “shippers,” as they style themselves, of whaling-ports.
In fitting out a whaler for a voyage, every thing is usually done as cheaply as possible, and often on the “penny-wise and pound-foolish” plan. With some owners, however, we are happy to say, it is different. They have a regard for the health and comfort of the ship’s company, and their ships are generally well fitted, with good provisions, good whaling material, and every thing necessary to make the voyage one of pleasure and comfort to the crew as well as profit to themselves. In nine cases out of ten such ships get good crews, and make profitable voyages. But there are others who are actuated by a niggardly disposition in fitting and provisioning their ships, and the result of the voyage, as far as profit is concerned, is a corresponding one.
After a ship has her provisions, water, and every thing necessary for the voyage on board except her crew, she is “hauled into the stream,” ready for sea as soon as the ship’s company can be got on board, which generally occupies a day or two, as many of them are having their last “spree,” spending their “advance,” and often coming on board half intoxicated. Some of them, when they ship, are in that condition, and hardly know, until they are at sea, their true situation and how they came there. The majority of a whaler’s crew (foremast hands) are “greenies,” hardly any of them ever having smelt salt water, and knowing nothing of a seaman’s life, its hardships, its exposures, its joys, or its sorrows. But the poor fellows soon learn, and many of them, before they have been clear of the land a week, vainly wish themselves at home. Many of them are picked up by “shipping agents” throughout the country, who send them on to their respective shipping-houses in New Bedford. They are then furnished by the shippers with second or third rate boarding-houses, the board to be paid out of their advance. It is a common practice for the shippers to make contracts with owners to furnish them with so many “green hands” at so much per head; the shipper receiving his price from the owner, and then, in addition, charging poor “greeny” ten dollars for “getting him a ship.”