What was life like aboard the Charles W. Morgan when she was an active whaling vessel? Often smoky and oily.
After a whale was harpooned, it was hung off the side of the ship while the men aboard went about removing the head and then the blubber, which was brought aboard and rendered into oil in the brick try-works on the top deck.
Here is a description of the process from a March 1847 Vineyard Gazette article. As the article indicates, the whale's head was kept apart from the rest of the body. The "junk" was the lower part of the head. The "head matter "was unique to a sperm whale. The sperm whale has a head cavity filled with pure spermaceti, which is a white liquid that was valued for making candles and lamp fuel.
As you can see from the article, head oil and body oil were kept separate. The head oil was far more valuable.
Excerpts from a March 1847 Vineyard Gazette article:
"The whale on board, the blubber in the blubber room, junk on deck, and head matter in cask--the first thing to be done is to trim the ship, by sheeting home and hoisting the sails, clearing the decks...coiling up and stowing away all that is now useless. In the meantime, the cooper may be seen at the grindstone, sharpening spades, mincing knives, etc. This being done, the ship is sailing trim, the helm righted and the order given (full and by) to the helmsman. The officers and boatsteerers, with several men in attendance, will be cutting the junk into small pices, called horse-pieces, being prepared for the mincing-horse, these piked into junk casks."
"Now all is ready for boiling. Then the order will be, "Old Hallet," which is understood by blubber-hunters, fire up, or more fire. Then the match and the [fuel is] in contact, the archers roaring, vomiting fire and smoke, then Old Hallet is again aboard, a welcome visitor, he being kept alive by whale scraps preserved for that purpose, until a fresh supply is obtained from the whale we are now about to boil."
"Now we have the ship washed clean, the whaling gear carefully put up and laid aside, all proper sail set, the mast-head manned by lookouts, Old Hallet in a conspicious place, with his breath of fire and smoke curling as it rises far above the mastheads, and extending off the lee quarter as far as the eye can reach.
"The process of making oil, is simply as follows. When the oil in the pots is hot, then the minced blubber is piked into them, and when cooled to what is called scraps, is skimmed out with a large skimmer made for the purpose, and dropped into a strainer, at the side of the try-works, then a quantity of blubber is again put into the pots."
"The head-matter which was not put into the pots at first is put in small quantities, for the purpose of heating it, that it may be kept sweet for the market. The junk, head-matter and head-skim, makes the head oil. This is kept separate from the body oil, and marked accordingly."
"Should the weather continue fair the boiling process may be got through within about 48 hours. In the meantime, the casks will be coopered and lashed to the sides of the ship, there to remain until the oil is cold.
"Thus, Mr. Editor, we have captured, cut and boiled a ninety barrel sperm whale, (and as it is not the fact that he will fill our ship) we will board the main-tack and trot her over the ground. The mainsail being set, the ship gathers headway; the distance between us is on stretch, consequently through my speaking trumpet I bid you farewell."