Whaling Brig “Daisy” – 1912-13

“Daisy” was built in 1872 by Nehemiah Hand and Son in Setauket Harbor, Long Island, New York, for William Swan and Sons (later John Swan and Son) of New York City for the Caribbean fruit trade.  She was a profitable merchant ship and known for her speed.

In 1907, Daisy was purchased by a consortium of investors in New Bedford, headed by Captain Benjamin Cleveland, for conversion to a whaling ship.

During the conversion, Daisy kept her original rig, a hermaphrodite brig, but the crew quarters were enlarged and the various equipment used in whaling added. She carried davits for five whaleboats and wisker-booms at the stern for a spare whaleboat. Her crew increased from perhaps 8 to 10 men to 34 to 38 men.

To my knowledge, there are no existing plans for Daisy, although her appearance is partially documented in photographs taken during a 1912-13 voyage to South Georgia Island by a naturalist, Robert Cushman Murphy, who sailed aboard her to document the marine and island birds of the Antarctic on behalf of the American Natural History Museum.  It was Murphy’s documentation of that voyage and of life aboard an American whaler in the last days of the industry that interested me in Daisy.

The presentation below gives some additional information on the development of plans for Daisy as well as more information on Murphy, and Captain Benjamin Cleveland.

It also has detailed information on the construction of the model. If interested in the background for the model and how it was constructed, please look through the slides.

A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat compressed

The following photos are of the completed model/diorama.  The goal of building the model was, in part, to document the processes involved in the whale hunt.  In simplest terms, the work of producing whale oil, after arriving on the hunting grounds and before sailing home, happened in three stages.

Whale hunting was the first stage, during which whales were located and killed by the crews of the whale boats, 6 men each in four whaleboats, leaving 10 men aboard for ship-handling.  The dead whales were brought alongside the whale ship by the whaleboats and were secured by chains to it before starting the second stage.

Cutting in was the next stage, when one whale at a time was brought alongside the starboard side of the whale ship and secured by a chain around its tail, just forward of the flukes. The whale carcass was then stripped of its blubber layer by a process described in more detail below.

Trying out was the cooking or boiling of the blubber pieces to release the oil in them. The oil was then cooled and later transferred to large wooden casks for the return voyage.

These three stages generally occurred on different, subsequent, days. Sometimes a day or so elapsed between on step and the next, and sometimes one stage took several days, as when there were many whales to process.

I decided to model the Daisy during the cutting in as a diorama, and to build the model in 1:64 scale. I had previously built a model of a Daisy whaleboat harpooning a sperm whale, and this model is intended as a complement to the whaleboat diorama.

Background on the cutting in process as shown in this diorama.

This description is of how things were done aboard an American whale ship of the period. American whaling practices did not change much during the time that the industry operated in this country.  But by the time of the Daisy’s 1912 voyage, other nations had moved ahead adopting more modern methods of hunting, killing, and processing whales.  But not the Americans.

A whale ship, on the starboard side, in the waist, had a special removable section of  bulwark and an adjacent cutting stage which was lowered from the side of the hull to above the water where the whale’s head area was floating. Men working on the stage uses sharp cutting “spades” to slice through the blubber and create holes in it to connect huge blubber hooks and chain-toggles which were attached to a massive tackle system, suspended from the main mast head. The hauling end of these tackles, for there were two, port and starboard, passed through large viol blocks to the windlass, forward of the fore mast. This rig was capable of exerting enormous force, enough to rip the blubber free of the whale carcass, with the crewmen on the cutting stage using their cutting spades to cut the edge of the “blanket piece” of blubber being ripped free and to assist in releasing the blubber from the underlying connective tissue of the whale. As the spiral strip of blubber was thus ripped from the whale, the whale carcass rotated on the fluke chain, which was periodically lengthened as the blubber was removed further and further to the rear of the animal.

Once the tackle had reached the limits of its travel upwards, an officer used a “boarding knife” to first cut two new holes in the strip of blubber so the crew could secure the second tackle’s blubber hook and toggle to it, before the boarding knife sliced the strip just above the new tackle location. The blubber strip, weighing thousands of pounds, swung free and was lowered to the deck by the first tackle (starboard windlass) while the second tackle (port windlass) resumed the removal of the blubber from the whale’s body.

Once the blubber (“blanket piece”) was on deck. other crew using spades cut it into smaller pieces for stowing below deck in the “blubber parlor” of the main hold.

When the carcass was flensed completely and all blubber removed, the head of the whale was removed. In the case of “right” whales, the whale bone or baleen was removed and cleaned and transported back to port with the oil. Whale bone corset stays were, for example, made from the fine bones of the baleen (filter) the whales used to feed.  In the case of sperm whales, the jaw was removed to recover the teeth, also in demand for such things as scrimshaw or other uses for the “ivory”. In addition, the entire head of the sperm whale was harvested.  The crew cut away the upper forward part of the head to get to the spermaceti, a waxy substance encased deep in the head, which yielded a particularly high quality oil and was processed separately from the blubber. This oil, for example, was used in watches.

Later, after all the blubber was on board and the try works set up and the boiling begun, the blubber was further cut up into pieces 1 – 2 feet square. These pieces were sliced part way through, leaving skin intact, and were called “bibles” for their resemblance to a large, open book with many pages. The bibles then went into the large iron cauldrons over the fireboxes and boiled free of their oil.

When the bibles had given up their oil, they were fished out of the oil and set aside to be used as fuel for the fireboxes heating the cauldrons. This burning of the spent bible pieces generate the dense black smoke for which whalers were known and by which they were recognized. Crews generally rigged a “smoke sail” over the chimneys of the tryworks to deflect the greasy black smoke from the ships sails and other equipment.

Plenty more information about the processing of whales can be found in the sources cited in the presentation.

Here are the pictures of the Daisy diorama:

The model is about 33″ long (hull is 22″ long and 6″ wide” and about 33 ” tall, from the surface of the “water”.

The starboard side has the cutting stage lowered and the bulwark section removed and the cutting tackle is pulling up the third piece of blubber being removed from the small (50′) sperm whale alongside the vessel.

On deck, in the waist area of the ship, other crew are using spades to cut up the previous piece of blubber brought on board in to pieces small enough to be man-handled through the main hatch to the blubber parlor where several other men are cutting it further and stowing it until it is time to try it out.

Here’s the blubber hook and the wooden toggle secured to the blubber and the large blocks of the cutting tackle, above.


While on the t’gallant forecastle, other crew are working the rocker to drive the windlass, and others are holding tension on the hauling end, starboard, as the blubber rises. Blubber is a very complex structure, and very tough. A whale ship needed to be careful when pulling free the blubber, as it would be possible to drive the base of the main mast through the keel or to otherwise damage the hull if too much force were exerted. The blubber is that strong.

At the same time, the cooper is busy sharpening more spades, several crewmen are finishing up unloading the equipment from the whaleboats, just returned from the hunt. And Murphy is on the quarterdeck, taking pictures with his Graflex camera.

Once all the casks are full, after a year at sea, Daisy will head home.