Chapter 101 The Decanter

        The first part of this chapter is a tribute to English whaling and "the famous whaling house of Enderby & Sons, which in 1775 fitted out the first English ships that ever regularly hunted the Sperm Whale." Since Moby Dick was destined for first publication in England, and Melville being held in high regard there, it is not surprising that he would praise English whaling (and poke fun at German, French, and other non-English, non-American whalers). He does give due credit to Nantucket whalers for their primacy in Sperm Whaling, "when for some scores of years, ever since 1726, our valiant Coffins and Maceys of Nantucket and the Vineyard had in large fleets pursued that Leviathan, but only in the North and South Atlantic [where they were scarce], not elswhere." Nantucket whalers were the premier hunters of the Sperm Whale in the Pacific after 1791, beginning with Captain Paul Worth, Ship Beaver, who brought 1,100 barrels of Sperm Oil back to Nantucket in 1793. But Melville credits the Enderbys with sending an English ship, the Amelia, around Cape Horn [tip of South America] in 1778, the first whaler to open the Pacific Sperm Whaling grounds.

        Not wanting to short-shrift the Nantucketers while patting the English on the back, Melville does go on to say, "Be it distinctly recorded here, that the Nantucketers were the first among mankind to harpoon with civilized steel the great Sperm Whale [In 1712 Captain Christopher Hussey, out for Right Whales near Nantucket, was blown next to a Sperm Whale in a storm -- and this was the start of something big.]; and that for a half century they were the only people of the whole globe who so harpooned him" [presumably only in the Atlantic Ocean]. But another kudo for the English Enderbys: Their ship Syren opened up the Japanese Whaling Ground in 1819 -- ship's master Captain Coffin of Nantucket (!).

        The rest of the chapter is a digression into a commentary about the excellent food on English whalers -- a remarkable revelation, considering that the gustatory fare on the English mainland was never considered of gourmet reputation. The explanation seems to be that the English emulated the Dutch whalers who outfitted their ships with banquet-worthy provisions, including great quantities of beer and "geneva" (gin), which may account for the eventual primacy in the whale fishery of the Nantucket Yankee/Quaker and his parsimonious rations of rum.