Whether they were young boys who signed on to whaling voyages in search of adventure on the high seas or desperate men looking for work, whaleship crews faced some of the most back-breaking, dangerous work there was. Daily life aboard a whaleship came with many risks, from illness and disease to shipboard accidents. This, combined with tremendous peril once the chase for a whale began, meant many of these men never made it home.
Unlike the ship's officers, harpooners, and experienced seamen, greenhands were generally not professional sailors, so it wasn't unusual for them to spend their first days at sea being sick over the side. They received little sympathy from the ship's officers who were determined to turn them into "real sailors" and many of them served under captains whose manner was harsh and punishment severe. Once at sea, these captains held complete authority and while some were honorable men, others were tyrannical and abusive. Disobeying orders or generally displeasing the captain in any way could result in being put in irons, or worse, in being flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails.
Duke University, Special Collections Library