Cramped Living Quarters

Cramped living Quarters for twenty or more crewmen was common. The captain and mates' cabins had more space, but those in the foc'sle were less fortunate. Rats, cockroaches, bedbugs and fleas were a fact of life and they thrived in the dark, dirty dampness of the forecastle where the crew slept. Even though many different nationalities signed on as crew, the races were rarely truly integrated. Many of the men found it wise to tolerate one another, creating a kind of racial harmony. Unfortunately, not everyone shared that wisdom and sometimes violence flared.


Punishment for bad behavior and negative attitudes was uneven and sometimes extreme. Even when there were no whales to catch and process, the complaints persisted. If a man disobeyed the captain's or mates' orders, he suffered one or more unpleasant and sometimes brutal punishments. Offenders were verbally abused and sometimes denied adequate food and shore leave. Being "put in irons" was common as was flogging (whipping) with a whip of nine knotted lines called a "cat-o'-nine-tails". It was painful for the one being punished, as well as frightening for those who witnessed.

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image of flogging

Martha's Vineyard Museum