All of the disembarking men were eager to be paid for their years of hard work at sea. Before any money was doled out, owners gauged the quantity of oil inside each cask. They took samples to determine the oil’s quality and counted bundles of baleen. The returning crew hoped that the prevailing oil prices would reward their years of hard work.
Almost three-quarters of the proceeds of the sales of the whale oil and bone went back to the owners and underwriters of the ships. These men, who had spent the entire voyage in home port, deducted the expenses before figuring a profit. They paid sales commissions, insurance premiums, fees for piloting the ships into port, fees for docking the ships in port and shipping fees for getting the oil to refineries.
Once the expenses had been paid, the remaining profit was then divided between the owners and the crew. The lay system for determining wages gave each crew member a certain percentage of those profits. One’s lay depended upon the job one held on board the ship and was set before the voyage began.
National Archives and Records Administration