Without attempting the ambitious task of presenting a comprehensive sketch of the origin, rise, and fall of whale- fishing as a whole, it seems necessary to give a brief outline of that portion of the subject bearing upon the theme of the present book before plunging into the first chapter.

This preliminary is the more needed for the reason alluded to in the Preface - the want of knowledge of the subject that is apparent everywhere. The Greenland whale fishery has been so popularized that most people know something about it; the sperm whale fishery still awaits its Scoresby and a like train of imitators and borrowers.

Cachalots, or sperm whales, must have been captured on the coasts of Europe in a desultory way from a very early date, by the incidental allusions to the prime products spermaceti and ambergris which are found in so many ancient writers, Shakespeare's reference - "The sovereign'st thing on earth was parmaceti for an inward bruise" - will be familiar to most people, as well as Milton's mention of the delicacies at Satan's feast - "Grisamber steamed" - not to carry quotation any further.

But in the year 1690 the brave and hardy fishermen of the north- east coasts of North America established that systematic pursuit of the cachalot which has thriven so wonderfully ever since, although it must be confessed that the last few years have witnessed a serious decline in this great branch of trade.

For many years the American colonists completely engrossed this branch of the whale fishery, contentedly leaving to Great Britain and the continental nations the monopoly of the northern or Arctic fisheries, while they cruised the stormy, if milder, seas around their own shores.

For the resultant products, their best customer was the mother country, and a lucrative commerce steadily grew up between the two countries. But when the march of events brought the unfortunate and wholly unnecessary War of Independence, this flourishing trade was the first to suffer, and many of the daring fishermen became our fiercest foes on board their own men-of-war.

The total stoppage of the importation of sperm oil and spermaceti was naturally severely felt in England, for time had not permitted the invention of substitutes. In consequence of this, ten ships were equipped and sent out to the sperm whale fishery from England in 1776, most of them owned by one London firm, the Messrs. Enderby. The next year, in order to encourage the infant enterprise, a Government bounty, graduated from L500 to L1000 per ship, was granted. Under this fostering care the number of ships engaged in the sperm whale fishery progressively increased until 1791, when it attained its maximum.

This method of whaling being quite new to our whalemen, it was necessary, at great cost, to hire American officers and harpooners to instruct them in the ways of dealing with these highly active and dangerous cetacea. Naturally, it was by-and- by found possible to dispense with the services of these auxiliaries; but it must be confessed that the business never seems to have found such favour, or to have been prosecuted with such smartness, among our whalemen as it has by the Americans.

Something of an exotic the trade always was among us, although it did attain considerable proportions at one time. At first the fishing was confined to the Atlantic Ocean; nor for many years was it necessary to go farther afield, as abundance of whales could easily be found.

As, however, the number of ships engaged increased, it was inevitable that the known grounds should become exhausted, and in 1788 Messrs. Enderby's ship, the EMILIA, first ventured round Cape Horn, as the pioneer of a greater trade than ever. The way once pointed out, other ships were not slow to follow, until, in 1819, the British whale-ship SYREN opened up the till then unexplored tract of ocean in the western part of the North Pacific, afterwards familiarly known as the "Coast of Japan." From these teeming waters alone, for many years an average annual catch of 40,000 barrels of oil was taken, which, at the average price of L8 per barrel, will give some idea of the value of the trade generally.

The Australian colonists, early in their career, found the sperm whale fishery easy of access from all their coasts, and especially lucrative. At one time they bade fair to establish a whale fishery that should rival the splendid trade of the Americans; but, like the mother country, they permitted the fishery to decline, so that even bounties could not keep it alive.

Meanwhile, the Americans added to their fleet continually, prospering amazingly. But suddenly the advent of the civil war let loose among those peaceable cruisers the devastating ALABAMA, whose course was marked in some parts of the world by the fires of blazing whale-ships. A great part, of the Geneva award was on this account, although it must be acknowledged that many pseudo-owners were enriched who never owned aught but brazen impudence and influential friends to push their fictitious claims. The real sufferers, seamen especially, in most cases never received any redress whatever.

From this crushing blow the American sperm whale fishery has never fully recovered. When the writer was in the trade, some twenty-two years ago, it was credited with a fleet of between three and four hundred sail; now it may be doubted whether the numbers reach an eighth of that amount. A rigid conservatism of method hinders any revival of the industry, which is practically conducted to-day as it was fifty, or even a hundred years ago; and it is probable that another decade will witness the final extinction of what was once one of the most important maritime industries in the world.