Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | March 14, 2013

A Home Upon the Ocean – Part I (of 5)

Since September 2010, this blog has attempted to give insight into the experiences of several ordinary women who lead extraordinary lives while living at sea during the nineteenth century. However, between March 14-19, not one of the wives we have followed over the past few years made any journal entries: Mary Brewster, 1848; Mary Lawrence, 1859; Eliza Williams, 1861. Hence, I thought this a perfect time to offer an additional opportunity for blog-visitors and loyal subscribers alike, to better understand the size of the physical space inhabited by each woman for an average of three years.

To provide a clearer understanding of the accompanying descriptions of that living space, a sketch and pictures have been provided and are based upon the Main and After Cabins of the Charles W. Morgan (1841-1921). Please note that the sketch is by no means to scale, but is typical of most 19th-century whaling vessels. However, the sketch does provide an accompanying  visual for the photos and written descriptions that will follow over the next five days.

The Main and After cabins were inhabited by the captain, his wife and/or family, and the top three officers. These cabins were the primary living space for those persons. To familiarize you with a few ship’s terms: “Forward” or “Bow” refers to the front of the ship, while “Stern” or “After/Aft” refers to the back of the vessel. When facing the bow of the ship, “Port” refers to the left-hand side of the ship while “Starboard” means the right-hand side of the ship.

Aboard the Charles W. Morgan the First, Second and Third Officers sleeping quarters are on the port side of the ship. The First Officer (or Mate) had a private cabin, while the Second and Third Mates shared a cabin. The captain’s private cabins included his After Cabin (think  a combination Parlor and Study) and was at the very back of the ship. Captain’s sleeping quarters (or Stateroom), or After-Starboard cabin is accessible from the Main Cabin and his After Cabin (Study). Below is a sketch of the Main and After Cabin of the Charles W Morgan.  The areas highlighted in blue indicate the captain’s (and Mrs.) PRIVATE quarters; the areas highlighted with yellow are the quarters (bunkrooms) of the three officers; and green areas are shared among the captain, his wife and the three officers. All furnishings (furniture) were built-in: from the bunks and double bed, to the desk, sofa, galley table and benches, dresser and storage, etc..  

CWM Sketch of Tween dec

Please accept my apologies for the “amateurish” drawing’; an artist I am NOT (as evidenced by this diagram).

From March 15th through March 19th, I will provide a “guided tour” so-t0-speak, aboard a typical 19th-century whaling vessel. The blog posts will  include several interior photos (taken by me) of the Charles W. Morgan, accompanied by descriptions of the “‘teen decks” (main living quarters) as described by Joan Druett (She Was a Sister Sailor) and Henrietta Deblois (whaling wife of John S. Deblois) aboard the Merlin during 1856.




  1. Dear Karlee: Thanks for posting your drawing of the interior of the “Charles W.Morgan”. For those of us who have not been lucky enough to visit the ship in person, your sketch shows details that we would not otherwise get. It certainly shows that every available inch was put to use by the builders. It also gives a great perspective of the size of the “world” that the Captain and crew lived in for three or more years…and a part of this world being even smaller that was allotted to the wife of the Captain. “Making do” in that world would be an understatement, but that’s just what those clever, courageous, and loyal women did, often times with great imagination!
    Keep up the great job on presenting such a unique and informative site!

    • Thanks, Kevin. I’m glad you have a new perspective of what it would have been like to live on board a 19th century whaling vessel. Perhaps some day you will have a chance to visit. This summer (2013) would be a perfect opportunity, as the C.W. Morgan, after four years out of the water for major repairs, is being re-launched on July 21 (with all kinds of pomp and circumstance, specifics not yet determined). If you decide to visit make sure to let me know (via my private email), as I will be there, most likely in costume as “Mrs. Captain Wheldon”. KAT

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