London Illustrated News: November 20, 1847, Whaling activity (and suspension bridge)

The Illustrated London News was the world''s first illustrated weekly newspaper; the first issue appeared on Saturday 14, May 1842. It was published weekly until 1971 and then increasingly less frequently until publication ceased in 2003. On Nov. 20, 1847, the Illustrated London News published an extensive article about the whaling industry. Whales were hunted by Western societies for the natural oil (actually a wax called spermaceti) that encased the whales’ brains. After killing a sperm whale, the whalers would pull the carcass alongside the ship, cut off the head and pull it on deck, whereupon they would cut a hole in it and bail out the matter inside with a bucket. The primary source of sperm oil was the spermaceti organ, which is involved in sound generation. The harvested matter, raw spermaceti, was stored in casks to be processed back on land. A large whale could yield as much as 500 gallons. The spermaceti was boiled and strained of impurities to prevent it from going rancid. On land, the casks were allowed to chill during the winter, causing the spermaceti to congeal into a spongy and viscous mass. The congealed matter was then loaded into wool sacks and placed in a press to squeeze out the liquid. This liquid was bottled and sold as “winter-strained sperm oil.” This was the most valuable product: an oil that remained liquid in freezing winter temperatures. Later, during the warmer seasons, the leftover solid was allowed to partially melt, and the liquid was strained off to leave a fully solid wax. This wax, brown in color, was then bleached and sold as “spermaceti wax,” and was used to make wax candles that burned with very little smoke or residue.