whale stamp detail

Lesson 4
Sign on for a Voyage: What Do You Need and Are You Fairly Paid?

  • Time Required: 50 minutes
  • Curriculum Fits: History

Lesson Overview

Were whaling voyages filled with adventure and profit? The answer depended on the success of the hunt and the skills of particular crew members. This lesson asks students to sign on with the ship Virginia and research the jobs, leisure activities, and remuneration of a typical crew.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will understand the jobs and duties of different crew members on a whaling ship.
  • Students will consider the fairness of how crew members were remunerated.
  • Students will imagine what daily living conditions were like on board a whaling ship.
  • Students will glean information from primary and secondary sources.
  • Students will complete a chart that summarizes information about the daily life of a crew member on a typical whaling voyage.



Make sure that there are copies of the research packet (which includes the Virginia crew list) and blank charts for individual students or groups of students.


  1. Let students know that they have been recruited by the agent of the Virginia to sail on a whaling voyage. Their lay, or share of the profits, has been determined by their job and their experience at sea. In order to determine if life aboard the Virginia is filled with adventure and profit, they are to fill out a chart based on information gleaned from secondary sources and photographs.
  2. Assign students (individually or in partnerships) to research one of the jobs available to crew members on the Virginia . Make sure that each job is filled by at least one student. Pass out research packets to students and circulate among students as they research their crew member and aspects of his seafaring life.


  • Make a Sweet Dessert
    Follow a popular recipe for "duff," the boiled or steamed pudding that crews enjoyed weekly. Find the recipe in the appendix.
  • Research Land-based Jobs that Benefited from Whaling
    Let students know that the economic impact of whaling extended far beyond the ships themselves. Bankers, bakers, and boat builders all benefited from the business of whaling. Other skilled workers were engaged in less familiar jobs.
    Ask students to work in groups and research one of the more unusual-sounding jobs; agent, caulker, chandler, cooper, costermonger, or rigger. Once students have figured out what skills, products, or services the job involved, ask them to design a sign or logo to represent this business.
    Have students share their finished products. Ask students to explain how they chose their particular visual representation and what it conveys about the job that they researched.


Mary Jane Aldrich-Moodie