The Cruise of the Cachalot

by Frank T. Bullen
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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 815

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Frank T. Bullen

Frank T. Bullen, a British seaman, eighteen years old. He has sailed from London frequently. He ships out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, on the whaler Cachalot, for his first American sea experience. He is intelligent and is the only crew member to bring reading material aboard. He also is levelheaded and pragmatic, aware that his chosen occupation will never make him rich; he is nevertheless eager to steep himself in what he loves, the sea and whaling. A naturally curious person, quick to comply with regulations, he surprises the crew early on by catching a 5-foot, 35-pound fish. Along the cruise, he sights and hauls in a number of whales, lives through ravaging sea storms and infuriating calms, is horrified by the sighting of a Malay prahu with thirteen corpses aboard, and delights in viewing ocean phosphorescence and a “milk” sea. Reverent and temperate, he is a solid crew hand. He survives a harrowing ride on the back of a whale after his whaleboat is destroyed. His wonder at and appreciation of creatures of the deep and of the sea itself are evident in the quality and quantity of the extended descriptions and detail. He becomes fourth mate when Mr. Jones dies and thus is the captain’s harpooner, the promotion increasing his pay by a third.

Mr. Jones

Mr. Jones, the fourth mate, a huge black man who becomes Bullen’s friend and whom Bullen nicknames “Goliath.” A “pure African,” he was enslaved with his mother as a child; she escaped into Liberia. She was a powerful Obeah-woman who prophesied that her son would die suddenly and violently at the hand of a white man who would die at his hand. Gracious and communicative, Jones instructs Bullen in the natural history of whales and nurtures an uneasy relationship with the skipper. Jones and the skipper come to blows in a nasty struggle in which they are cast overboard in the Sea of Okhotsk, in the North Pacific; they drown, and their bodies are not retrieved.

Captain Slocum

Captain Slocum, a grim, demanding, morose, and sullen commander whom Bullen compares to the devil. He is smart and runs a tight ship, but he is tight-lipped, seems to have little curiosity or optimism, and is ill-humored toward the crew, insulting them and sneering at them. He dies in a fight with Mr. Jones.

Mr. Count

Mr. Count, the first officer, a good whaleman, a good seaman, and a gentleman. He is considerate enough of the crew to allow them time off during a gam with other whalers off the coast of Formosa. He assumes command of the ship after the skipper is drowned. His natural kindliness and thoughtfulness lead him to giving the crew Sundays off, unlike Slocum. He is a particular friend of Bullen.

Mr. Cruce

Mr. Cruce, the second mate, a Portuguese man about forty years old. He is a better whaleman than a seaman and, when angered, becomes a perfect fiend. He kills the first whale and becomes first mate after Mr. Jones’s death.

The third mate

The third mate, an angry, waspish man with a quick temper, a bitter and impulsive “Yankee with a face like an angry cat.” He is cruel to the greenhands on first leaving port, tries to avoid contact with whales, and foolishly attempts to “save” a crew that is in no danger. He becomes second mate when Mr. Jones dies.

Louis Silva

Louis Silva, the captain’s favorite harpooner. Calm and resourceful, he knows what to do in rough circumstances. He becomes third mate after the captain’s death.

Abner Cushing

Abner Cushing, a farmer from Vermont who steals potatoes and molasses from the ship’s stores in order to make beer. His punishment is being suspended with fishline by his thumbs in the weather rigging and receiving two dozen lashes with an improvised cat-o’-nine-tails. Later, he is awarded the coveted bounty of twenty pounds of tobacco, which he generously shares all around, for sighting the first “useful” whale captured. After nourishing a premonition of his death, he dies in the South Pacific when a towline becomes wrapped around his neck, throwing him overboard.


Bamberger, a German baker and tub oarsman. He dies in the Mozambique Channel when Mr. Count fires at an approaching whale.


Samuela, a Kanaka from Honolulu. He gets his chance to serve as harpooner in Bullen’s whaleboat when a knee injury prevents the skipper from accompanying Bullen.

“Tui Tongoa,”

“Tui Tongoa,” or “King of Tonga,” an African American who is enlisted as harpooner and interpreter for the natives aboard.

Captain “Paddy” Gilroy

Captain “Paddy” Gilroy, the genial skipper of the Chance, which is encountered by the Cachalot in the South Pacific. His marvelous seamanship and excellent knowledge of the New Zealand coast are illustrated by his successfully bringing a whale through rough seas.

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