The Lagoda of New Bedford: A Greasy Whaling Ship

A Traditional Knowledge Learning Center

A Traditional Knowledge Learning Center

In this Learning Center, you will learn about the world of the Lagoda, a "greasy" whaling ship that sailed out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Housed today at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.


Take a Virtual Tour

Take a virtual step aboard the spectacular Lagoda, our half-scale model of the whaling bark. (The Bourne building, which houses the Lagoda, is closed for renovations until July/August 2010.)

Click this link to begin using the Lagoda of New Bedford interactive.

Built inside the Bourne Building in 1915-16, with funds donated by Emily Bourne in memory of her father, whaling merchant Jonathan Bourne, Jr., the Lagoda is the largest ship model in existence.

A "greasy " ship

The Lagoda's whaling career made a net profit of $651,958.99 for Jonathan Bourne. One of the most successful ships ever to set sail, the Lagoda was considered very "greasy" (the whaleman's term for profitable).
Named by mistake

When the original Lagoda was built in 1826, the owner meant to name it after Lake Ladoga in Russia. However, as the letters were applied to the transom, the "d" and the "g" were misplaced. Sailors believed that correcting the name would bring bad luck, so the vessel sailed as the Lagoda. Built of liveoak, with three masts, it had a square stern and a billethead - a decoration on the bow, in place of a figurehead. The Lagoda sailed for more than 60 years.

From merchantman to whaling ship

For its first fifteen years, the Lagoda was a merchant ship. Purchased by Jonathan Bourne of New Bedford in 1841, it was converted to whaling by adding tryworks (an onboard brick hearth with iron pots, used for processing blubber), whaling gear, and five whaleboats.

From ship to bark

In 1860, the Lagoda became a bark, which meant that its rigging was changed to cut down on the number of crew needed to handle the sails. From the 1860s to the end of the nineteenth century, the bark was the most popular type of whaleship because it could sail closer to the wind than a full-rigged ship.

Surviving an Arctic disaster

In 1871, the Lagoda was among 40 vessels that searched for whales in the Arctic. One day at the end of the season, the wind shifted and ice began to pack in around the ships. The Lagoda sailed south, narrowly escaping. Thirty-three ships were crushed, 22 of them from New Bedford. The 1,219 survivors sailed and rowed whaleboats through fierce gales to seven vessels which had survived outside the ice pack. The Lagoda was one of them and carried 195 people to Honolulu.

The end of the great days

Jonathan Bourne sold his bark in 1886, knowing that the great days of sperm whaling were over. The Lagoda sailed from the United States for the last time on November 12, 1889 and ended its career as a coal hulk fueling steamers at Yokohama, Japan. C. F. Keith has noted that it is ". . . ironic that the Lagoda's last days should be spent serving. . . the steam vessels that were to spell the doom of her type of craft." Sold again in 1899, the bark later burned and was broken up at Kanagawa, Japan.

"Lagoda of New Bedford" is organized into two sections.

The Story of Whaling:    

  • Whaling
  • Ship Building
  • Voyage Preparation
  • Working the Ship
  • Navigation
  • The Hunt
  • Cutting In
  • Trying Out
  • Stowage & The Hold
  • Off Hours & Leisure

Tour the Ship

  • Ship Layout
  • Basic Ship Structures
  • Adorning the Ship
  • Loading the Ship and Storage
  • Powering the Ship
  • Navigating the Ship
  • Maintaining the Ship
  • Using the Whaleboats
  • Processing the Whale
  • Lighting the Ship
  • Crew's Living Area

Related Learning Centers:

  1. click here  to learn about feeding the crew on a whaling ship like the Lagoda.
  2. click here  to learn about bowhead whaling and its impact.



Assessment: What Did You Learn?

Assessment: What Did You Learn?

If you are a teacher using this Learning Center with students, consider:

  1. Embedding this Learning Center in a unit on the growth of 19th Century industries in the United states.
  2. Exploring other industries that were vibrant during the Lagoda's producing years (1841 to 1889).
  3. Extending your study of New Bedford whaling practices to include Wampanoag practices of the past.
  4. Extending your study of New Bedford whaling practices to include contemporary whaling by Alaska's St. Lawrence Yupik and Iñupiaq people (there are a number of pertinent Learning Centers at this web site that will be helpful).
  5. Studying scrimshaw and designing pieces in class. You might use soft materials such as soap, wet clay, or soapstone rather than ivory for the carvings.
  6. Expanding this Learning Center by mapping the voyages of the Lagoda and learning about the various ports of call she made.
  7. Design a simulation that involves each of your students in a specific role on the whaling ship.
  8. Producing a classroom model of the Lagoda or other whaling ship.
  9. Listening to and learning sea chanties.
  10. Exploring the reasons for the end of commercial whaling in North America.

Now that you have visited the Lagoda, can you . . .

  1. Name the first people in what is now New England who hunted whales?
  2. Remember the decade when New Bedford became the center of Yankee whaling?
  3. Explain why people hunted whales?
  4. Describe your favorite work of art that was part of the whaling world?
  5. Define a windlass, binnacle, foc's'le, and tryworks?
  6. Explain how many crew members a whaling ship required?
  7. Describe the two most dangerous activities in working on a whaling ship?
  8. Draw a whaling harpoon?
  9. Explain how to butcher a whale while at sea?

National Academic Standards

National Academic Standards

Check this link to see the academic standards for your state.

Pertinent national academic standards for this Learning Center include:


NSS-G.K-12.4: Human Systems

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

NSS-G.K-12.5: Environment and Society

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.


NSS-EC.5-8.8: Role of Price in Market Systems

  • Students should understand that markets are interrelated; changes in the price of one good or service can lead to changes in prices of many other goods and services.
  • Students should understand that scarce goods and services are allocated in a market economy through the influence of prices on production and consumption decisions.

NSS-EC.5-8.14: Profit and the Entrepreneur

  • Students should understand that entrepreneurs accept the risk in organizing resources to produce goods and services because they hope to earn profits.
  • Entrepreneurs and other sellers earn profits when buyers purchase the products they sell at prices high enough to cover the costs of production.
  • Entrepreneurs and other sellers incur losses when buyers do not purchase the products they sell at prices high enough to cover the costs of production.