The Lagoda of New Bedford: A Greasy Whaling Ship

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.