This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
(And see Fish).
The old Romans made use of Whale flesh as food, cooking it in various ways. Throughout England it was at one time customary to get similar food from the fishermen of Normandy, but the practice is no longer continued. Whale skin abounds in gelatine, and will make when stewed a most excellent jelly. The fish is graminivorous, its products being train oil, and sperm, baleen (whalebone), spermaceti and ambergris. "Whalebone" formerly meant ivory, as supposed to be derived from the bones of a whale, when the source of this material was little known, and when most of the ivory used in Western Europe came from the teeth of the Walrus. Shakespeare's lines in Love's Labour Lost bear reference to this fact:-
"This (says Biron) is the flower that smiles on every one To show his teeth as white as whale's bone".
A remarkable Whale cure for chronic rheumatism has been known to American whalemen for some years. When a whale is killed, and towed ashore, (it does not matter whether it is a right humpback, a finback, or a sperm whale), and while the interior of the carcase still retains some warmth, a hole is cut through one side of the whale, sufficiently large to admit the lower half of the patient's body, from the loins to the feet; so that thus far he shall sink into the creature's intestines by the feet foremost, leaving the head and partly the shoulders outside the aperture. This hole is then closed up as completely as possible; otherwise the patient would not be able to breathe because of the volume of ammoniacal gas which would escape from the interior through every crevice of the opening left. It is these gases, which are of an overpowering and atrocious odour, which bring about the cure, so the whalemen declare. Sometimes the patient cannot stand such horrible immersion for more than an hour, and has to be lifted out in a fainting state; and to undergo a second, third, and perhaps even a fourth course on the same day, or on the day following.
Twenty, or thirty hours, it is said, will effect a radical cure, even in most severe cases, provided that there is no malformation, or distortion of the joints; and even in such instances the treatment gives great relief. One man, who was put up to his neck into the carcase of a small humpback, stood it for sixteen hours, being taken out-at intervals of two hours; he went off declaring himself to be cured; a year later he had a return of the complaint, and underwent the treatment a second time. All the shore men thoroughly believe in the efficacy of this remedial practice, and by way of proof positive, assert that no men who work at "cutting in," or "trying out" a whale, ever suffer from rheumatism. And furthermore, some of them maintain that the "deader" the whale is, the better the remedy, "more gas in him," they say; and everyone who has been within a mile of a week-dead whale will believe the remark. Anyway, if there be a person, rheumatic or otherwise, who wants to emulate Jonah's adventure in a safe way, with a dead whale, let him write to the Davidson Brothers, Ben Boyd Point, Twofold Bay, N.S.W., or to the Messrs. Christian, Norfolk Island, and these valorous whalesmen will help him to achieve his desire.
Sir George Grey (Travels in Australia) has written, "It was a sorry sight to see a pretty young woman enter the belly of the whale, then gorge herself therein with blubber, and issue forth anointed from head to foot, whilst bearing in each hand a trophy of the same delicacy".
When Oliver Goldsmith was relating to Dr. Johnson the fable of the small fishes who petitioned Jupiter for a King, - on seeing that the supercilious doctor was laughing at him, he turned smartly round, and said promptly, "Why, Dr. Johnson! this is not such an easy matter as you seem to think, for, if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales." In Martin Chuzzlewit, says Sairey Gamp, when at the London docks, to Tom Pinch. ..."And which of all them smoking monsters is the Ankworks package, I wonder." "Goodness me! that is the Antwerp boat in the middle," said Buth. "And I wish it were in Jonadge's belly, I do," cried Mrs. Gamp, appearing to confound the prophet with the whale in this miraculous aspiration.
From one kind of whale spermaceti is obtained, this being lodged as an oily liquid in a cavity within the upper jaw; it congeals after removal from the slaughtered animal into a yellow mass, then the oil is expressed out, and the residual cake of spermaceti is purified in water. When mixed with white wax, and oil, it makes a bland cooling ointment, for dressing wounds and superficial sores. "Telling me the sovereign'st thing on earth was parmacity for an inward bruise" (Henry IV. Part I). Spermaceti is nearly pure cetin, and contains an alcohol, ethal. If made into an emulsion with yolk of egg, or almond oil, it serves as a popular remedy for raw, sore throats, and bronchial cough; likewise for an irritated condition of the membrane lining the bowels, or of the urinary passages. Respecting Ambergris, a restorative substance (excrementitious) got from the whale (see "Cordials"), it powerfully affects the nervous system, as containing a peculiar principle, Ambrein, with a resin, benzoic acid, and adipocere.
From five to twenty grains of the odorous substance (which is dispensed by our druggists) are to be given for a dose. "It is," quoth old Fuller (1656), "a rare cordiall for the refreshing of the spirits, and sovereign for the strengthening the head, besides the most fragrant scent, far stronger in consort when compounded with other things, than when singly itself".
An old provincial English drink was "Amber Caudle," made of ambergris, and esteemed restorative of the sexual powers. "You may talk," said Ravenscroft (1622) "of your amber caudles, your chocolate and jelly broths, but they are nothing comparable to youth and beauty".