Now this ambergris is a very curious substance, and so important as an article of commerce, that in 1791 a certain Nantucket-born Captain Coffin was examined at the bar of the English House of Commons on that subject.
Though the word ambergris is but the French compound for grey amber, yet the two substances are quite distinct.
Besides, amber is a hard, transparent, brittle, odorless substance, used for mouth-pieces to pipes, for beads and ornaments; but ambergris is soft, waxy, and so highly fragrant and spicy, that it is largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious candles, hair-powders, and pomatum.
For amber, though at times found on the sea-coast, is also dug up in some far inland soils, whereas ambergris is never found except upon the sea.
For at that time, and indeed until a comparatively late day, the precise origin of ambergris remained, like amber itself, a problem to the learned.
The boundary with British Honduras was determined by a treaty of 1893 and is formed in great part by the Hondo river down to the head of Chetumal Bay, and thence through that bay to the Boca Bacalar Chicathe channel separating Yucatan from Ambergris Cay.
As in Abd-el-Kuri ambergris is found on its shores and turtles abound.
By some, ambergris is supposed to be the cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale.
It came to pass, that in the ambergris affair Stubb's after-oarsman chanced so to sprain his hand, as for a time to become quite maimed; and, temporarily, Pip was put into his place.