The illustrations are only attributed in the preface as
"courteously reproduced" from the collections of several
companies and individual collectors.
I : Introduction
Page 18 Modern whaling is just sixty
years old, for its period is carefully marked by the
introduction of the harpoon-gun which was made successfully in
the year 1865. The effect of this was to
revolutionise the industry which has had a most varied and a
most romantic life. Originally the harpoon, as
used for capturing whales and large fish, was just a flat piece
of iron, triangular in shape, with sharp barbs. This was attached to a
wooden handle, and to the latter was made fast the long rope.
But the toggle-iron came as an improvement with its pointed
shaft and pivoted crosspiece, so that after the shaft had
pierced well into the fibrous tissue below the blubber, the
crosspiece, at the pulling of the rope, instead of lying up and
down the shaft was set at right angles and thus prevented the
shaft from being withdrawn. The harpoon-gun, whether fired from the shoulder, or
from a swivel-gun mounted on a pivot, enabled the harpoon or
toggle-iron with line attached, to be aimed with accuracy and to
strike with such force that the rorquals or finbacks, which had
previously been left untouched, could now be hunted.
For in that order of mammals which we call cetacea, the larger
members of the family are the whale, and these are subdivided
into the whalebone whales and the toothed whales.
The whalebone whales, again, are further divided into the right
whales, the finbacks or rorquals, the humpback, the grey whale
of the Pacific, and that rare pigmy whale whose whalebone is so
The right whale has no dorsal fin, and its cervical vertebrae
are fused into a solid mass.
The Greenland right whale, with its great head and arched mouth,
made itself well known in the Arctic, being about 50 ft. long.
A smaller species, known
as the southern right whale, became
known in the waters of the southern seas. The toothed whale class have no
whalebone but they have teeth, whereas the whalebone genus has
Now in the toothed whale class are included such species as the
cachalot, the bottlenose, the grampus and the narwhal.
The cachalot, or sperm whale, with its great head Itself
measuring about one-third of its total length, is sometimes as
much as 60 ft. long, and has over a score of teeth on its lower
It is a characteristic of this cachalot that he can remain under
water for twenty minutes at a time.
The sperm whale goes about in schools, does not frequent either
Polar region, but is commonest in tropical and sub-tropical
And just because it was hunted with great zest during the
earlier part of the nineteenth century it naturally became
The late Frank T. Bullen in his sea classic The Cruise of the Cachalot
has left for us a most entertaining description of the methods
employed during the old sailing-ship days for hunting this
The impelling motive which sent those old-time whalers to sea
after the cachalot was the great commercial reward ; for the
sperm oil from the blubber, and the spermaceti contained in a
cavity of the great head, are valuable as mi ingredient of
ointments and in the making of candles.
The use of gas and electric lighting, however, during the
nineteenth century somewhat modified this use.
Sperm oil, none the less, is a well-known lubricant in great
Ambergris was yet a third of the important entities found in the
cachalot, and this, after extraction from the whale's intestine,
was found of great value as a basis for the manufacture of
The teeth, too, make valuable ivoy.
Thus, in a word, the hunting of the cachalot was a most
At the beginning of the twentieth century whaling
seemed to be drawing to its close by
reason of the cachalot's scarcity.
But in the year 1904 the discovery of a new whaling ground in
sub-Antarctic seas gave such a fresh impetus that the industry
reached a success hitherto unprecedented.
The rorquals have declined alarmingly in numbers, and it was
because of this that at the present time the industry in those
waters depends almost exclusively on the blue whale, which is
the largest animal known, measuring up to 100 ft.
There are still a certain number of sperm whales being caught
off the South African coasts. It is, however, to be noted that the
zeal with which the industry was carried on in the north led to
the reduction in the number of whales, so that no other animals
of this class returned to the areas which had once been so
The Greenland whaling, for instance, has for that reason long
since become extinct, yet at one time it was very famous.
Spitzbergen, where the whale was once found in great numbers,
has been similarly deserted.
But at the date of writing it is quite possible that the ancient
whaling occupation, which has trained some of the finest of the
world's seamen under sail, may receive a still further
development: for by an arrangement between the British Colonial
Office and the Government of the Falkland Islands an expedition
has been organised for a most detailed study of the whaling
problem, and that historic ship Discovery, which Scott used for polar work,
was specially selected, and then in the spring of 1925 fitted
out at Portsmouth.
The results of this new expedition, with a mass of scientific
facts, may quite conceivably give an entirely new life to
whaling hitherto undreamed of. Certainly English ships had been
engaged in this important occupation of whale-hunting ever
since the end of the sixteenth century.
The port of Hull was especially
noted for this trade right away down till about 1868
when, owing to the scarcity of the mammals, the industry died a
natural death. The very last whaling voyage from that port was
made by the Truelove,
which had been built in Philadelphia 104 years previously. This
vessel was one of the most remarkable craft that ever sailed the
seas, and it would be difficult to find many ships in all
maritime history which so ably justified the builders.
Seventy-two was the number of whaling voyages which the Truelove made, and 500 were the
whales which she captured.
And besides all this activity she put in a good deal of time in
such voyages as the Oporto wine trade, and even as a "Letter of
During the American War of Independence she was captured by the
British and that was how she came to be owned in Hull, and in
1784 began her career from the Humber as a whaler.
It was in 1806 that at the age of forty-two ihe made her first
trip to the Davis Straits, and went olT there again in 1831.
Her last voyage as a whaler was in 1868, but five years later
she visited Philadelphia where she was given a hearty welcome
and returned across the Atlantic to be broken up.
these days of steam it is a little difficult to realise how
important was this whaling industry when those old ships with
their somewhat heavy lines went lumbering along to the northern
Whitby, Scarborough and London used to send whalers to the
Arctic, and in the year 1821 no fewer than sixty-one whalers
sailed out of Hull, thirty-two for that area between Greenland
and Spitzbergen, and twenty-nine for the Davis Straits.
But It was the English colonists in America who first got the
whaling fishery on a systematic basis, when they began the sperm
whaling about the end of the seventeenth century owing to the
proximity of Greenland and other prolific breeding grounds.
Facing page 26
Dutch Whalers in the
Facing page 34
Century British Whaling At the right the
boiling operation is shown.
To the Hon. Directors of
the South Sea Company. This piece being a representation of the
fishery of Great Britain in the three different
branches viz. Cod, Herring and Whale, is most humbly
Peace now fecur'd by
Arts let Britian reign. Your Woollen and Fishing trades regain. Into your hands Heav'n has the Produce
thrown, Raise these Machines and all the Worlds
XIV : Whaling Enterprise
Greenland whalers usually left their home port so as to make a
departure from the Shetland Isles about the first week in April
and arrive within the Polar Seas before the end of that month. Scoresby's Land is still shown
marked in modern maps of Greenland, and it was customary at one
time for the whalers to spend a few weeks along this coast in
what was known by the crews as the Seal-fishers' Bight.
They would go farther north among the icefields a little later.
But in the early nineteenth century it was the practice to sail
straight away north without delay. Let us follow with them and
see their methods, which are so different from modern whaling
but resembled the custom of the South Seamen already noted. Having once reached the Greenland
icy seas, the seven boats were kept ready for immediate
launching, and aloft a constant watch was kept for ice and
These boats, whose design can be traced right back to those
early Viking craft, and is largely copied in the oared " whalers
" of the Navy to-day, were 25 to 28 ft. long, and about 5 1/2
ft. in beam.
Sometimes in rowing off to the unsuspecting whale a circuitous
route was taken, and strict silence was maintained to prevent
the mammal becoming alarmed.
We mentioned on a previous page the importance of the
harpoon-gun which was made in the year 1865.
But even by 1830 a gun of sorts was in use though not generally
When the first boat had got the harpoon fastened into the whale
and the line was about to be run off entirely, the boat would
40 signal to one of the other boats by
holding up one, two or three oars to indicate the need of more
line. The handling of the line once fast
was the work of an expert, like the playing of a fish by a
It had to be veered in such a manner that the bows of the boat
were not pulled below the level of the water.
And the turns round that bollard had to be done smartly without
The way the line went whirling round the bollard was likely to
surprise a novice, and the friction was so severe that water had
constantly to be poured over it to prevent it catching fire.
So, also, the boat that was signalled to come along for his line
to be bent had to be equally smart: for if it was not in time,
then the first boat having come to the end, might be compelled
to cut, and thus lose not merely the whale but harpoon and lines
too. The activity with which the city
fireman to-day tumbles out and rushes to his fire-engine on the
ringing of the bell was rivalled only in the old whaler days
when the look-out from aloft had sighted a whale.
The watch on deck would rouse those below by stamping with their
feet and shouting " A fall ! A fall! "
This word was taken from the Dutch " val" meaning a whale.
And out the men would tumble in their sleeping garments, with no
time to dress, in spite of the atmosphere being well below zero.
To a fresh hand this first experience was alarming, and he
imagined that the ship was foundering. These early nineteenth-century
British whalers were self-contained without a shore station; and
having caught the whale, his tail was pierced after death with
two holes through which ropes were passed, and then the mammal
was towed to the ship.
He was secured alongside and then the flensing began.
There is a Dutch word " spek," which means blubber or fat.
And the Page 41 leading
in this flensing operation were known as "spek koning " or
Another important personage was the " speksioneer" who directed
To each seaman the captain would go round with a dram of grog,
giving a double allowance to the blubber kings and speksioneers.
Under the direction of the last named the harpooners set to work
with their blubber spades and great knives to make long parallel
cuts, and the two kings on deck stowed the pieces in the hold,
the carcase being turned round as convenient by blocks and the
Of course as long as the station at Spitzbergen lasted all the
oil was extracted ashore : but when the whale migrated to
Greenland it was customary to take the blubber back to the home
dangers to the Greenland whalers were increased by the fact that
the cetaceans were mostly found on the very borders of the
ice-barrier, and in the heyday of prosperity the wonderful sight
of a hundred vessels has been seen along this ice-margin.
Multiply this by the number of the boats, and you can picture
what a sight it was in those latitudes with several hundred
craft strung in a continuous line, making it almost impossible
for any whale to escape: for he was hemmed in from diving below
the ice and he was surrounded by boats as soon as he showed
himself in the clear water.
The height of the sport was when the ice was not solid but
broken up into numerous small islands: for then the men would
have to leap on to the frozen surface, run along with harpoon
and lance, and attack in the opening wherever the whale came up
In such chases anything might happen before the whale was
killed, possibly with the loss of a man or two.
And then would come the difficult and arduous task of cutting
the creature up
small enough to be dragged across the ice to the ship.
Page 42 But
besides the Greenland whaling there was also the region of the
Davis Straits which began to be hunted by the Dutch at the
beginning of the eighteenth century and by the British ships
The Davis Straits whaling was found very remunerative, but it
was found also very dangerous, for many fine vessels got
wrecked. In the year 1814 the
British whaler Royalist was
here lost with all hands, and three years later a similar
disaster overtook the London. Icebergs, of course, were the great
Possibly no section of the Mercantile Marine ever ran so many
continuous hazards as the whalers of the North.
Quite apart from the usual perils of the sea were the special
risks arising from boat-work, and the dangers to the ship itself
in uncharted seas with bergs and ice of all kinds.
Add to this the incessant bad weather with bitter cold, and you
can appreciate that only tough, hard-case seamen were likely to
make a second voyage.
But those who persisted, after the manner of Scoresby, amassed
such Arctic knowledge as would have filled a whole shelf full of
Perhaps these men could hardly realise it at the time, but they
were building up a national seamanhood whose descendants were to
form the backbone of our steamship companies and trawler fleets.
As to the value of these to a country we can wish for no better
evidence than those long eventful years of the Great War when
troops and material were moved all over the seven seas, when
thousands of mines were swept up and enemy submarines chased and
It takes generations to build up a race of seafarers, but when
once the tradition has been set going, when once it has become
the thing for the son to follow in his father's steps aboard a
vessel, you have one of the most valuable national possessions
And in those ports there grows up a number of yards, with slips
and docks, Page 43 building better
and better types of ships as the years go by. The
whaling industry was certainly responsible for a great deal
of good to Britain, quite apart from the
money obtained from the whale produce. And on theAtlantic
of America, is it not true that the home
ports of the whalers have always been those of
the finest seamen
in the country? Certainly it was inthe
and their zeal for the Greenland fisheries which
were responsible in that country at the first.
Chapter IV :
We know from Hakluyt that
already by the ninth century the Norwegians were hunting this
animal off their coast.
In the twelfth century whaling was being carried on in the North
Sea off the east coast of Scotland, for Malcolm IV granted to
Dunfermline Abbey one-tenth of all the whales and " marine
monsters " which might be taken in the Firths of Forth and Tay:
and in the following century Alexander II allowed half the
blubber of these whales for providing the altar candles in that
We know, too, that as early as 1575
the Basques used to hunt whales in
the Bay of Biscay, and afterwards went north even to Iceland,
Greenland and Newfoundland, so that within twenty-five years it
was no strange sight to find fifty or sixty Biscayan and
Icelandish whalers at work in northern waters. From 1598
Hull sent regularly for some years
whalers to Iceland and the North Cape, and, after Hudson had
rediscovered it, to Spitzbergen in the seventeenth century. It was from 1610
that the English syndicate known
eventually as the " Russia Company" began.
Two discovery ships, the Marie
Margaret of 160 tons,
and the Elizabeth of 60 tons,
were both lost, but a Hull ship managed to bring home the cargo. At that time, you see, whaling was
like finding a gold mine. It was untapped wealth ; the mammals
had not been scared, and the rewards were immense. So,
also, in 1594 an
English whaling expedition had been sent from the west country
to Cape Breton. There are references among the
Pepysian manuscripts during the seventeenth century, too, in
regard to English whalers proceeding for this purpose to
Greenland seas. But we see vessels being
sent out from Bayonne,
Jean de Luz, St. Sebastian, Bremen, Hamburgh and Amsterdam—in
the latter case, of course, by way of the Zuyder Zee and the
The importance of whaling to Holland rivalled that of the
herring, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, and many people have failed to realise how for
generations this helped to build up that country's wealth.
If ever a nation raised itself by the sea it was the Low
Countries, and the three main sources were- the herring fishery
off their very coasts, the whale in northern waters, and the
spice trade in the Dutch East Indies.
Let us consider the whaling.
In 1671 they sent no fewer than 155 vessels to Greenland which
brought to Holland 630 whales' produce.
During the years of 1672-4, until the signing of the Peace of
London, they were so busy with naval operations that the whaling
men could not be spared from the fighting fleet: but in 1675
there were 148 Dutch whalers at work, and that brief rest to the
whale was rewarded by the ships bringing back the produce of 881
mammals. In some seasons they killed as many
as 1,600 and even 2,000. Now,
unfortunately, the English had in the meantime allowed their
rivals to go on helping themselves to these riches, and
practically retired from the industry.
This is just one of those intermissions which have characterised
the occupation throughout its history.
We alluded in a previous chapter to the sudden interest in the
first Page 52
Elking felt very deeply on the matter and submitted
his opinions to the Company plainly and with restraint.
"It will be found upon Examination,"
he wrote, "a very great Mistake, that the English cannot manage
this Trade, which the Hollanders, Hamburgers, Bremers, French
and Spaniards, all carry on to Advantage, and by which means
they are made rich, even out of our Pockets, who sit still and
buy those Goods of them for OUT ready money."
Elking worked up the feelings of jealousy that all this wealth
should be passing to our late enemies and sea-rivals.
He contended, even, that whaling was more advantageous to the
Dutch than were their East Indies, seeing that whaling took no
money out of the country to purchase imports in the East, but
brought home wealth without paying.
It was the Dutch, let us remember, who had as recently as 1719
been the first to send whalers into the Davis Straits, and only
two years later there were 355 foreign ships at work on these
Why should the English be so despondent and unenterprising when
the Dutch and other seamen were enriching themselves? Elking made out a strong case,
claiming that English-built ships if more costly were stronger
and lasted longer. In Holland living and labour were cheaper
than with us, and so vessels could be built more inexpensively.
But, on the other hand, the Dutch whalers had to import many of
their skippers, harpooners, steersmen for the boats, and even
seamen from such localities as Jutland, Holstein, Scotland,
Norway, Bremen and Friesland.
These were taken on for the season and then returned to their
Numbers of Englishmen had also served in these Dutch whalers,
and were quite as expert as their employers.
This lull which had been going on in English whaling enterprise
since the last quarter of the seventeenth century was most
unfortunate for England.
What was the kind of craft to
Elking considered that the most suitable whalers were
flyboats, cats or hagboats; "and should be very strong built,
and doubled at the Bow, to resist the Shocks of the Ice."
The size varied from 200 to
the former carrying four boats and twenty men and boys, while
the latter had seven boats with a crew of fifty men and boys.
The complement of a 300-ton
at that time with six "shallops" as they used to call the
boats, consisted of one chief harpooner who was the whaling
expert in command of the whole expedition; one master of the
ship, five other harpooners, six boat-steersmen, six "managers
of the Lines," one surgeon, one boatswain, one carpenter, two
coopers, sixteen "common sailors" and two or three boys:
total, forty-two or forty-three to the ship. These ships were worked in three
watches, except that when a whale was sighted all hands were
When the ship reached the ice-barrier she was anchored to the
ice by a great "nose-hook."
The word "cachalot" was introduced by the French fishermen,
the English whalers employing the word " pot-fish " or
But though there was some sort of whaling industry off the
east coast of Scotland in the early seventeenth century, and
a hundred years later it extended north from the Orkneys, yet
it had become unprosperous and languished as in England.
But the revival of British whaling dates from 1725
when the South Sea Company,
convinced by Elking's arguments, sent their dozen ships which
they had caused to be built specially on
the Thames for this northern
They were each of about
and at Deptford a wet dock was reserved for them, where also
the boiling houses were erected for extracting the oil. The unhappy result of this South
54 northern whaling adventure we
have already observed.
But the fact remains that the Dutch and foreign monopoly was
from now seriously contested.
Threre were periods of depression and despondency again, the
bounty offered by the Government saved the industy from dying
a natural death.
Thus if we take the year 1788 we find that, in spite of
everything, British whaling had been so resuscitated that 255
vessels of under 300 tons were now sailing north from London,
Hull, Liverpool, Whitby, Newcastle, Yarmouth, Sunderland,
Lynn, Leith, Ipswich, Dunbar, Aberdeen, Bo'ness, Glasgow,
Montrose, Dundee, Whitehaven, Stockton, Greenock, Scarborough,
Grangemouth, Queensferry, and even from Exeter. A great recovery had been made
and this list of ports shows how universal was the interest
The founding of the Dundee Whale Fishing Company at the time
was to give that town a special importance which was to last
for several generations.
For it was the introduction of steam into the Dundee whalers
during the year 1858 which was to alter the whole future of
whaling. At the close of the eighteenth century tho
manufacture of jute had been introduced to British
industrialists, though it was a long time before it became
About the year 1850, after being introduced to Dundee for less
than twenty years, jute manufacturing in that town became
extensive, and it was the large consumption of whale oil
required in the jute fabrication which gave to Dundee the
leading position in that trade.
Thus it was that the building of whaling ships so long
survived at this Scotch port.
Chapter XIV : In the
the whalers had been built in suck a way that they could carry
not more than 115 tuns oi oil, whereas they ought to have been
able to contain 185 tuns.
Secondly, the company had paid £8,200 each for ships which
could have been built and equipped in America for £5,000 each.
But thirdly, the whole sue of the whaling enterprise depended
on the personnel.
By 1847 there were practically no men in England expert in
hunting the "common" whale, since this occupation had been
long abandoned. But in North America plenty of
these men would have been available, and have made all the
difference between success and failure; for a bad "headsman"
in a boat would always spoil the morale of fresh, green hands,
and in the end ruin all prospects of the voyage.
The directors of the company, Enderby complained, had sent out
only four of these experts, who were not enough for the boat
of one vessel, let alone eight.
The chief ability of a whaling-master- his supreme
recommendation- should be his capacity for killing whales.
This duty demanded both courage and activity, and such
endowments were to be found usually only in men of the age of
twenty to twenty-eight.
These men could always obtain high wages, and a good young
captain with a reputation had never any difficulty in picking
the best officers and crew: consequently, where every whaling
voyage was a separate adventure, it paid to obtain only the
finest whaling masters.
And it was just because these did not at that time exist in
Britain that the Company should have gone to America for them
where they could have been found in abundance without the
There was another matter that caused trouble in this Auckland
Drink, that curse of so many otherwise happy ships, became one
of the problems with which Enderby had to wrestle until he was
compelled to destroy all spirits except those kept for
American whalers, with a few exceptions, were run on
Thus this Auckland [Islands} whaling venture turned out
hope-lessy, and its failure was due chiefly to the plain fact of
the British lack of expert leaders in this highly specialised
There was this in common between the northern and the southern
whaling : the amount of physical risk though different in kind
was similar in degree.
The true whales in the north were not usually combative, but
there was always the great risk of ice and heavy weather.
The sperm whaling in the southern seas was bereft of ice danger
until right down in the approach to the Antarctic: but the
cachalot is a bolder, more mischievous, fighting animal,
threatening that destruction to boats and ships which we have
In the attempts to make whaling flourish, British effort in the
warmer seas, such as the Pacific for example, has never rivalled
all those generations of effort which were made in the Arctic
But to-day whatever future whaling may seem to possess rests on
that Antarctic part of the world which we shall discuss in due
It is characteristic of some sperm
whales that they prefer to use their dangerous jaws, when
attacked, rather than employ their tail.
The mammal turns on his back, keeping its jaw suspended
ominously over the boat.
Sometimes this used to put such fear into a boat's crew that
they would all take a leap into the water and remain there till
the danger passed.
In 1836 an American whaler in the South Seas had one of her
boats in this manner nipped right in two, but fortunately none
of the crew on this occasion was injured.
Incidentally it may be mentioned that during the early part of
the nineteenth century there had come a change in the building
of the carvel whaling boats, the wood being sawn out of
and then bent by steam or boiling water, being thus rendered
more elastic than when sawn.
At, the same time they were stronger and lighter.
This practice had been for a long time employed for the clinker
built boats, but not for the carvel, and its introduction was
made by Thomas Brodrick, a Whitby shipbuilder. The whalers in the Greenland Sea or
Baffin's Bay well realised that their greatest enemy was not the
whale but the ice.
In the warm southern seas every boat-launch ing might lead to a
Thus, for example, in I he year 1835 the whaler Pusie Hall's boats, four in number, were out after a
whale which chased them back to the ship, killed one of the
boat's hands, bit one of the officers, and for quite a time
resisted all the lances hurled at it from the bows of the ship.
One particularly notorious fighting whale was an individual who
used to cruise off the New Zealand coast, and was easily
recognised by his white hump.
He was well known to the crews and went by the name of ''New
Another celebrated fighter used to inhabit the Straits of Timor,
and he was at last killed only after he had nipped off with his
jaws a boat's bows. During the year 1836 the South Sea
whaler Arabella was cruising off the Society Islands when the
whale, after being harpooned, turned suddenly round, hit the
boat with his head, broke it in two and then swam through it.
In such circumstances as these the experience, the coolness and
skill of the man in charge of the boat meant all that Enderby
One nipped boat, one incident of raw hands being left to swim
about looking up at those threatening jaws were quite enough to
make the crew nervous for the rest of the ship's voyage.
But a good man with knowledge and courage, vigorous and
determined, could make light of these incidents and inspire his
men to further efforts. In the throwing of the harpoon lay
the great skill, but if through nervousness or lack of
experience the line became entangled, the boat might be drawn
below the water almost instantaneously : and there are instances
on record where boats mysteriously and rapidly disappeared from
what was surmised to be this cause. A smart man of course was on
the look-out for such an occurrence, and some officers always
used to have an axe ready in the hand while the line was running
out: for a quick, sharp blow and the immediate severance of the
line were the only things which could save lives and boat. Yes: a novice in charge was too
Perhaps the ideal was a man of about twenty-six years of age,
who had been brought up in whalers since he was a lad.
He had been out in boats under experts, he had learned all the
tricks which an angry whale could play, but this man was young
enough to enjoy fighting yet old enough to know how.
We all understand how dangerous in a small sailing craft is a
raw landsman, who has not yet learned the importance of ropes
running clear through blocks and fairleads: most accidents come
through that neglect.
It was the same with the harpoon line.
The third mate of the whaler Melantho
lost his life through the harpoon line suddenly getting out of
the fairlead and carrying him right out of the boat; and
notwithstanding that the line was forthwith cut, allowing the
whale to escape, before the mate could be picked up he had been
grabbed by a shark and had disappeared, Or, again, take the case of the
whaler Seringapatam in
the Straits of Timor.
A whale had been fastened, but the creature came so close
that one of his flukes actually grazed on the chest the boy who
was pulling the after oar.
Owing to the collision against the whale
some coils of harpoon line were thrown over the shoulders also
of the man at the tub-oar, and whilst the whale hurried on, the Page 156
unfortunate fellow was pulled overboard.
His body was at length rescued, but found to be lifeless
entangled in the line.
His shipmates could do nothing for him. Accidents such as these were the
risks which might happen to any boat, on any occasion: and they
tended to ruin the enterprise for the whole three years that
This, in turn, meant a loss of dividends, and a reluctance on
the part of the owners to finance any more whaling cruises.
Thus, the prizes went to the survivals of the fittest and most
experienced young men who had been able to avoid such
XV : War and the Whalers
then you would be able to watch those busy men on the whale's
back working away with their spades and cutting another piece.
That was before the days of steam affected these vessels.
But even those Arctic whalers of about 1870
were still fully rigged, their
engines were of very small horse-power, and just useful for
getting the ship out of some awkward surrounding ice.
Otherwise they were sailing ships and practically did all their
passages under canvas.
They went out with coal in their oil tanks, which were cleaned
out on reaching the grounds and then filled with the whale
produce. But their fuel consumption was very small.
As one examines the lines of such
a vessel, one notices that this three-master has not a
straight stem, but a moderately rounded forefoot with a
straight keel and a very short counter.
Her sides were about as solid as one of Nelson's wooden walls,
and her bows were protected with sheets of iron to resist the
ice. The total complement was about fifty, the men being
berthed forward and the officers aft.
The single funnel was immediately abaft the mainmast, and as
you walked along the raised poop deck you would have noted the
engine-room skylight, sometimes a light flying bridge, then
the companion-way to the saloon and the officers' cabins
leading out of it.
The steering wheel was right aft, there was a pump wheel just
behind the mainmast; while forward there were the capstan and
fo'c'sle hatch, and then came the big hold for the whale
In lieu of a figure-head you have noticed that she carried a
carved harpoon. The Norwegian whalers of this
period were small and built of their native fir with a few
sheets of iron sheathing, hoping to avoid being seriously
caught in the ice.
The Norwegian steam-whalers were both ancient and slow ; but
there were also some ketch-rigged craft of about 40
tons with a crew
which varied from nine to seventeen.
This smaller type sometimes used her squaresail for driving
the ship astern, if she got caught in the ice and saw an
opening clear astern. But during the American Civil War
there came an additional peril to those whalers which used to
sail from the western coast through the Bering Straits into
And the destruction of whaling ships by those Confederate
Floridawas one of the biggest shocks that
ever came to the industry.
"The whaling industry of New England," says Mr. Arthur C.
Watson, "saw the handwriting on the wall during the Civil War.
Petroleum had been discovered, and the ship merchants and
captains knew what the consequences were to be.
They realised that the decline in their business was
permanent, and that, as the years came on, more and more of
their craft would be forced out of the running.
It was merely a coincidence that the war and the mineral oil
discovery should be contemporary events, but the war had a
part of its own to play in the decay of the industry- a
dramatic part, in fact, which made the port of New Bedford
shudder for its future far more than did the news about
petroleum." When the Shenandoahin
June 1865 came
up the Bering Straits she was rewarded for her trouble by
capturing and burning five whaling vessels.
But on the next day she captured at anchor quite a fleet of
whalers, with the exception of the Favorite, commanded
by Captain Young, who resisted the Confederate's officer
coming on board not merely with words, but with a display of
guns and fire-arms. But the Favorite'screw
frightened and deserted, so that after removing the ship's
ammunition they took to the boats and left Captain Young by
The latter, when the Shenandoah'snext
boat came off, had no alternative but to surrender ...
XV : The Thirty-Two Ships
Facing page 176
the Whaling Ships of Cape Belcher,
The Whaleboats Reach
the "Daniel Webster."
XVII : Finding the New Whaling Grounds
187 Historically, the first cetacean
which the old sailing ships pursued was the right whale, which
has no dorsal fin.
In the Atlantic there was the Greenland whale, the nordkaper
and the southern right whale.
These were remarkable for the size of their whalebone, and at
a time when whales were hunted chiefly for the sake of their
bone, these became known as the "right" or "true" whale.
Moreover, in those days, their harpooning methods
prevented the men from attacking the
"tinners" or rorquals.
But then the Industry of capturing the sperm whale came in and
the chase after right whales became less important.
So also, there came a change in the second part of the
nineteenth century arising through Svend Foyn's invention of
the explosive harpoon fired from a ship's gun.
He began this new form operating off the north of Norway, but
it enabled the fin whale, so long neglected, now to be hunted.
Thus it was that Norway inaugurated an entirely new era in
whaling, since, broadly speaking, the "tinners" are the only
cetaceans found in that country's waters.
What was more, it opened up an
entirely new avenue to knowledge; for, until then, no mammal
was scientifically so little understood as the great family of
And the reason for this deficiency was quite simple.
Without specimens to study, how could the research student set
Whaling ships brought home the produce: not the mammal itself.
on remote occasions have whales
stranded around our coasts.
But the Svend Foyn method revolutionised all this: or,
rather, part of his plan was a return to that old practice
which we have seen existed at Spitzbergen in the early days.
The reader will remember that factories were established
ashore, the whales towed to the beach and hauled up to be
Well, this was to be the new
Norwegian way in the 'sixties.
Land factories were instituted, the "tinner" killed by the
explosive harpoon was hauled up and dealt with from the land
and not the ship.
Thus it was, then, that an opportunity was afforded both to
whalers and scientists to examine the shape of the body, the
contents of the stomach: in other words, there followed from
this a large amount of biological knowledge concerning the
We know now that the "tinner " whether in northern or
southern waters is practically the same in form.
To the invention of that gun, then, was due the starting of
the Norwegian fin-whaling industry: and owing to the
inauguration of the latter was it possible to get a greater
understanding of whales generally.
: Problems and Practice
Page 204 But in the meantime we have to
bear in remembrance that it was owing to those British
pioneers, mentioned elsewhere, that these localities are
Already in the season of 1908-9, when Charcot was down there
and three whaling companies were working on Deception Island
with floating steamers as factories, and the smaller
specially built steamers going out to catch the whales,
there were two hundred Norwegian inhabitants of that island.
The season lasts from the end of November to the end of
February, when the companies separate; some to hunt off the
Chilian coast, others in the Magellan Straits, others in the
waters of the Cape of Good Hope.
In regard to the South-West African whaling where the
humpback, fin and blue whales are captured annually,
Saldanha Bay is largely used, as well as Durban, for eastern
In the year 1912 only 131 whales were caught off that part
of Africa, but they have since been captured in much greater
numbers; and even in 1916 the figures were considerably over
The numbers of right whales and
sperm whales caught in the waters of the Dependencies are so
few compared with the thousands of the blue, fin and
humpback, that we can neglect them.
The humpback may be in danger of extermination, but it is of
little commercial value, and the other two are plentiful.
The practical method by which the men can recognise the
different kinds at a distance is as follows.
These three belong to the rorqual class, the humpback being
known by the protuberance on his back and by the fact that
he spouts very low.
The fin-whale is of medium value, has a very large dorsal
fin, and spouts very high with a single, straight jet.
The blue whale, on the other hand, which is more valuable
than the other two, has a moderate-sized dorsal fin and
spouts with a double jet ending in a plume.
For the sake of clarity and
continuity we have concentrated on one particular branch of
Let us now go back a little way.
The whole possibility of this modern Dependencies' whaling
has been based on those new methods inaugurated in the
eighteen-sixties by that Norwegian expert Svend Foyn, who
had been impressed, whilst voyaging to the Arctic for seals,
by the large numbers of tinners.
Why not hunt this species?
After three years he got over the difficulties and
introduced his special explosive harpoon, and by doing away
with the old method of using the boat, eliminated the risk
It was now the year 1865, the time when the gallant old
sailing ship in the clippers and others was making her last
flutter: for steam was beginning to conquer navigation.
Svend Foyn, substituting the
steamer for the sailing ship's rowed boat, made it possible
for the harpoon-gun to be brought quite close to the finner.
(It is true that way back in 1731 a portable harpoon-gun had
been invented, but this was found very dangerous, although
Moreover, since a dead finner sinks and its weight is much
greater than the buoyancy of the rowed whaleboat, it was no
good thinking of hunting this species unless the size of the
craft were increased.
Thus, in a sentence, the conditions demanded that a steamer
with a harpoon-gun in the bows be employed.
With many improvements this method is that of modern
When the animal is hit, the two shanks of the harpoon open
out and explode a small bomb.
The body of the dead whale is then hauled back by means of
the ship's steam windlass, inflated to prevent its sinking, Page 206
and then towed to the floating
factory or shore, the steam whaler, or " catcher" as the
modern term is, sometimes being seen with as many as half a
dozen dead cetaceans.
As the result of his new methods,
Svend Foyn of Tonsberg died a very wealthy man, and the
acknowledged expert of all the Norwegian whalers.
But it was only through his plucky perseverance and
originality that the problem of killing the supposedly
invulnerable finner had been made practicable.
What was more, it was thus through him that a new industry was
to arise in Norway.
Now, then, let us watch the sequence of events.
In June 1893 those four Dundee whalers, after their
unsuccessful voyage, had arrived back in Dundee.
There happened to be living a Mr. H. H. Bull, who was also
inspired by the Antarctic whaling proposition, but had failed
to interest Australian capitalists in the scheme.
Bull therefore left Melbourne, travelled to Norway and got in
touch with Foyn, then over eighty years old.
The latter listened and approved, and even placed at Bull's
disposal a whaler, built at Drammen as far back as the year
1871. This vessel was similar to the Dundee Balcena, and now,
changing her name from Cap
Nor to Antarctic,
under the command of Captain L. Kristensen, with Mr. Bull on
board, set off in September 1893, reached Melbourne the
following January, left the latter in the following September,
got within the Antarctic Circle, sighted Cape Adare for the
first time it had been seen since Ross's voyage, visited
Possession Island, but after being as far south as lat. 74°,
it was decided to return.
For commercially this voyage had been a failure, and not a
"right " whale had been seen.
And so the intimate relationship
between whaling and discovery, between the genuine whaling
ships and the
exploration vessels built on the
lines of whalers, went on.
The whaling expert was indebted to the explorer, and the
explorer to the whaler.
XV : The Present Whaling Industry
Page 228 Thus the number of whales killed in
the waters of Greenland and the Davis Straits by British ships
during the years 1814 to 1823 was 12,907 : from 1824 to 1833 it
dropped to 9,532, and in 1834 to 1843 it fell remarkably to
There follows now a serious slump: for whereas in 1857 Peterhead
still sent out thirty-four whalers, she possessed not one in the
year 1893, the pride of place having passed entirely to Dundee.
In the year 1882 there went to the Davis Straits for whales nine
Dundee ships, which came back with seventy-eight whales, whose
oil and bones yielded a sum of £58,876, oil being at that time
£33 a ton, but the value of the whalebone was as much as £1,150
a ton, so rare had it become.
The position by 1883 was this: both the Greenland whaling and
the Greenland sealing were getting worse and worse, though off
Newfoundland it was good.
It was bad also in the Davis Straits, and only six vessels went
there from Dundee, whilst one from Peterhead got up to the
One of these seven vessels was the whaler Thetis, and she came home
with the loss of both her carpenter and bo'sun; for whilst they
were fast to a whale the boat was carried under by the fouling
of the line.
In this same year only seven vessels went to Greenland waters
and they came back with only nineteen right whales.
But whalebone was scarcer than even in the year previous, and
had now gone up to £2,000 a ton.
And it was just this rise which encouraged the ships and made it
worth their while to keep on trying for a time, especially as
already the bottlenose, which had been overfished, was beginning
to get wary and scarce.
Two new Peterhead whalers were actually added to the fleet in
1883, and in the following year several steamers were added to
the fleet of Dundee, so that by 1885 the latter had the largest
collection of sixteen whaling ships, Page 229
but there was a big fleet working
out of Norway chasing the bottlenose whales.
However, the down-grade was still continuing, and if we take the
period of 1893 to 1902 British ships caught only 172 whales off
Greenland and in the Davis Straits.
In the year 1903 Dundee's fleet had diminished to five whalers,
of which one got wrecked.
Thus it was that Arctic whaling had now come down to four
vessels and they were only partially successful, and in 1905,
although there were six whalers at work up the Davis Straits,
which were now the only possible resort, yet this season was so
notorious that only a couple of medium-sized whales and one
small one were killed up there.
The Eclipse, one of
the most lucky of whalers, came home "clean" ; that historic Diana, winch had once been
to the Antarctic, came home "clean "; the Windward, another famous
ship, came home "clean ; the Balaina,
which had also once been to the Antarctic, came home now from
the Arctic with one whale; and the Morning arrived with one whale.
In each of these cases only fifteen cwt. of bone were obtained,
and the Active, that
other ship which had once been in that Dundee Antarctic whaling
squadron, now came home from the north with one small whale that
yielded but three cwt. of bone.
The Morning, by the
way, was another historic vessel.
Up till the year 1902 she was a Norwegian whaler and known as
the Morgen, but she
was purchased by the Royal Geographical Society and sent out to
the Antarctic, where she discovered a new island, reached
Scott's ship Discovery
and came home in the year 1904, and went back to her career as a
Chapter XXII :
During the war there was an
increased demand for oil, but all over the world, except off
South Georgia, the whale was being hunted far less.
It therefore became advisable to allow the temporary employment
of a greater number of catchers down here.
Legislation wisely limits the extent to which whaling may take
place, and minimises the amount of waste.
Under the former decision we have the restriction of the number
of licences, but there is no direct regulating of the number of
whales to be caught.
One may mention in passing the financial side of these
Dependencies, which is not without interest.
If we take the latest figures- that is for the year 1923- we
find that the Government revenue derived from them in that
period amounted to £160,221, the local expenditure being only
But at the end of that year there was a surplus of £315,795
assets over liabilities, of which £300,302 became earmarked for
the Research Fund.
It is thus that the research vessel Discovery was able to set forth from
Portsmouth in the summer of 1925 on those investigations about
which so much is expected in the future.
Formerly the catch consisted chiefly
of humpback whales, though latterly it is the blue, and also the
fin-whale, which have predominated.
But a greater incentive has been offered towards capturing the
two last; for the bonus to the gunner, additional to his monthly
pay, works out in the following number of kroner :- for that
somewhat rare right whale, 200; for the less rare sperm whale,
100; for the blue whale, 80; for the fin-whale, 50; for the
humpback, 30 kroner.
The reason for this becomes obvious when we state that a blue
whale usually yields from 70 to 80 barrels of oil, a right whale
60 to 70, a sperm whale 60, a fin-whale from 35 to 50, but a
humpback from 25 to 35 only.
We spoke some time back of New Island, one of the Falkland
Here in the year 1908 the British firm of Meant, Salvesen &
Co. of Leith established a whaling factory which continued until
1916 when it was dismantled and removed to South Georgia, which
is now the only one of the Dependencies where whaling can be
carried on in both summer and winter.
In the old sailing-ship days one of
the customs was to attack a whale calf, well knowing that the
mother whale would not desert its young; and thus the elder and
more valuable whale would fall to the hunter.
his cruel and wasteful method is in the Dependencies strictly
Neither a calf nor a female whale accompanied by a calf may be
Apart from sentimental reasons this is sound policy unless it be
desired to endeavour to exterminate the species.
And as further illustrative of the broad, sensible lines of the
whaling legislature in these parts it is worth noting that the
lessees are required to keep an accurate record of
meteorological observations and to maintain a stock of coal and
provisions which are to be supplied at cost price to any ship
We know that both Shackleton and Charcot availed themselves of
this privilege. In reckoning the amount of oil we
count six barrels to the ton, and it is worth while to consider
now the relation which the whale to-day bears to commerce.
Before the war whale oil was used for burning, for lubrication,
for soap-making and currying leather.
It then found itself in great demand in the manufacture of
glycerine for munition-making, and also for the different
fabrication of margarine.
Sperm oil is used for such delicate machinery as sewing-machines
The demand for whalebone is not what it once was, but in the
thirteenth century it was used among other purposes for the
plumes on helmets.
From the meat Page
and bones are obtained whale-meat
meal, largely used in feeding cattle; whale guano, which is rich
in phosphates; and there is produced from the bones alone what
is called bone meal, also rich in these phosphates.
But the entire carcase may be turned into guano after extracting
the blubber for oil.
Ambergris is used in order to make perfumes more lasting.
During the war whale oil to the
British Government was so invaluable that one of the greatest
authorities has remarked that without it we should have been
able to produce the required amount of neither food nor
It seems strange to think that a number of whales cruising
innocently in the neighbourhood of tho Antarctic can have the
slightest effect on a war being fought many thousand miles away
in Europe: but it shows the inter-relation of affairs and mutual
dependence in our modern civilisation.
Glycerine we all remember to have been difficult to obtain
during the latter stages of the war even by medical men.
Before hostilities it was just a by-product in the manufacture
of soap: but after the demand for explosives became so
tremendous soap-making became a by-product of the glycerine
The British Government during the war made special arrangements
with three English firms for utilising the whole of the whale
Modern sub-Antarctic whaling is very
different from the old Greenland industry, quite apart from the
change from sail to steam.
It is different, too, from that fine, romantic period when
American whaling ships under sail used to hunt the cetacean in
every tropical sea of the world.
The latter vessels were of lighter build and greater speed than
those which had to be so strong and heavy in order to resist the
Those American ships were not intended for ice work, and their
working costs were not great.
They could build cheaply along
the New England coast where there was plenty of
timber near to the sea.
But about the year 1846 American whaling with its fleet of 735
ships reached its high-water mark, and the ebb set in with such
certainty that from 1877-86 an average of only 159 such craft
were annually employed.
So also by the year 1886 the best type of Norwegian whaler was a
vessel of only eighty tons and of thirty horse-power.
Fitted with the Svend Foyn harpoon-gun these comparatively cheap
vessels had been able to kill for their oil and bone most of a
thousand blue whales, humpbacks and other rorquals, and then tow
them into the fjords of Finmark.
in the Antarctic the conditions are all so serious that no one
can embark on this undertaking except in a big way.
Everything seems multiplied in comparison with the circumstances
of the nineteenth century.
Thus, before the whaler can reach his cruising ground a far
longer distance must be covered, with a greater cost in fuel.
The vessels need fewer hands but they cost more to build and to
Moreover the value of the individual Antarctic whale is inferior
to the Greenland species.
Greater activity, at a greater distance, more detailed
organisation but far more initial capital are the conditions
which have in this twentieth century become essential.
Not for a century have the Greenland whales been hunted in those
Arctic waters between East Greenland, Spitzbergen and Jan Mayen
Islands, where the cetacean was once numerous and in convenient
proximity to the fleets of the north.
And alongside our optimism in regard to the Antarctic we must
place the plain observed fact that when a species of whale has
by over-fishing been wiped out of any area, he does not go back
to that region even long years after the fleets have given up
using those waters.
Of this we may quote two historical instances.
For centuries the whale was hunted in the Page 248 Bay of Biscay, right up till the
sixteenth century, when it was about to be exterminated, had not
the Greenland whaling grounds been discovered.
To this day the Biscayan whale has never recovered its former
Similarly the Finmark rorqual was hunted to extermination so
that the industry came to a full stop after a few intensive
If, then, the whales should be exterminated for a period in the
waters of the Falklands Dependencies, it is improbable that even
after a respite they would return.
Thus the whole commercial value of these distant parts would
vanish as soon as the whaling stations ceased to have any
financial reason for existence.
Indeed there are those who believe that by the time the
twentieth century has run out, there will be no more whales to
hunt: they will become as past and banished as the prehistoric
animals are to us to-day.
This is the extreme pessimistic
view, but it has to be borne in mind so long as our scientific
knowledge is incomplete, and especially in regard to the whale's
This of course arouses the question of protective measures to
control the hunting: and that, again, is capable of crippling
the industry as a dividend-earner.
For instance, it might be found theoretically advisable to
prohibit occasionally all whaling for several years in order to
allow the stock of cetaceans to increase.
But what company could afford to let its plant and shipping
remain in harbour idle and deteriorating during those years?
How would it be possible to keep together those skilled gunners
and flensers until such time as their services were again
These are some of the problems which
have to be faced sooner or later, and we cannot possibly ignore
them too long.
Chatterton, E. Keble: Whalers and Whaling Fisher Unwin,
London, 1925. Second edition 1925. Ph. Allan & Co. Ltd., London,
Nautilus Library No.16, 1930. P.
Allan, London, The
Deep Sea Library, 1930. W.F. Payson, New