Royal Navy New Zealand
Museum : The Naval Whaler, 2002.
Navy New Zealand Museum:The Naval Whaler Royal
Navy New Zealand Museum Fact Sheet 13,
Introduction. This comprehensive and detailed account of was
prepared for the Royal Navy New Zealand Museum in 2002 and
forwarded by Rebbeca Rebekah Clements,
Collections Assistant New Zealand Maritime Museum. www.maritimemuseum.co.nz The museum's catalogue
entry is 2003.28 and the Dewey number 625.827 ROY Row 2. Many thanks to Rebecca
for her invaluable assistance.
THE NAVAL WHALER
27 foot clinker built Montagu whaler was phased out of service
in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1990, it marked the end of
about 180 years service of that type of boat.
The double ended pulling boat was developed for ships engaged in
whaling during the 18th century, because they needed the
manoeuvrability to reverse quickly away from whales which had
By the end of the Napoleonic wars this manoeuvrability was seen
to be an advantage when boarding an enemy ship in battle. The earliest reference to
'whaleboats' as they were originally known, was in 1756 and when
introduced into Royal Naval service around 1810, they were
Their use at this time was to take boarding parties to enemy
ships and so it was highly desirable that they were unsinkable,
thus they were fitted with buoyancy tanks, giving them a
secondary role as lifeboats.
During the mid 19th century the double ended boat was found to
be useful in vessels suppressing the slave trade off Africa,
where surf conditions were often encountered and by 1862 they
weie officially called 'whalers'. Whalers are clinker built boats,
which means that the planks run fore and aft, with the lower
edge of one plank overlapping the upper edge of the next below.
The planks are fastened to each other by a copper nail, which
passes through both planks and the end of which is bend over or
More recently the end of the nail is passed through a cone
shaped washer called a rove.
Once all the planks are laid, using formers as a guide for
shape, the internal timbers (ribs) were fitted to the interior
of the planks to give added strength. British built whalers were made of
elm, with some specialised components (such as the stem and
knees) cut from oak that had grown to the required shape.
The New Zealand dockyard began constructing whalers during the
1930s, using kauri as the basic material, with pohutukawa for
the grown parts.
From about 1960 the New Zealand whalers had laminated kauri
stems and aprons, negating the need for the fore deadwood, as
well as laminated breasthooks and knees.
The last whalers were built in 1981, but in the interests of
apprentice training, several were extensively rebuilt, often
retaining only a single component of the original, although the
original numbers and other details were carved into the new
parts. Whalers were made in two sizes, 27
foot and 25 foot and were able to he both pulled and sailed.
When being pulled they were single banked, that is a single oar
was used from each thwart, three on one side and two on the
The oars had a central shaft of Oregon pine, with laminated
blades, four of them being 17 feet long and the bowman's 16 feet
When under sail the boat has two masts and carries a 'Montagu
Rig K'. The original variety of designs of
whalers had become standard by the 1870s, but in the early part
of the 20th century a retired Admiral, The Honourable Victor
Alexander Montagu CB, suggested a number of improvements to the
Once the improvements were incorporated, the designation,
'Montagu Whaler' was generally given to the new design to
distinguish them from the earlier boats.
The principal differences were that the beam was increased and
the after lines filled
Page 2 out,
sternpost was more curved and a drop keel introduced. With
an increased beam and a drop keel fitted, the arrangement of the
masts was changed to a mainmast and a mizen, in lieu of the
foremast and main mast of the older design, allowing more sail
to be carried. Like
all service boats, each whaler was specifically identified,
their construction details were carved into both the stempost
and the lower end of the apron. This included the size of the
boat, its number, the dockyard designation and its year of
manufacture, together with the Government 'broad arrow.' The
Zealand Navy's association with whalers dates from the
establishment of the New Zealand Naval Forces and the
commissioning of the cruiser HMS Philomelin
1914. Included amongst the ships seven
boats was a 27 foot whaler. Besides being carried in ships, with
the establishment of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (NZ) in
the late 1920s, whalers were issued to each division for
seamanship instruction and sailing. The last ship to carry a Montagu
whaler was the
minesweeper, HMNZS Inverell, which
was decommissioned in 1976. The majority of New (continued
A. Keel B. Hog C. Keelson D. Stem E. Timbers F.Planks G. Top Strake H.Garboard Strake I. Gunwale J. Capping K. Rubber L. Breast Hook
M. Thwart N. Knees O.Risings P.Sailing Thwart Q.Head Sheets R. Ring Bolt S. Bottom Boards T. Bilge Piece V. Socket for Crutch W. Fore Sheets X.Stretcher Rail
27ft (8.3m) 6ft(1.85m) 20.5cwt (1020kg) 27 16ft 6m (5.1m) main
13ft (4m) mizen 15ft 3in (4.7m) 6ft 10 in (2.1m) 142 sqft (13.2 sqm) main
32 sqft (3.2 sqm) jib
30 sqft (2.8 sqm) mizen
68 sqft (6.3 sqm) trisail 4 x 17ft (5.2m); 1 x 16ft (4.9m)
Page 3 Zealand whalers were of the 27 foot
variety, although there were two 25 footers, which were given to
Sea Cadet units during the 1960s. For
most of their time in service, the whaler was simply a small
boat for specialised tasks.
Post World War II however, with the move towards smaller ships,
such as frigates, the whaler was one of only two boats carried.
This meant that they had to be used as the 'sea boat', that is,
the ready use boat and lifeboat.
they were boat
As such they were fitted with special release gear and turned
out, ready for use whenever the ship was at sea.
Also during this period there was a variant of the
whaler developed, known as the 'three-in-one
whaler*, which had an engine, but could also be pulled or
This type of boat replaced the
Montagu whaler in modern ships, remaining in service until the
1990s, in the New Zealand Navy.
A Whaler at the
davits Manual of Seamanship
Besides their official
functions, whalers were used for recreation, both sailing and
Until the 1970s, fleet regattas were a regular feature of naval
life, with keen competition between ships.
In 1950 two New Zealand ships, Hawea and Taupo
went to the Mediterranean Fleet on exchange with two Royal Navy
Both the New Zealand ships were very successful in the
Mediterranean Fleet regatta at Mannarice in Turkey, between them
winning virtually all the prizes for pulling and sailing and Taupo winning the overall
A few weeks later at Malta, Hawea
won the Hamilton Cup, the first time that it had not been won by
a crew from the shore establishment HMS St Angela.
To commemorate this victory the Commanding Officer of Hawea, Lieutenant Commander
IW. Stocker RN, presented the Hawea Cup to the Royal
Regatta 1967, HMNZS
Page 4 New Zealand Navy for whaler pulling.
This was competed for annually until 1990 and on that occasion
it was won by a team from the diving tender HMNZS Manawanui.
A piece of wood fitted on the inside of the
stem, to which the ends of the planks are secured. A piece of wood across the
after end of the stern benches. The seats around the stern
sheets. Pieces of wood fastened together, laid on the
bottom of the boat as flooring. Foremost end of the boat. Pieces of wood
or metal secured to the sides of a boat for securing
sheets and halliards.
A piece of wood attached
to the keel to strengthen the joint between the keel
and the stem and stem posts. The first plank laid on
the bottom of the boat, next to the keel.
Backbone into which the boat is built. Pieces of wood grown to the
shape required and used to secure the thwarts to the
sides of the boat.
A length of wood fitted to the upper part of the keel
and extending the length of the keel to the deadwoods, to provide garboard strakes
and timbers are secured.
Lengths of wood extending
fore and aft over the timbers which support the ends of
the thwarts. Pieces of wood laid across the boat which rowers
place their feet. Seats placed across the boat. Curved pieces of wood which ectend outward and
upward from the keel and are virtually the ribs.
A cross head of wood or metal fitted over the rudder
head, to which lines are attached,
leading to a tiller for sailing.
Hawea Cup Race
HMNZS Manawanui Crew Winners of the last Hawea Cup Race 21
RNNZ Museum 2002, Fact Sheet No. 13.
Royal Navy New Zealand Museum:
The Naval Whaler Royal
Navy New Zealand Museum
Fact Sheet 13, 2002.
Details of RNZ Navy
Montagu Whalers and 32 ft cutters.
In 1990 the Navy disposed of all 14 remaining
Several photographs of
whalers and cutters, and plans of both types.
Navy Montague Whaler, Tamaki,
Motuihe, 1958. ABZ 0064 Photograph courtesy
of Andrea Hemmins Photographic
Archivist - National Museum of the Royal New
Zealand Navy. www.nzdf.mil.nz
Picton Menís Community Shed, NZ. Images: 27
foot Montague Whaler being restored Ė Colin King
checking Bills progress and Ken busy sanding and
varnishing oars. http://menzshed.org.nz/south-island/upper-si/picton-mens-community-shed/NZ Montagu Whaler the star of
BBC documentary, 2015. A Montague Whaler was used in
the BBC's recreation of the fight for survival after wreck of
a 238 ton vessel that was sunk in the South Pacific in 1819.
The Essex was twice
rammed by an aggressive sperm whale,
the second blow fatally holing the ship below the waterline.
the sinking of the Essex,the crew manned three
whaleboats and, fearing the cannibalistic
natives of the western Pacific islands,
set sail for South America.
After a month at sea they landed
on a small island, but a lack of water and food saw 20 men set
sail again leaving 3 volunteers behind to await rescue. The
three left behind on the island were rescued and, after 3
months afloat and travelling 3500 miles, one whaleboat was
found , the five crew only surviving by resorting to
Melville who used the story of the attack on the Essex as the basis for The Whale, or Moby Dick,
published in 1851..
Few Montague whalers survive now,
but this boat, number 235, built in Devonport, Auckland in
1984 was modified for her TV debut.