History of Whaling
The first known whalers were the Inuit people
of the far north. Each spring, as the sea ice melted, they would
paddle out in their canoes, called uniaks, and use stone headed
harpoons and inflated seal skins to force the whale to surface.
Once the whale tired they would stab it repeatedly with their
harpoons. All the villagers would then help drag the dead whale
ashore and almost no part of it was wasted. The skin, fins,
blubber, flesh, tongue, intestines, kidneys and heart were all
eaten and oil from the blubber was burnt to provide light and heat.
The bones were used as building materials and tools.
early 1100s, Basques from the Bay of Biscay, on the border between
France and Spain, began hunting whales for profit. The Basques used
similar methods to the Inuits, hunting the whales off their coast,
although they had their own methods of capturing the whale. A
number of wooden boats were used, working together, to herd the
whales, cutting off the open sea and forcing them into closed
inlets. The men then killed the whales with harpoons and dragged
them ashore. The blubber was then boiled in large pots to extract
the oil. This was sold to churches and public buildings to be
used in oil lamps. Due to their efficiency the Basques wiped out
their supply of whales and had to build large sea-going ships in
order to continue their hunting. By the 1500s they had found a new
source of whales off the coast of Canada.
Europeans had begun
whaling off the coast of Nantucket, a small island off the coast of
North America, by 1712. After Captain Hussey’s ship was blown out
to sea he captured a new species of whale, a sperm whale. When the
crew cut open the whales head they found it full of oil and a new
type of wax. By the 1750s the islanders where making candles
from the new wax, which burned with a brilliant smokeless flame.
These candles where extremely popular and they where sold and
shipped via North America to all over Europe. In order to supply
demand the islanders sailed further into the Atlantic and built
bigger ships so they could carry more blubber back to the island
furnaces. Shortly after this the islanders began to build brick
furnaces onto the decks of their ships. Once they had the ability
to boil the blubber at sea ships could stay at sea until their hold
was full, some journeys could last up to 4 years!
By the 1860s steam powered catcher boats with harpoon cannons
helped with catching the faster breeds of whale. This meant that
the ship could steam up to and, using a steam powered device, shoot
a harpoon into the whale. These harpoons had an explosive charge
set into it that would incapacitate the whale to stop it racing
away. With a steam powered winch the harpoon and whale could be
dragged back to the ship reducing the need to use catcher
boats. In the 1880s whalers began to pump air through the
harpoon to keep the whale afloat.
Continue to find-out about Hull and Whaling
This is just a very small selection of the resources available in
the Hull History Centre.
Natural history of
Slijper, E.J. (trans. by A.J. Pomerans.) Whales.
Hutchinson & Co. London, 2nd Ed. 1979
Martin, Anthony. Whales and Dolphins.
Salamander Books Ltd, 1990.
Chrisp, Peter. The Whalers. Wayland,
Lubbock, Basil. The Arctic Whalers.
Brown, Son and Ferguson, Ltd. Glasgow, 1968
Scoresby, W. An Account of the Arctic
Regions and of the Whale-fishery. (2 Vols.) Edinburgh,
Scoresby, W. A Voyage to the Whale Fishery
1822. Caedmon Reprints. Whitby, 1980 (First published
West, Janet and Arthur Credland.
Scrimshaw: The Art of the Whaler. Hutton Press, Beverley,