The Sealing and Whaling Industry: Past and Present

Stories from the Dundee Year Books of the late 19th and early 20th Century


The Sealing and Whaling Industry: Past and Present


To Scotsmen in general, and to the inhabitants of Dundee in particular, the seal and whale fish­ing industry is, or ought to be, a subject of peculiar interest. Apart altogether from its com­mercial aspect, there are many associations con­nected with the calling which render its decadence regrettable. Time was when there was not a port of any pretensions on the east coast—indeed, in Britain—which did not send out one or more whaling vessels — Dundee, Peterhead, Aberdeen, Kirkcaldy, Bo'ness, and Montrose in Scotland, and Hull, London, and Bristol in England being the most noteworthy examples. Of these, Dundee alone now enjoys the distinction of retaining the industry. Old as whale fishing is, its greatness and decline date from a compara­tively recent period. The pioneers of whaling were the Norwegians. Hakluyt mentions that in 890 Ochter, a Norwegian, narrated to King Alfred his whaling adventures off the North Cape. Coming to mediaeval times, it is on record that among the gifts of David I. to the Abbey of Holyrood, founded by him in 1128, was one-tenth of all whales and marine monsters captured between the River Avon and Colbrandspath (Cockburnspath). In 1154- Malcolm IV. made a similar grant to the Abbey of Dunfermline, having reference to all whales taken in the firths of Forth and Tay, and in 1227 Alexander II. gave half of the fat of such whales to provide lights for the altar of the Abbey. To Mr A. C. Lamb's researches, about to be published in book form, we are indebted for the above information. It appears that little further is known regarding the Scottish whale fishing till the close of the 16th century. There can be little doubt that the whale hunted by its human pro­secutors in course of time became extinct off the Scottish coasts. This is evidenced by the fact that in February 1621, when a large whale appeared off Montrose, the inhabitants of the town were struck with dismay, and regarded its advent as a portent of impending disaster. Whaling as an industry likely to prove remunera­tive did not escape the attention of the frugal King James, Sixth of Scotland and First of Eng­land. In 1613 the King granted the "sole and onlie previlege of quhaile fishing for the space of nynetene yeiris" to Sir George Hay of Netherliff (afterwards first Earl of Errol) and to Sir Thomas Murray of Glendoick. In all probability this act of generosity on the part of His Majesty had been inspired by the. success of the Basques, tales of which had doubtless reached the Royal ear. For centuries this hardy race had essayed whaling in the Bay of Biscay and off the Spanish coast. Towards the end of the sixteenth century the fishings became exhausted, and the Basques gradually pushed northward, penetrating as far as Iceland and the southern extremity of Green­land. At a period of maritime activity and adventure unparalleled in her history.


and in the year 1594 the good ship Grace left Bristol on a whaling voyage to Cape Breton, in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Meanwhile the Scottish whalers contented themselves with pursuing their avocation at the Orkneys. Stimulated by the example of the Basques and by that of the English, Scottish whaling gradually grew in importance as a national industry. It was peculiarly fitting that it should have fallen into the hands of the Scots and the Basques, peoples having many racial characteristics in common. In this connection it is interesting to note that philologists, notably the late Prince Lucien Bonaparte, have shown the relationship which exists between the Basque dialect and that of the people inhabiting the eastern seaboard of Scotland; and, further, that many of the terms employed in modern whaling are of Basque origin. In dealing with the Scottish whaling properly so called, it must not be assumed that the whales which frequented our coasts and the Bay of Biscay in the days of the early Scottish and Basque fisheries were the same as the "bowhead" or "right" whale of Davis Strait and Greenland. In mediaeval times the term appears to have been applied at large by Scottish whalers to all sea monsters, and even to porpoises. The whale captured by the Basques is now known to have been the Balaena Biscayenis, or Biscayan whale, as distinct from the Balcena mysticctus, or "right" whale of Greenland. The former species had all the characteristics of the "right" whale, but was very much smaller, and consequently yielded shorter bone. It is probable that it may have been the whale pursued by the Scottish whalers in the time of Malcolm IV.; but it is more likely that the bulk of cetaceans captured in these days were the bottlenose whale, the ca'ing or pilot whale, large schools of which are occasionally captured at the Orkneys, the beluga or " white whale," and smaller members of the same family, such as porpoises, dolphin, &c.


may be said to have begun with Sir Henry Hudson's first voyage to Spitsbergen in 1607. British, Dutch, German, Danish, and Spanish vessels sailed northward year after year; the rivalry of the different nationalities often leading to hostilities, sometimes ending in actual warfare.
And so for over a century whaling went on at Spitsbergen and Jan Mayen. The Dutch took the lead. It is estimated that at Spitzbergen during the period extending from 1679 to 1683 10,000 whales were taken by them. When at the height of their prosperity the Dutch employed 260 vessels and 14,000 seamen. The fishery continued to flourish till 1770, when owing to war and other causes it fell away, and ceased altogether at the close of the 18th century. Nor were the Germans slow to engage in the industry. During the 50 years 1670-1720 an average of 45 vessels sailed from Hamburg, and in 1721 it is on record that 79 vessels sailed from Hamburg and Bremen, so late as 1873 the Germans continued to engage in the fishing. The Spaniards' share in the industry closed with the 18th century. With so heavy a drain on their resources, it is not surprising that the existing fisheries in course of time began to show signs of exhaustion. Long before the decadence began to be felt, however, a new field was opened to seal and whale hunters in Davis Strait. The Strait fishing had its beginning about 1721. The Danes took the chief part in it, and at that time employed about 90 sail. While other nations reaped profit from the fisheries British whaling languished. Bounties were from time to time given by Government for the purpose of fostering the industry; but it was not till 1749, when the bounty had been increased from 20s to 40s per ton, that it revived, and for the first time Scottish ships sailed for Greenland and Davis Strait. During the years from 1733 to 1775 the bounties granted amounted to £1,064,000 for England, and £202,000 for Scotland. The official value of the fisheries imported into England in the 41 years included between 1760 and 1800 was £2,144,387. In addition to pecuniary assistance, other privileges were granted by the Legislature for the purpose of encouraging whaling, among which may be mentioned immunity of whalers' crews from naval impress­ment. The industry having been fairly started, the bounty was reduced to 30s in 1787. This had no deterrent effect upon the enterprise of British whalers; in the year mentioned the fleet sailing from ports in Scotland and England numbered 225 sail. Of

Dundee's Connection with the Industry

 it is not certain who was the first to engage in Arctic whaling. It was about the middle of the 18th century that the first Whaling Company—the Dundee Whale Fishing Company—was formed. One of the promi­nent shareholders of the Company was Sir John Halyburtoun, afterwards Provost of Dun­dee. In August 1756 the Company announced that they would sell by public roup "the white bone and oil of four whales." So far as can be ascertained this was the first public sale of its kind in Dundee. In the year 1750 19 vessels went from ports in the East of Scotland to the whaling. During the 25 years following the trade increased by leaps and bounds, and the number of ships hailing from that part of the kingdom rose to 90. The American War almost brought the industry to a standstill, but when peace was declared it regained all its vigour. The number of craft engaged steadily increased till 1793, when no less than 200 took part. In 1814 eight ships sailed from Dundee to the whaling ground. This was a red letter year in the history of the trade, and the success which attended the efforts of the crews may seem incredible to latter-day fishers. The total catch of the fleet sailing to Davis Straits and Greenland amounted to 437 whales, one ship — the Resolution, of Peterhead (Captain Soutar) — having secured 44 whales, then valued at £11,000. Ten years later—1824—the Government bounty was withdrawn. So far as the Dundee fleet was concerned this had little effect. The vessels hail­ing from Dundee ranged from 270 to 300 tons burden. In general appearance they pretty much resembled the craft with which the present generation is familiar, though they were a trifle more bluff in the bows, and had greater beam in proportion to their length. In these days all the whaling vessels were ship-rigged, i.e., square-rigged on the mizzenmast. This style of rig obtained for many years, even after the introduc­tion of steam, and whaling captains at one time were conservative enough to think that a barque-rigged craft was something approaching a monstrosity. The fleet did not escape scathless from the perils of ice navigation, and from time to time certain of the ships left, Dundee never to return. These losses were made good, and in 1839 ten ships were engaged at the whaling. Steam-power was destined to effect a revolution in whaling, as in other departments of navigation. The first steam whaler belonging to Dundee was the Tay, owned by Mr William Clark. Nowadays it is difficult to realise the interest which was manifested in the experiment of converting the vessel from a sailing ship into an auxiliary steamer. The innovation succeeded so well that in the following year — 1859 — two other Dundee vessels, the Dundee and Narwhal, were fitted with engines. The process of conversion went on apace, and any new vessels that were built were constructed as steamers. Of all the builders of whaling vessels none achieved so great distinction as the firm of Messrs Alexander Stephen & Sons, Dundee. From their yard have been turned out the largest and finest whalers afloat, culminating with the handsome ship Terra Nova, launched in 1885. By 1867 sail had entirely given way to steam. Of the Dundee fleet of the early sixties the Esqui­maux is the only surviving ship. The others have gone the way of all whalers. Among these are such well-known vessels as the Arctic. Resolute, Intrepid. Polynia, Jan Mayen, Triune, Star, Cornwallis, Victor, Narwhal, Camperdown, Tay, Ravenscraig, Diana, and others, the names of which at one time were household words in Dundee.

On the preceding pages an outline is given of the development of the seal and whale fishing in­dustry from its inception down to the application of steam power, a factor which may be said to have revolutionised the trade. From a perusal of records in the possession of Mr Robert Kinnes, manager of the Tay Whale Fishing Company, we are enabled to supply details illustrative of the magnitude and importance to which whaling as a national industry at one time attained. In 1790 129 ships were engaged. London then occupied first place with 34 craft, followed by Hull with 23, Liverpool with 15, Whitby with 12, Newcastle with 7, Yarmouth with 4, Lynn with 4, Sunderland with 5, Whitehaven with 2, Leith with 5, Aberdeen and Dundee with 4 each, Dunbar and Montrose with 3 each, and Bo'ness and Glasgow with 2 each.

The catch of this fleet amounted to 338 whales and 48,822 seals, yielding 4503 tons of oil and 3674 cwts. of bone. The tonnage of the ships ranged from 173 to 450 tons. The Dundee fleet of those days consisted of the Dundee, 342 tons (Captain W. Soutar); the Rodney, 176 tons (Captain Cornelius Frogget); the Success, 219 tons (Captain James Sin­clair); and the Tay, 290 tons (Captain Robert Webster). A quarter of a century later London had given place to Hull as the chief centre of the whaling industry. In 1814 that port sent out 53 ships, and London only 20; other towns being credited with — Lynn, 1; Grimsby 1; Whitby 8; Newcastle 5; Berwick, 2; Leith, 10; Kirkcaldy, 1; Dundee, 8; Montrose, 3; Aberdeen. 13; Peterhead, 7; Banff, 2; Kirkwall, 1; Greenock, 1; and Liverpool, 2 — a total of 143 ships.
The aggregate catch of this fleet is one of the largest in the annals of whaling, no less than 1981 whales being secured, yielding 19,408 tons of oil. Owners of Dundee ships in these, as in later days, seem to have had a preference for Davis Strait as compared with Greenland. As is shown by the records, they appear to have alternated from one to the other, according to the success which rewarded their efforts; but, as indicated, the partiality rested with the Strait. In numbers the Dundee fleet remained fairly constant, there being an increase of only 2 — from 8 to 10 — during the 10 years 1814-24. During the half-century following there was a marked falling off in the number of British


The primary cause was undoubtedly the substitu­tion of gas for oil lighting. The decadence was not, however, proportional, but was mainly con­fined to England. Indeed, the number of Scottish whalers for a time increased somewhat, and the trade tended to centre in Peterhead, Aberdeen, and Dundee. In 1859 Peterhead topped the list, sending out no less than 31 whalers. Aberdeen followed with 6, Fraserburgh with 5, Dundee with 4, Kirkcaldy with 3, and Bo'ness with 1. Of the English ports, Hull alone continued to engage in whaling, and gradually the number of ships hailing from it decreased, and the connection of Hull with whaling came to an end in 1869 with the loss of the Diana. It is interesting to note that one of the Hull whalers — the True Love — which sailed to the North last century, is, or was until a recent date afloat, employed in the occupation of "driving coals." In 1835 the Lon­doners abandoned whaling. Three years later Burntisland ceased to exist as a whaling port. The Prince of Orange was the last whaler hailing from the port of Leith; she succumbed to the ice grip about the year 1840. Bo'ness, though shorn of its importance, continued to send out ships till 1858, when the Jane was lost. It was this ship which in 1853 lodged a harpoon in a fish killed by the Terra Nova, of Dundee, recently returned from Davis Strait. The weapon now finds a place in Dundee Museum, after remaining 41 years em­bedded in the blubber of the whale. The loss of the Melinka and Alexander Harvey about the year 1868 terminated Fraserburgh's connection with the industry. The same year Aberdeen's last whaling vessel, the Kate, was lost; but, though whalers ceased to sail from the Granite City, it continued for some time to maintain its reputa­tion as a whaler-building port. As already indi­cated, the introduction of steam power in 1858 marked a new era in whaling. The sailing craft and their doings are now at the best little more than a memory, and the following figures referring to the ten years preceding the introduction of steam will be of interest:—


  Seals Whales Tons of oil Cwts of Bone
Peterhead 726312 238 12161 3209
Fraserburgh 79707 11 1101 40
Banff 7045 0 37 0
Aberdeen 10735 197 1921 2228
Dundee 1690 270 2710 3733
Kirkcaldy 9005 160 1511 1878
Bo'ness   33 470 568
Hull 131818 199 3705 2799
  966712 1108 23636 14455


From these figures it will be observed that the Dundee people paid comparatively little attention to sealing, and though they possessed fewer ships than did their Peterhead rivals they secured & greater number of whales and a larger quantity of bone. While the invention of gas lighting threatened the whaling industry with extinction circumstances arose that for a time rendered it almost as profitable as it was even in its palmy days. The first was the fact that whale oil came to be recognised as an essential in the preparation of jute for manufacture, and the second and later development was the largely increased value of whalebone as an article of commerce. In consequence of the demand for manufacturing purposes, the price of whale oil reduced by the spread of gas lighting gradually rose and attained as high a level as the average which obtained when it was used as an illuminant by rich and poor alike. In 1866 the price of oil was £52 per ton, and of whalebone £525 per ton. Mineral substitutes, which in course of time to a large extent superseded oil, were discovered, and subse­quent years witnessed an unprecedented fall in price. At present oil is quoted at £18 per ton. If the fall in the value of oil is note­worthy, the increased value of whalebone is phenomenal. Fortunately for those whose capital is bound up in the trade, no substitute has yet been discovered which fulfils all the properties of whalebone. Had such been the case, there is little doubt that whaling in Dundee, as elsewhere, would ere now have become a thingof the past. The diminished catches of recent years have enhanced the value of the commodity, which, steadily rising, in 1892 attained the extraordinary figure of £2650 per ton. The catch of the American whalers in Behring Sea in the following year was the largest on record, and consequently the market was flooded and prices fell. This year a sale was effected at £1300 per ton; but intelli­gence that the American fishing had been a comparative failure caused the market to recover.

The fleet sailing from the Tay increased year by year, while the number of Peterhead ships diminished. In 1867, 12 vessels, ranging from 400 to 600 tons register, sailed out of Dundee. The value of the ships and appliances on shore, &c., was estimated at £200.000, This tendency continued for a long period, till in 1885 Dundee occupied a higher position as regards the number of craft engaged than it had ever attained before. That year 17 vessels left the Tay, while Peterhead only sent out seven. The Dundee fleet consisted of the Active, Arctic, Aurora. Cornwallis, Earl of Mar and Kellie. Esquimaux, Intrepid, Jan Mayen. Maud, Nova Zembla. Polynia, Polar Star, Resolute. Star. Triune, Terra Nova, and Chieftain. The seven ships hailing from Peterhead were the Hope. Eclipse. Erik, Germania, Catherine, Windward and Alert. Of these the Germania and Catherine have since been lost, the Eclipse has been pur­chased by a Dundee firm, the Hope is under the control of Newfoundland owners, the Erik is employed by the Hudson Bay Company, and the Windward, the last of Peterhead's once large fleet, is at present conveying the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition on a quest for the South Pole.


The Alert is now employed as a store ship in con­nection with whaling stations in Cumberland Gulf. The Dundee whaler Maud, commanded and partly owned by Captain Adams, a skilful navigator, and one of the most successful whalers who ever sailed to the North in modern times, was at first a sailing vessel, but was fitted with engines in 1886. In 1890 the Chieftain, the last sailing whaler belonging to Dundee, was similarly improved. Dundee's? large fleet melted away in a surprisingly short time. In 1885 the Cornwallis and Intrepid were lost. The year 1886 was a bad one for whalers, no less than four fine vessels—the Star, Triune. Resolute and Jan Mayen—being abandoned in Davis Strait. In the following year the Arctic, the second of that name, as fine a whaler as ever floated, was crushed by the ice and foundered. No further disaster overtook the fleet till 1891, when the Polynia shared the same fate as the others. In 1892 two casualties occurred, the Maud and Chieftain leav­ing Dundee that year never to return. This reduced the fleet to seven sail. Last year the Aurora, a craft with all the best characteristics of a whaler, was sold to Messrs Bowring, of Liver­pool and Newfoundland, and now has St John's as her port of registry. No whaler has been built in Dundee since the Terra Nova was launched in 1885. In the interim, however, two additions have been made to the fleet by the purchase from Norwegian owners of the Balaena and Diana. These, in com­pany with the Polar Star and the Active, engaged in the Antarctic expedition of 1892-3.

The object of the venture was to discover whether the "right" or bone-yielding whale frequented the Antarctic regions. Certain remarks by Sir James Ross, in the narrative of his voyages to the Antarctic, led the promoters of the expedition to believe that the much-sought-for whale did exist in these latitudes. In its main object the venture was a failure, but the ships returned home with large cargoes of valuable sealskins, which are now being used for a variety of purposes. Though unsuccessful in their search, the commanders of the different ships are by no means satisfied that the "right" whale does not exist in the Antarctic. The long roll of, disasters which befell whaling vessels, and the high rates of insurance occasioned thereby, induced several experiments to be made for the purpose of obtaining greater security. Prior to 1868 several attempts were made to adapt iron shipbuilding to whaling, but in every case the experiment was a signal failure. Inl869 was launched the River Tay, an iron whaler, thought to be unsinkable and of sufficient strength to withstand the greatest pressure. The River Tay was built by Mr John Key, Kirkcaldy and Kinghorn. Of 600 tons gross measurement, the vessel was constructed of the best quality of iron, and double the strength of ordinary steamships, besides being fortified at all parts which came into contact with ice. The tanks were built into and formed part of the ship, so that the vessel was practically divided into 42 separate watertight compartments. There was a hold beam for every frame, and it was considered that so strengthened the ship would withstand any strain likely to be put upon her. The River Tay was fitted with engines of 70 h.-p. Like other ships of her class, the iron whaler came to an un­timely end. On a beautiful day, when the sun was shining brightly and the sea was smooth as a millpond, she went down, some time before having struck a heavy piece of ice. This was the last experiment of its kind. All the Dundee ships are in the hands of private owners, the last of the Companies, the Dundee Seal and Whale Fishing Company, being at present (December 1894) in liquidation.

In the public mind Greenland and Dundee whaling are inseparably connected. The fact, however, is that until a comparatively recent date Dundee whalers rarely essayed the Greenland whaling, properly so-called, but confined their attention mainly to Davis Strait, which appella­tion embraces the vast area of ice and water included between the 60th and 80th parallels of north latitude, extending from the west coast of Greenland to the American Continent and to the shores of the unknown lands to the northward. The Greenland fishing, prosecuted between the east side of the peninsula and the coasts of Spitzbergen, and in the waters to the north, was for long reckoned a special preserve of the Peterhead men. Among the captains who achieved name and fame in this field, the Gray family, of Peterhead, father and sons, will long be remembered. Than Captain David Gray, who was so successful in the Active and Eclipse, no whaling captain of modern times can show a better record. As time went on, Peterhead ships sailed to Davis Strait, and Dundee ships to Greenland. Beginning in 1863, Dundee ships began to go to Greenland with some degree of regularity. But it was not in quest of whales, sealing alone being carried on. The practice was tor the ships to leave the Tay about the 1st of March, and the sealing trip over, to return to port about the end of May. Six to ten days were usually spent in discharging and refitting, after which the ships left for Davis Strait, there to prosecute the whaling. For many years this practice was found both profitable and convenient. In the year 1866 a noteworthy feat was performed by Captain Bruce, of the Dundee whaler Camperdown. In nine days the crew of the ship secured no fewer than 23,000 seals.

The Camperdown then sailed for Dundee, thereafter setting out for the Davis Strait whaling. The two voyages yielded upwards of 300 tons of seal and whale oil, one of the largest catches on record. Diminished prices and reduced catches led to the Greenland sealing being abandoned. The largest and most powerful steamers found an outlet in the Newfoundland sealing, after engaging in which they refitted at St John's and proceeded to the Davis Strait whaling. Of the less powerful craft, some were sent out to Greenland for the purpose of sealing in early spring and whaling during the summer months, remaining out for the entire season. Others of the same class abandoned Greenland entirely for Davis Strait. It was, and still is, the practice to send out these vessels about the middle of March. Throughout the summer and autumn the whalers engage in the fishing and return to Dundee about the middle or end of November, the length of their stay being to some extent determined by the climatic con­ditions prevailing in the North and by the success of the voyage. The whaling grounds frequented by Dundee ships are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago. After rounding Cape Farewell the ships pass northward along the west coast of Greenland, and when Disco Island is reached the boats are swung out, the crow's nest fixed aloft, and the preparations made for whaling. This part of the voyage is known as the spring or east side fishing. It lasts from the beginning of May till the early part of June, the ships cruising among the "leads" in the ice in search of whales. The spring fishing over, the whalers steam northward, passing through Melville Bay. The passage through the bay is both difficult and dangerous, and many ships have been crushed in this part. Still heading northward, the whalers reach Cape York. When the "North Water" is met with a course is shaped to the westward. During the summer months the ships prosecute the "Middle Ice" fishing, and in some instances thereafter penetrate into Lancaster Sound. Returning to the Strait, Pond's Bay is visited about the end of July, and in the fall of the year Cumberland Gulf, to the southward, is often made the destination of the whalers. About the end of October, when signs of winter begin to ap­proach, the ships bear up for home. The arduous nature and hardship of the whaler's calling.

The Whaler's Calling

have become proverbial. What the conditions were before the introduction of steam power it is difficult to realise. Of the men who shipped in the sailing craft before the introduction of steam few now survive. The race is not, however, extinct. one or two of these old salts still being met with! Whaling in the old days was a very different matter from what it is now. When the crew had to trust to sail alone their work was laborious in the extreme, and it was by no means uncommon for ships to be unable to get through Melville Buy. If the wind fell light, and there was danger of being beset, all hands took to the ice, with the exception of the master, one hand at the wheel, and another on the forecastle head. A stout line was made fast to the foremast head above the foreyard, and carried on to the floe alongside of which the ship was lying. The men on the ice, each of whom wore a waist and shoulder strap buckled on to the line, and a rattling chorus being struck up, they dragged the ship after them in the manner of a barge and tow-path. When this method was impracticable the ship was maneuvered by means of a capstan or windlass heaving on a line fastened by claws to the ice lying ahead. Ice which steamers could ram with comparative ease often formed an in­surmountable obstacle to sailing craft. In these circumstances there was nothing for it but to wait developments, and to take the first opportunity which offered of getting under way. Nevertheless, even with steam certain of the Dundee whalers have found Melville Bay to be too much for them. Twenty-four years ago the Esquimaux, Ravenscraig, Alexander, and Erik had to put back. All these got clear with the exception of the Alexander, which was nipped by the ice and foundered. In more recent times other cases of ships failing to cross the bay have occurred. To be beset is still common enough, and, despite their auxiliary power and improved mechanical appliances, the steamers are sometimes as helpless as were the sailing craft. Such being the case, it is matter for astonishment that the latter achieved so much as they did. The fact remains, explain it how one may, that the steamers have opened up little new ground, and have gone to few places, not visited by the sailing ships in what are now regarded as the "good old days" of whaling.

The introduction of the Harpoon Gun.

There have been few important changes in the mode of whale-hunting or the general arrangements and equipment of ships within the last century. More than 100 years ago the idea of a harpoon gun was mooted, but such a weapon was considered dangerous and difficult to manage, Prejudice having been overcome, the gun har­poon took the place of the hand harpoon long before steam was introduced. The gun, which resembles an exaggerated horse pistol of the old fashioned type, is mounted on a swivel at the bow of the boat. To the trigger is attached a lanyard for pulling it, and the lock and powder are kept dry by a brass cap. which folds over the breech. The bore of the gun is about an inch and a half, and 28 drachms of gunpowder are required to charge it. Four feet in length, the harpoon is a weighty article made of Swedish iron. It has a keen arrow-shaped point, with pronounced barbs to prevent it from "drawing." In a groove in the shank is a traveller, to which is attached what is known as the "foregoer, - a piece of rope lighter than the line itself. It is worthy of note that the American whalers in Behring Sea still use the hand harpoon in preference to the gun. Most people are familiar with a whaleboat. When afloat it possesses a smart and compared with a ship's boat, rakish appearance. Sharp at both ends and clean cut in the bottom, the boats are admirably adapted for towing, and so long as kept stem-on to the sea behave well. Otherwise they roll badly, and in inexperienced hands are decidedly uncomfortable in a seaway. Each boat pulls five oars. Four oared boats have been tried, but they are the exception. Six boats are generally the complement of a whaler, though the large class carry eight. In the latter case seven is the limit that can be launched, and even then the cook and "black squad" — engineers and firemen — have to be called on to complete the crew, leaving only the master, shipkeeper, one of the engineers, and the doctor (if one is carried) on board. The crew of each boat consists of six men. The boat-steerer performs his responsible duty with a long and broad-bladed oar. The hand who pulls the stroke oar acts as line manager, and the harpooner pulls in the bow. There are five lines in the boat, each 120 fathoms long, which are "Flemish" coiled in a box, under the control of the line manager. Two spare harpoons are carried, as also a hand harpoon, ready for instant use. The equipment of a whaleboat also includes lances and rockets, "for finishing" the unfortunate cetacean when his energies are nearly exhausted Life on board a whaler is on communist principles, everybody, from the captain down to the ships boy, sharing proportionally in the profits. Consequently there is every inducement to work with a will. When a whale is sighted there is a rush for the boats, each of the crews trying which will be first alongside. An additional incentive to haste is the fact that a bounty is given to the boat's crew which is the first to get "fast." When the boat approaches the whale the harpooner relinquishes his oar and takes up has position in the bow

Ready for a shot.

The boat is cautiously pulled towards the monster, which, if alarmed, will at once dive to the bottom remaining below the surface on an average for five minutes. Whales however, have been known to remain out of sight for ten minutes to a quarter of an hour. Unwieldy though the whale is, in his native element he - or as the whalers say, "she" attains an almost incredible speed. In the experience of a well-known whaling captain whales have sounded, i.e., gone below the surface, near his ship when the weather was clear and the water free from ice and have not been seen again. When it is remembered that from the crow's-nest a good telescope and a practised eye can pick out a whale miles away, this fact testifies to the extra-ordinary speed attained by the animal. If the whale should chance to dive, the boats pull in the direc­tion in which it is likely to reappear, and again endeavour to stalk it. Twenty to thirty feet is the effective range of the harpoon gun. Should the whale show no signs of alarm, the boat is pulled till the stem almost touches its blubbery sides. Even at so close range, to lodge the harpoon is no easy task. The line is apt to deflect the harpoon, and this fact has to be kept in view when taking aim. If there is any motion on the sea the difficulty is increased ten­fold. Should the whale be lying with a "slack back," that is with the skin relaxed, or should the harpoon strike near the head, the chances are that it will rebound without doing any damage. The harpooner sometimes stamps his foot, and when the whale is about to dive, fires the harpoon, at such a time, the whale having a " tight back," in which the weapon will obtain a hold. Should the shot, from any cause, fail to take effect, the harpooner has his hand-harpoon as a last resort. The odds in such a case lie with the whale. In the event of failure, when the chance seemed a certainty, the harpooner has a bad time. The fish which he has fired at and missed, if it be a large one, is valued at something like £2000. When he pulls alongside the ship the captain will have something to say, said something, in the generality of cases, being shouted from the "crow's-nest" at the main-top and couched in language, for the warmth of which there is some excuses.
But the worst has yet to come, the unfortunate harpooner has to face his shipmates—from all of which it will appear that his position carries with it a weight of responsibility sufficient to try the nerves of most mortals. Nowadays masters and the older men engaged in the trade lament the decadence of the modern harpooner. There was a time, they say, when a man was only appointed to this responsible position after he had served eight to nine years as line manager and boat steerer. Now men who have two years' experience claim to be harpooners. Accidents are rare when killing a whale. It is a rude shock to one's feelings to be told that the tossing of boats and crews in the air, as depicted in the books of one's childhood, are not everyday inci­dents of the whaler's occupation. Such things do happen, but only at very rare intervals, and less frequently now than formerly. The use of rockets has to a great extent done away with the necessity for


The rocket is about 18 inches long, and resembles a piece of gas piping of about an inch bore. It has a torpedo-shaped head, and is charged with about a pound of gunpowder. The flash of the harpoon gun from which it is tired ignites a time fuse, which in turn explodes the powder after the projectile is embedded in the whale. So deadly is this weapon that one placed in a vital part sometimes suffices to kill the animal. The only drawback is their uncertainty to explode, and some captains favour the older practice of lancing. At the same time, it must not be assumed that whale-hunting is without its perils. Should the line manager fail in his duty and the line becomes "fouled," to a certainty the boat will be drawn under, and unless succour is close at baud the crew stand but a poor chance of escaping drowning. Again, should any of the men become entangled with the rapidly running line, he would be whisked out of the boat before a hand could be raised to save him, or, if not dragged overboard, a leg or arm would be the forfeit. And further, should any hitch occur in cutting away when ap­proaching ice an accident of a serious character must ensue. Some whales show a wonderful tenacity of life, and others are killed with comparatively little trouble. Sometimes the cetacean succumbs after an hour's conflict, and sometimes it requires as long as 12 hours to master it. Whalers have many stories to tell of their experiences, some of them "tall" enough, sufficient to fill a volume, but which would be out of place in an article like the present. It is, however, stated on good authority that whales have towed ship's boats for upwards of 30 miles, and that 8, 10, and even 15 lines have been run out by one animal before it was brought to bay. The whale killed, it is towed alongside the ship, and the process of "flenshing" is begun. An incision is made at the throat, a strip of blubber about two feet broad called the "cant" being the first cut. A hole is made in the blubber, through which is passed a piece of wood. This is made fast to a powerful tackle attached to the head of the mainmast. The other end is taken to the ship's windlass and a strain is put on. This has the effect of turning the whale round. As the carcass revolves the cutting goes on under the superintendence of the Spectioneer, and the blubber is taken off in a manner something similar to winding thread off a reel. The much-prized whalebone is carefully removed, and the carcass, denuded of its blubber, at once sinks to bottom, when the ropes are let go. In this connection, it may be mentioned that a whale after being killed occasionally sinks. When this happens it is pulled to the surface by the harpoon line, or if this expedient is not avail­able, the ship stands by for a day or two, when the carcass almost invariably comes to the surface.

Akin to whaling is the sealing industry. Dundee's connection with sealing is neither of so long standing, nor did the trade, even in its best days, attain the proportions which it assumed else­where. Prior to the time when steam came into vogue Dundee, so far as sealing is concerned, occupied but an insignificant position compared with other Scottish ports From statistics having reference to the ten years immediately preceding that in which steam was introduced (1848-58), given in article No. 2, the status of Dundee as regards sealing will be apparent. During the period referred to Peterhead is credited with having secured 725,312 seals; Hull, 131,818; Fraserburgh. 79,707; Aberdeen 10,734; Kirkcaldy, 9005, Banff, 7045; while Dundee comes last with only 1690 seals.

It would thus appear that Dundee ships paid little attention to sealing, but confined themselves exclusively to whaling. It was 1863 until Dundee ships regularly engaged in the Greenland sealing. For a long series of years the ships continued at the industry, and several heavy catches were secured, chief among which was that of the Camperdown in 1866. The Green­land fishery, the resources of which had been severely tested long before the Dundee ships came into the field, became less remunerative year by year, and as an industry distinct from the whaling came to end in 1882. Since then, however, Dundee ships which have gone north to the whaling have engaged in sealing in the early spring months, but their catches compared with those secured in the early sixties have been comparatively insignificant. The energies of Dundee sealers diverted from Green­land were directed to Newfoundland. Sealing as an industry in Newfoundland dates from the early days of last century. In 1749 the value of the seal oil exported from the colony was over £1000. During the latter half of the century the industry rose by leaps and bounds. St John's, then as now, occupied the leading position, the sealing being engaged in by the crews of schooners ranging from 70 to 200 tons burden. And so till well on in the fifties the industry continued to flourish. Some idea of the proportions it attained may be gathered from the fact that in 1857 no less than 400 vessels were engaged, the aggregate of their crews amounting to 13,000 men. The "palmy days" of sealing, as of whaling, had come and gone long ere steam power was utilised. It was in the days of the sailing craft that


were taken. From an interesting return compiled by Mr Levi C. Chafe, St John's, which gives valuable statistics regarding the sealing industry, it appears that 1831 was the "record year," the total number of skins exported from Newfoundland amounting to the almost incredible number of 686,836. On only two other occasions during the century have the numbers exceeded 600,000 — in 1840 and 1844—when the aggregate number of skins were 631,385 and 685,530 respectively. On numerous occasions have the catches risen above half a million, and during the period extending from 1805 till the present time rarely have they fallen below a quarter of a million. Last year's catch was 159.826 seals. With this extraordinary and, it is to be feared, sometimes indiscriminate, slaughter going on for the greater part of a century, the wonder is not that the fishery has declined, but that the seals have not become alto­gether extinct. In 1863 the first of the St John's steamers, the Bloodhound (Captain Alexander Graham), left for the sealing grounds, and in the same year the s.s. Wolf set out from Bonavista Bay. It is to Dundee that the honour of first sending steam whalers to New­foundland must, however, be accorded. In 1862 the Dundee ships Camperdown and Polynia essayed the fishing. The trip was unsuccessful, few seals being secured, and, to make matters worse, the Polynia sustained an accident to her propeller, which necessitated the ship putting into St John's for repairs. Sail rapidly gave way to steam. In 1866 the steam vessels numbered 5; in 1873, 18; in 1882, 25; and at present 20 steamers hail from Newfoundland. The sailing craft de­creased in much greater ratio, and consequently there was a diminution in the number of men em­ployed. It is computed that about the year 1860 the sealing industry directly and indirectly employed between 14,000 and 15,000 men. whereas at present 5000 would more nearly represent the hands engaged.


which attended the voyage of the Polynia and Camperdown seems to have made Dundee owners rather chary of engaging in the New­foundland sealing, and the experiment was not repeated till 1867, when Captain Charles Yule took out the Esquimaux to St John's. A sealing master who went with the ship to the ice had the misfortune to miss the seals, and the trip was a failure. Ten years later the Arctic (Capt. Adams) and the Aurora (Captain Charles Dawe) went out and secured — the former 21,493 seals, and the latter 14,634 seals, on the first trip, and 6092 and 1592 seals respectively on the second trip. Since then Dundee ships have sailed regularly to Newfoundland, and prosecuted the fishery with varying success. The ships leave the Tay about the beginning of February and proceed to St John's, where they engage sealing crews. The larger class of vessels carry from 320 to 340 men. Anyone looking at a sealing vessel will marvel how such a company can be accommodated on board. Stowed into the ship they are, how­ever, the vessel being "bunked" right fore and aft between decks. Each ship carries about 20 boats, or punts, as they are termed, for sealing. Legislative enactment has fixed the season to begin on 14th March, and ordains that the ships shall not leave port before 10th March. When that day comes round each captain endeavours to reach the sealing grounds before his neighbour. The ice reached, the process of slaughtering, provided the seals are to be met with, begins. The success of the voyage in great measure depends on the state of the floes and on the weather conditions prevailing. Should the ice be broken up by gales the packs of seals are dispersed, and boat work can only be carried on with difficulty. In these circumstances the chances are that the sealers will not regard the results as satisfactory. The success of the fishery, depending as it does on atmospheric and ice conditions, is consequently of a problematical character, and the owners of ships, if they do sometimes earn large profits, occasionally sustain heavy losses. The seals captured by the crews are mainly of two varieties,

"Harps" and "Hoods."

The former is the common Arctic seal. The seal pups at and for about a fortnight after birth have a beautiful white fur, but by the time the ships are on the ground, in the generality of cases, the young harps have approached maturity so far as to have exchanged their fur coats for a short hairy covering. If the young "harp" be secured 10 or 12 days after birth, it is a valuable fur seal, but should longer time elapse the fur begins to darken in colour, and the long hairs to drop off. The "hoods"—i.e., the hooded seal, so called from the crest-like structure on the crown of the head—are considerably larger than the "harps," and a trifle coarser in the coat. Both varieties of seal may be seen in museums of any pretensions, and most people are doubtless familiar with their distinctive characteristics. The work of capture is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult, according to the con­dition of the ice. If the seals are near the edge of a floe or near a water hole, a considerable amount of skill is required to stalk them. In these circum­stances the first shot with a rifle has often the effect of scaring the animals, and in a twinkling a floe which a moment before was black with seals may be deserted. If the weather is warm and bright, and the seals have got comfortably settled on the ice, the work is attended with less difficulty, and should the ice be broken up and piled in hummocks the task is easier still. Should the ice, by reason of wind or tide, be packed together so as to close the water-­holes, by which seals could escape, the animals may be captured with little trouble, and when such a chance offers they are clubbed in their hundreds. A ship's company of 300 hands have been known to kill and "pan" 20,000 young seals in a single day. It should be explained that when


at such a rate the men engaged in skinning the carcases necessarily get into arrear with their work, and to save time the skins are left on the ice, instead of being taken at once to the punts. They are collected and piled in heaps called "pans," the "pan" belonging to each ship being marked with a distinctive flag. As the work goes on the ships steam about and pickup the "pans" belonging to them. Such a haul can only be secured when a "jam" occurs in the manner indicated, in which case the club alone is used. Only a small proportion of the men are armed with rifles, some 25 being served out to the best shots, the remainder of the hands engaging in skinning the carcases on the ice and in manning the punts. When shooting is the method of slaughter 3000 seals is considered a good day's work. Apart altogether from the question of humanity, the work is far from pleasant, and is often arduous in the extreme. The pelt, i.e., the skin, with the blubber attached, occasionally weighs close on half a cwt., and the work of skinning and dragging the pelts to the boats over rough ice is very fatiguing and laborious. Formerly the St John's men used fowling-pieces charged with slugs, each about the size of a pea. This practice was abandoned because the skins were often riddled with shot, and the Henry rifle is now used, to the exclusion of the fowling-piece. The pelts are taken on board, and the work of "making off," that is. separating the blubber from the skin, is begun when the ships return to St John's. It was formerly the practice to make two trips to the sealing grounds, but within recent years only one trip in the generality of cases is made. The fishing closes on 20th April, after which the ships return without delay to St John's. In his records of the Newfoundland seal fishery Mr Chafe gives statistics showing the total number and average per year of seals brought into St John's by each of the vessels en­gaged in the industry. The Dundee ships are credited with the following :—

Vessel Seals No. of Years Average
Aurora 245,655 18 13,647
Arctic 151,254 11 13,750
Esquimaux 206,692 17 12,152
Jan Mayne Did not land
Narwhale 75,123 7 10,732
Polynia 70,958 8 8,869
Resolute 107,763 6 17,960
Terra Nova 176,134 10 17,613
Thetis 42,734 3 14,254


The number of seals captured by each captain is also given. The following are the catches of the different captains commanding Dundee ships which have from time to time essayed the Newfoundland sealing, during the period from 1863 to the present time: —

Captain Seals No of Years Average
William Adams 131,074 6 21,845
J. Bannerman 26,614 1 -
J. Burnett 7,398 1 -
J. Fairweather 123,305 9 13,701
A. Fairweather 92,171 5 48,434
William Guy 72,044 8 9,005
A. Jackman 307,436 24 12,810
William Milne 59,226 5 11,845
Henry McKay 67,602 6 11,267
Jeffrey Phillips 63,699 4 16,175
J. Walker 1,151 2 576
Charles Yule 17,172 3 5,724


The above figures, while giving the numbers captured by each captain, do not give any indication of the weight landed, young and old seals being classified together. As they stand they, however, form a fair index of the success of the different sealers. Among noteworthy catches made by Dundee ships were those secured by Captain Jeffrey Phillips, of the Esquimaux, who in 1892 secured the second heaviest second trip on record. The gross weight of the second trip was 582 tons, being the product of 16,155 seals. The gross weight of the two trips was 947 tons, and the net value was $92,298. Some reference must be made to the men and the ships which represent Dundee's connection with the sealing and whaling industry. Than the men who form the crews it would be difficult to find better seamen. The very nature of their calling renders imperative hardihood and resolution, and a special knowledge uncalled for in other branches of the merchant service. Consequently whaler crews may almost be regarded as a separate class. For generations members of the same families have engaged in the trait. Peterhead and Shetland still send hands to man the Dundee whalers, and, long before the time appointed for sailing, the masters of the different ships are besieged with applicants for the position of harpooner, boat steerer, line manager, &c.

The Dundee whaling captains are a class of men of whom the city may well be proud. The majority of them have been engaged in the trade since boyhood, and have worked their way up to the position of command. For a landsman it is difficult to appre­ciate the weight of responsibility which devolves upon the commander of a whaling vessel, and the difficulties to be met and overcome in the rough school of a whaler's training before that position is attained. Despite the keen rivalry which exists in the whale fishing business, the captains jog along with comparatively little friction, and if they do abuse each other occasionally that is a privilege they reserve to themselves and deny to an outsider. Seamen are prover­bial for their capacity of drawing the long bow, or, to preserve the nautical simile, of spinning a yarn. When one or two whaling captains meet, as they often do in the cabin of one or other of the ships, a landsman may consider himself privileged if they begin to discuss before him the business of their life. The "glamour of the Arctic" has almost become a stock phrase, but few can conceive the scenes conjured up by these men when they relate the ex­periences of a life­time.

Capt McKay
Capt Philips
Capt Fairweather
Capt Guy
Capt Davidson
Capt Robertson
Capt Milne


Then the conversation may become as "fishy" as the subject on hand. One good story is capped by another, and should the talk flag the landsman has only to mention what Captain did (giving the name of a master who is not present), and then he will be told what Captain ought to have done, but didn't, and what the narrator did when he was in a similar predicament. Dundee whaling captains have been represented as mere blubber-hunters, whose minds are occupied with oil and whalebone to the exclusion of all else. Many valuable additions to public museums and private collections throughout the country furnish a refutation of such statements, and more than one eminent scientist has expressed his indebtedness to them for specimens and observations collected and made at no little inconvenience during a commercial venture, always arduous, and very often vexatious in the extreme. The whaling fleet hailing from Dundee, with the masters who sailed in the ships last voyage, is as follows:—Balaena

Active (Captain Robertson.)
Balaena (Captain Alexander Fairweather.)
Diana (Captain Robert Davidson.)
Eclipse (Captain William Milne.)
Esquimaux (Captain Jeffrey Philips.)
Nova Zembla (Captain William Guy.)
Polar Star (Captain James Davidson.)
Terra Nova (Captain Henry M'Kay.)


The whaler Terra Nova may fairly be described as the largest and finest whaler afloat. Built in 1884, the ship is 187 feet in length, has 31 feet of beam, in depth of hold measures 19 feet, and is 450 net and 744 gross tonnage. The Terra Nova is barque rigged, and when loaded presents a yacht-like appearance. The engines are of 120 nominal horse power, which for a whaler are exceptionally powerful. Consequently, among ice the Terra Nova, by reason of her power and weight, is admirably adapted for the trade. From an economical point of view much may be said in favour of ships with less power.

Terra NovaThe Terra Nova, if steaming at full speed, will burn about 14 tons of coal in 24 hours, while a ship like the Diana will con­sume from six to seven tons during the same period. Of course the larger and more powerful ship will steam from two to three knots faster per hour, but it is claimed by some authorities that the increased speed is not worth the extra expense. The Esquimaux (466 tons net) and the Eclipse (296 tons net) also steam well when in open water, and as regards sailing capabilities, it is admitted in the trade that the latter, when canvas is used, can show a clean pair of heels to any other vessel in the fleet. The Nova Zembla (255 tons), the Balaena (247 tons), and the Diana (212 tons) are of foreign build, having been purchased from Norwegian owners.

ActiveIn solidity of construction they are unexcelled by any of their sister ships, and their auxiliary power is such as to meet all demands made on them. The whaler Active (236 tons) is the oldest ship in the fleet, having been built in 1852. No ship afloat has brought more whales from the Arctic regions, and, despite the hard work she has done, the Active has been so well kept that she is as sound and staunch now as in her younger days. The Active is a short, beamy ship, and for ease in handling is unequalled. The Polar Star, the smallest of the fleet, has little steam power, but is credited with being a fast sailer. The size and weight of material employed in the construction of a whaler are greatly in excess of an ordinary merchant ship, so as to with­stand the immense strain to which the whaling vessels are subjected. In a ship like the Terra Nova the planking of the hull is 4¼ inches in thickness in the bottom and 5¼ inches in the top sides, and consists of hard wood such as oak or elm. This is fortified on the outside with iron bark or greenheart, from 2½ to 3 inches in thickness.

At the bows, extending 8 or 9 feet aft, "ice-chocks" of iron bark, the greatest thickness of which is 9 inches, give greater strength, so as to resist the strain of heavy ice. The bows, which, by the way, have so much "dead wood" about them as to render the extreme fore part of the ship almost solid, are further protected with heavy steel plates, while the stem itself is fortified by a steel plate 18 inches broad and 3½ inches, in thickness, the, metal work being bolted through the ship's side. The mean thickness of the timbers is about 13 inches, and there is also the inside skin of pitch pine, 3½ inches thick, giving the ship's side a mean thickness of over 23 inches. Nor is this all. Internally the ship is diagonally braced by logs, each about 14 inches square; while fore and aft heavy knees render it more rigid still in the different vessels the thick­ness of side varies, but in general the Terra Nova maybe regarded as typical of the fleet. The Terra Nova has 34 tanks for carrying oil and blubber, each of these having an average capacity of seven tons. In whaling vessels, the tanks are fitted into the hull, and are adapted to the ship's lines.