Search the Collection
Advanced Search

Hunting a whale

Date: 1870
45 x 140 x 4 mm
Medium: Whalebone or whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00040479

User Terms

    This scrimshaw depicts a whale hunt. It is believed to have been carved by George Parkin Christian, a great-grandson of Fletcher Christian, in around 1870.
    SignificanceScrimshaw itself-traditionally the craft of seamen and whalers passing the time in the intervals between the hectic activity of a whale chase might be seen as a special type of historic document. It came from a by way of maritime history, the ocean whaling era, from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. It speaks for a body of men who were mostly illiterate, and in its subject matter reflects their preoccupations, cultural knowledge and often their domestic lives.
    HistoryScrimshaw was the carving done by seamen in whaling ships on the jawbones and teeth of whales and the tusks of walruses. The term has also been extended to include carvings on bone from other sources, horn and shell, when the subjects are maritime. Most scrimshaw is naive in execution, and seamen were commonly illiterate. It is rare to find scrimshaw with dates and names of makers, although names of ships were sometimes given. It is often impossible to date scrimshaw or to establish the nationality of the carver. The whaling period extended from about the 1780s to the 1890s, with a hiatus in the mid-nineteenth century when whaling declined for a period before factory ship operations began about the 1870s. Seamen used any sharp implement they could find to incise designs. The tip of their knife was the basic tool, but they also used needles and any other kind of tool they could improvise. They used anything from soot to ink or paint to colour the lines.

    This engraved whale tooth has been attributed by the vendor to George Parkin Christian. G P Christian was a great-grandson of Fletcher Christian of BOUNTY mutiny fame. He made 12 voyages on the American whaling barque CHARLES W MORGAN and other US ships between 1876 and 1916.

    Other descendants of Fletcher Christian on Norfolk Island and Pitcairn Island are numerous and have produced souvenirs for tourists often signed with their names since the nineteenth century.

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.