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Plaque depicting whaling scene

Date: 19th century
Overall: 175 x 330 x 30 mm, 0.4 kg
Medium: Whalebone, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whalebone plaque
Object No: 00032478

User Terms

    This engraving depicts a lively whale hunt taking place in Australian waters. A brig (ship) is waiting in the distance as four small boats, one recently capsized pursue a large whale. The bow of the brig is decorated with motifs used on vessels from Hobart. Scrimshaw was a time consuming activity that helped sailors pass the hours at sea. Whalebone could be cut into thin sheets to provide an ideal canvas for scrimshanders.
    SignificanceThis is a rare representation of a whaling ship from Hobart. It demonstrates the frequent depiction of panoramic whaling scenes on large pieces of whalebone.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. No one knows for sure where the expression originated, but it comes from the Dutch words 'scrim' meaning to etch and 'shorn' meaning to make.

    Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, such as whale bone, teeth, baleen, walrus tusks and shell. Pan bone was a flat part of a whale’s jaw that could be cut into thin canvas like sheets, suitable for panoramic engravings. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files and sharp sail needles, sailors would etch images of women, whaling scenes or other memories from home.

    The average whaling expedition lasted anywhere from three to five years. This could bring about unbearable boredom and loneliness for the sailors. Whalers would fill their long hours by crafting presents for their loved ones back home. They carved designs into whale teeth and bone reflecting scenes of everyday life afloat and the sailor's memories of home.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Plaque depicting whaling scene

    Primary title: Plaque depicting whaling scene

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