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Whaler's bowie knife

Date: c 1850
Overall: 85 x 350 x 20 mm, 0.46 kg
Medium: Metal, wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Knife
Object No: 00030339

User Terms

    This bowie knife is thought to be associated with the barque NORWAY, which landed in Sydney in 1858. It is crudely engraved with image of a three-masted ship on one side and a whaling scene on the other. Whaling scene depicts a longboat with spear-thrower and three rowers, and a whale, speared with a harpoon.
    SignificanceA seaman's knife was perhaps his most important possession, in constant use, and taken good care of. This very personal seaman's working tool, and relic of whaling days.
    HistoryWhaling has been an important industry for many cultures for centuries. Whaling provided the first fishing industry and the first exports for the colony of NSW in 1791. During the 1800s a variety of whale species were a valuable resource with their oil used in lamp fuel, lubricants and candles, their baleen in corsets and buggy whips and their ambergris in perfumes and soaps. Whaling became more industrialised as technology advanced, with the consequence of smaller whale populations each year. During the twentieth century, the industry became more controversial and controlled with quotas set for countries and cultures. Nations are generally divided into pro- and anti-whaling factions, with whale populations closely monitored by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). By 1978, whale products were no longer needed and Australia banned whaling and the import of whale products. It now supports the goal of a global ban on whaling.

    This whaling scene depicts the method used by Europeans and Americans. When a whale was sighted, it was followed until the boat came into a safe distance and the animal was then harpooned and hence connected to the lead boat. The whale was still kept at a distance, as it could cause a great deal of damage to the boat and hunters, until sufficiently weakened. The boat then moved along side of the whale and it was killed, generally by a lance to the lungs. When the whale spouted blood, the hunters knew they had been successful and the whale was dead. It was then either towed to the shore or to the main boat and tied to the side where it was flensed, which required great skill to remove the flesh and blubber without waste. Depending on the species, the jaw bone and baleen were generally removed and the remainder of the carcass was disposed of in the ocean.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Whaler's bowie knife

    Primary title: WHALER'S BOWIE KNIFE

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