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Half block model of an American whaling ship

Date: c 1850
Overall: Height: 465 mm, width: 1842 mm, depth: 190 mm
Medium: Pine wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Half block model
Object No: 00029481
Place Manufactured:United States

User Terms

    A builder's half model of an American whaling ship of the 19th century. The hull is built up with eleven lifts, made from varnished pine.
    SignificanceThis model is representative of American whaling vessels in the nineteenth century, a period of significant activitiy in the Australian whaling grounds. Whaling was the major economic enterprise which brought Americans to Australia in the first half of the 19th century.
    HistoryShip builder's half block models were produced to demonstrate the shape of a vessel and were constructed by joining a series of planks together. Builders then used the model as a reference when cutting and fitting timbers for the full scale vessel.

    Whaling played an essential part in 19th century life. Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

    American whaling centred on the north-east coastal town of New Bedford, a booming industry in the 19th century with hundreds of ships regularly heading out to the Pacific Ocean. Australian whaling stations included the settlement at Twofold Bay, NSW which was established by entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd in 1844. In this region and in parts of North America whalers noted that pods of Killer whales regularly helped them in their hunts by herding migrating whales into bays and keeping the animals on the surface, making it easier for the hunters to kill the trapped whales. The Killer whales were often awarded the prize of the killed whales tongue and lips.

    Whaling was a dangerous activity and many boats were known to have been destroyed during hunts. In 1820, the ship ESSEX was lost after it was rammed by a whale in the Pacific Ocean. Only eight of its' twenty crew survived. Large whaling ships and small boats were vulnerable to defensive whales lashing their tails or pushing their bodies into the vessels.

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