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South Sea Whale Fishery

Date: 1835
Overall: 673 x 873 mm, 0.85 kg
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00008283

User Terms

    This engraving by Edward Duncan of a William John Huggins painting was created of the south sea fishery. It is a representation of boats attacking a sperm whale from descriptions given by experienced master and officers in the south sea fishery. Chasing, harpooning and lancing whales, crews from AMELIA WILSON and CASTOR pursue a pod of sperm whales off Buru Island, east of present day Sulawesi, Indonesia.
    SignificanceThis engraving provides a significant depiction of whaling in the southern seas during the 19th century.
    HistoryIn the 19th century American whalers sailed south to the rich Pacific whaling grounds in search of sperm whales. During the 1840s several hundred ships pursued whales off the coast of Australia. Many called into Australian ports for repairs or supplies after a voyage half-way around the world. Meeting a whaler was the first contact many colonists had with an American.

    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.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: South Sea Whale Fishery

    Web title: Engraving of south sea whale fishery

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