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Portrait of Alexander Ewen, the last headsman of the South Australian Whaling company

Date: 1871-1893
Overall: 380 x 305 mm
Medium: Photographic print on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00008256

User Terms

    This photograph of Alexander Ewen who was employed at the Bluff, near Victor Harbor, whaling station in South Australia. It was established in 1836 by the South Australian Company. From 1871 Ewen was headsman at the whale fishery after the industry had nearly died out in the 1860s with the introduction of petroleum as a cheaper alternative to whale oil and the reduction of the whale population from over fishing. He was the last headsman on the boat some time later when the last whale was caught. He died in 1893 aged 67.

    SignificanceWhale oil and baleen (whalebone) were profitable commodities in the early years of settlemnet in Australia and whaling was one of Australia's first major export industries. Sealing and whaling contributed more to the colonial economy than land produce until the 1830s.
    HistoryDespite its illegal status since 1979, whaling had strong and profitable origins in the fledging Australian settlement. Unhampered by modern awareness of species protection or moral concerns, as early as 1798 enterprising sailors could see and took advantage of the prolific colonies of seals and whales that were to be found in and around New South Wales and Tasmania. Whale oil, spermicide and whale bone were highly sought after and profitable goods back in Europe. Whaling stations were established from New South Wales and dotted around the coast to Western Australia. They were a source of employment and profit for those willing to take the risk on what could be a dangerous profession. In the off-season the whalers often went inland to help on farms, shearing sheep, fencing, sawing and helping with the harvest.
    As early as 1803 a sealing station of sorts had been set up on Kangaroo Island off Encounter Bay in South Australia. A whaling station at Victor Harbor soon followed and operated until the 1870s.

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Portrait of Alexander Ewen, the last headsman of the South Australian Whaling company

    Collection title: Tilbrook collection

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