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Articles of whale boat gear

Date: 1887
Overall: 290 x 234 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00008034

User Terms

    This engraving features the gear found in an American whale boat. It includes a latern keg, boat compass, water keg, piggin, waif, tub oar crotch, double oar-lock, large line in a tub, knife, row-lock, hatchet, grapnel, a drag and canvas nippers.

    This engraving is taken from George Brown Goode's 'Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, Volume II' published in 1887.
    SignificanceThis engraving of whaleboat gear illustrates the steps involved 19th century American whaling.
    HistoryDuring the 1800s whaling was a large scale commercial enterprise that was conducted across the globe. The main industry centred on the American north-east coastal town of New Bedford which saw hundreds of ships heading out to the Pacific Ocean on a weekly basis. 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.

    In 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 was an extraordinarily dangerous occupation in the 19th century. Whales were hunted from small open boats by men armed with hand-held harpoons and killing lances. The hand-thrown harpoon (or iron) was used to attach the rope to the whale, more often than not resulting in the whaleboat and its crew being towed. The whale was killed by a hand held lance, requiring the whalers to get dangerously close to the wounded and angry animal.

    Each whale boat had a crew of a header, steerer and four oarsmen, and was equipped with its own 'craft' - the harpoons, hand-lances and boat-spades - and its own 'gear'. The 'gear' found in a whale boat is numerous and varied. The lantern keg was essential for storing the lantern, tinder-box, matches, candles, pipes, tobacco, hard bread and other dry goods. Two tubs - one large and one small - were used to store the whale line, as well as a small bucket to hold water to wet the line and prevent friction. Several pairs of canvas nippers were used when handling the whale line when in use. Once harpooned, the drag was used to slow down the wounded whale, and if successfully killed, the small flags were used to mark the whale. Boat-hatches and knives were used to cut the harpoon handles from the whale and the line. Also included in the gear was a piggiu for bailing the boat, a fog horn, boat compass, water keg, oar crotches and locks, as well as a large mast, a mainsail, and jib.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Articles of whale boat gear


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