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Steam whaling bark MARY & HELEN

Date: 1887
Overall: 290 x 238 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00008036

User Terms

    This simple engraving shows the 508 ton steam whaling bark MARY & HELEN of New Bedford, Massachusetts from broadside port view under sail at sea. The vessel was lost in the search for the JEAUNETTE in 1881.

    It is taken from George Brown Goode's 'Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, Volume II' published in 1887.
    SignificanceThis engraving of the bark MARY & HELEN represents the development of steam whalers which - combined with the exploding harpoon - transformed whaling into the modern industry we know today.
    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.

    With the whaling grounds of the American fleet expanded to include the Arctic, a new demand arose for the need for quicker and more reliable ship than sailing vessels. The steam bark was seen as the answer. The first steam bark used by American whalers was the 212 ton bark PIONEER, however the finest was arguably the MARY & HELEN (later RODGERS). After the 553 ton steamer BOWHEAD, the MARY & HELEN was the next largest vessel afloat in the whaling service.

    Built in 1879 for William Lewis & Co of New Bedford, the MARY & HELEN was equipped with an auxiliary steam-powered motor, enabling the vessel to make quick passages in calm waters and proceed through ice at high speed. The vessel was first sent into the ice in 1880 and after a successful voyage was sold to the American Government for $100,000. The vessel was renamed RODGERS and was used to search of the missing research steamer JEANNETTE and the whalers MOUNT COLLASTON and VIGILLANT. In November that year, she caught a fire and was abandoned. The crew were rescued by the ships former commander Captain Owen, who was with the NORTH STAR.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Steam whaling bark MARY & HELEN


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