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Flakes of spermaceti from head of sperm whale, associated with jar 00003021

Date: 20th century
Overall: 172 x 75 x 75 mm, 0.55 kg
Display Dimensions: 173 mm
Medium: Spermaceti from sperm whale
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Spermaceti
Object No: 00006554

User Terms

    Bottle of spermaceti flakes from the head of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Spermaceti flakes are from the semi-liquid, waxy substance found within the sperm whale's head. After processing, spermaceti was used in ointments, cosmetic creams, fine wax candles, pomades and textile finishing and later it was used for industrial lubricants.
    SignificanceThe sperm whale industry was a highly profitable on in the late C18 to mid C19. These spermaceti flakes are a tangible reminder that at the height of the whaling industry in Australia the economic rewards were seen to outweigh the high risk and extreme efforts involved in the sperm whaling industry.
    HistoryThe processing of oil from the sperm whale was an exhausting and time consuming process but the financial rewards at the time made it a profitable venture. The sperm whaling industry was well and truly established by American industries during the mid C18 and later Britain and France were involved. By the time of settlement in Australia, the demand for whale products was at it its peak.
    Hunting for sperm whales took place off shore where, after the whale was hunted and killed, it was then processed on the whaling ship itself. An account of this process describes it as "If the head was of a manageable size, it was brought on deck; if not, it was rigged to the side of the ship, nose down. Right, bowhead, and fin whales were relieved of their baleen, while sperm whales had the spermaceti, a substance contained in a head organ known as the case, bailed out in bucketful’s. “This is the good stuff,” says Philbrick... “It’s as clear as vodka when you first open” the spermaceti organ, “but as soon as it touches air, it begins to oxidize,” taking on white, waxy properties" ("Whaling The Old Way”, James Williford, HUMANITIES, March/April 2010, Volume 31, Number 2).

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Flakes of spermaceti from head of sperm whale, associated with jar 00003021

    Collection title: Tilbrook collection

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