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Iron whaling lance

Date: c 1850
Dimensions:
Overall: 48 x 1800 x 43 mm, 1.9 kg
Display Dimensions: 39 x 49 x 1801 mm
Medium: Metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Whaling lance
Object No: 00003702

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    Description
    This 19th century hand forged steel killing lance was used by whalers. Early killing methods were as dangerous to the crews as they were deadly to the whale. Hand-thrown harpoons merely attached a rope to the whale to stop it from escaping. Actual killing of the wounded and thrashing mammal was done at close range. A long lance pierced the lungs or heart for a slow death.
    SignificanceThis lance is an example of the types of handheld implements used in whaling during the 19th century.
    HistoryUntil the 1860s with the introduction of the harpoon gun, whaling was an extraordinarily dangerous occupation. Whales were hunted from small open boats by men often only armed with hand-held harpoons and killing lances. The hand-thrown harpoon (or iron) was used merely to attach the rope to the whale resulting in an angry, wounded whale. This would more often than not end with the whaleboat and its crew being towed by the whale in an effort to rid itself of the pain inflicted by the harpoon. This was referred to by American whalers at the 'Nantucket Sleighride'.

    For more than 200 years, whaling was a vital industry around the world. It was the source of many important products which could not be found or produced elsewhere at the time. It also provided tens of thousands of men and their families with a livelihood.

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