THE HIGH-WATER MARK AND THE DECLINE OF WHALING
I have traced some of the interwoven threads in the story of southern Pacific whaling from the beginning to the fairly successful years of Sperm whaling, and to the zenith of Bay whaling in the thirties. But deep-sea whaling (which you will remember was the first to invade these southern seas) became a greater and more valuable business as the years went by from 1790 to 1850. By the time this hunt of the Sperm whale reached its height, Bay whaling had passed into an extraordinary decline ; the Right whales which used to arrive in huge numbers failed to make their rendezvous in due season.
The Tasmanian Bay stations were first to note the diminution in the numbers of Right whales, and the beasts were almost entirely missing in 1841. But the keenness of the Hobart men was great, and adventure led them on into Sperm whaling, and from the refitment of deep-sea whale-ships they advanced to the building of such craft. Even between 1835 and 1845 this industry had so progressed that by 1848 there were upwards of thirty-eight whaling ships registered at Hobart Town. By this time Hobart Town men were to be found cruising allover the Pacific. [footnote 1] The famous Sir John Franklin was Governor of Tasmania between 1839 and 1843 and Hobart under his auspices initiated scientific research. Some of the famous whale-ships of Hobart were the Aladdin, Derwent Hunter, Emily Downing, Fanny, Nicholson, Litherland, Offley, Othello, Pacific, Runnymede, Southern Cross, Sussex, and the Velocity. We see them mentioned in the log-books of American whale-ships time and time again.
Amongst the most famous of the earlier Hobart Town deep-sea ships were the Caroline, Amity, Dragon, Venus and Marianne, and mention should perhaps be made of the Wallaby a barque of 284 tons, built for whaling in Tasmania. Her captain, a strong swimmer, was afterwards drowned, under peculiar circumstances, near land when a whale had attacked and smashed his boat - the chase having been made in Sealer's Cove, Victoria. When his body was recovered marks supposed to have been those of sharks' teeth were found upon it. Possibly he was one of the first of Australia's shark victims.
Attendance on foreign whale-ships was quite lucrative. On Good Friday, 1847, no less than thirty-seven foreign whalers were in Hobart for refitment. It was during the forties that this deep-sea whaling from Tasmanian ports developed most rapidly.
The caulking hammers rang out then in the shipbuilding yards below Mount Wellington, and whaling gossip was always vigorous and fertile about the inns and quays. Those Hobart Town quays must have looked exotic enough in those days, for the Yankee ships brought Portuguese and Central Americans, quaint negroes and blue-eyed Scandinavians. The colonial ships set down their Maoris, South Sea islanders, and Australian aborigines. What "roaring benders" were indulged in, what "cat-and-dog fights" between national factions enlivened the wharves. Grog was cheap and plentiful, as were other dissipations.
You could take your choice of the Sailor's Return, the Neptune, the Dog Partridge (where William Lanne, the last male Tasmanian aboriginal, an excellent man in a whale-boat, died), or the Lord Rodney. If you were a master you went to the Nautilus.
The Castray Esplanade was then the site of slipways, indeed the latter were to be found in most unlikely places. In 1849 there were thirty-seven whalers attached to Hobart Town and their aggregate tonnage was 8616 and their crews numbered 1046 men. Although there were 135 other vessels (traders and coasters), their combined tonnage was just less than that of the thirty-seven whale-ships. No less than 390 vessels were built between 1839 and 1859, totalling 23,200 tons, to say nothing of yachts and small boats. Hobart is a bigger place to-day. But, compared with the other Australian capitals, it is far from what it ought to be; a healthy and charming place, it has been hurt by the Australian Navigation Acts. In the days of its sea prowess, it was the second city of Australia. At that period, too, the great epoch in United States whaling had reached its peak.
Of 186 whale-ships visiting the Bay of Islands in 1836, no less than ninety-eight were American. By 1846 the American whaling fleet had become a navy of over 700 vessels with a total tonnage of 230,000 and it was almost entirely engaged in the Pacific. The eight years between 1846 and 1854 transcended all others in Pacific Sperm whaling. It was at the very height of this phase that the story of Moby Dick was published - reason enough why it should ever remain the great whaling classic.
My reader must go elsewhere for the adventures of the New Bedford and Nantucket whalers - but since I have strolled through the streets of New Bedford and Nantucket and compared them with their modern successor - Sandefford in Norway, since I have visited their famous relics and even sat in the Whalemen's Bethel where Melville listened to the sermons for sailors, I must be pardoned for personal impressions. These places were so closely connected with Australian whaling.
By 1840 Nantucket had gained a population of 10,000 - a remarkable crowd for a small islet which to-day only boasts 3000. The relics of those days of nearly one hundred years ago in the way of houses, stately trees, and a peculiar air of refinement, suggest a substantial old trade and at least some seafaring types who, as I have shown in these pages, were worthy of much admiration. Everything wanted in whaling was made at hand. Ships and boats were built ; there were ten rope works, thirty-six oil and candle houses, several tanneries, iron and brass foundries, sail lofts, blacksmiths, and twenty-two cooper shops where barrels were made. Nantucket was the first place to manufacture sperm oil and candles. To-day all is gone except for a few museum fragments. No - that is not true. There is the character of their descendants! I like the Nantucketers, and those men of New Bedford who took me to their hearts at a real New England "Clambake."
New Bedford had caught up on Nantucket about 1829, and with far better harbour facilities developed an amazing trade so that, in 1838, 170 whalers were owned there. It was the world's greatest whaling port, and its peak can be definitely fixed - the year 1857, when no less than 329 vessels were engaged and four or five might make port in one day after a three or four years' voyage.
[I have a note here, by the way, that one of Nantucket's most successful whalers was a Captain Charles Grant, who rounded Cape Horn at the age of eleven, and spent fifty-six years on whale-ships, accompanied for thirty years at sea by his wife. He died in 1906 at the age of ninety-one years nine months! New Bedford could bring up many names of heroes, but probably one will suffice - Captain George Fred. Tilton, who only died in 1932 at the age of seventy-one. In 1897 he walked 3000 miles through an Alaskan winter to save the lives of 200 men on four whale-ships caught in Arctic ice. He was probably the only man, as he himself put it, who ever walked home from a whaling voyage.]
So those palmy days of Hobart Town, when fortune came to many owners, coincided with the wonderful years of the Nantucket Yankee. In marked contrast to all this the English whaling companies in the southern Pacific and adjacent seas were in a bad way. In 1821 Great Britain had 322 whale-ships, of which 164 were engaged in the southern fishery. [footnote 2] In 1841 there were only forty-one ships in the whole southern fishery, and the number of men had diminished from 12,800 to 3000.
By 1848 the New South Wales-owned ships also began to falloff. The annual value of the oil alone shipped to England from Sydney during the years 1832-41 had varied between £150,000 and £200,000. The total was down to £28,000 by 1850 and was only £15,500 in 1853, when the export of gold reached £1,781,000.
But one Sydney shipowner who has left his mark in Australia's maritime history, played no small part in whaling during the years when the Hobart Town men were so much alive and the Yankees were hard at work. I refer to the famous "Bobbie Towns" (the Hon. Robert Towns, M.L.C.). Whaling was only an incident in his life's enterprises. There is too much to be said about the man to attempt anything like a complete story of him here. His whaling ventures have, however, much to offer that is of unusual interest ; and his letters seem quite unknown.
Bobbie Towns was born in Northumberland in 1791 and started life as an apprentice on a collier. By the age of twenty he was master of the vessel, and at twenty-three traded in the Mediterranean. He visited Australia in his own ship at the age of twenty-six and then traded regularly between England and her distant colony. In 1842 he retired from the sea, settled in Sydney (he had previously married a sister of William Charles Wentworth), and became a pioneer in South Sea trading and in Queensland industries. Townsville is named after him.
Towns settled down as the Sydney shipping agent of a certain Robert Brooks of London. He was soon intrigued by the possibilities of the Sperm-whale "fishery" in the Pacific, and by 1847 had his own ships in the industry. Afterwards, he purchased and fitted out whale-ships in conjunction with his London partner. It is interesting to note that the whaling ventures of these two men were kept quite apart from their other shipping trade.
From 1847 onwards there are references to Towns's ships refitting at his wharf in Port Jackson. But the only real information occurs in interesting notes which lie buried in Towns's letters. From these letters we can gather something of the difficulties which faced the Australian whale-ship owner of this date. These difficulties were caused by events occurring on land (the gold discoveries), as well as at sea. From them, too, I have made a surprising discovery - Towns's connexion with an English whaling enterprise south of New Zealand. [Referenced here Page 132]
A letter to Robert Brooks, dated 26 March 1849, seems to indicate an unexpected advantage that Hobart Town possessed over Sydney, for Towns had to go to Hobart Town to get his whale-ships insured. Thus he writes :
On 5 April, however, he wrote in quite different vein, for news had come to the effect that, after all, the wrecked Scamander had been covered by a Hobart Town insurance company.
In May 1851 he was pessimistic again and wrote the following letter to Robert Brooks, in which he reflects on the character of the officers of English whale-ships :
So Towns owned thirteen whale-ships at this time. His main difficulty from now on seemed to be concerned with the growing inability to find satisfactory crews, and that ever present trouble in the co1onies - obtaining sufficient casks for oil!
Here is evidence too that Sydney whalers also took part in the remarkable Bering Strait whale-fishery, to which reference will be made later. [Referenced here Page 127]
Sydney shipping seems to have been hit twice by gold discoveries ; for in 1851 Towns, complaining once again of the way his ships were held up by lack of crews, writes :
In the same letter Towns refers again to competitors, other Sydney whale-ship owners - Campbell, and Flower, Salting & Co., the former with three of Boyd's old ships.
Then came the gold discovery in Australia. On 20 November 1851, he writes :
Two years later the conditions, instead of being better, were worse.
In 1856 Towns still had ten whale-ships but the trade was by then very difficult and it is evident he was selling the ships whenever he could get a fair price. Two extracts from the last of Towns's letters in which I find mention of whaling may serve to point the conclusion.
The term Rotten Rotten Row in the above letter refers, according to a newspaper of the time, to the row of Towns's unemployed vessels lying off Moore's Wharf. A newspaper cutting of much later date says that an old Sydney lady explained in a letter written in the fifties that "Rotten Row was not an aristocratic promenade as in London but a place so named on account of the odours from whale-ships in the vicinity." "Bobbie Towns, Rotten Row," were certainly bywords of Sydney in the fifties.
Reference has been made here and there to the whaling which went on in the bays of Western Australia. They were indeed frequented by American ships, and one may, hear surprising stories about them on visiting some old settlement such as that at Flinders Bay, south-western Australia. I discovered one note, however, of the last period of this whaling in an old edition of a New Bedford newspaper whilst I was in that port. It bears the date of 1859 and refers to a case at law where a "native of the colony and a subject of the queen" brought an action against a Captain Cumiskey of the whale-ship Lapwing of New Bedford on the grounds that aliens were not allowed to whale in the bays of the colony. The plaintiff set out that he had made it his business to catch whales in Fremantle Bay with boats from the shore, and that in November 1858, the defendants had frightened and driven away a whale he was pursuing. The jury gave the Western Australian colonist a verdict for £300 damages. A new trial was demanded, and it came out that although the plaintiff had chased the whale for three miles he was never quite near enough to throw his harpoon. He said the defendants then sent a boat in pursuit, and by following in its wake they did the most effective thing to frighten it, "because a Right whale can only see behind it!"
No other witness agreed about the whale only being able to see behind, since the eyes were on the sides of the head.
The judge held that the verdict was defective, and quoted from certain authors at length, finally deciding that the whalers had the right to enter the bays and that the Americans were alien friends to whom, by the laws of England, almost all the privileges of natural born subjects were granted. A surprising statement and a curious sidelight on the beginnings of Western Australia.
A New Bedford log-book of the ship Congress, Captain Hamblin, describes, too, how his ship reached Flinders Bay, south-western Australia, on 17 June 1857. The captain went up the river shooting and got ten black swans, and later on found a wreck of a Liverpool ship, the Enterprise.
A month later the Congress arrived at Frenchman's Bay [See page 192], and lay there whilst they got water and vegetables and saw Humpback whales in the harbour. [This was the spot where I saw my first Humpback whale captured by modern methods, fifty-six years afterwards. - W.J.D.]
There can be no question after reading this and other logs, of the briskness of American whaling round the Leeuwin. In the log of the Roman which left New Bedford on 23 August 1859, there is a description of how the captain sold glassware to some "ladies of the colonists" at Port Vasse, Geographe Bay, and then occurs the following description, the kind of thing one hopes to get out of whalers' log-books but so rarely finds:
It was in these days that Lord Howe Island - one of the world's most beautiful islets - was first definitely inhabited. Whale-ships used to visit it for water. Goodness knows what ships have anchored in the shelter of its lagoon. It was easy to find, for its high peaks are visible from a great distance. At least one ship, the Wolf, was wrecked on its reefs (1837). In 1834 three men with three Maori women and two boys were landed from the whaler, Caro1ine, and became the first permanent settlers.
So far as Hobart Town is concerned, we have more information about its great whaling days than has survived elsewhere in Australia. Whaling played a much more significant and lively part in the everyday life of this settlement. For the young sailormen it was a means of livelihood with a spice of adventure about it. But the owners were interesting, too. Probably the biggest of all owners and one of the most notable figures was Alexander McGregor, who owned amongst other whale-ships, the Derwent Hunter, the Flying Childers, and for a time, the famous Waterwitch, and the Helen. He was the last of the big owners, indeed his ships were sailing long after the decline of whaling had set in, as you will see on page 138. The most successful of all in the whaling game were the Bayley Brothers. Captain Charles Bayley, who was both master and owner, seemed either to have had unusual luck or perhaps what is more likely, an uncanny knowledge of whale migration routes. I cannot list all the owners here, albeit I should mention among the early pioneers the Watsons, John Lord, Thomas Brown, Askin Morrison, and Charles Seal. The last named owned the Litherland and the Sussex and was part owner of the Aladdin and other famous vessels.
Lord was the owner of probably the first Hobart Town barque to go deep-sea whaling, in 1829.
One of Hobart's greatest men, Dr W. L. Crowther, medico, naturalist, and statesman, was an owner of whale-ships.
Few of the general public ever visit the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London ; and I do not suppose many medical men of to-day who visit the place ever give more than a superficial glance to the whale skeletons there or ponder over their history.
Oh, you museum specimens in musty galleries, what tales you could tell if you had speech! What forgotten perils of sea and land, of human conflict and microbic pestilence, accompanied your capture! But you are mute, and, anyhow, museum galleries are too dull and prosaic for our brave new world.
To return to Dr Crowther. He was born in 1815, and as a boy of ten came out to Tasmania with his parents in the ship Cumberland. His father was a doctor and young Crowther was destined at an early age to follow in the practice. But this necessitated a voyage to England to qualify, and there seemed little chance of finding the means. The youth found his own way out of the difficulty. He trapped or shot reptiles, birds, and mammals of Tasmania, and got together a comprehensive collection, a large part of it alive. With this he sailed for England by the barque Emu in 1839 and eventually reached London. The Earl of Derby purchased the collection for £400 and so his fees at St Thomas's Hospital were assured.
Whilst in England, Crowther became a friend of Sir William Flower, who was afterwards to be director of the great Natural History Museum of London. It is not surprising that when he returned to Hobart, settled down in practice, and came to possess his own whaling fleet, he sought cetacean specimens for the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, the British Museum, and others. He sent no less than fifteen complete whale skeletons to England including that of a 6o-foot Sperm whale.
I am deeply indebted to his grandson, the present wellknown Dr Crowther, of Hobart, for some reminiscences left by the old whaling doctor, and also for copies of log-books of his ships. Altogether Crowther owned six whalers. The Elizabeth Jane was a smallish schooner and what is known as a two-boat ship, meaning that she carried only two whale-boats. She was, however, the most successful of his ships. Apparently she usually cruised in Tasmanian waters, based on Port Davey, and "tried out" the blubber on shore. On one occasion, two days out from Hobart Town, she captured a large Sperm whale, the oil from which sold for £1300. The Sapphire was a four-boat ship but an unlucky one, and the Isabella seldom paid for her outfit. The barque Offley was the largest and had the most interesting history of all. Originally, she had been in the Oporto wine trade, then she carried timber and finally was converted for whaling.
The Velocity, a two-boat ship, was built for the New- foundland fisheries and was a particularly fine sea-boat. It is not possible in this book to find room for all the stories that could be told about the Hobart ships and their doings in the fifties and sixties; but space may well be found for a yarn about one voyage of the Offley. It illustrates at least the perseverance of the old-time adventurers.
Crowther had heard that the Americans had enjoyed a lucrative business in sea-elephant oil at Kerguelen Island and Heard Island. But Heard Island was an open roadstead ; the only possible way to work matters there was to use a small vessel and very heavy moorings. Even then it was only possible to hold out for a very short time. So the whalers arranged partnerships, one ordinary whale-ship taking a small one as tender. The small vessel landed the crew, who killed the sea-elephants and casked the blubber. This was "rafted" out to the tender, which, on being loaded, made for the harbour in Kerguelen Island and transhipped the spoil to her consort, which, in the meantime, had been hunting the sea for whales. Crowther decided to try the American game, too, and in 1858 fitted out the Offley> as the whale-ship and the Elizabeth Jane as the tender - regardless, it is said, of expense.
The Offley reached her destination as arranged, whaling on the way. The Elizabeth Jane got within sight of Kerguelen Island, and then, owing to trouble with the crew who had suffered from the weather, seems to have given up the project (in other words, the men mutinied). Without sighting the Offley, the vessel was sailed to Mauritius, where the boat was suspiciously condemned (although she carried cattle for years afterwards between Madagascar and Mauritius). It was some time, in those cableless days, before news of the Elizabeth Jane's doings reached Crowther at Hobart. Thinking of the waiting Offley, he immediately bought the Flying Squirrel and fitted her out to do what the Elizabeth Jane had been intended for. By reason of the continuous westerlies in high southern latitudes she was sent via the Horn. The crew, however, got tired of this and mutinied, landing at Valparaiso, where the stores were sold, and thence she came slowly home.
The Offley was under Captain J. W. Robinson, one of Hobart Town's best-known whaling captains, and he, being more than surprised at the non-arrival of his tender, landed some of his crew at Heard Island and actually rode it out for about eight months. Sea-elephants were killed but it was impossible to disembark the blubber. On the point of sailing back for Hobart Town, the Offley fortunately met an American schooner, the Mary Powell, which curiously enough was also waiting for her consort. So Hobart and America mated, and between them 400 tons of sea-elephant blubber were obtained. Captain Robinson says he was in a fair way to make up for lost time, but a happy ending was not to be. When ready to start for Christmas Island the Mary Powell lost her cable (through its not being fastened at the inner end - yachtsmen, take note!). She ran on shore under ice cliffs higher than the topmast, and all on board (there were eighteen of the Offley's men besides the crew) would have lost their lives had it not been for a young American sailor who climbed a mast and got out on a yard-arm. When the ship rolled into the cliffs he jumped, cut steps to the top with a tomahawk and hauled up one of the lighter men on a lance warp he had taken with him. These men hauled the next heaviest up and so on till all gained the land. Eventually, after suffering frost-bite, lost toes and much tribulation, the castaways were saved by the Offley which sailed back to Hobart Town. [footnote 3]
But £8000 worth of blubber had gone and the loss on the Offley's trip was over £5000. The tale doesn't end here for the men injured through frost-bite brought an action against Dr Crowther!
On this risky and uncomfortable voyage in the Antarctic seas Captain Robinson had his wife and two young children on board. In a letter written by him forty years afterwards (1898) he concluded with these words :
One survivor at least of this voyage of the Offley) Captain Jack Harrison, was alive at eighty-two years of age in 1928.
The Hobart Town deep-sea whalers of the fifties had their special cruising grounds and some interesting details of these have been given by the present Dr Crowther. [footnote 4]
The Australian Sperm-whaling grounds were demarcated as follows:
Usually, these areas were visited in turn, and American and Hobart ships met almost every other day - for a time. In a note on the products and resources of Tasmania prepared for the International Exhibition of 1862 (and probably written by Crowther), whaling is said to have nearly regained the prominence which it had occupied a few years previously, before the derangement of all industrial pursuits by the gold discoveries. Sixty thousand pounds' worth of sperm oil was exported in 1861 and the trade then gave employment to 700 men. The writer supplies an interesting table of the costs and wages at this date. He says that the owner risked the ship and outfit and for the cruise of twelve or thirteen months, a ship of 250 tons, with three boats, would be worth £5000 when she put to sea. If she obtained 50 tuns of sperm oil, this would bring £4000, which would be divided up as follows :
There you have it all. Twenty-five pounds and food for twelve months can scarcely be called a great wage for risking one's life in whale-hunting. That is what the ordinary seaman got, if he was lucky. He might occasionally, however, get more. The Runnymede secured 100 tuns in nine months and sold it at £110 per ton. The Derwent Hunter in 1860 is said to have obtained a catch selling for £8500 in five months twenty days.
During this period the Hobart oil went to England via Melbourne and so appears no longer in the New South Wales export lists. But the end was approaching.
Hobart Town folk knew in 1860 that the whales were becoming more wild and shy. A few who were still optimistic regarded Hobart Town as situated quite favourably for a continuance of whaling because the trade was becoming more and more difficult for the Americans and northerners whose smaller and smaller profits were eaten up by the long journeys to the prolific regions of the south. They did not dream of the changes that were to be brought by petroleum discoveries and gas lighting.
It is necessary, however, before leaving Hobart's active days to refer to one other exhibition of the perseverance of those Tasmanians - the extraordinary episode of the Bering Strait whaling. Here, right at the other end of the world, a strong hunt for the Greenland Right whale (the Americans and Hobart Town men called it the "Bowhead") had been instigated by the Yankees in 1847. The field was a rich one. Some of the Hobart Town ships were not to be outdone and made the long voyage across the equator to take a hand in it. The Flying Childers, under a famous Captain Lucas, left for those parts in 1851. In the log of the barque Litherland which left Hobart Town on 27 December 1850 for this northern haunt, no less than six Hobart Town whalers are recorded as having actually been spoken in the icy and foggy seas of the north. The Offley was one of them.
One of the most recent whaling logs I have had is that of the Hobart ship, Othello (Captain I. W. Robinson), on a voyage commencing at Hobart Town in 1868 and ending in 1869. This log was kept by the captain himself and contains some very interesting entries. After sailing south of Australia, the Othello turned to the Eastern Grounds and eventually anchored off the Chatham Islands. She obtained 55½ tuns of oil in thirteen months, so presumably the expedition was not unprofitable. The most recent of all logs of the Hobart Town ships which have been available (also lent me by the present Dr Crowther), is that of the Velocity, which sailed under Captain J. W. Robinson's brother, A. B. Robinson, on 13 May 1875. By this time, however, whaling had everywhere become a small and rather isolated occupation. I shall postpone the story of the last of the old Australian whalers to the end of the chapter ; for with strange persistence three fine Australian-owned ships sailed out on whaling adventures in the nineties.
Since the first edition of this book I have seen a little of the other side of this Hobart Town life - the references in American logs to the Hobart ships spoken by them. Thus the Europa in 1867-8 spoke the Runnymede, the Victory, the Planter, the Aladdin, the Waterwitch, the Sydney ship, Robert Towns, and in 1871 gammed with the Velocity.
The general public outside Tasmania often forgets that at the time of the first invasion of Tasmania by white men the island had a native aboriginal population entirely distinct from the "blacks" of Australia, and that not a single representative of that population now exists.
There was a period in the sixties when one man, William Lanne, could say he was the last survivor of a distinct race of human beings. He became a whaler and was for a time on the Aladdin. He sailed his last voyage on the Runnymede, leaving her in 1869 to die at his lodgings in a Hobart inn. It is worthy of note that amongst the chief mourners of the last Tasmanian native were the famous whaling captain of the Waterwitch, Captain J. S. McArthur, and Captain Bayley, the owner of the Runnymede.
It would be possible to spin many more yarns of the adventures of different Hobart ships and their captains - but this would rather over-balance our history without producing facts of general significance. Fortunately, Tasmanian writers are now telling the worth-while stories of their ships.
It is curious that scarcely a paragraph on whaling appears in most histories of Australia. [footnote 6] Surely enough has been recounted here to indicate the important part played by the old seadogs of the whale-ships in the white man's invasion of the southern Pacific. One admission of this importance appears in the following reference to Tasmanian affairs of the early eighties from The Making of the Australian Commonwealth (Bernard Wise) :
By 1870 the absence of the American whalers was seriously felt in Hobart Town as also in Sydney and New Zealand. The American ships had paid well for their stores and refitment. More often than not these payments had been made in desirable goods of American origin, and trade with the United States of America had coupled itself with whaling. In 1871 the New South Wales legislature was encouraged to remit the port charges on whaling vessels in the hope that what was left of the Pacific whaling fleet would again use the port of Sydney. The Provincial Council of Otago offered a bonus of £500 to the first whaler filled up there in 1873. But this was altogether of no avail. The whaling industry was by then in a very bad way indeed.
Whilst all sorts of reasons can be legitimately brought forward to explain the decay of the old trade, it must not be forgotten that in places the whales themselves had been hunted to extinction. Sperm whales are now no longer the special aim of any deep-sea adventurers - they may even have recovered on the high seas from the enormous drain on their "schools" made by the brave Yankee fleet of the fifties. But no modern whaling company wants to spend months in order to pick up a few whales here and there. It could not possibly pay.
A lucky chance placed in my hands a pamphlet published in 1846, which discusses in detail the beginning of the decline in southern Pacific whaling. It was written by the last whaling Enderby, a famous son of the Samuel Enderby so often mentioned in the early pages of this book. Indeed, he was a Fellow and member of the Council of the Royal Society of London, and a pioneer in Antarctic exploration. He made all his captains pay heed to geographical research. The pamphlet in question was the result of a big London effort to organize new whaling ventures which were to be centred in New Zealand and Australia so as to avoid the long sea voyage between England and the whaling-grounds. Charles Enderby had received a somewhat verbose letter asking for his advice :
Enderby explained in his pamphlet which was the reply to this letter that the decay of English whaling in the South Pacific Ocean must be attributed, not to one, but to a combination of causes, and these were enumerated by him as given below:
In explanation of the fourth cause, the writer gives the figures quoted below, which are at the same time a refutation of the criticisms then levelled at British crews and officers. He is trying to show the advantageous position of the Australians in being able to commence whale catching without wasting long months on the voyage to the grounds and the coincident evil effect on the crews. The average quantity of sperm oil and Right whale oil taken during 1845 by American, English, and Australian ships is set out as follows :
The advantage of the colonial position is thus forcibly shown, as also the fact that the British average was equal to that of the Americans except in Right whaling. The competition of Sydney and Hobart ships was definitely regarded as one of the factors which contributed to the decline of the English trade. One might add still another - the lack of protection by British warships. The number of French and American war vessels in the whaling regions is really surprising. (London Journal Commerce} March 1840.)
A decline in Australian whaling was, however, noticeable at this time. Enderby dismisses the fact as a transient consequence of a temporary financial depression in the colony. There is no mention of the possibility of a diminution in the stock of whales. We, however, cannot afford to ignore the latter - it was so obviously apparent in the Australian and New Zealand Bay-whaling industry, and it is beautifully illustrated by a table actually given by the Enderbys in 1846. Its purpose was to show how whaling voyages had increased in duration:
The upshot of all this, the last London whaling activity of the olden times, was the flotation of the Southern Whale Fishery Company, of which Charles Enderby became chief commissioner. Auckland Island, south of New Zealand, was chosen as the new centre. Enderby himself sailed there on the Samuel Enderby of 390 tons, in 1849. A little settlement was made and in 1851 there were nine ships equipped for whaling, and thirty dwellings on shore. Yet after all this thought and discussion the venture was a complete failure. Nothing but trouble occurred and the weather at Auckland Island was continuously vile.
I was surprised to discover from some old letters of Robert Towns, the Sydney shipowner of 1844-73, that Towns became a kind of Australian agent for this London company. Towns supplied Charles Enderby with stores which were shipped from Sydney to Auckland Island and I think he must have been surprised at the quantities ordered for he remarks in a letter that he couldn't think of sending a "tithe of the order" - "only a small portion of the articles most needed." In another letter he hints at queer doings but says he will refer to the matter in a private letter (which, unfortunately, is missing). Robert Brooks, his London partner, seems to have warned him of the serious state of affairs evident at the London end. The Southern Whale Fishery Company soon exhausted its capital and about 1853 it was wound up.
Charles Enderby was accused of bad management (according to The Times of that year), and it looks as if the whole matter ended in ill-feeling and litigation. And this is the last we hear of the Enderbys in the trade of whaling.
Hobart Town whaling in the fifties was no doubt a great speculation, but apparently the odds were not too bad. The owners of the ships were frequently engaged in more than one trade or profession. The following figures, set out in 1858, summarize the "odds" of this Hobart gamble. Thus in one year:
Consequently, most vessels obtained £1800 or over. Charles Seal, a famous Hobart Town owner of whale-ships, was a wealthy man at his death in 1850. Dr Crowther's, general result was made unfavourable by the comparatively unsuccessful voyages of several ships (the Offley, for example). Evidently, all depended upon the master of the ship. The two Captain Bayleys, of Hobart, and Captain Kennedy, were very successful.
It was the fall in the value of whale products which played the main part in ending the old-time whaling.
The discovery that petroleum could be obtained by sinking wells like those for artesian water, and the new method of lighting by gas brought the old game nearer its end. Nothing but a full ship in a short period of time could pay for expenses, yet the voyages were increasing in length and the yields were ever smaller. The decline was precipitated by the American Civil War of 1860, which dealt a severe blow at the New Bedford fleets ; some of the southern privateers even entered the Bering Sea, capturing the whalers there. Then the great discoveries of gold in Australia about this time dislocated the colonial trade ; whilst the poor rates of pay on whale-ships, contrasted with the increasing wages and comforts on trading ships, made it most difficult to obtain energetic crews cheaply. [footnote 7]
But the commercial world was changing rapidly under the influence of a great burst of scientific discovery. There was no room for such uncertain business as old-fashioned whaling beside the red-hot development of great manufacturing industries. Capital was as loath to enter into whaling speculation as young men of good morale were inclined to join the colours. Science had to find new uses for whale-oil, and new inventions and more pioneer work at sea had to bring whale-capture to a greater certainty before whaling was again to excite the everyday world. The days of sails were over ; their ships were done. Masefield has written their epitaph :
Time and again in these pages I have referred to one English whaling firm that played not only a business-like part in this adventurous trade, but excelled others of all nations in its readiness to explore and risk losses in the discovery of new grounds. And so in passing from the old whaling days to the new I am constrained to pause a moment and touch once more upon that English house - Sam. Enderby & Sons ; the printed charts of the world's seas perpetuate its name.
To-day private enterprise seems to become more rare, and business adventurers of the past like the Enderbys are unknown and forgotten. Yet even whaler Melville, a citizen of the United States, went out of his way, in Moby Dick, to write a testimony to that English commercial house. Now that I have read old Sam. Enderby's letters, copies of some of which you have in this book, I find fresh interest in Melville's novel where explicit reference is made to the English firm.
Captain Ahab, of Melville's ship, the Pequod, had visited an English ship, the Samuel Enderby, and had returned. The Englishman was fading out of sight in the distance. Melville writes :
In I778, a fine ship, the Amelia, [footnote 8] fitted out for the express purpose and at the sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape Horn, and was the first among the nations to lower a whale boat of any sort in the great South Sea. The voyage was a skilful and lucky one ; and returning to her berth with her hold full of the precious sperm, the Amelia's example was soon followed by other ships, English and American, and thus the vast Sperm Whale grounds of the Pacific were thrown open.
All honour to the Enderbys, therefore, whose house, I think, exists to the present day ; though doubtless the original Samuel must long ago have slipped his cable for the Great South Sea of the other world.
Yes, the Enderbys were still in existence when Melville wrote. Seeing the part they played in Australian history, I quote some extracts from a letter which one of the last of their active sons wrote to his nephews and nieces in 1874. It is a long letter. I found the copy in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and am not aware that its contents have ever been made public before.
That is how the Enderbys of 1874 regarded the part played by their forefathers in the history of whaling. We salute them - the Enderbys and their seamen, yes and those other British mariners who perhaps unconsciously heroic, coûte que coûte, ventured into the unknown.
I pointed out before that some whale-ships of the olden type continued to sail the seven seas until the most modern era of whaling had been initiated by the Norwegians. Actually, in 1892, there were thirty-two American whale-ships, sailing vessels, in the North Pacific, and Dundee whalers of the same type were in the Antarctic two years later, prospecting for new fields.
Hobart was still represented in these last days and even Sydney came into the picture once again although there had been a complete cessation of whaling from that port. The finale was most interesting, a fitting conclusion to this chapter.
The last two Hobart ships were the Waterwitch and the Helen. The Waterwitch was launched as a British naval vessel, H.M.S. Falcon, in 1820. Her life was long and varied, and after vicissitudes of all sorts, and changes of owners, she was sent out on her last cruise as a whaler in 1894. She had triumphed over waves and fire, and the ubiquitous ship-worm which riddles the best of timbers, during along seventy-four years.
The Helen, the last Hobart whaler, continued the trade later than this. She was a fine looking clipper-barque of 343 tons and could make the pace, for she sailed from Australia to London in less than one hundred days. She was bought about 1867, when two years old, by the well-known Hobart shipping and whaling gentlemen, Alexander McGregor, Captain Charles Bayley, and Captain George Evans. At first she traded to China and then to England for cargo. About 1890 she was sold to Captains W. Folder and William Brown and converted into a whaler.
It was on one of these last cruises when the price of oil was low and the chances of a good capture poor, that the Helen's master and crew showed that the old spirit of the sea had not been lost. The barque was anchored at Campbell Island, south of New Zealand, in the shelter of Perseverance Harbour, on 3 May ; unfavourable weather for whaling having been experienced for several weeks. Whales had been seen nearly every day but to the chagrin of the crew the boats could not be lowered for a chase in the rough sea. On 3 July, the first and second mates walked across the island to Nor'-west Bay and to their excitement saw whales there in numbers. It was, however, too unsafe to take the Helen round there. It so happened that a steamer, the Southern Cross, of the Newnes-Borchgrevink Antarctic Expedition, was discovered taking whales in the vicinity, although this ship was not fitted up for "cutting in" or "try-ing out." So an agreement was fixed up that the Southern Cross should procure whales in Nor'-west Bay and tow the carcasses to the Helen for treatment. The Southern Cross expedition was to receive the whalebone and a moiety of the oil in return. Several whales were shared in this way, but eventually the steamer had to leave for New Zealand.
Captain Folder of the Helen then made several attempts to send his boats round to Nor'-west Bay, but the weather always triumphed over him, until finally he evolved the extraordinary plan of taking his boats overland! Two boats were conveyed four miles through the undergrowth over hilly country with an elevation of at least 500 feet, and then, with a camp at the bay, more whales were chased and captured despite the dangerous landing-place. It was fortunate that whalebone was of some value at that time for nothing else could be obtained from these whales, and the Helen, still weatherbound, could make no contact with the men. [footnote 9]
Eventually, it became clear that whaling could not go on in this way. The Helen had another spell as a cargo carrier running between the Australian States and New Zealand, and just before the war was condemned at Melbourne. She is now, alas, a hulk not so far from that port.
THE LAST SYDNEY WHALERS AND THE CURIOUS STORY OF THE COSTA RICA PACKET
This brings me to the last Sydney whale-ships, the Costa Rica Packet and the Phillis. The former deserves special notice for it is not exaggerating to say that she made history. You may not find her story in books on whaling but you will see her name in tomes on international law. Apart, however, from the extraordinary interest of her last voyage, she has provided some of the finest photographs I have seen of the old whaling days. Usually, the old ships and methods have had to be sketched with pen and pencil, "camera days" are essentially modern.
Sydney's interest in whaling had practically ceased with the seventies. In the next decade, however, another act was played by one lone pioneer who endeavoured to revive the old industry in New South Wales.
Captain John Bolton Carpenter was an American by birth who had entered the American whaling industry at an early age. In Yankee whale-ships he sailed the Pacific Ocean from its northen ice boundary to the Antarctic, but the "grounds" he knew best were those of the Malay Archipelago. In 1863, however, he severed his connexion with the United States altogether, mainly on account of the disaster which had spelt ruin to so many American whalers at this time - the Civil War between the Northern and Southern States. After this he became a naturalized British subject and took up trading amongst the South Sea Islands and in the Malay Straits. Through the whole of this trading period, however, his interest in whaling never lapsed, and it is not surprising that on his passages to and fro he took constant note of date and place of occurrence of the whales.
In 1887 Captain Carpenter was selected to be master of the Costa Rica Packet, when she was fitted out for whaling.
The Costa Rica Packet was a wooden barque of 531 tons, so she was no small ship for a whaling vessel. She had been built at Guernsey in 1861 and registered at London. In 1887 she was purchased by a syndicate of Sydney citizens and was registered as owned by Messrs Burns Philp & Co. Her first voyage as a whaler was apparently a successful one. It was stated that Burns Philp in 1889 obtained £2600 per ton for the whalebone taken by Captain Carpenter and in quite a short period whales to the value of £15,000 had been captured. The Costa Rica Packet departed on her second whaling voyage in 1891 ; and she looked a very fine craft as she sailed away from Port Jackson. The photographs supply every detail of her appearance and deck equipment. If she returned successfully this time her owners intended to refit steam whaling ships and make Carpenter the commodore of a Sydney fleet. Fate, however, took an altogether unexpected hand in the events of the voyage.
On the first whaling expedition of the Costa Rica Packet, and in the month of January 1888, the vessel then being to the north of an island called Boeroe in the Dutch East Indies, a waterlogged and derelict proa was sighted. The contents of the proa were picked up ; they consisted of thirteen cases of spirits and a tin of kerosene. The proa itself was abandoned as useless. The incident seems very trivial considering what followed from it, and it was quite forgotten until the ship, three years later, came into the same seas.
Now the expedition of 1891 was intended to be a very real success ; in fact, the Costa Rica Packet was so fitted and manned that six boats could be lowered to pursue whales. Her crew was large and said to be unusually efficient. The days passed by, tropical seas were reached and the Sperm whaling season drew near. The vessel made the Moluccas and the captain, not suspecting in the least that any trouble was in store for him, put into Ternate for provisions and a doctor. On going ashore, however, Carpenter was arrested, and that, too, in a most arbitrary fashion. He was taken to Macassar, 1000 miles away from his ship and officers, despite his protests and an offer to find security to the extent of £8000. He was badly treated, incarcerated with native soldiers and "condemned Europeans," and would not even have known the nature of the charge impending against him had it not been for a friend. Later on he was informed that he would be arraigned on a charge of piracy or theft. Eventually, after nearly a month of delays and arguments, he was turned unceremoniously out of gaol as the result of representations made on his behalf by the Govenor of the Straits Settlements. No explanation or apology was made and he was left to find his own way back to Ternate as best he could.
In the meantime, the whaling-season in the Moluccas had commenced, but the Costa Rica Packet could do nothing without Captain Carpenter on board. By this time, too, three officers had been taken away to give evidence. The ship's sails and rigging rotted in the sun and the damp tropical atmosphere. Mosquitoes made their presence felt at night and left the germs of malaria in their victims. The crew's morale disappeared under the prolonged period of idleness. The chief officer was unable to maintain discipline in the mutinous crowd who found that nothing they did on board ship would be objected to by the Dutch authorities.
When Captain Carpenter arrived back at Ternate he found his ship in a mess and most of the crew ill. He himself was now unfit for a whaling voyage so he sailed the neglected vessel to Singapore and sold her there for £1250 ; she had cost the owners £8930. Apparently, that was the end of the sailing days of the Costa Rica Packet.
It is now that the adventure assumes international proportions. The owners of the ship were naturally incensed at what had occurred. The Government of New South Wales could not permit this high-handed action by a foreign power in such close proximity to the colony to pass unheeded - it was an insult to the British flag. The attention of the Imperial Government was called to the matter, and, ultimately, after inquiries had been made in order to assess the damages and to obtain full particulars of what had occurred on both voyages, the British Gvernment made a strong claim against the Government of the Netherlands for compensation for loss incurred by owners, master, and crew in consequence of the breaking up of the voyage and also compensation for the imprisonment of the master.
The British claim was based on the grounds that the picking up of the proa had taken place on the high seas and outside the territorial waters of the Dutch, and furthermore, that there were no reasonable grounds for the arrest.
The Dutch Government was not disposed to give in, and various contentions were made to uphold the action of their overseas officials. It was chiefly maintained that the Dutch Court had jurisdiction because the goods taken "were stolen on board a Netherlands Indies vessel and because they were sold within its territory." (Captain Carpenter was said to have sold part of the spirit at Batjan. He had denied this and said that owing to the drunkenness of the crew he had actually found it necessary to throw the stuff overboard.)
The Dutch also maintained that the seizure of the proa had taken place within three miles of the shore "and that even if the seizure had taken place outside the limit of three miles, it might still be considered as within territorial waters since the three-mile limit applied only where established by a law or by an international convention." This was serious indeed - the old three-mile conception of territorial waters being almost a sacred tradition of British rule. But to bring a derelict proa drifting dangerously over the seas within the principle of a vessel sailing under the national flag was too much! The case went to The Hague and finally it was agreed to submit the matter to the determination of one arbitrator who was to be nominated by Russia. The award (by Professor de Martens) was pronounced in 1897 and, as indicated in my first sentence, It became a decision of importance in international law. Merchant vessels whilst on the high seas, were to be regarded as "detached portions of the territory of the State whose flag they bear ; and are, in consequence, amenable only to their respective national authorities for acts done on the high seas." The principle of the three-mile limit was affirmed. What is more to the point it was found that the proa was taken outside the limit of territorial waters and that amongst other things the Dutch couldn't prove the identity of the proa, nor show reasonable causes for the arrest. The Netherlands had to pay an indemnity of £8550 together with costs.
So ends this little episode which all but marked the finale of old-time whaling from the port of Sydney. Even in the conclusion we are reminded of the risks run by the early Pacific whalers when they had to land at unknown and uncivilized places for fresh water and provisions. In this case, however, the native cannibals are represented by the officials of a European outpost in the distant tropics. The last whaling enterprise to be mentioned in this section is purely of historic note.
The Phillis was a brig owned and fitted out by Lane Brothers of Sydney, which port she left in March 1895 under the command of a Captain Young, who had been chief officer of the Costa Rica Packet on her last voyage.
The ship made south and cruised in Tasmanian waters for about seven months during the bad winter. The crew had no luck, and two men were lost through a boat capsizing in Port Davey. Eventually she returned to Sydney - a "clean" ship. Captain Young, still somewhat of an optimist, made another attempt from Sydney in 1896 with a small steamer. One whale was caught but instead of removing the blubber at sea, in the old-time manner he proceeded to tow the whale to Sydney. By the time they got to Sydney Heads only the bones were left - the sharks had got the rest!
This was the last whaling effort made by Sydney adventurers.
It must not be imagined that Hobart men waited for the decline of Bay whaling before venturing on deep-sea whaling. The first Hobart deep-sea whaler - the Caroline - sailed down the Derwent in 1829. Then in the early thirties they combined Bay whaling in New Zealand with deep-sea whaling.
The southern fishery covers more than South Pacific whaling.
A sea-elephant was brought back alive and exhibited on the Regatta Ground.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1919.
The U.S.A. whalemen also used the term "Middle Grounds" for this area which they frequented.
I mean general histories. There are, of course, some most excellent historical researches into the events of the old whaling days.
In 1843 according to a South Australian publication of that time the ordinary seaman on a whale-ship wai getting 1/60 lay, and this on what was regarded as a smallish yield for a six-months' voyage worked out at £2 11s. 10d. per month, less expenses. At the same date the English ships were paying about £1 8s. per month. (This is drawn from an average of lucky and unlucky ships.) The American whale-ships were probably the worst in every way at this time, the seamen's average on certain picked ships varying between £1 per month and £1 12s., with every possible chance of knavery over slopchest deductions. At the same period, according to Enderby, merchant seamen were earnIng £2 to £3 per month.
See page 1. Melville has also the date wrong by ten years.
I am indebted to J. E. Philp, Esq., of Lindisfarne, Tasmania, for this and other information.