The Dundee Whalers: 1750-1914

The Dundee Whalers: 1750-1914

The Dundee Whalers: 1750-1914

The Dundee Whalers: 1750-1914

Synopsis

Exploring what is socially, morally, and ethically unacceptable to many people today, this book looks at the rugged, hard-muscled Dundee crews who launched the Scottish city's whaling interests 250 years ago in 1753 and lived with the ever-present prospect of danger, deprivation, and death. Documenting the Dundee captains' and the city's whaling fleet's permanent place in the geography of the world, this book details how the ports of Cape Adams, Cape Milne, Arctic Bay, and Eclipse Sound recall an era when the city's heroic adventurers discovered new routes and made new friends, but seldom sailed far from danger. Moreover, the Dundee fleet is shown to have excelled as polar exploration ships, providing vessels for Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Admiral Byrd, leaving a permanent reminder of the city's historic role at Dundee Island, Antarctica.

Excerpt

The wrecks of 40 Dundee whalers lie beneath the ice of the Arctic whaling grounds. Almost without exception the stout, woodenhulled ships of the town met their fate crushed by converging floes, swelling the number of vessels that had 'left their bones in the battlefield of Melville Bay'.

The rugged, hard-muscled Dundee crews who launched the city's whaling interests 250 years ago in 1753 lived with the ever-present prospect of danger, deprivation and death. A harpooned whale could upset a flimsy whaleboat, dumping men into freezing water that killed them in seconds, but the greatest fear was being imprisoned in ice. Ships 'beset' offered only a terrible ordeal, leaving sailors stranded in an unknown land with few skills essential for survival. Many men lost limbs from frostbite or faced the 'death monster' scurvy. James Mcintosh of the Chieftain watched four comrades drinking seawater in his stranded open boat and die one by one, insane. Left to his loneliness, he ate his hat and survived, but had both frostbitten legs removed on his return to Dundee. Journals written by numbed fingers tell of the barely living taking off the clothes of those who dropped dead in front of them. After one Newfoundland disaster 25 bodies lay in a frozen mass and had to be cut apart and thawed before being placed in coffins.

Captains and crews took themselves to these limits of human endurance in order to reap the enormous profits of the catch. Arctic whaling was a means to acquire wealth, and for the participants it was often as profitable as it was dangerous, a journey of exhilaration, a life of adventure and of hard-earned success. Whaling anticipated the wealth of the North Sea era of oil and gas and of industrial plastics. Whale oil lit up British cities and rural lamps, lubricated the Industrial Revolution, provided the soap to wash off factory grime and eventually smoothed the process of jute production in Dundee. At the Dundee quayside whalebone changed hands for up to £3000 a ton as the expanding Victorian middle classes demanded waisttightening undergarments. So the men who signed articles in the . . .

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