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The Old Whaling Days


It is not suggested that the same condition of things prevailed in the sperm as in the right whaling trade. It did not. In the sperm whaling, British—meaning by that term, fitted out from some port in the United Kingdom—and American vessels, did a very substantial part of the whaling, and Sydney and Hobart Town craft had to be content with a comparatively small, though rapidly increasing, portion. In the right whaling, and more especially in the bay whaling portion of it, as the earlier chapters have shown the reader, very little of the trade on the Southern New Zealand coast was carried on by British vessels. With but few exceptions we have had to deal, up to the present time, with vessels fitted out from, and owned or chartered at, Sydney and Hobart Town. It was the year 1834 which saw the first British and American vessels taking part in the trade.

Why this condition of things prevailed is not difficult to explain. As the whale was persecuted by its captors it left the highways of commerce and sought safety in the less disturbed waters of the South Pacific, far removed from London and New Bedford—the whaling headquarters of Britain and America. Contemporaneous with this removal of the theatre of whaling, came the growth of New South Wales, and the establishment of the cities of Sydney and Hobart Town as ports from which whalers could be fitted out with the greatest ease. As these two ports were much closer to the field of operations than their Atlantic competitors, Australian vessels could spend a longer period of their voyage on the whaling grounds, and it was only a question of time, therefore, for the latter to do more than hold their own in the South Pacific oil trade.

When we come to institute a comparison between page 261 British and American whaling we are face to face with a very different proposition. The headquarters of both were similarly situated in regard to the whaling grounds, and both had to undertake the long voyage going and returning. Both had generations of whalers and whaling experience to draw from. In spite of these resemblances, however, there was really no comparison between the work done by the two countries in the New Zealand whaling trade. The British whaler never was a serious rival of the American. What the cause was the author is not prepared to say, but the fact is established by the number of vessels engaged in the trade, and that it was realised by the British Authorities is shown by the attempts made to place the two countries on an equal footing.

Amongst the schemes put forward to bring about a better state of things, the one which met with most favour was to place on the Statute Book a preferential tariff in favour of whaling products from British fishing. It was pointed out that Britain was the greatest market for whale oil in the World, and, if a substantial duty were imposed upon oil produced by foreigners as against oil produced by British subjects, it would not be profitable to employ foreign men and ships in the trade, and Britain would come into her own.

As a result, legislation (3 and 4 Wm. IV., c. 52) was passed providing that train oil, blubber, spermaceti oil, and head matter, the produce of fish or creatures living in the sea, taken and caught by the crews of British ships, and imported direct from the fishery, or from any British possession, in a British ship, must pay a duty of one shilling per tun. If the above were the product of fish or creatures living in the sea, of foreign shipping, it must pay a duty of £26 12s. per tun. A declaration was required from the master or shipper. The legislation also provided that, to import direct, the vessel importing must have cleared from the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or Man, otherwise the produce must be imported from a British Possession and accompanied by a certificate by the page 262 shipper that it was the produce of fish or creatures living in the sea, taken wholly by British vessels. This legislation was expected to act in the interests of British whaling. What we are interested in is not whether it did what the author of the legislation intended it should do, but what Southern New Zealand questions arose under the legislation, and what effect they produced on our bay whaling trade. We will therefore discuss, in the order in which they arose, the cases affecting Southern New Zealand which came up for settlement by the Board of Customs, London.