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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)


To speak of Samuel Enderby and Sons as being merely shipowners, whalers, merchant princes of London, would fail to do them full justice. Their interests and activities extended beyond the realms of trade, the welfare of the British Empire itself being numbered among their concerns.

The same spirit—patriotic, enterprising, adventurous—which moved Samuel Enderby, actuated his sons; and (in passing) his grandson General “Chinese” Gordon.

A striking eulogy of the Enderbys is given by Herman Melville, who tells of his ship, the “Pequod,” meeting the English whaling vessel, “Samuel Enderby,” named after “the original of the famous whaling house of Enderby and Sons”; “a house,” says Melville, “which in my poor whaleman's opinion, comes not far behind the united royal houses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in point of view of real historical interest.” “The Vigorous Enderbys,” he called them.

In the days when American colonists had the monopoly of sperm-whale fishing, England was their best customer for whale oil and spermaceti. Registered both in London and Boston, the Enderby ships went to and fro, bringing whale oil to England and returning with stores for the American colonists. It happened to be an Enderby ship which, in 1773, brought the famous chests of tea to Boston, where they were emptied into the harbour by angry Americans. The War of Independence which followed this incident put an end, for a time, to America's sperm whale fishing, and British shipowners, now cut off from this source of supply, decided to hunt the sperm whale for themselves. So it came to pass that in 1775, several ships, most of them owned by Samuel Enderby and Sons, were equipped for whaling, and sailed away to hunt in the South Atlantic.

Other whaling ships soon appeared on these waters, their number increasing to such an extent that in the course of ten years or so, the fishing grounds became exhausted. This was the turning point of the Enderby Firm toward New Zealand.