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The Old Whaling Days



Only four American whalers of the 1837 season were reported on the South Island coast in 1838. Of these the Gratitude and Erie had gone home and were back on another whaling voyage, the Rosalie and the Mechanic were the only ones lingering on to complete their cargoes. In addition to the Gratitude, there were, of the 1836 fleet, four others, which had gone home, discharged their cargoes, and returned to the New Zealand bays. These were the Erie, the Friendship, the Vermont, and the Warren. The Erie, which was the pioneer American bay whaler on the New Zealand coast, was therefore on her third voyage. In all we find records of twenty-four American whalers, of which New Bedford sent 7, Warren 4, Fairhaven and British America 2 each, and Plymouth, Wilmington, Salem, Rochester, Bristol, Poughkeepsie, Newport, Fall River, and Nantucket 1 each; a sure sign—the spread of the ports—that the New Zealand trade was proving very profitable to the Americans.

At the New Zealand end a well-marked alteration had taken place in the bays to which the vessels resorted. Instead of crowding into Cloudy Bay, as had been done in 1836, or spreading evenly over all the bays, as had been done in 1837, the American whalers showed a preference for Kapiti Island, Banks Peninsula, and Bluff Harbour: treating Mana Island, Cloudy Bay, Otago Harbour, Molyneux bay, Stewart Island, Preservation Inlet, and Chatham Island as minor stations.

The following table will give a very fair idea of the distribution of the fleet throughout the year:—

Station Vessel. Home Port. Captain.
Stewart Island Gratitude New Bedford Fisher
Preservation Bay Fortune Plymouth Goodwinpage 303
Bluff Alexander Barclay New Bedford Norton
Rosalie Warren Pickens
Lucy Ann Wilmington Parker
Izette Salem Hall
Molyneux Fortune Plymouth Goodwin
Otago Columbus Fairhaven Ellis
Friendship Fairhaven West
Akaroa Rosalie Warren Pickens
Vermont Poughkeepsie Howland
Honqua New Bedford Mosher
Gold Hunter Fall River Estes
Rajah New Bedford Nickerson
Averick New Bedford Stetson
Port Cooper Friendship Fairhaven West
Shylock Rochester Taber
Bowditch Bristol Ramsdell
Rajah New Bedford Nickerson
Cloudy Bay Warren Warren Lewis
Erie Newport Dennis
Montano Nantucket Sayer
James Steward Brit. Amer. Gardner
Mechanic Brit. Amer.
Mana Island Adeline New Bedford Brown
Kapiti Warren Warren Lewis
Luminary Warren Mayhew
Atlas Warren Russell
Adeline New Bedford Brown
Chatham Island Rebecca Sims New Bedford Ray

Stewart Island may be ignored as a whaling ground. The Gratitude arrived there on 10th October with four families or parties who had, some time before, settled at King George's Sound, Western Australia, and, desiring to shift their quarters, had taken advantage of the American whaler calling in there to shift in a body. They consisted of the Cheyne family, the Skinner family, and Messrs. Townshend and Robinson. It was at first reported in Sydney that they had purchased Stewart Island, but as they made their way to Sydney later on, it is more than page 304 probable that Port Jackson was their ultimate destination, and that they were utilising the best means at their disposal for getting there.

At the Bluff, the Alexander Barclay, the Rosalie, the Fortune, and the Lucy Ann, were whaling at the opening of the season. The Rosalie had come from Sydney, where she had been driven in quest of provisions, having before that been at Akaroa, but she does not appear to have waited long at the Bluff. By 11th July the others had been joined by the Salem whaler Izette, the first whaler fitted out from that port in the effort to establish the whale fishery in Salem, which, though one of the greatest shipping ports in America, had never cultivated this branch of trade until 1831. The celebrated Joseph Peabody was one of her owners. These vessels did practically all their whaling for this season at the Bluff, and our meagre knowledge of their movements is obtained chiefly from “Johnny” Jones' captain—Bruce—when reporting the arrival of the Magnet at Sydney. American journals never spread themselves to give whaling news, and even scraps of information are only to be got when a vessel filled in the bay and sailed direct for home. If the last barrel was stowed away out on the banks no bay news was recorded.

Captain Wm. Wells reported in Sydney that the Fortune was to sail from Molyneux Bay for home on 14th November with a cargo of 1500 bar. of oil and 10 tons of bone. Why she did not reach her destination until thirteen months afterwards the author cannot say, unless, as the “Sydney Monitor” reported, she was merely refitting at the Molyneux, and the statement of her being bound home was premature.

Otago did not appear to present very many attractions to the Americans. The Columbus was the only whaler to spend the full season there. The Friendship, the other American reported there, left some time in July for Port Cooper. The Columbus sailed direct home, a full ship.

The Rosalie called in at Akaroa, on her road to Sydney for provisions, on 20th February, and while there she page 305 relieved the necessities of Captain Hempleman whose station at Piraki was very hard pressed for stores. Captain Pickens himself visited Piraki on 22nd and 23rd February. He reached Sydney on 19th March and sailed again on the twenty-eighth. Another American whaler visited Akaroa on 1st May, but details are not available. Our information about the Vermont, the Honqua, the Gold Hunter, and the Rajah, is obtained from the first-named, on her arrival at New York, when her captain reported that he had left the others at Akaroa. She took 125 days on her passage, which would place all four at Akaroa on 29th May. On 4th August the Gold Hunter and the Honqua were still at Akaroa, the Rajah at Port Cooper, and the Averick, mentioned now the first time, at Akaroa. Hempleman's log, which might have given us valuable information about the movements of the Americans at Akaroa, is not written up for more than a small portion of this whaling season.

In the case of Port Cooper the Governor Bourke, of Sydney, reported the four vessels mentioned in the table as being all full, and ready to sail for home. The Friendship had come up from Otago, and the Rajah round from Akaroa, but of the other two we have no information further than their presence there. The Rajah left on 4th August for the Bay of Islands, and the next day the Shylock sailed direct for home, reaching her destination on 6th December. She reported on arrival that the two left behind wanted three whales each to fill up.

The Warren is reported to have narrowly escaped shipwreck at Cloudy Bay in January. The Montano arrived there on 20th February and the Mechanic, a full ship, the following day. Two Americans, names not given, are stated to have been at Cloudy Bay in June. These last-named were probably the Erie and the James Stewart, as these two vessels sailed from the Bay on 26th December for the ocean whaling. The Erie was our old pioneer whaler from Newport, and the James Stewart was from British North America. From the great falling-off in whaling here it was evident that the Americans had had enough of it.

page 306

The Commander of H.M.S. Pelorus found two American whalers at Mana Island in September, but the Adeline, whose captain gave every assistance on the occasion of the murder of Captain Cherry, is the only one we can identify.

The Luminary and the Warren “fished” at Kapiti during the season, as they are recorded from American sources as being there on 1st June, and from Sydney sources, as having sailed with the Adeline for the sperm fishery, on 20th October. The Atlas was a tender to the Luminary and the Warren, both of which vessels were under the one proprietary.

The only American known to have visited Chatham Island during 1838 was the Rebecca Sims. It is of her third visit there that we have particulars. On arrival the Natives failed to come on board, as had been their wont on former occasions, and Captain Ray, astonished at his treatment, went ashore to learn the cause. He was not long in finding out that they had taken and burned the Jean Bart, a French whaler, and were fearful of European vengeance for their misdeeds. From the information which Captain Ray picked up, he came to the conclusion that the Jean Bart had been taken shortly after anchoring, and that the Natives, who had come on board in great numbers, with the design of taking possession of the ship, had seized advantage of the moment when the men were occupied furling the sails. It was thought that the Natives had seized some of the whaling lances and used them against the crew, as some clothes which had belonged to the French sailors, and which were found on the Natives, had gashes in them as if made by cutting instruments. They were also seen to be smeared with blood, when obtained by the men of the Rebecca Sims. The Americans also saw ashore a number of the islanders who bore marks of wounds, as though from that class of instruments. From what he saw Ray come to the conclusion that the whole French crew had been massacred. He was told, however, that some of the men had embarked in four boats, and had gone to Pitt Island. He examined this island page 307 with much care; but, though skirting it at less than half a mile distance, saw neither smoke nor other indication of the presence of the unfortunate Frenchmen. It was told to the Americans, by a woman, that a cabin boy of the Jean Bart, found on board after the massacre, had been spared and taken ashore alive. Captain Ray, as soon as possible, set sail for the Bay of Islands, where he found the French corvette, Heroine, on the eve of sailing for Tahiti, and he at once informed Captain Cecille of the awful calamity which had befallen his countrymen.

Captain Ray accompanied Captain Cecille, in the expedition which that officer organised to Chatham Island, and his movements in that connection will be detailed with the doings of the French whalers.

The Rebecca Sims was not a “right” but a “sperm” whaler, and her calls at Chatham Island were only to obtain refreshments for the ship's company. When she arrived home her cargo consisted of only 90 barrels of black oil, but 2490 of sperm. With bay whalers the figures were generally reversed.

The following information is available about the return journeys of the fleet and of their cargoes:—

Ship. Tons. Return. Cargoes in Barrels and Lbs.
1838. Black. Sperm. Bone.
Vermont 292 Oct. 2 200 2600
Shylock 278 Dec. 6 41 2444
Bowditch 398 Jan. 12 300 2400
Friendship 360 Jan. 22 119 2615 28,000
Rajap 250 Jan. 28 310 1649
Columbus 382 Feb. 21 135 3065
Gold Hunter 281 Apr. 10 2200
Lucy Ann 309 Apr. 24 100 2400 24,000
Honqua 330 May 8 2741 25,000
Montana 365 May 30 53 2710
Rebecca Sims 400 Sep. 19 2490 93
Luminary 432 Oct. 2 600 3200
Averick 470 Oct. 3 4200
Gratitude 337 Oct. 27 260 2490 page 308
Fortune 278 Oct. 31 2300
Alexander Barclay 465 Nov. 26 4500
Izette 275 Dec. 20 250 2050
Adeline 329 May 16 100 2400
Warren 382 July 16 235 3065

The cargoes for the 19 vessels mentioned total 49.122 barrels of black oil. or 2585 barrels per ship.