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A Savage History

A Savage History: Whaling in the Pacific and Southern Oceans

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    A Savage History
    Book Description:

    Nothing prepares you for your first sight of the world’s largest mammal. Celebrated, revered, studied and increasingly watched for pleasure rather than hunted, whales hold particular allure. Humans have always been in awe of them, but for much of history we have been compelled to dominate and kill them – though like Moby Dick, sometimes whales fight back. A Savage History tells the rich history of whales and whaling. We learn about these highly intelligent and magnificent creatures, and follow the stories of whalers from the eighteenth century who hunted their prey along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, across the Pacific and into the Southern Ocean. The result is a powerful account of a complex and bloody relationship. Although the modern era has seen the end of industrial whaling, as John Newton shows, the work of those who want to protect whales is far from over.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-632-1
    Subjects: Zoology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 9-12)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 13-15)

    It wasn’t until halfway through this book that I saw my first whales. I was immersed in the stories of whaling captains like Eber Bunker and Thomas Melville, the first to kill whales off the coast of New South Wales in 1791, and Melville’s description of the whales off Port Jackson was still fresh in my mind. We did not see the abundance of whales that Melville reports – mainly because he and his fellow whalers set about killing them for the next 180 years – but we did see four pods of humpbacks.

    Nothing prepares you for your first sight of...

  6. ONE The Slaughter of the Leviathan
    (pp. 17-28)

    Imagine. You are one of a crew of six whale catchers who has been lowered from your ship into a light, double-ended wooden whaleboat, about 25 feet long. One of you is trained to throw a harpoon attached to a long line.

    Your aim is to strike the sperm whale you can see, not too far away, swimming leisurely, blowing spray. You must throw the harpoon hard enough to pierce his blubber and be made fast by the hooks in its head. Eventually, if you can survive being dragged behind him while he dives and surfaces, you must kill him...

  7. TWO Whaling in Ancient Times
    (pp. 29-36)

    Perhaps the earliest account of an encounter between whale and human is inIndica,a book about India written by the Greek historian Arrian (95–180 AD), one of Alexander the Great’s historians. The account, written 300 years after Alexander’s epic journey to India in 400 BC, describes Alexander’s men seeing the whales blow, and upon being told what creatures they were, the sailors ‘were so horrified the oars fell from their hands’.

    Whaling began after many encounters with beached whales. Whales have beached on dry land from the beginnings of recorded history, and for about as long they have...

  8. THREE New South Whales
    (pp. 37-54)

    When a sperm whale entered Sydney Harbour in 1790, it set in chain a series of events that could have ended with the death of the first governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip. At the time, the sperm whale was believed to be dangerous and to have, according to chronicler James O’Hara inThe History of New South Wales, published in 1818, a ‘disposition to mischief’.

    A number of boats set off in pursuit of the whale with harpoons but were insufficiently skilled to capture it, although they returned to shore safely. On the other hand, three soldiers who had...

  9. FOUR Whaling Among the Maori and Missionaries
    (pp. 55-74)

    It was our old friend Captain Eber Bunker at the helm of theWilliam and Annwho first entered New Zealand waters with an eye to whaling. During one of his first voyages in the Pacific in 1791, not long after dropping his cargo of convicts off in Sydney, he sailed into Doubtless Bay in New Zealand’s North Island. He was the first but certainly not the last.

    No doubt Captain Bunker saw that there was good hunting to be had in these waters. Schools of humpback, sperm, minke and right whales began to arrive off the west coast on...

  10. FIVE The Business of Whaling
    (pp. 75-84)

    The rewards for killing whales and collecting their oil, baleen and ambergris were high, but so were the costs and risks for men, ships and shipowners. First, the ships had to be built, then outfitted for long journeys, and finally the crew had to be paid, from the loftiest captain to the lowliest cabin boy, so that sufficient profit remained to encourage the owners to do it all over again.

    One of the first inklings of the enormous costs of outfitting a whaler is to be found in Hakluyt’sEnglish Voyages, published in 1598, where there is a list of...

  11. SIX The Pacific Capital of Whaling
    (pp. 85-96)

    Long before the Sydney Opera House was built there, the tip of Bennelong Point was the site of Fort Macquarie, a 40-metre-tall castellated square stone fortress completed in 1821.

    By 1829, whaling ships, many owned by the merchant firm of Cooper & Levy, were discharging their cargo of whale oil, baleen and sailors hungry for the pagan delights of Sydney Town after two years at sea. By Sydney Town, most sailors meant The Rocks, the densely populated section of the town (by 1822, 1200 people lived there) where sailors and convicts first came ashore. By 1830, it was a reasonably...

  12. SEVEN The Floating Abattoir
    (pp. 97-112)

    If catching the whale was an adventure, breaking it down to its component parts – ‘cutting in’ was the whaling term – was dirty, backbreaking drudgery. Be warned: the description that follows is gruesome, but it is the reality of what was done to thousands upon thousands of whales in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    So our story continues. The sperm whale we caught in chapter 1 is now dead and must be got back to the ship. If the ship is to windward, then it can sail to the whale, otherwise the whaleboat must row to the ship, with a 45-tonne...

  13. EIGHT Exploration and the Whaling Boom
    (pp. 117-142)

    It took the Southern Ocean whaler lobbyists – foremost among them Samuel Enderby – less than five years to break the monopoly of the East India Company on these whale-rich waters (see chapter 3). They were, as historian Dan Byrnes points out:

    the first English mariners to do so since England’s long dreaming about the Pacific had activated Drake and Raleigh, the Courteen Association of the 1630s [an earlier attempt to break the monopoly of the East India company], Dampier, Anson, and then Cook and Sir Joseph Banks.

    From the beginning, there was a tangled association between the desires of the whalers...

  14. NINE The Stockbroker and the Artist
    (pp. 143-164)

    The first time Benjamin Boyd arrived in Sydney Harbour aboard his magnificent schooner, theWanderer, crowds thronged to the foreshore to catch a glimpse of him. The last time, it was only his skull that turned up. And even then, it was not what it appeared to be.

    It was 18 July 1842 when theWandererfirst sailed into Sydney Harbour carrying Benjamin Boyd, his brother James and a friend, the artist Oswald Brierly. Boyd was a tall bearded man with the ‘sanguine temperament, exuberant vitality and daring enterprise of the typical adventurer’, according to the artist and diarist Georgiana...

  15. TEN Whaling Craft
    (pp. 165-180)

    Long before there were ugly barques to carry them, hardy seafolk went to sea to hunt whales. As soon as men began to fish, the whale became a target – no, more than a target, a challenge. For example, the Makah People from the north-western corner of the continental United States, along the strait today called Juan de Fuca, put out to sea in cedar canoes that seated six to nine. From these frail craft they hunted humpback whales, which reach around 13 metres in length and weigh 25 to 30 tonnes, with harpoons of yew wood tipped with a mussel...

  16. ELEVEN Life, Food, Booze and Sex
    (pp. 181-196)

    Despite the danger and hardship, there was no shortage of men and boys to go to sea to hunt whales, willingly or unwillingly, for over 100 years. Some were coaxed onboard ships at Port Jackson or Hobart Town with promises of ‘plenty of food and enough grease [money] to set you up for life’. Both promises were far from the truth.

    Many more joined freely in Nantucket, New Bedford or London, some after adventure, others coming from families of whaling seamen. And perhaps these were the strangest recruits of all, because they knew the life that awaited them.

    Life on...

  17. TWELVE Women Go Whaling
    (pp. 197-206)

    It wasn’t always men from stern to bow aboard a whaler. Wives and children often went along, and for a variety of reasons.

    Mary Brewster, who is quoted above, went because of love. Soon after she married her husband William, he sailed away as master of the whaling shipPhiletusand was gone for the usual four years. She stayed at home, but found the waiting unbearable. ‘Oh what is there to fill this aching void’, she wrote, and the next time he took off, she went with him.

    Others went to keep an eye on their husband. While, as...

  18. THIRTEEN Mechanised Slaughter
    (pp. 207-220)

    By the 1850s traditional whaling utilising hand-held harpoons and sailing ships was in deep decline. Exports of whale products from New South Wales in 1840 were valued at £335 000; by 1853 that had declined to £16 000. In that same year, over £1 750 000 of gold passed through dealers. Many whalers became diggers.

    But even before that, the signs were there that whaling was in trouble as an industry. In 1839, wool was the primary export from Van Diemen’s Land; the whales, once seemingly attached to the coast, had all but disappeared. A handful of whalers with primitive...

  19. FOURTEEN The Norwegians in Western Australia
    (pp. 221-228)

    Always on the lookout for new whaling grounds, the Norwegian whaling companies arrived on the north-western coast of Australia in 1912 seeking licences to whale.

    Whaling had been an important industry in Western Australia and, as we have seen, by 1837, two bay whaling companies were operating around the Fremantle area as well as a number of French, American and British whalers operating offshore. But by 1860, as the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania started to adversely affect whale oil prices, their numbers began to thin, and by the turn of the century, there were only a handful left operating....

  20. FIFTEEN Ten Thousand Years of Eating Whale
    (pp. 229-238)

    The Japanese, unlike the Europeans, ate whale meat and utilised just about every part of it for thousands of years. They also developed a unique method of catching whales.

    The Japanese culinary researcher Tetsunosuke Tada presents evidence that the Japanese taste for whale meat began in the Jomon Period (14 000– 1000 BC), somewhere between 8000 and 7000 BC. His evidence is based, firstly, upon the ancient lyric song cycles of the Ainu people, the indigenous inhabitants of Japan from the island today called Hokkaido.

    The first song is from the Kushiro Ainu and describes the following story: ‘There was...

  21. SIXTEEN Japan Against the World
    (pp. 239-252)

    The Japanese learnt well from Commodore Perry. In 1876, they used similar gunboat diplomacy tactics to force Korea to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa, which opened three Korean ports to Japanese trade and granted extra-territorial rights to Japanese citizens.

    Then they learned another lesson: not everybody agrees with you. In this case, the Russians and the Chinese took a dim view of Japanese ascendancy over Korea, and so began the Sino–Japanese war of 1894–95. To everyone’s surprise, perhaps not least the Japanese, they won and gained control over large portions of eastern China. And having embarked on expansionism,...

  22. SEVENTEEN End Game
    (pp. 253-268)

    The Japanese and the Norwegians were reaping fortunes from whaling in the Antarctic in the 1930s. As a result, there was much pressure from business and politics for an Australian whaling industry to be set up with the capacity to hunt whales in the Antarctic. One Japanese whaler, Captain Seizo Kobayashi, said at the time that he could not understand why Australians, ‘who could work the same area with only a fraction of the overheads have not sufficient business acumen to exploit such a source of wealth’. In 1936, the Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson said that, ‘Australia should lose...

  23. EIGHTEEN What Now for Whales?
    (pp. 269-276)

    The narrowly defeated call to overturn a 24-year ban on commercial whaling, at the IWC conference in Agadir, Morocco, in 2010, reminds those who are concerned about the future of these beautiful marine mammals how fragile that future is. Not that this call, initiated by the New Zealand delegate Geoffrey Palmer, and supported by the three whaling countries – Iceland, Norway and Japan – as well as the United States, was meant to usher in a new era of mass slaughter. It was put forward as a compromise. The argument was that the total number of whales killed under such a scheme...

  24. Whaleography
    (pp. 277-298)

    What exactly are ‘these splendid creatures’ which man has hunted on the seas since, according to Richard Ellis inMen and Whales, ‘perhaps as far back as the stone age’?

    Although this is not primarily a book of science or biology, a little background on biological classification will be useful.

    All animals (and plants) are classified according to biological criteria. Let’s take a look at the process, using the sperm whale as an example.

    First is the species (abbreviated to sp., or spp. in the plural) – in the case of the sperm whale,Physeter macrocephalus. In most cases, or after...

  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-300)
  26. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-301)
  27. Picture credits
    (pp. 302-305)
  28. Index
    (pp. 306-310)