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History of Whaling

Hull vessels where sailing to the Scandinavian Peninsula in the latter part of the 16th century and then in 1618 the King granted the island of Jan Mayen as a fishing station to the Hull Corporation.

Due to the English Civil War and constant claims that the Hull whalers were “interlopers” by the London-based Muscovy Company, the Dutch began to dominate whaling in the late 17th century, but by the first half of the 18th century Hull was growing as a whaling port. James Hamilton equipped a vessel for arctic fishing which sailed from Hull in 1754.

Government bounties and subsidies along with duty placed on imported oil and bone helped encourage the business to grow in England, and in 1766 Samuel Standidge began the investment that laid the foundations of Hull as a major whaling port. War with England, and a blockade during the war with France meant that the Dutch involvement in whaling was effectively dead by the beginning of the 19th century. At this time the Hull fleet made up about 40% of the British whaling fleet.

Whaling Trade in Hull

The whaling trade in Hull peaked around 1820 when 62 vessels returned with the produce from 688 whales worth approximately £250,000. With the amount of trade coming through the city at this time it was no surprise to find manufacturing companies join the rush. On South Street in Hull was Bateman and Bowman’s Whalebone Manufactory that produced all kinds of products ranging from sieves to sofa backings, in a variety of colours.

The next year, however, was a disaster, with 9 vessels crushed in the ice. Many investors withdrew their money as a result and the fleet was reduced by almost a third. In 1822 another 6 vessels were lost and eight others failed to catch a single whale.

By 1868 only two steam powered vessels left Hull, the Truelove and Diana. In 1869 the Diana, the sole remaining vessel sailing from Hull, was wrecked off Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast when returning home. Shortly after this the whaling industry moved to Scotland with a new generation of steamers that ran until the start of the war.

20th Century

At the turn of the 20th century the demand for whale products began to slow. In the 1920s people began to use alternatives for heat and lighting, although new uses for whale products were found. By the 1930s more than 80% of whale oil was used in margarine, which, along with soap became the main use for the oil.

During the 1930s whalers worldwide had noticed a decline in numbers and decided something had to be done to protect stocks. In 1946 a number of major whaling nations joined together to create the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and set quotas on the number of whales allowed to be killed.

In the 1970s Greenpeace arrived to protect the whales. New technology meant the whales could be seen underwater on TV, and heard on the radio. By promoting the whales as unable to defend themselves people’s attitudes began to change, additionally there was by now cheaper and better replacements for anything the whale produced.

In 1982 the IWC voted to halt all commercial whaling until stocks had recovered, although a number of nations are still allowed to hunt them for “research purposes”.

Selected bibliography

This is just a very small selection of the resources available in the Hull History Centre.

1. Whaling and Hull

Credland, Arthur. Whales and Whaling. Shire Publications Ltd. 1982.

Credland, Arthur. The Hull Whaling Trade: An Arctic Enterprise. Hutton Press Ltd. 1995.

Credland, Arthur. “Hull’s arctic whaling trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century” in An Historical Atlas of East Yorkshire. University of Hull Press, 1996.

Credland, Arthur. The Diana of Hull. Kingston Upon Hull Museums and Art Galleries, 1980.

Dykes, Jack. Yorkshire’s Whaling Days. Dalesman Publishing Company, 1980.

Ross, J, Capt. Narrative of a Voyage by Captain Ross. K Book Editions. York,1973.