Whaling voyages associated with the British Southern Whale Fishery

Event Dates
Event/Exhibition location
Royal Society Rooms, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, (19 Davey Street entrance).

This presentation investigates the culture of collecting on whaling voyages associated with the British Southern Whale Fishery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It looks at the circulation of artefacts, specimens and imagery through curiosity shops, auction houses, major museums and private collections.

The British Southern Whale Fishery was active between 1775 and 1860 and for part of this period was the largest whaling fleet in the world. The average voyage of a London-based whaler lasted about three years.

This meant regular stops at ports across the Indian and Pacific Oceans were made in order to collect fresh food, water and wood. Whaling logs and private journals indicate that during these island layovers, whalers interacted in various ways with local inhabitants, acquiring indigenous artefacts and specimens of natural history retained for personal interest, exchange or sale as curiosities.

 These ‘curios’ then moved in myriad ways – for example through informal exchange, commercial networks, family inheritance or formal donation intopersonal and public museum collections around the world.

By analysing these moments of exchange and encounter through sources such as whaling logs, journals, museum collections and public and private correspondence, Rachael has sought to understand the role played by the whalemen in supplying the trade in curios, and the networks of exchange within which they operated.

Rachael Utting is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London researching curiosity collecting and exchange amongst whalers in the Pacific with specific reference to the British Southern Whale Fishery.  Rachael has worked in a variety of collections care, documentation and interpretation roles in major museums including the British Museum, the Science Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 

Her research interests include 18th and 19th century sailors, Pacific beachcombers, cross cultural tattooing, South Seas whaling, and sailor craft such as scrimshaw. She is in Hobart for the Whaling Conference being hosted by the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.