A Picture of Whitby and Its Environs By George Young 1824
It was in the year 1753, that the port of Whitby began to be concerned in the whale-fishery, Two ships sailed hence for Greenland in that year; and four in each of the five subsequent years. The transport service furnishing a more lucrative employment during the war with France and Spain, no fishing ships were fitted out here between 1758 and 1767, except one solitary vessel in 1760. The trade was resumed in 1767, and has been kept up more or less ever since.
Between that year and 1775, the number of the fishing ships gradually rose from 2 to 15, and it varied from 14 to 15 during the four following years. In the next four years it declined, and fell as low as 7; but in 1784 and some years ensuing, after the close of the American war, it rose rapidly, till it reached 20; which was the number of our fishing ships in 1786-87-88. Afterwards the trade again declined, and in 1795, when the breaking out of the French war had drawn so many of our ships into the transport service, only 4 vessels sailed to Greenland; which number continued till 1802. From this last date till 1815, the number varied from 6 to 9; and since 1815, it has varied from 10 to 12.
Previous to the year 1793, about one half of the Whitby fishing ships sailed for Davis Straits; but, the Straits fleet proving very unsuccessful in 1792, when of 7 ships sent thither, 1 was lost, 4 returned clean (that is, without fish), and the other 2 brought only 1 fish each, - the number sent to the Straits since that year has been very inconsiderable, not exceeding 3 ships in any one year, and seldom more than one or two. The whales obtained at Davis Straits are usually the largest.
The success of the whale trade has been extremely fluctuating, being in some years very lucrative, and in others attended with no small loss to the owners. Within the last 25 of 30 years, the improvements in fishing have been so great, that the produce has generally much exceeded the average of former periods. In Mr. Charlton's time, it was thought remarkable, that Captain Banks brought home 65 whales in 10 years; but of late, some of our Captains have obtained as many in 2 or 3 years.
The Resolution, Scoresby. brought home in 10 successive years, beginning with 1803, no less than 49 whales, yielding 2034 tons of oil; and in 10 successive voyages, beginning with 1807, the Henrietta, Kearsley, brought home 213 whales, producing 1361 tons of oil. The most successful years in the trade were 1811 and 1814. In the former, 7 ships brought home 171 whales, producing 1181 tons of oil, and 35 tons of whale fins: in the latter, 8 ships brought 172 whales, yielding 1390 tons of oil, and 42 tons of fins. In 1814, the Resolution, Kearsley, brought home 28 whales, which produced 230 tons of oil, the largest quantity ever imported into Whitby in any one ship: but, as a proof of the uncertainty and fluctuation in the trade, the same vessel returned clean in the year immediately following.
Of the ships employed in the trade, and their success, down to 1816, the reader will find a particular account in the History of Whitby, Vol.II p. 562-568. Since 1816, owing to the return of peace, which allowed the foreign ships to embark in the trade, and produced a great, depression in the price of oil, the whale-fishery has been by no means so successful or so lucrative as in many former years. The most productive year that has occurred since 1816, is 1821; of which a statement is subjoined.
Thus it appears, that in 1821, eleven fishing ships brought home 90 whales, producing 1148 tons of oil, and no less than 48 tons, 17 cwt. of whale-fins, or what is usually called whale-bone. Yet, owing to the low price of oil, the trade that year was far from being so lucrative as might be supposed; the oil being then little more than, £20 per ton, whereas in some former years it was double and almost treble that price.
The most unproductive years that have occurred for a long period, are 1819 and 1822. Of 12 ships that sailed in 1819, none reached 100 tons of oil, except the Esk, Dunbar; and the whole brought home 74 whales, mostly small, yielding but 553 tons of oil. Of 10 ships that sailed in 1822, one (the Valiant) was lost; and the other 9 brought home no more than 31 whales, producing only 534 tons. None but the Volunteer, Craig, reached 100 tons. The Valiant wax lost at Davis Straits; and is the only Whitby fishing ship that has been lost during the last 30 years.
From 1767 to 1822, inclusive, the Whitby fishing ships have brought home in all, 3200 whales. Of this number, the Volunteer has, in 51 voyages, brought home 395; the Henrietta (now belonging to Aberdeen) has, in 44 voyages, brought 499; the Lively, in 38 voyages, 254; the Aimwell, in 21 voyages, 215; the Resolution, in 20 voyages, 342; the William & Ann, in 16 voyages, 198; the James, in 12 voyages, 106; and the Esk, in 10 voyages, 113. The other ships now employed have been but a few years in the trade. The result of the present year (1823,) is not included in the amount, the Straits ships not having arrived when this page was sent to the press. The produce of this year, though likely to be considerably greater than that of 1822, will he very moderate; but the high price of whale-bone, now about £200 or upwards per ton, will serve to compensate for the deficiency in oil.
The whale-fishery annually employs a great number of our seamen, each ship carrying between 40 and 50 hands; and the perils and hardships of the trade have, contributed not a little to form that hardy and enterprising character, for which the seamen of Whitby have generally been distinguished.