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Image 'A ship's boat attacking a whale', c1813

TLF ID R3041

This is a hand-coloured aquatint (a print made from an engraving on copper) showing a boat's crew from a British whaling ship about to harpoon a whale. Measuring 18 cm x 22.8 cm, the print appeared in a book entitled 'Foreign field sports, fisheries, sporting anecdotes ...'



Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset illustrates a whaling boat's crew: four men at the oars, a man (known as the headman) at the rudder at the stern, a harpoonist (known as the boatsteerer) at the bows, and a man beside him to manage the line that ran out once the harpoon struck home and the whale sounded (dived) - none of the crew was paid wages, instead each had a share in the ship's cargo of whale oil.
  • It shows a British whaling ship operating close to icebergs in what was known as the 'southern fishery' in the high southern latitudes of the Pacific towards Antarctica - the 'southern fishery' had been opened up by the voyage of the Royal Navy's Captain James Colnett in the 'Rattler', an ex-naval sloop converted to a whaler in 1793-94.
  • It depicts what is probably a male sperm whale, as only males are found in these latitudes - the adult males reach lengths of 15-18 metres and weigh up to 40,800 kilograms; they were hunted for the oil extracted from the fried blubber (up to 80 barrels of oil could be obtained from an old whale) and for the spermaceti, the liquid in the whale's head (about a third of its body) which solidifies to form a pure white wax and was used in high-quality candles.
  • It portrays a whale blowing (spouting) on the surface - sperm whales will lie on the surface breathing for about 10 minutes after diving for up to three-quarters of an hour; a single blowhole is located forward on the left side of the head, and the blow, which is bushy, is projected forward rather than straight up as it is with other whales.
  • It shows a harpoon and line - enormous lengths of line were required as a sperm whale can sound or dive to a depth of 1,000 metres; once the whale had been harpooned, the headman and the boatsteerer would change places and when the whale surfaced, the headman would try to lance it behind the flippers with a 2-metre blade; often the boat would be towed 15 kilometres before the whale was finally killed.
  • It shows an industry that may have contributed to the colonisation of New South Wales - although whaling ships could and did stay out for years, they needed safe harbours relatively close by where they could refit; the eastern coast of Australia may have been considered suitable.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

Contributors
  • Author
  • Person: John Heaviside Clark
  • Description: Author
  • Person: M Dubourg
  • Description: Author
  • Person: Edward Orme
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL: http://www.nla.gov.au
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: John Heaviside Clark
  • Description: Author
  • Person: M Dubourg
  • Description: Author
  • Person: Edward Orme
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL: www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements