Scottish Arctic Whaling Timeline

In the Timeline a summary is given for each year, which identifies such factors as trends, phase patterns, control mechanisms, environmental hunting conditions, and the influence of success/failure ratios on market prices. These factors emerged during the data collection process and subsequently through analysis, thesis completion, and publication endeavors.

1750The newly established Edinburgh Whale Fishing Company purchased the Trial (Tryal) from London owners. BACKGROUND TO CONTINUOUS INVOLVEMENT: Scotland attempted to establish an Arctic bowhead industry during the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries, but transition from a limited and tentative venture into a large-scale, ongoing seasonal operation was a slow and lengthy process. Finally, Westminster, after decades of neglect, was motivated to take a more active interest in establishing a viable British whale fishery. Legislation introducing the first bounty – 20 shillings per ton – was passed in 1732, but with little success. Over the next 20 years, however, expanding oil markets, stimulated primarily by the early effects of the industrial revolution, and increased demand for whalebone in women’s fashions, encouraged parliamentarians to increase the incentive to 40 shillings in 1749 (for details see SAW). Then began a half century of cautious, but continuous, attachment which was characterized by the ebb and flow of ports, vessels, personnel, and capital.
1751While no bowheads were captured, the bounty made the venture a commercial success, with the real incentive being the rich rewards oil and whalebone 'could' provide. Consequentially, 4 additional vessels cleared for eg, while another two from the west coast were fitted out for the more distant, expensive, and dangerous ds grounds. Scots also hired experienced Dutch as whaling 'officers' in an effort to obtain catches, but, more importantly, to learn the trade.
175210 vessels clear, including from Dunbar, Bo'ness and Campbelton. According to the Edinburgh Courant (9 July) that port's three ships were 'all Bone Fish, and of a considerable value …'
1753Fleet increases to 15 from 10 - entry of Greenock, Dundee and Aberteen. Results again good.
175415 ships in the fleet - success of the bounty, experience, favourable hunting conditions and produce sales. Results continue to reward.
1755Within five years Scots reach their maximum early rate of participation, 16.
1756The outbreak of the Seven Years' War with France dampens the trade. The normal uncertainty associated with the trade was exaggerated by the threat of enemy intervention and the naval press. Despite this, the fleet had general success, although environmental conditions deteriorated towards the end of the hunt. This season marked the end of prosperity.
1757Season was a disaster.
1758Fishery even worse - first true indication of just how difficult and dangerous environmental conditions could be.
17591759-62 continued the string of poor results and brought a reduction in the trade.
1760Another poor season.
1761Again, lack of success.
1762Poor results continue.
1763First major decline when fleet is reduced from 14 to 10 ships and then stabalizes at 8-9 over next dozen inter-war years.
1764The return to peacetime conditions arrested the downturn in the industry, but the revitalization that might normally have been expected to occur failed to materialize - the trade entered a period of inter-war stability (1764-74). Additional factors at play were the development of a new North American whale fishery, and Westminster's decision to encourage American 'foreign' oil and bone imports that at least partially caused bone and oil prices to decline. The fishery at eg was again a disaster due primarily to easterly winds that concentrated the pack (see SAW), extending the succession of poor seasons that began in 1757.
1765Although early signs were not favourable, the catches were relatively good and well distributed, encouraging the continuation of the trade - mainly through the lottery effect.
1766Again unfavorable winds produced generally poor yields.
1767Even worst results - 'the fishery in general has proved extremely bad this season, occasioned by continued north and north east winds in the months of May and June.' AJ 3 August.
1768Hunting again yielded little, but bounty extended at 40 shillings to 1770.
1769Clearly much better environmental conditions at eg, thus illustrating the lottery effect and its subsequent impact on following seasons (strategies - where vessels were deployed and in what numbers). Forces were at work which, while not actually encouraging expansion, promoted continuation of the trade. It had also become obvious that the industry could not be sustained at its present levels without additional incentives.
1770Another relatively successful season.
1771Following two successful seasons at eg 1771 again proved unprofitable, yet Dutch reports of larger and more numerous whales at ds were soon to change the industry, though the Scots were slow to respond - in fact, less competition at eg helped improve catches in that region, thus reducing the incentive to switch their traditional hunting practices.
1772Hunting conditions better than previous few seasons, plus increased experience and fewer competitors - another incentive was government's decision the previous year to extend bounty for an additional five years, and to permit the insurance of cargo in the event of loss.
1773Generally poor results.
1774Favourable hunting conditions - fairly common pattern demonstrated over the years and helped strategy of planning for seasons based upon previous year's result (especially important when ds offers an alternative to eg). In the face of complex and often conflicting forces, the Scottish trade displayed remarkable consistency throughout the entire inter-war period – marked by alternating “good” and “poor” seasons.
1775Scottish returns in 1775 were poor due to increased competition and unfavourable ice conditions. The possibility that the trade might expand following the successful 1774 season was pre-empted by the outbreak of the American War of Independence. The balance was tipped against investors and the industry entered a period of severe entrenchment. Nevertheless, developments during the war had a powerful influence on the future direction of the trade.
1776With elimination of American competition, government reduced the bounty to 30 shillings as scheduled. Whaling vessels as well were taken up in the transport opportunities available to conduct warfare in North America, and the press and threat of capture are also resurrected - all pressures to reduce the effort.
1777Unfavourable hunting conditions and threat of capture realized.
1778The results provide another example of the variable nature, or lottery aspect, of the trade even during a good season. The profits of 5 large whales taken by the Dunbar whaler North Star, for example, were augmented with the bone of 9 bowheads salvaged from the Neptune, Liverpool, wrecked when nipped by ice.
1779Fleet reduced to just 3 ships, but all do well due to reduced competition and good hunting conditions.
1780For the 3rd successive year eg hunting was excellent.
1781Holland's entry into the war on the side of the Americans further reduces competition at eg. Westminster also restored the bounty to 40 shillings rather than reducing it to 20 as had been scheduled.
1782This was another favourable year (environmental, increase in bounty, and improved oil and bone prices), but a dismal failure for the Scots when the Dunbar ships were late getting to the ice because of low water in the harbour.
1783Only Dunbar maintains a hold for the Scottish industry - richly rewarded.
1784At the end of the Revolutionary War the trade was at its lowest ebb in more than two decades. The return to peace time conditions following a lengthy period of excellent hunting conditions and reduced competition set the stage for rapid growth, including departures from new ports. Unfortunately, both total and average catches were down, despite the three new vessels.
1785Fleet almost doubles from 7 to 13. Season started poorly, but improved, thus encouraging additional growth.
1786A jump by 10 vessels to 23 - re-emergence of west coast ports and the return of Dundee. Also, larger number of seals indicate that they were increasingly being targeted - always eg unless nl, indicating Newfoundland.
1787Bounty reduced to 30 shillings from 40. Note: Peak post-war growth (31 and ditto 1788). Despite four boom years, however, signs of trouble appear - revival of the Dutch trade and rapid surge in British fishery put increasing pressure on stocks (average catches and sizes decline, while total kills increased), and over-supplied markets caused prices to fall. Most important development, though, in terms of the future of the Scottish industry, Montrose sent the Eliza Swan to ds, which subsequently became the most important hunting area, slowly replacing eg, especially when two of their captains opened up the Baffin Bay grounds in 1817.
1788Majority of Scots did poorly - increased competition, a dwindling resource base, and more stringent bounty regulations demanding unsuccessful ships stay out until 10 August. Results at ds, however, were excellent, thus encouraging increased participation in that segment.
17891787 and 1788 marked the maximum Scottish revival. New patterns now begin to emerge - there is a greater emphasis on ds and, as with all periods of recession, only the long-established whaling companies and ports survive. DS for the third year running yields results superior to eg.
1790Results poor at both eg and ds (first time since resuming hunting in that quarter), but seal catches at eg partially offset poor whale fishery.
1791Based on previous season's results ds reduced by two (more costly and hazardous grounds) and eg increased by three. Also, it is a clear demonstration of data limitations (show where masters actually operated, rather than where they had been directed to hunt - environment/resource/etc. impositions). DS better/eg worse - industry encouraged by government extending 30 shilling bounty for a year and exempting whaling personnel from the press (in the face of growing threat from France).
1792Fleet trimmed by three. Not surprisingly, given previous five seasons and 1791 in particular, ds made principal focus. Poor results at ds, however, and better results at eg, only second time since whaling resumed at eg, not sufficent to yield profits. Essentially only Robert, P'head was successiful.
1793Bounty reduced to 25 shillings per ton. 1793 continues the recent run of generally poor seasons. The French Rev War brings the usual pressures: press gangs and the threat of naval and privateer intervention.
1794EG vessels do marginally better, while 3 ships at ds have best results in more than a decade - all returned 'full.'
1795Despite relatively favourable results, prospects for trade are not good and fleet is reduced by 2 to 10 vessels. Even better results, however, with less foreign and English competition. But wartime pressures continued and the bounty as scheduled was dropped to 20 shillings on 25 December 1795. Trade follows the same trend as during the previous two wars – with stable participation rates, but with one important exception. Even at its lowest level, the fleet numbered three times that of 1779.
1796The press is especially active and the bounty is reduced to 20 shillings per ton. Excellent results at ds and also favourable hunting conditions at eg.
1797Both areas again produce good results.
1798There are indifferent results at ds, and eg ships are threatened by French naval vessels and have to sail in convoy (thus increased threat of the press).
1799Bounty extended at 20 shillings for an additional year.
1800Both grounds provide good results for 6th year running.
1801Hunting at both eg and ds again good - Scots and others continue to seriously damage the two N Atlantic bowhead stocks, in other words.
1802With the signing of the Peace of Amiens (25 March) the western ds grounds became significantly more important to the Scottish industry. This, and improved yields at eg, higher oil and bone prices, and peace time conditions, encouraged the Scots to almost double the size of their fleet between 1802-5. The last 10 years of the 18th century was critical to the development of the industry. It was a period in which the trade entered a stage of maturity and consolidation. In the coming decades, the Scots would outstrip their English rivals and achieve global domination of the Arctic fishery. Take-off occurred because after nearly a half century of continuous whaling they were better able to cope with adverse conditions and it had become a core economic tradition in eastern Scotland.
1803Fleet increases by 3 to 15.
1804Fleet size remains 15. Excellent results at ds with vessels home early, one mid-June.
1805Reflecting recent results the number of ships from Scotland jumps by 5 to 20.
1806Resumption of hostilities halts recent growth but did not initiate a decline as occurred during all previous conflicts. Now virtually no offshore competition for the Scots and English. Always reluctant to accept change, the 'larger' and more numerous whales taken from the healthier ds bowhead stock overcomes the drawbacks posed by longer, more expensive and dangerous voyages.
1807While reluctant to take on the more expensive ds venture, as long as the depleted eg stock could still sometimes provide substantial profits (lottery effect) under favourable environmental conditions and reduced competition, owners/masters remained sceptical. Henceforth, however, ds increasingly takes on a more important role with each year’s deployment strategy being determined largely by the previous year's results.
1808Even better results at eg for reasons identified, but short term gain due to additional damage to the already seriously depleted bowhead stock.
1809Another excellent year, especially at ds - ed ships back by mid-June, for example, all well fished.
1810Fleet increases from 19 to 21 - yet another season of good results on both grounds - continued pressure on the two bowhead stocks, however, but especially at eg. By the end of the decade, a confluence of forces, combined with a series of excellent catches, marked the beginning of a period of spectacular growth. Factors included: ability to continue during war; collapse of Danish whaling; entry into Canadian Timber trade during the off-season; participation in a growing emigrant trade; continuance of the bounty for an additional 5 years; and increased demand for whale oil and bone in both domestic and foreign markets.
181111 ships each at eg and ds - the latter yields superior results.
1812War with America, despite threat of capture, increases pace of growth with reduction of the New England industry. Success also breeds success - fleet increases from 22 to 28 and, based upon recent results, as usual, 16 were deployed at ds, while 12 hunted at eg - results on both grounds again good - all ed ships, for example, return full.
1813Another leap forward (28 to 45 vessels), with efforts on both grounds essentially equal (23 eg and 22 ds), but ds results relatively poor, following a run of good/excellent results.
1814The remainder of this statistical set is derived primarily from newspapers and data assembled and preserved by Robert Kinnes and Sons Co., Dundee. See full details re limitations and source corrections, etc. in the preamble and under 'Kinnes Lists' (SAW).
1815Peace again brought competition from foreigners at eg. The Dutch, for example, introduced a bounty incentive and the expansion of the 'Southern Fishery' caused oversupplied oil markets and a steep decline in prices. Before a normal overexploitation-adjustment level could be established, however, developments at ds brought another period of rapid growth which was assisted by the government’s decision to extend the bounty to 1820 and the continuation of the policy permitting the Northern whalers to complete their crews at Orkney and Shetland as during wartime.
1816Fleet size remains 49 with same deployment ratios - better success on both grounds.
1817Increased competition on the traditional grounds caused some vessels to be poorly fished. Scottish masters, Muirhead (Leith) and Valentine (Aberdeen), took advantage of favourable ice conditions to sail north after most of the other vessels had cleared for home. They discovered the Northwater (see SAW) and improved their catches dramatically thus opening the Baffin Bay grounds which dramatically changed the industry - bringing a resurgence, but decimating the last refuge of the western Atlantic bowhead stock.
1818First continuous tonnage records. The new Baffin Bay grounds support another expansion spurt, but introduces new risks to men and vessels, and breaches the last protective resort of the western Atlantic bowhead stock. Two naval vessels under Parry offer security north of Disko thus revealing rewards the new grounds could offer.
1819New element of nipping/crushing danger in Mellville Bay fully manifested for the first time - 6 Scottish ships, for example, were lost, out of a total of 54 (20 at ds). Still a period of transition at Baffin Bay - the full potential had not yet been realized, nor the risk fully understood. After 68 years of continuous involvement, the Scots now found that an already dangerous venture had become far more challenging, costly and in terms of both men and ships risky.
1820Baffin Bay now becomes the primary focus, though the learning curve was slow and painful. Despite recent losses, fleet increases to 57, but ratio between the two grounds remains unchanged in eg favour (industry is always reluctant to change), especially with eg being less expensive – the stock, however, had been depleted to the extent that the fishery in that quarter had become too much of a gamble. This all changed after the 1820 results showed just how substantial profits on the western grounds could be when conditions were favourable. Baffin Bay now became the focus, a situation which does not change until the ds bowhead stock had been seriously reduced by the 1830s and whalers are forced to turn to eg seals as their main target, and then at nl in latter half of the century.
1821Maximum expansion of fleet (60). First real indication of dangers Baffin Bay could offer - because of heavy ice and unfavourable winds only 8 ships get north and 3 are lost. These, however, do well thus beginning the severe impact on the stock as had occurred at eg. Also better results than vessels on the East Greenland hunting grounds.
1822Fleet drops by 4 to 56 (mostly from Eegcomponent). While environmental conditions at eg were good, few whales 'were sighted.' Ice and winds again blocked passage north across M Bay in ds - 7 lost. Nevertheless, results still better than at eg indicating the relative state of both stocks. Several of the poorly fished masters stayed out on the east coast of Baffin Island where they were able to improve catches as they intercepted the southward migration of the bowhead whales onto their winter grounds. The so called 'Fall Fishery' was the last “new” phase of the industry and further contributed to the pace of stock reduction.
1823Fleet reduced by 1 to 55 and bounty finally withdrawn, but Scots out number their English competitors for the first time. At ds the majority get north into Baffin Bay and adopt the new strategy of waiting for bowheads to migrate south along the east coast of Baffin Island onto their winter range. Catches are extraordinary increasing three-fold from previous year. Conditions also excellent at eg, but still catch one third those at ds on average. No question now that B Bay will be the main focus until that stock is also reduced to an uneconomic level.
1824Poor results for the few operating at eg where the weather had “been very severe.” AJ 11 August. While catches at ds were down from the previous season, they were still substantial, although the whales were small, thus having same impact as similar practices that had, again, decimated the resource, and industry, at eg.
1825Only 6 at eg where strong NE winds caused a 'closed' season (see SAW). Also, worst hunting condition at Baffin Bay since being first opened up.
1826Decline continues - 56 to 51 and just 5 at eg. Only marginally better results enforces the downward trend.
1827Scottish fleet reduced 20% from peak 6 years earlier, but after 3 poor seasons at ds many owners switch back to eg where although hunting conditions were favourable, results were still far poorer than those which had cleared for ds where most were again able to get north, thus obtaining excellent catches. As usual most returned to ds (hunting strategies invariably based on previous year's yields)
1828True to form the industry is reluctant to abandon well-established practices until Baffin Bay advantages have been proven and that the eg stock had been rendered uneconomic. Baffin Bay, after 10 years, was still not fully understood - especially the risks associated with the new Fall Fishery, as 1835 and 1836 would soon demonstrate. Despite the lessons that should have been learned at eg, they were not applied at B Bay and stock depletion on those grounds occurred at an even faster pace. Once B Bay became the norm, however, trips became longer, more expensive, and dangerous. With profits becoming increasingly uncertain, vessels were often poorly provisioned and enhanced competition led to increased risk-taking, followed by more losses and actual deaths. By the 1840s, Scotland and especially P'head had turned to harvesting seals at eg as an alternative to bowhead harvesting, and, paradoxically, in the process began to subsidize whaling.
1829Given results of the previous season, virtually all clear for ds (although there are undoubtedly still double voyages). Returns down by roughly 25 %, but industry still maintains focus on B Bay the following year.
1830DS again the principal target. Season a complete disaster - much worst than previous year with ships caught in ice at M Bay between 10 June - 10 Sept (12 Scottish vessels and 10 English lost).
1831Indicating the cyclical nature of the industry, the following 4 years, characterized by favourable environmental conditions, successful voyages and relative stability, brought a brief respite. The series of good catches, however, meant that profits could not support the current size of the fleet. As had occurred at eg, the typical phases of feast and famine at ds were characterized by increasingly shallower peaks and deeper troughs.
1832Surprisingly favourable results at eg, leads to a brief resurgence on those grounds. Fleet drops another 2 vessels to 42 (8 at eg). DS results exceptional while those at eg are poor, thus reversion to major focus on ds.
1833Yet another good year at ds, thus further damaging the stock - two Burntisland ships also sail from ed and Kirkcaldy - just 2 at eg where they also do well, but not as good as those at ds.
1834Returns at ds down, but still good. Because of relative success of previous season's double voyages as a 'chance' to inspect eg first, a number clear for those grounds from P'head.
1835After the series of large catches of increasingly smaller whales (favourable environmental conditions) the stock, as had happened at eg, was being rapidly reduced, thus placing extra pressure on captains to be among the first to reach the Pond Inlet and Lancaster Strait “West-land” B Bay grounds (see SAW). Not able to reach the Northwater by September, a number attempted to sail west through the Mid-ice in order to take part in the Fall Fishery and became entrapped - 9 English and the Middleton, Aberdeen, and Viewforth, Kirkcaldy - with disastrous results. The crews of 2 which were crushed distributed throughout the fleet - much suffering, and many died, primarily because the owners had attempted to reduce costs by limiting provisions (see SAW for details).
1836Average yields worst ever. Only 12 manage to reach the Northwater due to heavy ice and unfavourable winds. Despite experience that should have been learned during the previous year, 6 (including 3 Scots) again attempted to get west for the Fall Fishery. Significantly more men die. The industry, not surprisingly, enters another period of consolidation.
1837Oil quantities not provided this year - results continue to be poor, but no losses. Not surprisingly, the fleet was reduced from 39 to 31 with an increased proportion going to the cheaper and less dangerous EG grounds.
1838Modestly better results.
1839Bigger commitment to eg (12) and 20 at ds, but much poorer results thus leading to severe reduction in 1840.
1840Just 24 vessels fitted out due to lack of success previous season but results even poorer leading to yet another significant reduction the following year - less pressure on stocks at ds and fewer competitors encouraged Dundee and a few other ports to continue hunting in that region. Although P'head still concentrated on seals at eg they too sometimes fitted out for ds encouraged by the profits that a single bowhead could yield. And Dundee also began to pursue seals at eg using smaller ships. The decade 1840-50 thus represents a slow transformation to sealing (fully subsidizing continued “whaling”). This in turn is followed by the industry’s introduction of new technology in the form of screw steamers and new strategies such as over wintering and land stations at Cumberland Gulf, all of which contribute to pushing seal (eg and nl) and bowhead (eg and ds) stocks to the edge of extinction.
1841Fleet reduced to 15, lowest level in 37 years. Unable to reach Baffin Bay, the 4 ds ships caught just 10 bowheads, while the 11 P’head vessels at eg took more than 19,000 seals due to favourable conditions and increased experience sealing; plus a fuller investment, thus prepared to risk losing a chance to catch one or two of the few remaining bowheads (still the most valuable target).
1842Again, lowest number of vessels - eg remains focus, but 3 vessels at ds do very well, thus P'head’s commitment to eg softens. They turn to smaller ships – cheaper to acquire, crew, fit out, provision and better for sealing than larger vessels needed for ds whaling (average size 240 tons vs 309 for Dundee). General comment: the 1840-50s period – varying participation rate in the low 20s (except for ’45 and ’46) based on, as always, previous season’s results which, in turn, are influenced by a reduced stock at ds and growing emphasis on eg sealing (leading unfortunately to opportunistic bowhead kills) all in combination with environmental and competition variables.
1843Once again attracted back to ds (including 4 from P'head) by prev yr's successes - all 13 again do well. The 4 at eg capture 7 whales, but more importantly in terms of the trade's future, capture more than 23,000 seals.
18443 more vessels - most again at ds, but good sealing results at eg continue for P'head owners - planning as usual is heavily influenced on prev yr's results.
1845Series of good results encourages owners to add an additional 3 vessels (23), including an extra 2 at Aberdeen. Even better results, especially at ds and seal catch also increases to more than 60,000. Data again do not “clearly” identify double voyages - only Enterprize cleared for eg and then sailed on to dsw for sure - others may have attempted, without returning home to off-load seals first, thus a continued need to interpret carefully.
1846Due to the influence of previous year, the fleet is increased by 4 to 27 with two each being deployed on both grounds, but results, although fair, are much poorer, especially at ds.
1847Fleet increases by 1 to 28 (balanced between both grounds), but ds stock in decline (thus yields and increased risks) and eg sealing finally is accepted as the best, and really only, alternative.
1848Four fewer vessels (24) and, not surprisingly, a greater emphasis on eg where P'head masters had procured good catches of both seals and whales.
1849Same number of ships - much better results at ds - but also another good sealing season at eg, though down from previous year.
1850Vessels down by 4 to 20, again evenly balanced - whaling results at ds are significantly poorer, but seals at eg continue to reward P'head owners. Nevertheless, conservative as usual, the industry is reluctant to give up established practices until absolutely forced to do so (sealing now becomes the main focus, but reward of even a single bowhead still underpins the industry).
1851Poor whaling yields, but again excellent sealing catches at eg (thus putting the trade on the same track that had led to the serious depletion of both bowhead stocks) and the P'head fleet, of course, increases by 7 following year.
1852Fleet jumps by 9 ships to 33 in response to profitable eg seal catches (although not regulated) which also enable participants to capture a whale(s) – the lotter effect. Bowhead catches are again low at ds.
1853An additional 9 vessels cleared this year increasing the fleet to more than 40 (only 9 at ds + 33 eg), a level that would continue into the 1860s . The surge was supported almost entirely by the acceptance, under P’head’s leadership, that the industry had to focus on eg sealing if it was to continue as a “whale fishery” – that is, bowheads would continue to be the most valued target, but risk/profits would primarily be covered by seal catches. The Scots and Continental whalers, unable, or better perhaps, not prepared, to learn from past practices, reduced harp numbers to uneconomic levels by the late 1850s.
1854Fleet up 2 from 42 to 44. Results not nearly as good – number of bowheads reduced by half, especially at ds (though this may be due in part to trouble identifying double trips properly - see previous season), and the seal catch at eg is down by half, despite a greater participation rate. Although the life of the Arctic venture is expanded for another two decades, the harps cannot support unregulated exploitation (same trend experienced by the continental fleets).
1855Slight reduction in eg sealing effort due to previous season’s disappointing results. 1855, though, produces one of the highest yields of seals ever recorded.
1856Fleet increased by 1 to 45. EG yields deline dramatically, while results are best in a decade - partially, though, due to double voyages (as usual difficult to interpret).
1857Another 5 vessels increase fleet to 49 (not surprisingly, given previous season’s results, deployed mostly at ds), the peak of the eg sealing expansion - Scottish industry was completely transformed under P'head's leadership. Unfortunately, overexpansion and unregulated hunting leads to the decimation of eg harp seals and thus requires another adjustment if the industry is to continue (the Cumberland Gulf enterprise helps offset eg decline, but not able to maintain the same participation level - technology [steamers]). The new course – technology in the form of screw steamers – is, some what surprisingly, given the added capital investment required, set in motion this year by P’head (and Hull).
1858Effort reduced to 44 from 49 (same deployment ratio) – bowhead catches continue to be poor as are eg seal results compared to recent yields (stock already in serious difficulty – thus the beginning of race to convert from sail to steam which will see Dundee challenge P'head’s lead.
1859Relatively poor sealing at eg, but far better results at ds. The loss of 2 steamers from P'head (problem with iron hulls) and the success of Dundee’s converted wooden steamer Tay the previous year encourages that port’s owners to invest in the new technology thus marking the turning point which leads to Dundee’s full dominance of the trade - also larger economy, bigger port, jute, and Stephen and Sons, important ship builders who designed composite ships better able to handle ice and subsequently becomes actively engaged in whaling.
186047 ships down to 45. Still slightly more at ds where catch again offers relatively good yields, while seal catches at eg are only fair (an already damaged resource continues to be decimated at a pace accelerated by the introduction of steamers). Marks the beginning of a short “revival” in terms of average catches but characterized by fewer participants and the further reduction of all seal and bowhead stocks to uneconomic levels which will culminate with the close of the industry by the end of the century – steamers start to have a greater impact as masters became more experienced, ships more powerful, and after a period of experimentation, effective strategies are adopted. Result - by early 1870s the resurgence will have become too successful, in other words.
1861Decline to 40 from 45, with major focus on ds (steamers have been especially successful, thus all but two ships clearing from Dundee are screw propellered). Most importantly, Dundee is the only Scottish port prepared - able - to take on the extra economic demands and risks which leads to its domination of the industry during the last half of the 19th century (initiate nl sealing/B Bay whaling combination resulting in the final decimation of the four target stocks available to the trade). As newspaper reports show, Dundee is 'now prepared to make substantial investments in the northern trade.' DA 26 February 1861. EG sealing is a disaster leading to another 5 vessels being withdrawn the following season.
1862Decline from 40 to 35 vessels (from 47 just 3 years earlier) - a terrible year for Aberdeen and Kirkcaldy owners. Under difficult conditions, the steamers clearly demonstrate their true superiority. Far more expensive to obtain, crew, out fit and provision, it was finally realized that they could only be profitable (better chances, but greater losses if unsuccessful) by combining both sealing and whaling (two Dundee steamers accordingly were sent to nl – one of the hardest environmental seasons ever there produced no yields, although they were able to aid local sailing vessels in trouble leading nl companies to purchase two steamers from Scotland in 1863 completely altering the character of the local sealing industry – see SAW). Unable to compete, sailing ships quickly gave way. The Scots then focus on the closer/cheaper eg grounds, and with less competition, greater experience, and newer, larger and more powerful steamers, the enhanced yields lead to a resurgence in the industry – but there were now significantly fewer ships/owners. Still unable to properly regulate/manage the trade, the industry’s total and average seal catches decline at an increasingly faster pace and by the early 1870s they are forced to turn to their final “important resource” option – another attempt to harvest nl seals.
1863Fleet reduced by 4 ships. Disastrous results at ds the previous year and another poor season help explain the industry’s reluctance to commit fully to that area until absolutely forced to do so. Dundee makes full commitment to steam power, but still not able to completely master dangers ds can offer, especially when masters feel compelled to take extraordinary risks.
1864Lack of recent success, promotes further decline to just 23 ships (less than half of just 5 years previously), the “normal steamer” and cg levels over next decade. EG sealing not as positive as previous year. Dundee fully committed to steamers, but P'head still reluctant.
1865Fleet size remains unchanged, as do the deployment strategies which continue balanced between both eg (seals)and ds (whales). Seal catches, however, double with steamers able to operate under favourable environmental conditions thus further damaging an already seriously reduced stock. The same conditions at ds permit bowhead yields to also double, with similar ramifications.
1866Fleet again relatively unchanged, as is the deployment balance - whaling yields not as good as previous year at ds. Seal catches also down slightly - problem, as usual, with recording the actual grounds visited.
1867Fleet increases to 28, including cg. DS whaling a complete failure while eg sealing one of best thus far. One vessel again attempts nl seal fishery - another failure (just 156 seals - Esquimaux), so commit to eg fully until that stock finally becomes uneconomic in the 70s leading finally to a commitment to nl (the last significant phase).
1868Number increases to 30, including 4 cg – also at least 3 double voyages, thus problem of determining deployment strategies still difficult. Exceptional improvement in ds bowhead catches, but 3 ships lost (covered by insurance). EG seal numbers down, but still fair (role of P’head’s “new” steamers – one proper and 3 converted from sail).
1869Fleet reduced by 4 to 26, including 5 at cg. Whale total at ds significantly lower, but may at least partially be due to under-reporting (catches/double voyages). Seal catch at eg up by approximately 20%.
1870Fleet down to 24, including 7 P’head ships involved in cg (having replaced Aberdeen) – also 4 Dundee steamers visit both eg and ds where they do very well under ideal conditions taking just over 60 bowheads. Equally favourable hunting conditions at eg yield more than 100,000 seals.
1871Even better hunting conditions on both grounds (ds more than 130 bowheads and eg again yields more than 100,000 seals) and thus further damages the two stocks - short term profits, as usual, leading to the ruination of the trade - only nl seal herds will provide a final “large-scale” option. The traditional whaling fleet now reduced to 17 (if 7 P’head cg ships are discounted). Given success of the strategy the previous year, Dundee deploys 7 vessels on double voyages. Dundee Advertiser 21 and 23 Aug 1872
1872Fleet increased by three to twenty - another good year, although seal catch down, but continued dammage to both stocks.
1873Same number of vessels, 20 not including cg. Even better hunting conditions, thus additional pressure on both stocks with still no attempt to manage/regulate.
1874Even better hunting conditions on both grounds, with continued damage to the two stocks. It was so bad at EG that there were calls for controlled hunting. As the DA 17 April 1874 reported: “It has been remarked that the seal packs seen this season were not nearly so extensive as those encountered in years gone by. This has been attributed by some to the tremendous slaughter that has been carried on uninterruptedly, and the old ideas of instituting a close season has again been suggested.” However, too difficult to implement, and too late - thus leading Dundee to once again consider nl sealing.
1875Fleet numbers 18, not including 5 cg ships reported from P'Head. Results not as good. EG seal stock decimated and thus 'return' to nl in 1876. Capt. Adams, for example, stated that “had two large vessels got all the seals seen this year … they would not have been filled.” DA 19 April 1875. In a rival newspaper he explained that he considered “the fishing exhausted – a complete failure – and that unless a remedy be adopted in the shape of a close time or entire cessation for a certain period, there will be no chance of its recovery.” DC 19 April 1875.
1876Relatively poor hunting conditions, and thus modest results. Fleet down to 17, not including cg vessels. With near depletion of eg seal stocks, Stephen and Co., now fully committed to the Arctic trade, sends Adams in their new Arctic 2 to nl where she was able to take almost 4000 despite being inexperienced in that quarter. Adams was favourably impressed (see SAW) and encouraged his owners to open a factory in St. John’s to store catch for transport back to Dundee, and just as importantly agreed to hire a local captain to be sealing master and in so doing was able to hire ”his” men who, Adams claimed, were far superior to the Shetlanders. This led to more than two decades of direct involvement in nl – the last major phase of Scottish Arctic whaling/sealing.
1877Almost a dozen ships take just over 40,000 seals at eg, while just two vessels harvest the same number at nl, a clear sign of the relative health of stocks in both areas and that nl expansion is now inevitable. In terms of the remaining ds bowhead stock, the implication is far more damming – for some time whaling had been subsidized by eg sealing, but with this ground no longer an option, the ds bowhead numbers may have had a chance to rebound. Unfortunately, nl seals now continued to support whaling, which on its own footings would not have been economic, thus reducing the two North Atlantic bowhead stocks to the verge of extinction.
1878Exceptionally poor hunting conditions, and whale catches, at ds, but 4 Dundee ships harvest more seals at nl than the12 which were at EG combined. Success of the previous two years encourages Stephens’ main competitor, the Dundee Seal and Whale Fishing Co., to send two vessels, open premises at St. John’s, and use nl personnel. At P’head, meanwhile, the Gray family support that port’s ongoing presence in the trade almost single-handedly – family encouragement, learned experience, personal traits, and vision, such as the use of steamers, although by this point, they are smaller, older and underpowered.
1879Much better hunting conditions, and whale catches, at ds. More than 70,000 seals taken by 4 ships at nl, while 6 at eg harvest less than half that number (but still enough to support going on to ds for bowheads (subsidization and the lottery effect).
1880Although nl sealing falls by approximately 20%, ds whaling is best than in almost a decade. With less competition, the eg fleet is still able to achieve reasonable success under ideal environmental conditions.
1881Dundee/P’head participation ratio now reduced to approximately 3:1. Maximum Dundee involvement of 6 “proper” steamers at nl obtain record 140,000 (further damaging already declining local seal stocks), while 15 vessels at eg take less than 25,000. BN whaling becomes increasingly important, especially at P’head, as traditional fisheries decline and bn oil prises rise significantly in early 1880s, but saturated markets quickly lower prices and this new component is short-lived.
1882Fleet reduced to 19, not counting 2 cg ships – there is an increase in the bn effort, especially at P'head, though 3 Dundee vessels also participate.
1883Fleet increases by 1 to 20, but poor whaling results due to unfavourable environmental conditions. BN and ww whaling continues to grow due to high oil prices.
1884Fleet increases by 4 to 25 mostly because of high beluga/ww and bn oil prices. DS bowhead catch up again to more than 60, while nl seals ( 6 ships) are less than 40,000 which is slightly less than numbers brought back from eg by 10 ships – 1st time since Dundee made full commitment to those grounds.
1885Especially poor hunting conditions at both ds and eg. The bowhead catch is dramatically reduced from previous season which had seriously impacted an already threatened stock – unfortunately, rising bone prices, caused in part by poor results, put even greater pressure through the “reward” even one bowhead could provide (and subsidized by nl sealing yields). Catches there almost double (7 Scottish vessels, the largest number to participate), while 9 at eg take just over 20,000. The bn fishery, meanwhile, attracts at least 11 participants.
1886Conditions even worse than previous year, with loss of vessels and reduced catches. 6 at nl catch just over 40,000 seals while 5 at eg take less than 10,000. Significantly reduced bn effort as well, with prices declining. An indication of pressure owners are feeling is that for the first time, a nl vessel, the Aurora, does not put sealing profit at risk by taking part in the ds whale fishery – an attempt to better maximise income under increasingly difficult conditions.
1887Another poor season and lost vessels previous year not replaced - fleet down to just 13 not including cg. Four vessels attempt ww (dirty work with low financial return for effort) - beginning of the final stage (last desperate attempt to win the lottery even one bowhead could provide).
1888Another poor season – just 8 bowheads taken at ds. The new strategy of not risking nl sealing profits by fitting out for ds whaling which is likely to be unsuccessful increases to two vessels.
18894 Dundee steamers sealing at nl do not 'risk' profits by going to ds whaling - sign of the poor state of all stocks.
1890Results not as good. Last 'splurge' by P'head, a failure and thus only 3 steamers the following year (just over 6,000 seals at eg while 4 at nl take almost 50,000).
1891Fleet down 2 to 12 - unusual whale catch at ds (16), to the further detriment of the resource. Also, another exceptional seal fishery at nl - only 1 single voyage (fear of putting seal profit at risk – a sign of just how bad bowhead prospects had become) - again serious reduction to remaining stocks. P'head down to just 3 steamers due to poor results of previous year, and two sold).
1892Only 12 ships (just 1 P'head, the Alert collecting for Noble's station at C Gulf) and 2 lost. P'head's Eclipse sold to Dundee and under D. Gray's leadership, 'leads' a Dundee 4-vessel Antarctic excursion, but only equipped to hunt right whales, strangely, given Norwegian successful development of Modern Whaling! Last real effort to prolong Scottish Arctic industry thus a failure.
1893Active, Balaena, Diana, and Polar Star are in the Antarctic where they brought back less than 15,000 seals. Growth of American Western Arctic bowhead fishery lowers oil to just 1600 sterling per ton thus hammering yet another nail in the Scottish Arctic whaling casket.
1894NL sealing being down-graded to just two ships and no traditional whaling vessel from P'head - Three of the 4 unsuccessful Antarctic expedition ships are reengaged on the nearby and 'cheapest' eg grounds (likely no other option for ageing capital not suitable for another activity, thus hoping for a lottery win?).
1895Yet another example of the same strategy pattern - just one ship at nl seal fishery but does so well that two are engaged in 1896.
1896Poor ww trip reduced sealing profit. David Gray, probably P'head's most successiful sealing and whaling master, and a leading innovator, 'scientist and scribe, died 16 May.'
1897EG expansion fails, as does nl sealing, leading to further reduction.
1898Poor 1897 season leads to additional fleet reduction in 1898. No vessel at nl seal fishery and besides traditional catch identified, the fleet returns with 591 walruses and 63 bears (6 alive). Fleet also 'salvaging' ww for 'produce' (see comments/rational below – Diana).
1899Chance/lottery effect at DS (a number, however, may be from land stations??) - at any rate, the best result in a long time, thus even further damage to the bowhead stock. Hudson Bay Co. taking a leading role (infusion of new and substantial 'big' capital, etc.).
1900Another fairly good bowhead catch despite state of the stock (also possible because there is little competition). Fleet also returns with 145 bears.
1901Bowhead prospects poor, thus continued the 'hated' ww slaughter which produced lower profits for effort.
19021st time separate categories are used for other produce: 11 ww, 54 walrus, 205 seals, 77 bears – industry reduced to “scavenging” and finally native assisted “catching.”
1903Industry only kept alive in Dundee by J. Mitchell and R. Kinnes, Dundee entrepreneurs and rivals.
1904Refer to SAW. HBC.
1905Under ideal conditions. reduced competition and high prices, especially for bone, the seriously depleted bowhead stock still able to generate enough profits to maintain low level, when combined with 'extra' bartering income.
1906The slight revival of the Scottish trade is supported by high bone prices (the lottery effect, if 'lucky') over 3000 lb sterling per ton. The same incentives, however, under-scored by the Norwegian development of modern whaling (see SAW), make it more difficult for 'small' entrepreneurs such as Kinnes and Mitchell to compete.
1907Mitchell, Dundee, reports that it was another disasterous season that taxed the resources of the owners. Ice so bad at ds that boats could hardly ever be lowered.
1908Would not still be in Arctic trade but for Dundee owners prepared to focus on the “bits and pieces” giving them the chance to win the lottery (catch a bowhead), plus, what could they do with old, small ships, some without steam, that they could not sell? Return to eg with 2 ships.
1909Refer to SAW. HBC. EG seals for 2nd year, just 5 vessels in the fleet, plus 2 at hs/cg.
1910Industry almost entirely focussed upon station activity using natives and a mostly bartering economy which persists well into the 20th century. (Albert of P'head also still at it but reported only spasmodically).