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History of shore-based whaling

Shore-based Whaling

The Rounding

"The Rounding", by William Duke depicts
the harpooner poised to launch his weapon.
(Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery)

After the selection of a suitable site for a station and the satisfaction of leasing arrangements where applicable, facilities for the operation had to be constructed. The basic requirements were; a slipway for the launching and retrieval of boats, platforms for the flensing of the whale carcass and the transportation of the blubber, a try works for the reduction of the whale blubber into oil, and a cluster of accommodation and storage huts which were usually situated near the working areas.

Each shore station maintained a number of open boats which would be quickly launched after whales were sighted from a vantage point. Alternatively, the boats could be stationed on a daily basis close to a known migration or breeding area. After the whale had been successfully harpooned, it would subsequently become exhausted by towing the craft attached to it by a long rope line. At this point the boat would approach the whale and the kill would be completed with repeated strikes from a lance.

The crew, with the possible aid of other boats, would then tow the carcass to the station where it would be brought as close to the processing area, or try works, as possible. Where conditions were unsuitable a timber platform and winching point, known as blubber shears, was erected offshore in deeper waters.

Flenching a whale

Whale being processed at Twofold Bay
on the NSW coast. (Rene Davidson Collection)

The blubber of the whale was then "flensed" from the carcass with a selection of specialised tools before being cut into progressively smaller pieces which were heated in trypots to remove the oil. After being left to cool, the oil would be transferred to large timber casks for storage or shipment. During the processing of the carcass the baleen would also be removed from the whales mouth to be cleaned and dried before it was bundled up.

Running costs were not great as most of the men were traditionally paid on a system of "lays" as a proportion of the overall catch. The whalers were employed on a purely seasonal basis and usually numbered between 20 and 30, depending upon the size of the station and the number of boats in use. Tasks were allocated according to the skills and experience of the men and a "headsman" was usually appointed to manage the day to day operation of the station.

The owners of the Tasmanian stations were merchants and commercial speculators who were usually engaged in a number of other activities including sealing, timber getting, farming and shipping, that could be run in tandem with their whaling pursuits.

Hauling a whale

Party of whalers hauling blubber
up to a tryworks shed. (Rene Davidson Collection)

Askin Morrison

Mr Askin Morrison, one of the Tasmanian
whaling station owners.
(Archives Office of Tasmania)