David Gray's model of a bowhead whale.

In 1885 W H Flower of British Museum, Natural History, had written to David Gray to enquire about the possibility of bringing back to London the skeleton of a bowhead whale. Gray was unable to accommodate the request but did provide a carved scale model, as described in his letter of reply.

Captain David Gray
23rd August 1885

W H Flower Esq.
Director of the Natural History Dept.
British Museum, N.H.
London S.W.

Dear Sir,

Your letter of 5th March reached here three days after I had sailed, and as I only returned last week you will see that it has been impossible for me to answer sooner.

It would be a very difficult and expensive operation to bring home a complete skeleton of a Greenland Whale. The whale-bone (baleen) alone would cost at present £2,000 and where we get one whale there are usually more about and we are obliged to get rid of the Crang (the carcass left after flensing) as soon as possible so as to be ready for more.


During my voyage I had a model of a full sized Greenland whale made the dimension of which I took at the time the capture was made, it's on an inch scale and I think that I have made a very good job of it. I should like you to see it after I get it painted. I may have the pleasure of seeing you at a meeting of the British association in Aberdeen when I can submit my model for your inspection.

I am dear Sir
Yours truly

David Gray

Gray captured the whale, on which the model was based, at 80 degrees North on the 17th of June 1878. The carved wooden model still hangs among the real whales in the Natural History Museum.

Captain Gray made a second painted model, to the same scale of 1 inch to the foot, in 1885 and donated it to the Arbuthnot Museum in Peterhead. It was transferred to the University of Aberdeen Zoology Museum sometime in the 1970s where it is on public display.

Scale model of a bowhead made by Captain David Gray
©Martyn Gorman/ Aberdeen University Zoology Museum
Scale model of a bowhead whale made by David Gray Junior

Martyn Gorman   ·   University of Aberdeen   ·   Department of Zoology ·   © 2002