Whale ships.

In the early days, of the Greenland fishery, ships were often of indifferent structure and could not penetrate far into the ice.

By the the early 1800s the whale stocks were in decline and whaling ships had to be able to move far into the ice if they were to take a profitable harvest. This demanded much better ships because, once in the ice, they could be trapped and had to be able to resist the pressure and blows of the ice. These modern ships, of three to hour hundred tons displacement, were very substantially built and yet capable of fast sailing. The hulls of the ships usually had an extra layer of 2 inch thick oak planks and sometimes even two extra layers at the bow. In addition, they were fortified by the application of iron plates to the exterior and a vast number of timbers and stanchions to the interior.

Drawing of a Peterhead whaling ship
©Aberdeen University
Drawing from a whaler's diary of a Peterhead whaling ship among the ice.

The ships had a large hold into which could be packed 3 tiers of casks of 300 to 500 gallons capacity. These were used to store the blubber during the long voyage back to base.

Whaling bark showing barrels
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Whaling bark Alice Knowles, New Bedford

Throughout the whole history of Greenland whaling Peterhead captains used only sail and oar when approaching the whales. When whaling ships began to be fitted with auxillary steam engines in the mid 1800s these were used only during the voyage between the home port and the whaling areas. The whalers felt that great stealth was required when approaching whales and that this was incompatible with the use of noisy steam engines.

SS Windward
©SCRAN/Aberdeenshire Council
SS Windward in Peterhead North Harbour 1893

SS Windward was launched from the yard of Stephen and Forbes, Peterhead, on January 10th 1860. She was a three masted barque, carvel built, 321 tons gross, length 36m, breadth 8.8m, depth 5.05m. Constructed of oak, teak and greenheart with iron plated bows. Built as a sailing ship she was also fitted with engines in 1866. In 1893 Windward was the last whaler to sail from Peterhead and she was sold in 1894. Later she served as a supply ship for the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition to Franz Joseph Land and Peary expeditions in search of the North Pole. She was finally lost, in the Davis Strait, in June 1907.

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