instruments used to kill whales were the harpoon and the lance.
Usually, the harpoons were thrown by hand but by the 19th century
simple harpoon guns were also being used. It should be noted that
the harpoons fired by the gun were not explosive devices but essentially
similar to those thrown by hand.
the beginning of the 18th century, harpoons were about 3 feet
in length and consisted of three parts; the socket to which a
wooden handle and the rope was attached, the shank, and the sharp
and barbed mouth. The mouth was triangular in shape, with two
simple flat barbs, each equipped with a smaller barb pointing
in the opposite direction. Apart from the small forward pointing
barbs, his basic design had not changed since the 1600s. The cutting
head of the harpoon was made, not of steel, but of soft iron,
to allow easy sharpening with a file.
the harpoon was forced into the whale, and the line held tight,
the main barbs seized the strong fibres that run through the blubber
and prevented it being pulled out.
most important part of the harpoon was the 2 foot long shank.
This part came under tremendous stress as the whale tried to break
free, and was made from the softest and most pliable iron. The
shank could be, and was, severely twisted by the thrashing whale
and it was important that it could bend without breaking. At the
end of the day the value of a harpoon was exactly the same as
the value of the whale into which it had been thrust, and that
was a small fortune.
Harpoon shank twisted by a captured whale.
lance, used to kill the whale once it had been brought to the
surface, was an iron spear 6 feet in length. One end of the lance
was formed into a socket into which was fitted a 4 foot handle
of fir. At the other end was an 8 inch blade, made of steel and
Scoresby. Account of the Arctic Regions. 1820. Aberdeen University
Lances used to kill whales.
harpoon gun was invented in 1731 but early designs were difficult
to use, and often dangerous. Between 1772 and 1792 the Society
of Arts awarded prizes for improvements to the harpoon-gun.
The result was a marked improvement in design and by the early
1800s guns could throw a harpoon over 40 yards. These guns were
muzzle loaders and fired black powder. The swivel mounted barrel,
made of wrought iron, 24-26 inches in length, and with a bore
of 1 and 7/8 inches. Guns were supplied with two locks which
fired together to reduce the chance of a miss-fire. The harpoon's
shank terminated in a cylindrical knob that fitted snugly into
the barrel and the line was attached by means of a wire ring.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Harpoon guns used in the Greenland fishery