Whaling in South Australia

Whaling in South Australia

Whaling was South Australia's first industry. It was already in operation at Kangaroo Island before the colony was established in 1836. The colony's first exports were whaling products. After the official settlement of South Australia two bay-whaling, or on-shore whaling, stations operated from Victor Harbor. In March 1837 Captain Blenkinsopp opened one for Sydney merchant Robert Campbell at Victor Harbor but later moved it to Granite Island. Previously Blenkinsopp had been bay whaling in New Zealand and was commander of the Caroline in the early 1830s.

John Hart 1865 (SLSA)

The South Australian Company, operated its own station near the Bluff, at Victor Harbor, with Captain Hart in charge for some time. By the end of the year more than two hundred tons of whale oil was exported from these whaling stations. A lookout was built, and manned, on the Bluff. When a whale was sighted a crew of seven men would rush for their boats, kept in readiness on the beach, and try to harpoon the whale. To bring in a sixty ton whale could take many hours and was both dangerous and very hard work. On 3 November 1838, the ship Goshawk left for London with 242 casks of oil and 395 bundles of whale bone from the South Australian Company. It also carried 95 casks of oil and 82 bundles of whale bone from Hack and Co.

In June 1843 it was reported that about seventy tons of oil and several tons of whalebone had been secured that season. As the prices for oil were about forty Pounds and for whalebones two hundred Pounds per ton, it provided an excellent opportunity for the whalers to secure a good income and it was hoped that many more stations would be established along the coast. Two months later, at Encounter Bay, Hagen's party had taken eight whales and Wheland's men twelve.

During 1845 a whaling station was operated at Trial Bay near Streaky Bay by Hagen, Baker and Hart. During the whaling season as many as forty men were employed. Several ships have come to grief near the station including the Camilla. The Frances was wrecked on the rocks of South Neptune Island in 1840. The crew managed to stay alive for nearly two months before being rescued. Whaling and sealing were a dangerous occupation and many ships were wrecked along the southern coast of South Australia.

The whalers led dangerous and exciting lives. Rivalry and even ill-feeling existed between the whalers of the two stations. When a whale was sighted in the bay, boats from the rival stations would race to be the first to harpoon the animal. The whale was towed to the beach and stripped of its fatty flesh, or blubber, which was boiled in large iron pots.

With few whales at Victor Harbor and even fewer experienced whalers it did not turn out to be a very profitable business. By 1839 the two stations, after much ill-feeling, amalgamated and worked for some years with mixed success. By July 1841 the South Australian Company decided to abandon whaling and sold most of its whaling ships and stores, some of which was bought by Captain Hart. A few months later it only operated with one ship, the Sarah and Elizabeth. Other stations were established along the South Australian coast, as well as at Hog Bay, Kangaroo Island, by Simpson in 1841 and Cape Jervis in 1851. By the 1860s whaling had ceased completely.

Products made from the animal, whales are not fishes, were oil for lamps and candles whereas the bones were used for stays, corsets and collars.


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