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A Dinner Invitation and First Pursuit: April 22nd, 1811

April 21, 2011

In the evening of the 21st, Scoresby went on board the Birnie of Grimsby to dine with four other captains: Captain Hornby of the Birnie, and captains Johnson, presumably of the Aimwell, W. Kearsley of the Henrietta, both of Whitby, and captains Kearsly, and Robinson. At 10PM, Scoresby notes, they were becalmed, and later beset by ice.

The following day the Resolution proceeded northward through loose pieces of ice, and Scoresby deduced from the clouds and ‘breeding’ of showers, that there was open water ahead. Unfortunately, the Easterly winds of earlier in the month had eased, and it was impossible to get under sail to break through the surrounding ice. Nevertheless, there were whales, and in the morning they

had a boat in pursuit of a whale the first seen this year by us. In the morning the Sarah and Elizabeth hoisted her Jack as a signal of having struck a Whale.

The ‘Jack,’ a small union flag, is significant in many ways at sea, but is in many other things, whalers had their own ways of using it. In his Account of the Arctic Regions Volume 2 (1820), Scoresby has this to say about the raising of the Jack:

The Jack: In the fishery, this flag is used to indicate, that the boats belonging to the ship bearing it are engaged with a fish. Its intention seems originally to have been extremely liberal. By it, a ship fishing might be distinguished among a number, and others might be directed to the same place, where probably more fish were to be found. It has, however, additional uses in the present day. It serves to intimate that a fish is harpooned, to the other boats belonging to the same ship which may happen to be at a distance, and not aware of the circumstance: but most usually, it is displayed as a precautionary measure, to prevent the interference of any other ship with the fish so struck, excepting in the way of an auxiliary, in which case it gives a friend an opportunity of assisting. To prevent disputes with regard to the title to a fish that has been struck, it is generally good policy, when other ships are near, to keep the jack flying until the fish is killed.

When a jack is moved violently up and down the mast, it proclaims the appearance of a fast fish on the surface of the water; and when it is thus accompanied by a bucket, it expresses that the fish is in the line of or near to the ship.

Before the commencement of the fishing season, a jack or ancient [used by whalers, when hoisted at the ‘mizen peak,’ to indicate that the ship is “full”] is used as a kind of complimentary signal to a friend, expressing as much as the usual greeting “How do you do?” and on the sealing stations, the jack is sometimes substituted fot eh bucket in recalling the boats.

The Resolution did not take a whale, and spent the night moored to pieces of ice, drifting southward, unable to move under sail.


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