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A Stove Boat and a Lost Harpoon: May 23rd, 1811

May 23, 2011

Samuel_standidge_fleet_image

The Hull Whaling Fleet of Sir Samuel Standidge, painted in 1788. Hull Museums.

On Wednesday morning, as Scoresby attempted to navigate the ship through the ice, the Resolution was struck by a large piece, and a whale boat stove in. Its skids–a wooden fender designed to protect the boat from impact–and the gangway steps, were torn away. Ice was everywhere, large blocks closing in, and snow falling. Scoresby counted 14 ships nearby, many of them moored to pieces of ice, unable to make way. By 6pm, however, he was able to thread the ship into an opening in which lay the Aimwell, and the Sarah and Elizabeth, followed by another ten ships.

On Thursday 23rd, the ice opened considerably, and with many ships in company the  Resolution made progress. All around were whale ships, some 29 in number, some having taken whales, others in pursuit. Among the icebergs: masts, and the cries of men.

During the day it was discovered that the whale Scoresby’s boat had struck on the 19th, but which had escaped under the ice, was indeed the same dead whale picked up by the Augusta. The Augusta was a Hull ship, captained by William Beadling, who, like Scoresby, was enjoying his first command. Realising the line, and the harpoon must have been recovered along with the whale, Scoresby asked that they be returned. Captain Beadling refused “giving some frivolous excuse”. Scoresby then asked that the armourer of the Resolution be allowed to remove the ship’s name from the harpoon, to prevent confusion. Beadling “answered that he would not have the name erased the fortune of fishing had thrown the Harpoon into his Hands & he was determined not only to keep it but to refuse indulging my request which one would have supposed was undeniable. I troubled him no more and accounted for his ridiculous behaviour atributing it to want of sense.”

Ian C. Jackson points out in a footnote to this entry that Scoresby did not assert this principle of ownership in later work, and cites the section on Laws of the Whale Fishery in Account of the Arctic Regions II (pp312-333), in which Scoresby describes the case of the Neptune, one of the boats from which was abandoned secured to a sounding whale, with the purpose of recovering the boat when the dying whale surfaced. Another ship, the Experiment then moved in and captured, the whale, harpoons, and boat, resulting in a dispute that went to court. There Lord Ellenborough found that while the boat should be returned to the captain of the Neptune, the other items, including the harpoon, had become the property of the Experiment.

This dispute over property clearly angered Scoresby, but at the end of his entry for May 23rd he gives us a rare glimpse into the character of one of his crew, Dunbar, the man he sent to talk to Captain Beadling. We learn that Dunbar was known for his sharp wit, and Scoresby says “I almost wished I had given Dunbar liberty to use his oratorial powers in mortifying the fellow since at wit [he is] no contemptible votary.” And Scoresby gives an example of Dunbar’s powers:

The following instance of it related by the Surgeon who heard it fully … [A?] youth on board not remarkable for the beauty of his person or face relating his love affairs &c Dunbar wondered any women should have any liking for so ordinary a looking person as him for he observes … “If I hadn’t known that God Almighty made every body, I’ll be d–nd but I should have taken you for a counterfeit.”

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