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Where Scoresby’s Whale Ship, the Baffin, was Built

December 3, 2011


As Fred M. Walker says in his essay on building whaleboats, appended to the third volume of Scoresby’s whaling journals, edited by Ian C. Jackson, “In 1819, the placing of an order for a wooden whaling ship with an up-and-coming Liverpool shipbuilder marked a small turning point in the history of whale ship construction.” Scoresby himself claimed that the Baffin was the first purpose-built whaling ship to be constructed in Liverpool, but it is more likely that it was simply the first in recent memory.

Liverpool’s whaling industry was not large in 1819, but it had been significant in the late 1700s. The Baffin sailed with just two others in her first season–the James and the Lady Forbes–and by 1823, sailed alone, but as recently as 1788, according to Henry Smithers’ survey of Liverpool commerce in 1825, the Liverpool whaling fleet included 21 vessels. Looking closely at the map above, which is dated 1823-1824, it is just possible to see, below (to the west of) Queen’s Dock, two graving docks used for ship finishing and repairs, and below that “Baffin Street,” which may or may not have been named after the ship. Just above Queen’s Dock, Greenland Street runs roughly parallel to Parliament Street, perhaps reflecting that whaling heritage. Queen’s Dock itself still exists, but the whole area around the King’s Dock and to the south, is now covered by the Liverpool Echo Arena, car parks, and a marina.

Walker assumes that the shipyard of Mottershead and Hayes was near to Queen’s Dock, but it is more likely to have been further north, near Salthouse Dock. Although there were many ship yards in the area around Baffin Street, and an oil house was situated at number 5, Baffin Street, the Liverpool Commercial Directory for 1818-1819 indicates that the yard of Mottershead and Hayes was to the west of the Salthouse dock, on Trentham Street, near to Graving Dock Nr. 1. That area, later excavated to make way for Jesse Hartley’s Albert Dock (1846), was full of ship yards in 1819, and this was also where Scoresby’s investors, Hurry and Gibson, were based.

In Scoresby’s account of the launch of the Baffin, he records that on February 15th, 1820, the Queen’s Dock, presumably the centre of Liverpool’s whaling trade, was full, but he found a place for the ship in the Salthouse Dock, and it was there that she was fitted out.




  1. Darren White permalink

    ‘Mottershead, Hayes, and Son’ were based at 12 Trentham Street, Liverpool (Gores dir, 1825).

    Do we know which yard this was on the map?

    • Thanks for your comment Darren. We don’t know exactly which yard, unfortunately, but the map shows only four yards (maybe five) off Trentham Street. The whole area covered by the yards, and Trentham Street itself, are now the inside part of the Albert Dock (Hartley built out into the river, then “reclaimed” the low-lying shoreline where the yards are on the map), so the area in question isn’t very big. The Baffin was quite a significant project for a Liverpool shipwright at the time, so I guess M&H might have had one of the larger yards shown, but I don’t know for sure.

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