Friday, 24 October 2014


Each Friday afternoon I go to a class for two hours and look at a diary which has been transcribed by our Tutor - a diary of a Yorkshire man or woman, usually in the eighteenth century.

All the diaries have been fascinating, but today's was the most interesting to date.   It was the 'Journal of the voyage of the 'Hope' from the port of Whitby', written by the ship's surgeon,Thomas Atkinson, in 1774.

Just a short journal it dealt with just one expedition to the whaling waters of the Arctic area around Labrador and Newfoundland.   The furthest the boat got on this occasion was the  island of Disko at the Northern end of the Davis Strait.

It seems as though on this occasion nobody got ill, as there is absolutely nothing about the crew or any illness.   This journal is fascinating because as well as telling us about the weather it tells us about the whaling (absolutely awful stuff -) it also tells us about the native Inuit people they encountered.

As far as the whales are concerned - of course they didn't realise in those days that the whale was actually a mammal, they thought of it as a very large fish (although the record of cruelty to mammals was pretty awful about this time, so it wouldn't have made a lot of difference).   Neither did they understand about the migratory habits of the whale, so some voyages never saw a whale at all.   Others slaughtered sometimes as many as four on one voyage, often dragging them on to ice floes for butchering and processing.
The work was dreadful in the most terrible conditions.

Most fascinating of all however, is their sighting of 'an Indian in his canoe'.   He tells us how they could plainly see how he was dressed and could also see his darts and harpoons and the two large seals he had killed which were lashed to the sides of his boat.   The 'Indian's'
manner suggested that he was familiar with the whalers.

Having had an afternoon of reading this journal we all agreed that it was good that whaling is now banned in most countries in the world. (note that I say 'most' and not 'all).

Sadly the Inuit were in many ways exploited - it is a thorny problem as to whether these native peoples would have been better left undisturbed.   They occur all round the world and seem to have had a bad deal wherever they are.   With these particular Inuit people, they were used by the whaling fleet in exchange for various goods, but in addition the Europeans gave them measles, tuberculosis and other illnesses to which they had no immunity, so that whole tribes were wiped out.

It was altogether an fascinating afternoon, which left me with much to think about.


Becca McCallum said...

Also a diary, and also about whaling, is one story I discovered on pinterest - a young girl (about 6 years old, I think) who was on a whaling ship with her father and mother. I don't know if you've heard of it, but it's fascinating to read her journal (and see how her handwriting develops!)

Your Friday afternoon sessions sound fascinating. I love history, and especially old diaries. It's so amazing to get that glimpse into the life of a person.

mansuetude said...

Can i come to class. Sounds wonderful.

Stay well!

Joanne Noragon said...

I so enjoy reading original old accounts.
My township has published its minutes back to our founding in 1811, and I am amazed how many people read the old handwritten pages (on line) and how many come to us for more information on things like indentures (which had to be recorded), and brands (ditto) and property lines and exchanges. Fascinating stuff.

jinxxxygirl said...

Gosh that does sound fascinating Weaver. I think i would love to read a few diaries. I have kept a diary or a journal as it tends to be called now..... for the last 28 years..ever since i was pregnant with my daughter. Will anyone ever read it?? maybe ..probabaly i want it read??? Maybe after i'm long gone. :) But in reality i might just have a big bonfire one crisp cool night when the moon is full and let all those memories go back to the Universe..... It was after all writen soley for me.... lots of everything in there... After all' a woman's heart is as deep as the ocean..' Hugs! deb

Cloudia said...

Fascinating indeed. It is my secret hope that future scholars shall be driving similar satisfactions from our own posts.

ALOHA from Honolulu

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Your classes wound fabulous - what wonderful things you can learn.

Cro Magnon said...

I have a whale tooth, back in a UK loft, which was a present from my wife's Norwegian Uncle. He was a whaler.

thelma said...

It is a cruel thing whale hunting, I follow the Black Fish website which campaigns against such wickedness. But still fascinating to read about in diaries, especially the Inuit. Whitby of course brandishes its whaling past with the whalebone arch up on the West Cliff.

Heather said...

Fascinating stuff giving such a clear insight into a life so very different from our own. Sadly we have ruined the lives of many indigenous peoples around the world with our interference and 'help'.

Gwil W said...

One of my favourite books is Herman Melville's Moby Dick. If anybody hasn't read it I only say it's not a classic for nothing. Nearly as good as Pat's blog.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

And pat's blog is very good, indeed!

angryparsnip said...

You class sounds so wonderful.

cheers, parsnip

The Weaver of Grass said...

This afternoon I shall look at Becca's suggestion - so thanks for that Becca.

Thanks for your comment Gwil - Moby Dick is one of my all time favourites too - and I even loved the film (Gregory Peck?) which is unusual as mostly good books do not translate well.
Thanks for calling everyone.

Acornmoon said...

Fascinating post, especially as the account was written from first hand experience.