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.