Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Whaling . . .

Whales. I've seen them off the coast of Oregon in the spring. Massive creatures move slowly up the coast in pairs or alone, their spouting a marker for boats with tourists come to gawk, take pictures, and marvel.

In 19th Century Van Diemen's Land, Robert Hughes reports the Southern Seas were "a vast, undisturbed sanctuary" for whales and seals. Whaling and sealing made up most of the export wealth for the "Currency lads"  (native-born white Australians) (331). At that time, millions of black and sperm whales came to small coastal bays in Van Diemen's Land, southeastern Australia, and New Zealand to mate and calve. Millions of whales.

Whalers went out in small boats to kill their prey, joined by whalers from England and America. The crews came from everywhere -- China, India, Indonesia, Africa. Some left their ships in Van Diemen's Land and some convicts, using forged tickets of leave, talked their way onto whalers in a bid for freedom, only to find a different kind of servitude for, as Hughes writes, they could not leave their ship for fear of re-arrest.

This short (3 minute) overview "Plundering and Poaching: Tasmanian Whaling History" (by the Australia Network Production) shows Hobart Town in late 19th Century with commentary, including a mention of the Reverend Robert Knopwood, a famous diarist who also served as an acting magistrate and held the first services in Van Diemen's Land.

This morning's research also brought me to Fanny Cochrane Smith, who once lived at Wybalenna on Flinders Island, where aboriginals were resettled following their forcible removal from Van Diemen's Land (taken following the Black Line (1830), and where Lady Jane and Lord Franklin visited ultimately to adopt Mathinna. Conditions at the Queen's Orphan School are briefly mentioned here as well, conditions I'm guessing did not change markedly through the 1840s (the period of my story).

OK, now back to WORK on actually WRITING.


  1. This is such rich, amazing history. I cannot imagine doing all of this work before even writing a single word!

    You rock!

  2. The first part of your post made me think of my visit to South Africa years ago, watching the whales come close to shore... Thanks for the info and I'm amazed you get work done on your wip! I'm so behind on mine with the A-Z posts! (:

  3. Thanks for an interesting post.