Whaling Disaster of 1871

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The Whaling Disaster of 1871.

The Whaling Disaster of 1871 was an incident off the northern Alaskan coast in which a fleet of 33 American whaling ships were trapped in the Arctic ice in late 1871 and subsequently abandoned. It dealt a serious blow to the American whaling industry, already in decline.

The 1871 whaling season[edit]

Abandonment of the Whalers
Ships receiving the Captains, Officers, and Crews of Abandoned Ships

In late June 1871, forty whaleships passed north through Bering Strait, hunting bowhead whales.[1] By August the vessels had passed as far as Point Belcher, near Wainwright, Alaska, before a stationary high, parked over northeast Siberia, reversed the normal wind pattern and pushed the pack ice toward the Alaskan coast. Seven ships were able to escape to the south, but 33 others were trapped. Within two weeks the pack had tightened around the vessels, crushing four ships.[2] The vessels were spread out in a long line, some 60 miles (97 km) south of Point Franklin.[3]

By mid-September all 1,219 people aboard the ships evacuated in small whaleboats with a three-month supply of provisions, crossed 70 miles (110 km) of ocean, and were eventually brought to safety by the seven ships which had escaped the ice to the south.[2][4] Amazingly, there were no casualties.

The seven whalers that escaped (the vessels Europa, Arctic, Progress, Lagoda, Daniel Webster, Midas, and Chance)[1] were forced to dump their catch and most of their equipment overboard to make room for passengers on the return trip to Honolulu.[2] The total loss was valued at over $1,600,000 ($33.46 million in today's dollars). Twenty-two of the wrecked vessels were from New Bedford, Massachusetts.[5] In 1872 the bark Minerva was discovered intact and subsequently salvaged,[6] but the rest were crushed in the ice, sank, or were stripped of wood by the local Inupiat.[4]

Lost whaling vessels[edit]

The lost vessels were as follows:[5]

Vessel Homeport Captain[7] Notes
Roman New Bedford, MA Jared Jernegan Crushed in the ice on September 7, 1871.[1]
Concordia New Bedford, MA Robert Jones Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
Gay Head New Bedford, MA William H. Kelley Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
George New Bedford, MA Abraham Osborn Abandoned and lost.
John Wells New Bedford, MA Aaron Dean Abandoned and lost.
MA New Bedford, MA West Mitchell Abandoned and wrecked. One lone sailor remained with the wreck through the winter.
J.D. Thompson New London, CT Capt. Allen Abandoned and lost.
Contest New Bedford, MA Leander C. Owen Abandoned and lost.
Emily Morgan New Bedford, MA Benjamin Dexter Abandoned and lost. Wreck later found ashore.[7]
Champion Edgartown, MA Henry Pease Abandoned and lost. Wreck later found ashore.[7]
Henry Taber New Bedford, MA Timothy C. Packard Abandoned and lost.
Elizabeth Swift New Bedford, MA George W. Bliven Abandoned and lost.
Florida New Bedford, MA D. R. Fraser Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
Oliver Crocker New Bedford, MA James H. Fisher Abandoned and lost.
Navy New Bedford, MA George F. Bouldry Abandoned and lost.
Reindeer New Bedford, MA B. F. Loveland Abandoned and lost. Sunken wreck found in 1872.[8]
Seneca New Bedford, MA Edmund Kelley Abandoned and lost. Beached wreck found in 1872.[7][8]
George Howland New Bedford, MA James H. Knowles Abandoned and lost.
Fanny New Bedford, MA Lewis W. Williams Abandoned and lost.
Carlotta San Francisco, CA E. Everett Smith Abandoned and lost.
Paiea or Paia Honolulu, HI Abandoned and lost.
Monticello New London, CT Thomas W. Williams Abandoned and lost.
Kohola Honolulu, HI Alexander Almy Abandoned and lost. Wreck later found ashore.[7]
Eugenia New Bedford, MA Daniel B. Nye Abandoned and lost.
Julian Honolulu, HI John Heppingstone Abandoned and lost.
Awashonks New Bedford, MA Ariel Norton Crushed in the ice on September 8, 1871.[1]
Thomas Dickason New Bedford, MA Valentine Lewis Abandoned and lost. Wreck found in 1872.[7][8]
Minerva New Bedford, MA Hezekiah Allen Abandoned. Discovered intact in 1872; manned and taken south.[6]
William Rotch New Bedford, MA Cromwell Morslander Abandoned and lost.
Victoria San Francisco, CA Capt. Redfield Abandoned and lost.
Mary Edgartown, MA Edward P. Herendeen Abandoned and lost.
Comet Honolulu, HI Capt. Sylvia Crushed in the ice on September 2, 1871.[1]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Nichols, Peter (2009). Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season (Oil and Ice: A Story of Arctic Disaster and the Rise and Fall of America's Last Whaling Dynasty ed.). Putnam. ISBN 039915602X.


  2. ^ a b c Paul Edward Parker. "Study focuses on end of whaling for city".
  3. ^ "The Whaling Disaster of 1871".
  4. ^ a b Robert McKenna. The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy.
  5. ^ a b "Overview of American Whaling: Arctic Whaling". Archived from the original on November 10, 2011.
  6. ^ a b John Randolph Spears. The Story of the New England Whalers.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Everett S. Allen. Children of the Light. (Parnassus Imprints, 1983.)
  8. ^ a b c d e f Report of the Commissioner.