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]

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 ($32.68 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
Bark Roman New Bedford, Massachusetts Jared Jernegan Crushed in the ice Sept. 7, 1871.[1]
Bark Concordia New Bedford, Massachusetts Robert Jones Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
Ship Gay Head New Bedford, Massachusetts William H. Kelley Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
Bark George New Bedford, Massachusetts Abraham Osborn Abandoned and lost.
Ship John Wells New Bedford, Massachusetts Aaron Dean Abandoned and lost.
Bark Massachusetts New Bedford, Massachusetts West Mitchell Abandoned and wrecked. One lone sailor remained with the wreck through the winter.
Bark J.D. Thompson New London, Connecticut Capt. Allen Abandoned and lost.
Ship Contest New Bedford, Massachusetts Leander C. Owen Abandoned and lost.
Bark Emily Morgan New Bedford, Massachusetts Benjamin Dexter Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)[7]
Ship Champion Edgartown, Massachusetts Henry Pease Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)[7]
Bark Henry Taber New Bedford, Massachusetts Timothy C. Packard Abandoned and lost.
Bark Elizabeth Swift New Bedford, Massachusetts George W. Bliven Abandoned and lost.
Ship Florida New Bedford, Massachusetts D. R. Fraser Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.[7][8]
Bark Oliver Crocker New Bedford, Massachusetts James H. Fisher Abandoned and lost.
Bark Navy New Bedford, Massachusetts George F. Bouldry Abandoned and lost.
Ship Reindeer New Bedford, Massachusetts B. F. Loveland Abandoned and lost. (Sunken wreck found, 1872.)[8]
Bark Seneca New Bedford, Massachusetts Edmund Kelley Abandoned and lost. (Beached wreck found, 1872.)[7][8]
Bark George Howland New Bedford, Massachusetts James H. Knowles Abandoned and lost.
Bark Fanny New Bedford, Massachusetts Lewis W. Williams Abandoned and lost.
Bark Carlotta San Francisco, California E. Everett Smith Abandoned and lost.
Bark Paiea or Paia Honolulu, Hawaii Abandoned and lost.
Bark Monticello New London, Connecticut Thomas W. Williams Abandoned and lost.
Brig Kohola Honolulu, Hawaii Alexander Almy Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)[7]
Bark Eugenia New Bedford, Massachusetts Daniel B. Nye Abandoned and lost.
Ship Julian Honolulu, Hawaii John Heppingstone Abandoned and lost.
Bark Awashonks New Bedford, Massachusetts Ariel Norton Crushed in the ice Sept. 8, 1871.[1]
Bark Thomas Dickason New Bedford, Massachusetts Valentine Lewis Abandoned and lost. (Wreck found, 1872.)[7][8]
Bark Minerva New Bedford, Massachusetts Hezekiah Allen Abandoned. Discovered intact in 1872; manned and taken south.[6]
Ship William Rotch New Bedford, Massachusetts Capt. Cromwell Morslander Abandoned and lost.
Brig Victoria San Francisco, California Capt. Redfield Abandoned and lost.
Ship Mary Edgartown, Massachusetts Capt. Edward P. Herendeen Abandoned and lost.
Brig Comet Honolulu, Hawaii Capt. Sylvia (Joseph D. Sylvia?) Crushed in the ice, Sept. 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.