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
In late June 1871, forty whaleships passed north through Bering Strait, hunting bowhead whales. 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. The vessels were spread out in a long line, some 60 miles (97 km) south of Point Franklin.
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. Amazingly, there were no casualties.
The seven whalers that escaped (the vessels Europa, Arctic, Progress, Lagoda, Daniel Webster, Midas, and Chance) were forced to dump their catch and most of their equipment overboard to make room for passengers on the return trip to Honolulu. The total loss was valued at over $1,600,000 ($31.6 million in today's dollars). Twenty-two of the wrecked vessels were from New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1872 the bark Minerva was discovered intact and subsequently salvaged, but the rest were crushed in the ice, sank, or were stripped of wood by the local Inupiat.
Lost whaling vessels
The lost vessels were as follows:
|Bark Roman||New Bedford||Jared Jernegan?||Crushed in the ice Sept. 7, 1871.|
|Bark Concordia||New Bedford||Robert Jones||Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.|
|Ship Gay Head||New Bedford||William H. Kelley||Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.|
|Bark George||New Bedford||Abraham Osborn||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship John Wells||New Bedford||Aaron Dean||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Massachusetts||New Bedford||West Mitchell||Abandoned and wrecked. One lone sailor remained with the wreck through the winter.|
|Bark J.D. Thompson||New London, Conn.||Capt. Allen||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship Contest||New Bedford||Leander C. Owen||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Emily Morgan||New Bedford||Benjamin Dexter||Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)|
|Ship Champion||Edgartown, Mass.||Henry Pease||Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)|
|Bark Henry Taber||New Bedford||Timothy C. Packard||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Elizabeth Swift||New Bedford||George W. Bliven||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship Florida||New Bedford||D. R. Fraser||Abandoned and lost. Wreck burned by local Inuit.|
|Bark Oliver Crocker||New Bedford||James H. Fisher||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Navy||New Bedford||George F. Bouldry||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship Reindeer||New Bedford||B. F. Loveland||Abandoned and lost. (Sunken wreck found, 1872.)|
|Bark Seneca||New Bedford||Edmund Kelley||Abandoned and lost. (Beached wreck found, 1872.)|
|Bark George Howland||New Bedford||James H. Knowles||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Fanny||New Bedford||Lewis W. Williams||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Carlotta||San Francisco, Calif.||E. Everett Smith||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Paiea or Paia||Honolulu, Hawaii||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Monticello||New London, Conn.||Thomas W. Williams||Abandoned and lost.|
|Brig Kohola||Honolulu, Hawaii||Alexander Almy||Abandoned and lost. (Wreck later found ashore.)|
|Bark Eugenia||New Bedford||Daniel B. Nye||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship Julian||Honolulu, Hawaii||John Heppingstone||Abandoned and lost.|
|Bark Awashonks||New Bedford||Ariel Norton||Crushed in the ice Sept. 8, 1871.|
|Bark Thomas Dickason||New Bedford||Valentine Lewis||Abandoned and lost. (Wreck found, 1872.)|
|Bark Minerva||New Bedford||Hezekiah Allen||Abandoned. Discovered intact in 1872; manned and taken south.|
|Ship William Rotch||New Bedford||Capt. Cromwell Morslander||Abandoned and lost.|
|Brig Victoria||San Francisco||Capt. Redfield||Abandoned and lost.|
|Ship Mary||Edgartown||Capt. Edward P. Herendeen||Abandoned and lost.|
|Brig Comet||Honolulu||Capt. Sylvia (Joseph D. Sylvia?)||Crushed in the ice, Sept. 2, 1871|
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.
- Alexander Starbuck. "HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN WHALE FISHERY FROM ITS EARLIEST INCEPTION TO THE YEAR 1876".
- Paul Edward Parker. "Study focuses on end of whaling for city".
- "The Whaling Disaster of 1871".
- Robert McKenna. The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy.
- "Overview of American Whaling: Arctic Whaling".
- John Randolph Spears. The Story of the New England Whalers.
- Everett S. Allen. Children of the Light. (Parnassus Imprints, 1983.)
- Report of the Commissioner.