New England whalers in New Zealand waters, 1800-1850
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
New Zealanders are constantly reminded of their whaling heritage. The numerous gates and arches formed by wholes' jaw-bones, the trypot prominently displayed in Timaru's Caroline Bay, the lingering fame of Dicky Barret in New Plymouth, the legends of the Bay of Islands, and the relics held by every museum, are some of the many remnants which emphasise the role of whaling in New Zealand’s history. Present-day events play their part, too; the continued success of the Tory Channel station, and the visits by Russian and Japanese fleets from the Antarctic, maintain the tradition of New Zealand as a centre of whaling. Possibly it is because of these present day examples that the tradition has become more legendary than factual in nature, for the Tory Channel party, with their fast chasers, and the Russian fleet, with its radar, sonar and helicopters, seem almost divorced from the old methods. Consequently, there has been a tendency to glamourise the men who rowed out after whales, risking death with every stroke, and, if successful, towing the carcass tedious miles back to the trying-works. While bravery and fortitude are always commendable, only the passage of a century could make heroes out of the old-time whalers. In a similar way, legend has distorted the size and significance of the old whaling industry. To take just one example, the editor of the Marsden papers goes out of his way to add to add this comment: "An old settler informed me in the 1880’s", writes Mr. S. Percy Smith, "that he had seen over sixty whale ships at one time anchored in the Kawakawa River opposite Opua".