Sealers, whalers, and Antarctic discovery

I’m about 80% through volume one of James Clark Ross’s Voyage to the southern seas, mostly speed reading it in idle moments on my newly acquired 7” tablet – the one I bought specifically for offline reading of pdf’s – and a number of things are quite clear to me.

Throughout his account of the voyage Ross recounts meetings with sealers or whalers, or coming across the remains of their camps on remote islands, showing the extent to which whalers and sealers were the first to explore the sub Antarctic islands.

And while the sealers were as gnarly and fetid as we might imagine – he describes meeting a group on the Crozet islands who stank of rancid seal oil who wore penguin skin boots with the  feathers turned inward – he also admits to making use of the sealing vessels’ logbooks to plot his course – the difference being that Ross went to these islands to survey them, not just club seals.

The other thing is that there were women on these islands. As well as Campbell Island, Ross mentions the remains of a hut on the Auckland Islands where a castaway lived with what he describes as a New Zealand woman – as this is 1840 and before large scale European immigration to New Zealand, I presume he means Maori – suggesting that there were more women involved than usually thought to be associated with Antarctic sealing and whaling.

Equally interesting is the practice of deliberately stocking remote islands with pigs, goats and chickens to provide a food source for passing vessels, as well as planting gardens of potatoes, Siberian kale (which we would nowadays more commonly call Russian Kale, Siberian Kale and  Russian Kale, being alternate names for the same variety of kale – Brassica napus va pabularia ), as well as berry patches of gooseberries, red and blackcurrants …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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