National Library of Australia

Whaling

Unknown maker Miniature domino set (date unknown)

pieces of scrimshaw; each piece 1.4 x 0.65 x 0.2cm

Donated by Sir William Crowther between 1964 and 1981

W.L. Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania
Whaling

Whaling was Australia’s first primary industry—worth more than wool until 1833.

The first whalers were convict ships. Their captains delivered their human cargo and went whaling on the return to England.

Two methods of whaling were established in Australia in the early 1800s. Bay whaling hunted the bay, or southern right, whales, whose bones were used for corsets and umbrellas. Deep-sea whaling targeted the sperm whale for its oil (used in lamps), and spermaceti, a waxy by-product, used in candles.

Whaling was always dangerous and difficult work. The Flurry, c.1848, an oil painting by William Duke (1814-1853), dramatically illustrates the hazards and harshness of the life.

Sailors often practised the gentle art of Scrimshaw, which involved etching or carving designs on various materials, including whale bones and teeth. Sailors could sell their carvings to make extra money.