The Role of Foreign Experts in the Revival of Scottish Northern Whaling: 1750-1784

By Chesley W. Sanger, published August 2010


Occasional voyages were made by the British to engage in Northern Whaling from the 1630s but the trade only entered a period of rapid expansion from 1750 until, by 1823, the Scots had become the principal suppliers of Arctic whale products. Scottish companies hired experienced Dutch whalers to assist them from 1750 and then in declining numbers until 1784 and some commentators have concluded that the success of the Scots depended strongly on the use of these foreign experts. Critical examination of more than 300 Bounty Payment Certificates casts doubt on this conclusion.  Scottish whaling saw a revival in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and much of its success is traditionally attributed to the hiring of foreign experts, primarily Dutch officers as well as other Continental harpooners. However, Sanger proposes that the influence of foreign whaling experts is exaggerated, and although he concedes that in the initial phases it was beneficial to have foreign experts on board, he argues that the Scottish seamen were quick learners, who were aided throughout the period 1750-1784 by particularly favourable environmental conditions resulting in many Scottish vessels having an equal, if not better, whaling success rates than vessels with foreign experts, showing that the ‘Northern trade could stand on its own footing’.

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Filed under: Other (Eighteenth C) | Arctic
Subjects include: Whaling & Fishing

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