Whaling in Australian waters began in 1791 when five of the 11 ships
in the Third Fleet of settlers to the colony of
New South Wales
New South Wales landed
their passengers and freight at
Sydney Cove and then left Port Jackson
to engage in whaling and seal hunting off the coast of
New Zealand.  The two main species hunted by such vessels in the
early years were right and sperm whales. Later, humpback, bowhead and
other species would be taken. 
Whaling went on to be a major maritime industry in
work for hundreds of ships and thousands of men and contributing
export products worth £4.2 million by 1850.  Modern whaling using
harpoon guns and iron hulled catchers was conducted in the twentieth
century from shore-based stations in Western Australia, New South
Wales and Queensland.
A government inquiry into the industry in 1978 resulted in a ban on
Australia and a commitment to whale protection.
2 Early visiting whalers
3 Australian whaling ships
4 Modern whaling
5 The abolition of whaling in Australia
6 Long serving or notable Australian whaling vessels
7 See also
8 References and footnotes
9 External links
Whales played a part in the lives of coastal Aboriginals in
pre-colonial Australia. They were a totem animal for some clans in
Western Australia.  Their depiction in rock art in New South Wales
indicates whales also had significance in eastern Australia. Four
or five Aboriginal rock engravings near Sydney have been identified as
depicting whale feasts.  Beached whales, or drift whales that died
at sea and washed ashore, were an occasional food source for coastal
Aboriginals. The smell of the decomposing whale would attract the
first arrivals and messages would be sent to neighbouring groups to
come and attend the banquet.  There is no record of any traditional
hunting of whales by Australian Aboriginal from the frail bark canoes
or hollowed out logs they typically used to fish on the coast. However
it has been claimed some had the ability to hunt them by other means.
The Kondoli clan in South
Australia were supposed to have been able to
‘’ sing’’ whales inshore in the hope they would beach
themselves.  And it has been said Aboriginals at
Twofold Bay in New
South Wales somehow combined with killer whales to drive right whales
ashore in stories recounted at the Eden Killer Whale Museum. What can
be said with certainty is that the discovery of a dead whale was a
major event for those living near the coast. One such group was
encountered with a whale on a beach at
Port Jackson on September 7,
On the 7th instant, Captain Nepean of the
New South Wales
New South Wales corps, and
Mr White, accompnied by little Nanbaree and a party of men, went in a
boat to Manly Cove, intending to land there and walk on to Broken Bay.
On drawing near the shore, a dead whale in the most disgusting state
of putrification was seen lying on the beach, and at least two hundred
Indians surrounding it, broiling the flesh on different fires and
feasting on it with the most extravagent marks of greediness and
rapture ... on being asked the cause of their present meeting Beneelon
[Bennalong] pointed to the whale, which stank immoderately, and Colbee
made signals that it was common among them to eat until the stomach
was so overladen as to occasion sickness. 
The bones of whales were also prized for certain purposes. The ear
bones were retrieved to make drinking vessels and the ribs were
sometimes used as the frames for gunyahs or huts. 
Bay whaling stations established on the coast by colonists in the
nineteenth century attracted tribal Aboriginals who would camp nearby
and feast on the discarded whale carcasses after the blubber had been
removed. Some Aboriginal men served on whaling boats as pulling hands
or manned lookout posts where their keen eye-sight allowed them to see
approaching whales without the aid of a telescope. A few served on
pelagic whaling ships operating out of Sydney and Hobart.
Europeans were aware of whales off the coast of
Australia from at
least 1699 when the British maritime explorer, naturalist and
William Dampier (1652-1715) sailed along the coast of
Australia where he reported, “the sea is plentifully stocked
with the largest whales that I ever saw.”
Early visiting whalers
British whalers and sealers began to call at Sydney soon after
European settlement began in 1788. Some came under charter as convict
transports or store ships and after landing their passengers and cargo
began whaling or sealing voyages from Port Jackson. The first to
return to Sydney after taking whales off the coast was Captain Thomas
Melvill who commanded the Britannia owned by Samuel Enderby &
Sons. To mark the occasion Governor
Arthur Phillip in 1791 presented
Captain Melvill with a Silver Cup which was later inscribed:
The gift of His Excellency, Arthur Phillips [sic], Esq.,
Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of His Majesty's Territory of
New South Wales
New South Wales and its Dependencies, to Thomas Melvill, Commander of
the Britannia, for killing a
Spermaceti Whale on the 26th October
1791. Being the first of its kind taken on this coast since the Colony
was established. 
Britannia returned to Britain in 1793 with 118 tuns of sperm whale oil
and 1,900 seal skins.  The other Third Fleet whalers which
returned to Britain in 1793 were William and Ann (Captain Eber Bunker)
with 68 tuns of sperm whale oil and 8,468 seal skins, Mary Ann (Mark
Munro) with 25 tuns of oil and 1,900 seal skins and Scamander (John
Nichol) with 117 tuns of oil and 6,100 seal skins.  Britannia had
been at Dusky Sound on the South Island of New Zealand where some or
all of the seal skins may have taken.  Another Third Fleet whaler,
Matilda (Matthew Weatherhead), was lost at sea.  One other British
whaler was reported off New Holland (Australia) between 1791 and 1793.
This was Canada (Captain Alexander Muirhead) which returned to Britain
in 1793 with 15 tuns of sperm whale oil, 6 tuns of right whale oil and
7,000 seal skins. 
Thomas Whitcombe ‘’Departure of the whaler Britannia from Sydney
Cove, 1798’’, National Library of Australia, Canberra.
A limitation on the industry in the early years were the Navigation
Laws and Crown monopolies granting exclusive rights to all commercial
maritime activity in the region by British vessels to the South Seas
Company and the East India Company, or to vessels that had been
licensed by these companies. Those restrictions were gradually
eliminated in stages and allowed British vessels to whale, seal, go
fur trading or engage in other forms of trading in the Pacific without
a licence.  Taking general cargo on the outward bound voyage
allowed whalers to supplement their income. The leading London whale
ship owner Samuel Enderby confirmed in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks in
1801 that it was a great advantage to the owners of whalers to take
freight or passengers to New South Wales.  His vessel Speedy (1779
ship) returned to London from
New South Wales
New South Wales in 1801 with oil worth
£13,600 which Enderby said was the most valuable such cargo brought
back till then. 
Australian whaling ships
The first Australian owned whalers sailed from Sydney in 1805. The
Colonial Ship King George
Colonial Ship King George (Captain George Moody) was owned by
Henry Kable and James Underwood and departed
Port Jackson in June and
was “fishing” for southern right whales in the Derwent Estuary in
Tasmania by July 1805.  The first sperm whaler was the 224-ton
Argo (Captain John Bader) owned by John McArthur, through his London
agents Hullets & Co, and which departed Sydney in September 1805.
 Vessels owned or based in
Australia went on to make more than
1,500 voyages from colonial ports in the nineteenth century. 
Sydney and Hobart were the two main whaling ports.
Whaling was also conducted from shore-based bay whaling stations
scattered along the coasts of
Australia and New Zealand. Gangs of men
were taken to these locations on small vessels, mostly schooners, and
brought back to Sydney or Hobart at the end of the season together
with their catch of oil and baleen taken from southern right whales.
Whaling ships sometimes anchored nearby and competed with their
Whaling ships were sometimes hired to transport people and freight
between settlements or to establish new colonies. The Albion (362
tons) arrived at Risdon Cove on September 8, 1803, with settlers who
were to establish Hobart.  The brig Amity (192 tons) landed the
first white settlers at Western
Australia in 1826.  Lord Howe
Island was settled by colonists landed from the Sydney whaler Caroline
(192 tons) in 1834. 
Sperm whale with whalers
The large crews on such vessels – necessary to man the whale boats
– meant the trade was a major employer of maritime labour. The
forty-two whalers based in Sydney by 1837 employed about 1,300 men.
 Most were British born seamen but as the years went by Australian
born mariners joined the fleet in increasing numbers.
Whaling was a challenging business that produced capable and versitile
individuals some of went on the achieve prominance in other fields.
Three future parliamentarians and a Lord Mayor of Sydney served on
Australian whalers, as did others who later became prominent
merchants.  Two notable literary figures were also involved. Henry
Kendall (poet) and the future American novelist
Herman Melville served
on Sydney whalers and both later wrote about the experience. 
John Macarthur (1767-1834)
Many leading entrepreneurs owned whaling ships. John Macarthur (wool
pioneer), Robert Campbell (1769-1846),
Benjamin Boyd and Robert Towns
in Sydney, and Alexander McGregor, William Crowther (Australian
politician), Askin Morrison and Alexander Imlay in Hobart were
prominent merchants who diversified their business interests by owning
whaling ships. Others were indirectly involved, supplying such
vessels with provisions, equipment and dockside services in port.
Whale oil and baleen (whalebone) taken by inshore whaling ships or by
shore-based parties at coastal bay whaling stations and sperm whale
oil taken by pelagic whalers were among Australia's earliest exports.
 Sealing and whaling contributed more to the colonial economy than
land produce until the 1830s when the fisheries were overtaken by wool
Whaling was a significant commercial enterprise in colonial Australia,
particularly between 1831 and 1845 when it contributed exports
commodities worth £3.5 million pounds.  The trade peaked in the
1830s, in terms of the number of vessels involved and the value of
whaling exports, before experiencing a series of setbacks.  These
included a decline in productivity due to depleted whale stocks, the
start of a major economic depression in 1840, a series of gold rushes
Australia starting in 1851, the discovery that mineral oil
could be made into petroleum the use of which superseded whale oil as
a lamp fuel and a realisation that a better and more reliable return
could be obtained from investment in fine wool production. 
Modern whaling using steam-powered vessels and bow-mounted harpoon
guns with explosive heads developed in the second half of the
nineteenth century and allowed larger and faster swimming species to
be hunted. The later introduction of factory ships with a stern ramp
enabled captured whales to be dragged onto the deck and processed with
greater speed and safety. Norway was the leading whaling nation by the
end of the nineteenth century and the introduction of modern whaling
in Australia, as elsewhere, was associated with Norwegian
entrepreneurs, ships and mariners.
Norwegian businessman Henryk Johan Bull was living in
Australia in the
1890s when he conceived the idea of using Melbourne as a base to whale
in the Antarctic.  Unable to interest local investors, he returned
to Norway and approached
Svend Foyn (1809-1894) generally regarded as
the founder of modern whaling. The sealing vessel Cap Nor (346 tons)
was purchased and her auxiliary engine was upgraded and she was fitted
out for whaling. Renamed Antarctic, the vessel left Norway on 20
September 1893 and after sealing at Kergulen Island on route arrived
at Melbourne on 24 February 1894. Antarctic left Melbourne in April
1894 and briefly cruised off Tasmania before heading for the Auckland
Islands and Campbell Island, returning to Melbourne five months later.
Norwegian firms established shore-based whaling stations in Western
Australia at Frenchman’s Bay near Albany in 1912 and at Point
Cloates in 1913.  The Australian
Whaling Commission established
another whaling station in Western
Australia in 1949 at Carnarvon.
The Cheyne Beach whaling station (2013), Western Australia, now
functions as a tourist attraction
Norwegian factory ships and catchers sailing to and from the Antarctic
would call at Hobart for provisions, men and repairs.  They also
tried whaling off the coast of Tasmania. A factory ship reached
Tasmania in January 1912 and took 1,599 barrels of oil off the coast.
 Another factory ship took just 480 barrels of oil off the coast
Australia but found a single piece of ambergris that weighed 1,003
lbs, the largest ever recorded till that time, which sold in London
for £23,000. 
By 1956 there were six whaling stations operating in Australia.
Three were in Western Australia, at Frenchman’s Bay, Point Cloates
and Carnarvon. One was located at Tangalooma in Queensland and another
at Byron Bay in New South Wales. The sixth was on Norfolk Island.
Overfishing caused the collapse of the humpback population by 1962 and
a shift in focus to sperm whales.
Remains of Tangalooma's concrete flensing deck in 2010.
Overfishing also saw the closure of some whaling stations before the
government ban on the industry was introduced. The whaling station at
Tangalooma, Queensland, on
Moreton Island alone harvested and
processed 6277 Humpback Whales between 1952 and 1962 and contributed
to the crash in the eastern Australian Humpback population and forced
the closure of the Tangalooma, Byron Bay and Norfolk Island whaling
stations in 1962. 
There are a number of heritage institutions connected with the whaling
industry in Australia. These include the
Eden Killer Whale Museum
Eden Killer Whale Museum in
New South Wales
New South Wales and the Cheyne Beach
Whaling Station (now
known as Albany’s Historic
Whaling Station) in Western Australia.
 The largest collection of Australian whaling ship log books is
held by the W L Crowther Collection in the State Library of Tasmania.
The abolition of whaling in Australia
In 1978 the Federal Government appointed Sir Sydney Frost, a former
chief justice of Papua New Guinea, to conduct an inquiry into whales
and whaling. This followed a direct pro-whale action campaign in
Australia and a national community campaign by groups
including Project Jonah, Friends of the Earth and the Whale and
Greenpeace co-founder Canadian Bob Hunter came to Albany in August
1977 to take charge of a direct action campaign against the three
whale chaser ships operating from Albany. Zodiacs were taken 30 miles
out to sea to place people between harpoons and the whales. This was
the first Greenpeace campaign in Australia. Key members of the Whale
and Dolphin Coalition, including Jonny Lewis and Richard Jones, then
formed Greenpeace Australia.
On 31 July 1978, the first day of the Frost inquiry public hearings,
the Cheynes Beach
Whaling Company announced its intention to close
operations at the end of that whaling season. Cheynes Beach had
operated from Frenchman Bay near Albany, Western Australia, since
1952. The last whale, a sperm whale, was harpooned on 20 November
Sperm whale remains at the Albany
Whaling Station in July 1977
Sir Sydney's report, Whales and Whaling: Report of the Independent
Inquiry, recommended banning whaling in Australia, and in April 1979
the Fraser government endorsed it.
Australia is now a global
anti-whaling advocate and has taken a strong stance against Japan's
whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean. The State Library of New South
Wales holds an extensive collection of material related to whaling in
its collection including art works, photographs, whalers diaries,
whale bone and scrimshaw.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that whale populations, especially
humpbacks, have been steadily increasing since the end of whaling in
Australian waters. The current state of the sperm whale population in
the Southern Ocean off Western
Australia is unknown.
Whale watching is
an increasingly popular activity.
Long serving or notable Australian whaling vessels
Aladdin (1847-1885) 
Australian 264 tons (1829-1856) 
Caernarvon (1834-1867) 
Emily Downing (1857-1885) 
Flying Childers (1846-1877) 
Highlander (1837-1862) 
Colonial Ship King George
Colonial Ship King George 185 tons (1805-1815) The first Australian
whaler. Also the first to be built in Australia. 
Lucy Ann, 213 tons (1833-1852)
Herman Melville served aboard in 1842.
Marie Laure (1849-1886)
Offley (1849-1880) Probably Hobart’s longest lived whaler. Built in
1849 and still in existence in 1952. 
Prince of Denmark (1834-1863)
Proteus, 254 tons (1831-1852) Probably Sydney’s longest lived
whaler. Built in Java in 1815 and broken up in 1918. 
Runnymede (1849-1881) 
Sydney Packet (1826-1837) Built in Sydney, Australia
Sapphire (1855-1888) 
Venus 288 tons (1831-1835) In 1831 ventured to latitude 31 degrees
south and within the Antarctic circle.
Waterwitch 243 tons (1842-1895)
Woodlark 238 tons (1820-1854)
Economic history of Australia
Eden Killer Whale Museum
Whale watching in Australia
Whaling in Western Australia
Whaling in the United Kingdom
References and footnotes
Dakin, William John (1938) [c1933]. Whalemen Adventurers: The story of
whaling in Australian waters and other Southern seas related thereto,
from the days of sails to modern times (2 ed.). Sydney: Angus &
Colwell, Max (1977) .
Whaling around Australia. Sydney: Seal
Little, Barbara, “The sealing and whaling industries in Australia
before 1850,” Australian Economic History Review, 9 (2) September
1969, pp. 109-127.
Kerr, Margaret & Colin (1980). Australia’s early whalemen.
Sydney's whaling fleet
^ Cumpston, John (1977). Shipping arrivals & departures Sydney,
1788-1825. Canberra: Roebuck. p. 26.
^ Suter, Keith D. (October 1982). "Australia's new whaling policy:
Formulation and implementation". Marine Policy. Elsevier. 6 (4):
^ Coghlin, Timothy (1918). Labour and industry in Australia, from the
first settlement in 1788 to the establishment of the Commonwealth in
1901, Volume 1. London: Oxford University Press. p. 510.
^ Dakin, chapters X-XIV.
^ Martin Gibbs (1995), ‘’The historical archaeology of shore based
whaling in Western
Australia 1836-1879,’’, PhD thesis, University
of Western Australia, p.20 & 91.
^ Peter Stanbury & John Clegg, A field guide to Aboriginal rock
engravings; with special reference to those around Sydney, Sydney,
Sydney University Press, 1990, pp.19-20.
^ Peter Stanbury & John Clegg, p.22.
^ Phillip A. Clarke, “The significance of whales to the Aboriginal
people of southern South Australia,” Records of the South Australian
Museum, 34 (1) p.22.
^ Clarke, p.29.
^ Watkin Tench, Tim Flannery (ed.), 1788; comprising a narrative of
the expedition to Botany Bay and a complete account of the settlement
of Port Jackson, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1996, p.136.
^ Gibbs, p.22.
^ Lynette Russell, Roving mariners; Australian Aboriginal whalers and
sealers in the southern oceans, 1790-1870, New York, State University
of New York Press, 2012.
^ William Dampier, “A voyage to New-Holland and, &c, in the year
1699, Vol III,” third edition, 1729, London, James Knapton,
^ Entry for Captain Thomas Melville, Geni.com
^ Cumpston, p.27.
^ A. G. E. Jones & Dale Chatwin, Ships employed in the South Seas
trade, 1775-1859, Volume 3, Hobart, Navarine Publishing, 2014, p.90.
^ Cumpston, p.16-19.
^ Margaret Stephen, Trade, tactics and territory, Melbourne, Melbourne
University Press, 1983, p.84.
^ Stephen, p.84.
^ Ian Nicholson, Shipping arrivals and departures, Tasmania, Volume 1,
1803-1833, Roebuck, Canberra, 1983, p.16.
^ Cumpston, p.55.
^ Susan Chamberlain (1988), The Hobart whaling industry 1830 to 1900,
PhD thesis, La Trobe University, Melbourne, p.53; Mark Howard,
“Masters of the Sydney whaling fleet,” 1805-1896, Descent, 44 (2)
June 2014, p.73.
^ Lloyd Robson, A history of Tasmania, Volume 1, Van Diemen’s Land
from the earliest times to 1855, Melbourne, Oxford University Press,
^ Les Johnson, She was the Amity brig, Albany, town of Albany, 1998,
^ Alan & Valarie Finch, Lord Howe Island, Adelaide, Rigby, 1967,
Whaling to Sanctuary" (PDF). Australian Government -
Department of the Environment and Heritage. Archived from the original
(pdf) on 2006-09-07. Retrieved 2006-06-06.
^ Macintyre, Stuart (2004). A Concise History of Australia. Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-521-60101-0.
^ John Mills, "The contribution of the whaling industry to the
economic development of the Australian colonies, 1770-1850,"
University of Queensland, PhD thesis, 2016,
^ Mark Howard, ‘’Thomas Blyth’s 1835 letter of encouragement to
the whale ship owners in New South Wales,’’ The Great Circle, 17
(1) 1995, p.44.
^ Howard, ‘’Thomas Blyth ...,’’ p.44.
^ Mitchener, C.E. (2015). Ice in the rigging; ships of the Antarctic,
1699-1937. Hobart: Maritime Museum of Tasmania. p. 108.
^ Bull, H.J. (1896). The cruise of the ‘’Antarctic’’ to the
Polar regions. London & New York: Edward Arnold.
^ Frost, Sydney (1978). Whales and whaling; Vol 1; Report of the
independent inquiry conducted by the Hon Sir Sydney Frost. Canberra:
Australian Government. p. 35.
^ Frost, p.35.
^ Stoddart, Michael (2017). Tassie’s whale boys; whaling in
Antarctic waters. Hobart, Tasmania: Forty South Publishing.
^ Tonnessen & Johnsen, J.N & A.O. (1982). The history of
modern whaling. London & Canberra: C. Hurst & Co. &
Australian National University Press. p. 222.
^ Tonnessen & Johnsen, p.223.
^ Frost, p.35.
^ Frost, p.35-6.
^ Colwell, p.164.
^ The Courier (Hobart) February 13, 1847, p.2; The Mercury (Hobart) 16
April 1885, p.2.
^ The Australian (Sydney) 31 December 1829, p.3; The Sydney Morning
Herald 18 August 1856, p.4.
^ Sydney General Trade List, 15 February 1834, p.2.; ‘’Sydney
Morning Herald’’, 20 June 1867, p.4.
^ Colonial Times (Hobart) 29 January 1857, p.2; The Mercury (Hobart)
26 January 1885, p.2.
^ The Britannia and Trade's Advocate(Hobart) 31 December 1846, p.2;
Tribune (Hobart) 1 May 1877, p.2.
^ Colonial Times (Hobart), 11 April 1837, p.4; The Mercury (Hobart) 17
April 1867, p.2.
^ Ronald Parsons, Ships of
Australia before 1850, Part Two, K-Z,
McGill (South Australia) the author, 1983, p.2.
^ Mark Howard, "Melville and the Lucy Ann mutiny", Leviathan, (13) 2,
June 2011, 3-17.
^ The Courier (Hobart) 11 August 1849, p.2; The Mercury (Hobart), 6
March 1886, p.2.
^ The World’s News (newspaper) 19 January 1952, p.8.
^ David R. Collin, Kirkcudbright’s “Prince of Denmark” and her
voyages in the South Seas, Dunbeath, Scotland, Whittles Publishing,
^ Sydney Gazette and
New South Wales
New South Wales Advertiser, 1 November 1831, p.2;
Empire, (Sydney) 21 August 1852, p.2.
^ Parsons, Vol 2, p.39-40.
^ Caroline Wesley, “A survey of the W. L. Crowther Library; State
Library of Tasmania, Appendix, The Great Circle, 1 (2) October 1979,
p.57; ‘’The Mercury’’ (Hobart) 22 December 1881, p.2.
^ Colonial Times (Hobart) 7 April 1855, p.2; The Mercury (Hobart) 19
November 1888, p.2.
^ The Sydney Monitor, 8 January 1831, p.3; The Sydney Herald, 8
January 1835, p.3.
^ Robert Swan,
Australia in the Antarctic, Melbourne, Melbourne
University Press, 1961, pp.22-3; Keith M. Bowden, Captain James Kelly
of Hobart Town, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1964, p.73.
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