Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Success of the Whaling Industry


In 1791 a fishery for spermaceti whales on the coast of New South Wales was commenced by Captain Melville, commander of the Britannia, a ship belonging to Messrs. Enderby and Sons, the first British merchants who adventured in the southern whale fishery.

Having discovered in his passage to Port Jackson with a load of convicts, that the spermaceti whales were more abundant in the seas adjacent to that country than near the coasts of South America, he sailed from that port on a whaling expedition, and was followed by several other vessels, which, like his own, were fitted for the whale fishery, and according to the original destination of their voyages, were to have stretched across the Pacific ocean to the coast of Peru on that pursuit. Captain M. got only one out of four whales that he killed, nor were the other vessels more successful, owing to the very tempestuous weather while they were out. But they were sufficiently encouraged to consider those seas as very favourable for the prosecution of the most valuable branch of the whale fishery.
........ A Treatise on the Laws of Commerce and Manufactures By Joseph Chitty

Nine years later.......

A letter from Sydney Cove, Botany Bay, dated December 19 1799 says

'You will be pleased to learn the success of the Whalers; those of any kind of perseverance or knowledge have done vastly well.

The Britannia, in less than six months, during which time she had been five times in port on this coast, procured one hundred and twenty-three tons of very superior spermaceti oil.

The Eliza, another ship, got upwards of ninety tons, and Capt. Bunker, who, you know, is an excellent whaler, is just sailed, and I doubt not but he will very soon fill his ship, as the season is favourable. Our crops this season promise to reward the Governor's unceasing efforts for the good of the Settlement, and to reward the industry of the husbandmen; for, to a certainty, if no accident happens, we shall grow wheat enough this year to serve us three, a circumstance so happy, that it will enable Governor Hunter ever after to have one year's grain in store, and which will prevent us from hereafter experiencing such dreadful ideas of famine as we have hitherto done.

We have made some cloth from our sheep' wool (which with goats, hogs, poultry, nay, every thing else, thrives well), and linen from the flax plant tolerably good samples of which the Governor sends home. A very large party is now forming in order, if possible, to drive the wild cows into an enclosure made by rocks, with only one large opening between them; if success attends us, we shall have enough of cattle, which is the thing now most wanted. By wild cows I mean those produced by the four cows and a young bull that strayed away from us about six weeks after our landing, and which now amount to nearly two hundred, all of them as wild as the cows of Madagascar'. - Portsmouth Telegraph or Mottley's Naval and Military Journal, Monday August 11 1800.

Notes and Links

1). Eber Bunker, sea captain and farmer, was born on 7 March 1761 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States of America, son of James Bunker and his wife Hannah, née Shurtleff. On 16 November 1786 at St George-in-the-East, Middlesex, England, he married Margrett, daughter of Henry Thompson. His daughter married Arnold Fisk.

2). Parmelia Convict Ship - whale tooth decoration Whale Tooth decorated with image of the Parmelia