Tag Archives: Hudson Bay Company


9 Jul

Whale protection in Antarctica is always in and out of the news. There is current concern whether the agreed international rules can be maintained long term.

Antarctica has been a hunting ground since the 1820s when interest in the continent (previously considered an impractical hunting ground, because of the barrier of the Southern Ocean), was rekindled in response to commercial demands, after whales from the northern hemisphere had been hunted to virtual extinction. Hopeful sightings were made on the Ross expedition of 1839-42.

The whaling industry made huge contributions to Britain and other country’s economies. Whales were needed for oil, (used for lighting and lubrication) and later for soap and margarine and for nitroglycerine used in explosives.

There have always been concerns about over culling and the conservation movement began surprisingly early. In 1913 Major Barrett-Hamilton (who joint published ‘The History of British Mammals’ with Dr. Edward Wilson), was sent by the Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), to investigate whaling and sealing in South Georgia.

Numerous reports were subsequently considered and a summary in 1915 stated that: “On its present scale and with its present wasteful and indiscriminate methods, whaling is an industry which, by destroying its own resources, must soon expire”.

The cruelty of the kill also gave concern. Svend Foyn’s explosive harpoon could be fired fast enough from the bows of the whaler to harpoon fast Large Rorquils and Humpbacks as well as the slower Right whale and Sperm whale. Rorquils and Humpbacks were inflated on capture, to stop them sinking, having died a most horrible death.

Pre 1914 rules concerning kills were virtually impossible to implement (particularly those concerning the killing of pregnant females). The lure of profit was immense (for example in 1925, 8,000 whales were processes in one South Georgian station. which made the owners Salvesen, a profit of £300,000). Factory ships avoided the regulations.

Comprehensive information about whales: population, life span of whales, breeding habits, food, needed to be collated before controls would be agreed by the industry. The aim was to agree a limit to kills but obviously, to maintain commercial viability.

One of the first scientific ships sent to obtain this comprehensive information was “Discovery”, Scott’s Antarctic ship of 1901-4. After an eventful career when owned by the Hudson Bay Company, firstly as a trading ship, travelling to Canada to collect furs and subsequently as a transport ship in WW1 avoiding enemy submarines on the terrifying convoys to Archangel to supply the Russians, she was extensively altered and refitted in the early 1920s for her scientific role. On these expeditions in 1925-26 and 1926-27, information was collected about whales; their breeding, gestation, calves rate of growth, some idea of their movements and importantly, their food. A vast amount of scientific data about Antarctic currents, sea temperature and salinity was also collected. These expeditions were described as the largest and most important scientific expeditions for years

Although in 1946 a quota for the number of whales to be killed annually was finally agreed for economic imperatives– 16, 000 Blue Whales, or the equivalent of smaller whales – this quota was above sustainable levels, the whaling industry remained intent on getting as much as possible of this invaluable resource.

Since 1986 there has been a moratorium on whaling but this remains as difficult to police as ever: some countries continue to hunt some species. Many countries have bases in Antarctica, more want to be involved ‘in the name of science’


I fear it is doubtful that international agreements can be upheld in perpetuity. Has self regulation got teeth? Although the Antarctic Treaty is due to be reconsidered in 2048, will its decisions be maintained? There is a problem now and this can only increase.


15 Feb

Like most of us, I imagine, when on a ship, my only serious thought relates to her ability to get me to my destination. It is easy to forget the distinguished histories of many of these vessels and SS Discovery, (now 114 years old and based at Discovery Point in the city of her build, Dundee), is one of these.

Especially designed for Antarctica, she was designed by William E. Smith and built at tremendous expense, £50,000 in 1901. Her massive oak frame was clad stem to stern with inner and outer linings of  Riga Fur, Pitch Pine and Dutch Elm to a thickness of 26 inches.  Her stem was reinforced with oak strips and steel. oak strips and steal. In Antarctica she was encased in ice until early 1904.

But this expedition was the first of many. To me, some of her most interesting and dangerous ventures were in the First World War. At this time she was owned by The Hudson Bay Company and was one of many ships leased to the governments of France and Britain to transport food and raw materials between North America and Europe.

This organisation was the brainchild of Jean Monnet, a French brandy merchant with experience of shipping supplies who was to go on to become architect of the European Common Market, later the European Union. Transportation was hazardous in the extreme. Germany had declared the sea around Great Britain a war zone. 13,000,000 tons of goods were transported through areas riddled with mines to France, Russia, Belgium, Between June and September 1915, ten British, Russian and neutral vessels were lost. For nearly four years virtually all munitions to Russia were via Archangel, a horrendous sail via the Barent Sea and the White Sea.

100s of ships were involved. The contribution of these convoys in World War 1, will, I hope, be recognized this year.

Later Discovery was refitted as a scientific vessel. Important work was done in relation to whale conservation Even in 1915 this problem was recognized  ‘On its present scale and with its present wasteful and indiscriminate methods, whaling is an industry which, by destroying its own resources, must soon expire’. Scientific discoveries were made about the sea and the seabed.

She wasn’t done yet! In World War 2, moored in The Thames as the Sea Scouts training ship, she was Headquarters of the River Emergency Service (it was said that despite the air raids no scout failed to report for his eight hour watch). Then the Parachute Mine Service – Scouts sent a compass bearing of these mines to Royal Naval headquarters.

She is now in honourable ‘retirement’ at Dundee Point. An education centre for thousands of visitors.

What a ship. What a history