Whaling and the Scoresbys

Whaling and the Scoresbys

whaling fleet

The Whaling Fleet

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Whitby was a prosperous port with booming shipbuilding and whaling industries. Two of the most successful whaling captains were William Scoresby senior and his son, the Reverend Dr William Scoresby junior, DD, FRS. Whitby museum has an extensive collection of objects and papers linked to Arctic whaling and to the Scoresby family.

Books about the Scoresby’s and whaling are available in the Museum Library.

Books by William Scoresby junior are available for study in the Museum Library.

The Scoresbys

Scoresby Snr Scoresby Jnr
William Scoresby Snr William Scoresby Jnr

William Scoresby senior (1760-1829) grew up on a small farm near Pickering and was an agricultural labourer before going to sea. After various adventures, he joined the crew of the whaling ship Henrietta in 1785, rising through the ranks to become captain in 1791. In 1806 he broke the British record for sailing furthest north, reaching latitude 80° 30′, with his son William junior as chief mate. In 1807 he developed the crow’s nest, to provide shelter for the navigator at the top of the main mast. He retired from whaling in 1823.

Whitby Personalities

William Scoresby junior DD, FRS (1789-1857) was apprenticed to his father aged 13. At 17 he was promoted to chief mate and at 21 he replaced his father as captain of the Henrietta. From the age of 17 he went to Edinburgh University to study sciences, returning to Arctic whaling in early spring each year. While at sea William junior studied the Arctic seas, their climate, currents and biology. In 1820 he published his Account of Arctic regions, which remains a standard work on the Greenland Whale Fishery. In 1822 he mapped a large part of the east coast of Greenland, publishing his chart the following year. William junior finished whaling in 1823, aged 33, to train for the ministry.

Following his ordination in the Church of England, Scoresby was the first pastor of the Floating Church for seamen in Liverpool. In 1832 he moved to the Bedford Chapel in Exeter and in 1838 was appointed Vicar of Bradford. In Bradford Scoresby tried to improve conditions for factory workers and succeeded in founding several Church schools for factory children. Scoresby resigned exhausted from Bradford in 1846 and visited the United States before settling near Torquay.

Dr Scoresby made a lifelong study of magnetism in order to improve the accuracy of the ship’s compass. He experimented with various grades of steel to improve the reliability of the compass needle. He carried out experiments to discover the effects of iron on compasses, which were growing less reliable as the amount of metal in ships increased. Scoresby collaborated with J P Joule in early experiments on electro-magnetism. In 1856 he travelled to Australia on the SS Royal Charter to measure changes in the angle of dip on either side of the equator.


Whitby Personalities