Antarctic Whaling 1905 - 1918
Jaci Gruffudd very kindly sent me the photograph of her grandfather William Storm Harrison (below) along with an extract from his memoirs. Mr. Harrison had a very full career both at sea and ashore, as can be seen from the following;
William Storm Harrison was born in 1883 in a small fishing village, Robin Hoods Bay near Whitby, Yorkshire. His father was lost at sea when he was 6 and he was sent to the Royal Seaman's orphanage in London. He went to sea at the age of 14 and went whaling in the South Atlantic from 1905 to 1918 pausing only to marry a girl from Swansea in 1909.
After being torpedoed during the 1st World War he returned to South Georgia to collect 30,000 barrels of whale oil which had increased in price from £4 a barrel in 1914 to £36 a barrel in 1917. His ship was blown up by a mine in the 2nd World War and he was involved in organizing the harbour of Le Havre during the D-day landings.
After 52 years at sea his last voyage was in 1950 to bring timber from Archangel to Hull.
He died in 1959 in his adopted home town of Swansea.
"I claim to be one of the pioneers of modern whaling as carried out today, that is since the invention of the harpoon gun. The use of this gun has facilitated capture so greatly that measures were taken to stop their total disappearance. In fact when the season is on they are hardly allowed to breathe let alone live. Otherwise whales would live to a great age 100 years or more. I have had proof that they live over 100 years. In the old days when the hand harpoon was used, in the Arctic, many whales got away with the hand harpoon imbedded in their blubber. Whales know no barriers. They roam the seven seas. Not even the Iron Curtain stops them. I have seen whales killed in the Antarctic with the hand harpoon still embedded in the blubber. Hence the truth of the great age they live, if they were allowed to live their normal lives, but at present rate of killings: 18,000 in three months. The average age about 20 years."
"I first went whaling from the Falkland Islands, our base then was on New Island, but owing to us killing them in fairly big numbers the whales receded further South and at that time there were no floating factories. It made the harpoon vessels too long to tow the whales back to the shore station to be cut up, so with the owner’s orders and the Governor of Falkland’s permission I was sent to South Georgia, an island in the Antarctic Circle to see if I could find a suitable harbour to re-erect our whaling station there."
"South Georgia is an island
in the Antarctic Circle, 1,000 miles SE from Falklands and about the same
distance East of Cape Horn. It is in the same degree South latitude as Newcastle
on Tyne is in North latitude, but what a difference in temperature. It is a mass
of high snow covered mountains, perpetual snow and ice all the year round. There
is a blue glacier there centuries old and from its source we obtained our fresh
water supply. Nothing grows on the island, it is a nesting place for King
Penguins, Sea Lions, Seals and Elephant Seals and that great bird the Albatross."
"I have brought back King Penguins, Seals and Sea Lions for the Edinburgh Zoo."
"I took the first pair of Rein Deer from Norway and set them loose on South Georgia to help supply the meat ration. Pigs do well as there was plenty of offal for them to eat and they grew to a great size."
"Well I took a trip in a whaler which is about as big as a trawler. I surveyed the harbours around. I returned to the Falklands with my report. Our station in Falklands was dismantled and re-erected on South Georgia as is known today Leith Harbour, South Georgia. Of course this took a considerable time to do. I was Chief Mate and it fell to my lot to be the Chief Rigger to get all those heavy weights out of the ships with her derricks and put them ashore on rafts and we erect them in conditions all the time below freezing. No wireless in those days and even no mail until we were homeward bound and called at Montevideo. So I am proud of my achievements when I hear of these explorers today calling at Leith Harbour to replenish their bunkers and stores."