Life in Newburgh on Ythan

By Talpa

A souvenir from the Arctic

The town of Peterhead in the NE of Scotland was a centre of Arctic whaling in the 19th century. Just a few families dominated the high ranks of the industry; the Gearies, the Robertsons, the Souttars and the Volums, but in particular the Grays. 

David Gray Jun. (1828-1896) entered the industry in 1849, as master of the North of Scotland and sailed in her with great success until 1852. In that year he took over the Active (2) which had been built specifically for him. Over the next 14 years his prowess as a whale catcher was such that he became known as the "Prince of Whalers" although in reality most of his profits came from sealing. 

David Gray was also an outstanding naturalist who made many important observations in the Arctic. He brought back many biological specimens from the Arctic including this Polar Bear which in 1896 was presented to Peterhead's Arbuthnot Museum, I have absolutely no idea why  it is currently sporting a partially deflated inflatable crown!

The University of Aberdeen has in its collections the 1887 diary of David Cardno who went whaling with the Gray family. In one entry he gives a graphic account of how polar bears were caught. The extract is presented verbatim with the original punctuation and spelling.

"my next ship was the Erik of Peterhead, one of the largest whalers sailing out of any of the Scott ports. she was a strong built ship commanded by Captain A. Gray. a good commander. we had good officers. and we had eight boats and eight harpooners. my rating was harpooner.
one day we seen a bear in the water. so we wanted to take a live bear home and we was all prepared to do so. for we had a cage made the size of our no 2 hatch and all ready to put up when we could get the bear. and on this occasion we tried to get this and we got him looped all right but they hanged him and he was dead when the boat came alongside. the doctor done the looping and the second mate was in the boat with him nothing daunted. "

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