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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
A Whaling Past - Susan Horsnell
Whaling was Albany's (and Australia's) oldest industry. Well before official settlement took place our shores were visited by British, French and then American whalers. Many ships, which brought out the convicts to this country in its early days, were whale chasers, which would unload their human cargo and then carry on whaling. This arrangement worked well as there was no other cargo available in those days for the return trip.
It was the presence of French warships, which followed their whalers into this area, that lead to Major Edmund Lockyer being sent to found the first permanent settlement on the western half of the continent. The settlement was first called Frederickstown but was later renamed Albany. It is interesting to note that the ship that brought Lockyer and his party to Albany later became a whale chaser.
Cheynes IV Whaler
Soon after official settlement in 1826, some of the settlers took up the arduous but lucrative trade and set up bay whaling stations at a few sheltered beaches, mainly to the east of the town. Albany itself prospered from trade with these early whalers and with visiting ships, although many of these avoided the port itself and pulled into Two People's Bay and elsewhere to avoid paying harbour dues.
Old whaling reached a peak around 1845 when these were approximately 300 whale ships (mostly American) and numerous shore stations operating along the South Coast of Australia. The numbers declined rapidly after 1859 when petroleum oil was discovered in Pennsylvania with only a handful remaining after the turn of the century. Men no longer had to spend up to four years at a time at sea and risk their lives almost everyday to provide oil for the world's lamps. All they had to do now was to drill a hole into the ground.
In 1912 a Norwegian company obtained a license from the Western Australian Government and operated from both Frenchman Bay near the current Historic Whaling Station site and Point Cloates off the west coast. They did quite well for a few years with the then quite modern steam whale chasers fitted with harpoon guns, but after a poor season in 1916 and with the pressures of the first world war both here and at home they decided to leave.
One of the early whalers was a man by the name of William McBride. It's believed he was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1840 and fought for the Union in the Navy. After the war, due to disagreement with his family as they were confederate supporters, he sailed to Albany and enlisted on as a whaler. It was a job he had done out of New Bedford on the 350 ton whaler - 'George and Susan'. He met and married his wife - a local girl, Lucy, in 1871. She bore him eight children before she died in 1887 (probably exhausted). He worked as a whaler, sealer, fisherman and limeburner. He spent many months at a time away from home. (Didn't stop them from having children!) Their eldest son, Richard followed in his father's footsteps.
William McBride's Whaler's Cabin -
The 'Old Bark Hut' as it was known
Richard and Bessie McBride
In May 1952 the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company commenced their first year of whaling with a second hand whale chaser obtained from Norway and a small quota of Humpback whales. Humpback whales were the only species to be taken in the first three years of the whaling station's 26 year history and from 1955 the company took both Sperm and Humpback whales. In 1963 the International Whaling Commission put a ban on all Humpback whaling in Australian waters. This was due to the rapid decline in the Humpback whale population. A total international ban was put on Humpback whaling in 1982.
The increase in economic pressure was the main reason for the closure of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company. The station ceased whaling operations and was decommissioned in 1978.
Whether you love or hate the industry, it is an interesting time in Australia's past. I, for one, am glad it is gone.