Rare Portsmouth Whaling Diary
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Written by Leander Huntress

Portsmouth NH Whaling Diary Excpert


It isn’t often you get to read a read whaler’s journal. That is especially true in Portsmouth where the whaling industry was short-lived and the whalers few and far between. Following is a rare 1840s excerpt from the writing of Leander Huntress aboard the NH ship Ann Parry.



READ all about Portsmouth's Whaling Era here

Leander Huntress Whaling Journal, 1840
Excerpted from "Heavy Weather and Hard Luck,"
By Kenneth Martin


Portsmouth, NH decided in the 1830s to create its own whaling industry. The short-lived experiment let to the purchase of at least four whaling ships, among them the Ann Parry. Writing from aboard ship in the 1840s, Leander Huntress kept a journal, now in the archive at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. The journal describes and illustrates a long voyage filled with distant ports and constant squabbles between crewmen. In this 1841 section, author Kenneth Martin transcribes Huntress' typically frustrating efforts to capture right whales in the Indian Ocean.

Working scrimshaw: shipboard tools made from sperm whale jawbone. Left to right: a sail creaser, a marlin spike about one foot in length, and a serving mallet used to wind spun yard around a rope. In the background is Leander S. Huntress' journal, kept onboard the Portsmouth whale ship Ann Parry and now in the Portsmouth Athenaeum. (Item in private collection, photo courtesy of Portsmouth Marine Society) SeacoastNH.com


Humpbacking proceeded as it had at Antongil, with the same unavoidable problems. After losing a dead whale that had been anchored and marked before sinking, the boat teams adopted a tactic of taking dead humpbacks in tow, lashed to the boats, and making for the mother ship as soon as possible to forestall sinking. On one occasion, this involved a twelve-mile tow-several hours of backbreaking rowing. But it worked. It also minimized shark damage.

By the end of August, the whales were getting scarce and other ships were leaving the bay. On 10 September, the boats took a last right whale. Two weeks later, wooded, watered, and repaired, the Ann Parry stood out of Flinders Bay, bound north. She had taken six humpbacks (including one calf) and four rights. She moved into Geographe Bay, just north of Flinders, took two more humpbacks, lost one whaleman to desertion, and then got to sea.

The ocean southwest of Cape Leeuwin was good right whaling ground, but the Ann Parry was harried by a spell of very bad weather.

Huntress: "Monday Nov lst 1841. at 4 P.M. wind Shifted to the S.S.W and blew tremendously ... blew the fore top mast staysail in ten thousand pieces -- blew harder for half an hour than ever before experienced. At 6 P.M. settled into a gale." Gale-force winds did not prevent the boats from lowering, but the results were frustrating in the extreme. Witness the following litany of consecutive disappointments:

"Nov 3th. Saw a right whale. Waist boat fastened. killed and sunk to rise no more. three boats fast but could not hold him....

"Nov 5th. Saw right whales. could not fasten

"Nov 6th. Saw a right whale. could not fastened....

"Nov 8th. a gale from N.W. Saw a right whale and lowered two boats. too rough.

"Nov 9th. a gale from N.W.

"Nov 10th. a gale from N.W ...

"Nov Ilth. a gale. Saw a right whale. lowered two boats. Too [rough to] fasten.

This is the sketch that Huntress made of the Wild Irish Girl in his journal mentioned above. Huntress drew the sketch while on the Ann Parry in 1842. (Courtesy of Portsmouth Athenaeum) on SeacoastNH.com

"Nov. 13th. Saw a right whale. lowered away the boats. could not fasten.

"Nov. 14th. Saw a right whale. Waist boat fastened and killed him. he sunk to rise no more. Lost four irons and three lines.

"Nov. 15th 1841. A gale N.W with a tremendous sea running....

"Nov. 16th. a gale from W by S. Saw a right whale going to windward too rough to lower the boats....

"Nov 17th. Saw a right whale. Lowered the boats. could not fasten. at 10 A.M. bow boat fasten. the line got cut accidentally and the whale went off with one Iron and 45 fath line.

"Nov. 18. Saw a right whale. Waist boat fastened. Iron drawed. Larboard boat slightly stove.

"Nov 19th. Larboard boat fastened. at 3 PM killed him. Parted the fluke chain....

"Nov 21st. at 5 PM saw a right whale. at 6 PM bow boat fastened-killed and sunk. Bitter luck....

"Dec 5th ... Adieu to the Right Whale Ground. Amen!

That last comment was wishful -- and premature. The ship stayed on the right whale ground, and took four whales in December. In January 1842, she returned to Geographe Bay, discharged a Portuguese and a Lascar whaleman, and stood out, "Bound for Madagascar Indian Ocean.

"Sperm whales again. En route to Madagascar, the Parry took four, including, on 9 February, the proverbial ninety-barrel bull ("turned up 95 bbs. a good bull'), the industry standard for good luck.

On 8 March 1842, replete with "Bullocks Beans corn and Bananers," the ship left St.-Augustin Bay for home.

Late in March, near the Cape of Good Hope, the Ann Parry was overtaken and spoken by the merchant bark Wild Irish Girl of Liverpool, bound home from Madras. She was a handsome sight, so handsome that Huntress was inspired to do a sketch of her over the three days she was in view. The Parry, no slouch herself at fast sailing, put letters for home aboard the even faster Wild Irish Girl.

© 1998 Kevin Martin. Reprinted 2006 on SeacoastNH.com
Excerpt courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth
Marine Society and Peter Randall Publishing

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Heavy Weather and Hard Luck