For over 130 years, the whaling industry was of vital importance to the city of Dundee.
For over 130 years, the whaling industry was of vital importance to the city of Dundee. Whale oil was used for lighting, soap, in women’s fashions and also in the jute industry and for a period of time was indispensable. At the height of demand for whalebone, it changed hands on the Dundee Quayside for up to £3,000 a ton.
The industry was lucrative and the men who signed on with the whale companies around Dundee's docks often earned more in one Arctic season than in several years of work in the mills. However, whaling was an incredibly dangerous and physically demanding endeavour and the men certainly earned their money.
A single whale could yield up to a ton of whalebone and the blubber could produce as much as 7000 gallons of marketable oil after it was boiled. However, by 1913, mineral oil, which was a great deal cheaper, had started to take whale oil’s place and this was a factor in the decline of the whaling industry. After the mid 1880s Dundee was the only remaining whaling port in the UK and by the 1890s lost ships were not being replaced.
In addition to the financial side of whaling, Dundee ships were of great significance scientifically for exploring remote regions in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Dundee whalers sailed uncharted seas where they mapped coastlines and wrote reports on topography, geography and weather systems that until that point had not been documented.
Arctic whaling came to a close in Dundee just before the Great War in 1914.
Morag Hannah works on the University Web Team. Originally from Ayrshire, she grew up on the Isle of Arran, and studied English Language and Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. Past jobs include shop assistant, typist, reviewer, designer, singer, stand-up comic, armourer and ghost tour guide, and she's worked with the University of Dundee for five years.
Her hobbies include singing (she has sung with several university choirs), playing guitar and piano, digital and fine art, and most recently pottery, and she is a (pseudonymously) published writer.