[1967:] Chase of the bottlenose whale, Spitsbergen, 1880s.
By the 1880s, the right whale had become so scarce in the Arctic that the industry was hardly
profitable. Captain Gray, in the Eclipse, had instituted the hunt of the bottlenose whale. [...]
In the year of Queen Victoria's jubilee, 1887, the steamer Eclipse of Stonehaven went fishing in the
Arctic with her sister ships the Erik and the Hope. Her captain, David Gray, was one of the greatest of nineteenth century whaling skippers. By now the northern waters were nearly fished clean of right whales, and the Scottish fleet was taking whatever it could - white whales, narwhals, bottlenoses (David Gray was the first hunter
of the bottlenose whale). The 1887 season was disastrous. The Erik caught one small whale, the Hope none at all. On June 21st, David Gray took a good fat 57-foot cow whose jawbones are still on show in London's Natural History Museum, but even the Eclipse, that luckiest of whalers, came home light, and with a bonus of only one-and-threepence a ton for oil. Her crew felt that the trip had hardly been worth the hardship, and they marched through the streets of Peterhead to tell the owners so. The Eclipse made her first voyage in 1867. When she finished whaling, she was sold to the Russians and, renamed the Lomonosov, she was still being used as a survey ship along the Siberian coast as late as 1939. (Notes A. L. Lloyd, 'Leviathan!')
[1993:] The golden jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated in the Greenland seas on 21 June 1887,
by the killing of a 57 foot long female whale. It was the largest whale ever caught by Captain David Gray, of the Peterhead whaler Eclipse, and a Shetland seaman on the Hope, captained by David Gray's brother, John, wrote a special Jubilee song to mark the 'glorious day'. He declared that when they got back to Lerwick they
would march through Commercial Street and 'sing the Jubilee'. The whale yielded 27 tons of oil. Its jawbone, which measured close on 20 feet, was sent to South Kensington Museum in London.
Other whalers with the Eclipse were less lucky. The Erik, a Dundee ship, caught only a small whale - it 'measured three feet three', said the Jubilee song. 'Three-feet-three' was the length of the longest strands of
whalebone out of the 365 pieces in the whale's head, which meant that the 'fish' was at least 20 feet long. The Hope got nothing. The Shetland poet grumbled about his own ship's lack of success - 'the Hope has none, and none shall get'. As far as he was concerned it had been a 'dreary voyage', and he felt that there was a lack of fair play on the Hope. [...]
'One-and-three' was the sailors' oil money. They boasted that when they were paid off on shore they would have 'plenty of brass and a bonny lass', but 1s.3d. a ton was scarcely the sort of 'brass' they had expected when they signed on and went off to the Arctic to make their fortunes.
The song, entitled The Eclipse, was written four years before Captain David Gray retired. Among the
late nineteenth century whaling captains he was considered the most skilful. He was also widely-known for his scientific knowledge [...]. The Grays and their relatives were involved in Arctic whaling longer than any other family in the British Isles. [David Gray, Sen.] took over the Perseverance in 1811, and in 1826 his son, John, became captain of the Active. John had three sons - John, David and Alexander - and while all were successful whalers it was David who left an indelible mark on the whaling scene. In 1844, when he was only fourteen, he went to sea with his father on board the Eclipse, a ship that had been taken over from one of John Gray's relatives, Captain John Suttar [...]. Some twenty years later, David Gray took command of another Eclipse, a steam whaler that was to write its name across the pages of Greenland whaling history. He was following a tradition set by his father on the Old Eclipse, which was invariably top ship in the Peterhead fleet. In 1854, it gave its name to an inlet in the Davis Straits - Eclipse Sound. [...]
Blame for the extermination of the Greenland whale can be laid at many doors, but the Gray family were far from guiltless. In 1838, after British whaling fleets had suffered three disastrous seasons, the Peterhead fleet of ten ships
took eighty whales and 28,708 seals. The top ship was the Old Eclipse under Captain John Gray, with 22 whales and 5,500 seals. Most of the whales were nursery whales, not long weaned. They were no more than 30 feet long - the kind of 'three-feet-three' caught by the Erik in the Jubilee year - and they were easily killed. [...] This killing of young fish was the first step towards wiping out the Bowhead population. (Smith, Whale Hunters 26ff)
The days of the Buchan whalers came to an end at the turn of the century - and the years of Arctic slaughter were over. The Greenland Right whale had been virtually wiped out and whalers were turning their eyes to other hunting
grounds - to the Antarctic, for instance, which was to become a massive killing ground in the first half of the twentieth century. [...]
In 1891, both the Eclipse and the Hope were sold. [...] The sturdy Eclipse, which was perhaps the most
famous of all Scottish whalers, went stubbornly on for another half century. She served for a time with the Russian Imperial Navy and after the First World War went back to the Arctic as a supply ship. She sank in 1927, was raised in 1929, and went to Siberia as a research ship. The old veteran finally met her end in 1941, when she was destroyed by a German bomb during an air raid on Archangel.
(Smith, Whale Hunters 33f)