[1967:] Chase of right whale, Davis Strait, 1820-40.
As a result of merciless hunting, the greater number of whales had migrated westward from Spitsbergen by the end of the eighteenth century, and were found off the east coast of Greenland. But by the 1820s, they began to move westward again, into the Davis Straits. Until 1820, three-fifths of the northern whalers had been using the East Greenland grounds. By 1830, only four ships were still fishing there; the rest were trying their luck up in Baffin Bay. In 1820 there had been eight English whaling ports - London, Hull, Whitby and Newcastle being the chief ones, with Berwick, Grimsby, Liverpool and Kings Lynn of secondary importance. By 1830, Liverpool, Grimsby and Lynn had abandoned the trade, London owned only a couple of whalers, and Hull owned thirty-three out of a total of forty-one. In Scotland, however, the trade was growing.
As long ago as 1725, the dock at Deptford, in south-east London, was used as a whale depot by the South Sea Company, whose interests extended as far north as Spitsbergen. To this day it is called the Greenland Dock, and it is named in many good songs. We do not know how old this particular song is, which W. P. Merrick obtained from the Lodsworth, Sussex, farmer Henry Hills around 1900. It follows a familiar pattern of whaling songs: departure, hard times on the grounds, rowdy return. The old description of the whaleman: 'head of iron and heart of gristle' well fits the anonymous characters of this piece, who can defy weather bitter enough to freeze off your finger-tips and toe-nails. (Notes A. L. Lloyd, 'Leviathan!')