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Documentation Assistant, Jason Lok talks about the piece of scrimshaw with an inscription of 'Volunteer of Whitby'.

Scrimshaw is the name now given to the wide variety of incised, carved and variously decorated items made primarily by those engaged in the whaling industry.

The scrimshaw we have chosen today is a sperm whale tooth with a wooden base. Inscribed "Volunteer of Whitby" on one side and carved with an image of a sailing ship on the other. There is a decorative panel around the base of the tooth and above the main design. The inscription on this scrimshaw is beautifully intricate, and it also reminds us that whaling was once a significant industry in Whitby.

Whitby’s whaling industry began in the mid-1700s. Local fishermen began to take up to job of whaling with the hope to make a fortune, however they were not successful initially, due to inexperience in catching whales. This was the case until the locals joined some seasoned Dutch harpooners, after that the whaling industry in Whitby began to take off.

There were 55 whaling ships in the Whitby harbour in its peak, one of the most successful British fleets. Out of all the whalers from Whitby, the most famous would-be William Scoresby. He made a fortune in whaling and was responsible for inventing the barrel crow’s nest, a lookout structure in the upper part of the main mast of a ship. Our replica of one of these will be part of our new displays in the Hull Maritime Museum.

Out of all the whalers from Whitby, the most famous would-be William Scoresby

Interested in more scrimshaws? Please feel free to visit our museum collections website.