The validation of British Arctic whaling information (1750-1850).

Molloy Thompson, Dinah 

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This dissertation examines the validity of whaling data arising from voyages to the Arctic seas by British whalers during the period 1750 to 1850. During the 18th and 19th centuries the British whaling industry was conducted from over 30 different ports. Information arising from the industry is still scattered, unconsolidated and without a central repository. This study makes use mainly of primary data extracted from contemporary documents such as ships' logs, journals, voyage listings, maps and pictures sourced from archives, museums, public and private collections and port authorities throughout Britain. Secondary sources include published scholarly works relevant to the industry. Much of this research material has been largely ignored as a resource for historical climatic and sociological information. This is due mainly to a lack of confidence in the integrity of observations made by mariners under-equipped and working in stressful circumstances. Before the widespread utilisation of meteorological instruments sailors relied on their senses to record weather conditions. Difficulties in finding, sorting and classifying the information have caused further restriction on its use. Modern electronic techniques have now removed many of these limitations. The dissertation describes a computer system designed and written by the author specially to store data from a wide range of relevant material and sources. It provides the means to evaluate the data by interrogation and validation. Source materials have been transcribed and entered into a universal DataBank which is used as the data source for the main system. This can be drawn upon in future for use by other electronic methods. Data from voyages of the Whitby scientist and whaler, William Scoresby Jr. provide a base line for comparison with those of a contemporary group of Hull whalers. Scoresby's navigational observations are matched against present-day charts. His seasonal ice drift observations are tested against his own records of wind vectors. These confirm his high standard of reliability and explore the association between wind and ice. A test sample of 20 extant logs from the period 1810 to 1820 is used to examine topics such as navigation, wind strengths and directions, sun, ice and weather observations. The vocabulary to express ice and wind observations shows a level of consistency indicating a similarity between ports and masters. Variations on the visibility of the sun based on the ability to make sun-sightings for the recording of latitude indicate a relationship with volcanic activity at the time. When wind vectors recorded by the Hull Masters are matched against Scoresby's the results shows similar patterns. The dissertation concludes that the data and the computer system provide a valuable facility for future research. Within certain definable limits, a high proportion of information previously rejected can be considered valid, useful and reliable in modern research.

Master of Science (MSc)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge