The original of this picture is in the Mary Evans picture library.

The Dutch started whaling at Greenland, out of Rotterdam, in the 1660s. At the time the population of bowheads (whales up to 20 metres long) is estimated to have been 900,000. British whalers sailing out of Whitby, Yorkshire, started going to Greenland in about 1750 and by the 1780s there were hundreds of Dutch and British ships killing whales.

William Scoresby, the most successful of Whitby whalers, sailed to Greenland 30 times and brought back 533 dead whales. Using nothing more than harpoons and daring navigation techniques between 1792 and 1823, he helped bring about the extinction of the whales (or so Robert C Allen and Ian Keay maintain).

Today (2002) there are about 450 bowhead whales west of Greenland and to the east (where once there was the biggest whale population in the world) there are none.

Until William Scoresby went to Greenland, whalers rode high in the water in order to avoid striking an ice flow with a heavy blow. William Scoresby carried a lot of ballast and sailed close to the wind, weaving through the ice. If he struck the ice he would get his crew to run from side to side, rocking the ship free.

His navigational skill in avoiding ice flows meant that one year he arrived early enough to catch 14 whales before any other vessel turned up.

He is also reputed to have invented the crow's nest making it easier to spot whales.

William Scoresby gave up whaling when his vessel, the Fame, was damaged in a fire when it was sailing by the Orkneys in 1823. The last whaler sailed out of Whitby in 1833.

Even today there is still an arch of bowhead whale jaws at Whitby harbour.

The First Great Whale Extinction: The End of the Bowhead Whale in the Eastern Artic by Robert C Allen and Ian Keay, Explorations in Economic History, volume 38, p 448 (2001).

William Darby Brind Whales