After WILLIAM H. KELLEY, The Destruction of the Whaling Fleet in the Arctic Ocean, c. 1872.

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After WILLIAM H. KELLEY
The Destruction of the Whaling Fleet in the Arctic Ocean
New Bedford: Edwin Dews
Wood engraving
Paper size: 18 3/4" x 23 3/4"

 

This hand colored lithograph depicts an event that dealt one of the final blows to the American whaling industry. In September; 1871; off Cape Belcher; Alaska; thirty-four whaling vessels; including 21 from New Bedford; became trapped in the ice and had to be abandoned. A total of one hundred and eighty whaleboats carrying 1;219 souls were rescued and carried to safety by only seven surviving whaleships. In late June 1871; forty whalers passed north through Bering Strait; chasing bowhead whales. By August the vessels had passed as far as Point Belcher; near Wainwright; Alaska; before a stationary high; parked over northeast Siberia; reversed the normal wind pattern and pushed the pack ice toward the Alaskan coast. Seven ships were able to escape to the south; but 33 others were trapped. Within two weeks the pack had tightened around the vessels; crushing four ships. The vessels were spread out in a long line; some 60 miles (97 km) south of Point Franklin. A total of one hundred and eighty whaleboats carrying 1;219 souls were rescued and carried to safety by the seven surviving whaleships. Amazingly; there were no casualties. This lithograph is based on drawings by Captain William H. Kelley; master of the whaleship Gay Head; which was one of the vessels abandoned and lost during the catastrophe.

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