Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The arrival of the International Whaling Conference in Jersey during July 2011 serves to remind us that the Channel Islands have participated in this trade in the past.

During the 18th century Fiott & Co of Jersey and Le Mesurier & Co of Guernsey and Alderney both sent out whaling ships to the Southern Oceans and were also involved with other firms.
Fiott’s ship the “Hero” was probably lost in 1789 but we should also remember that the extensive Newfoundland/Labrador trade was not just about cod fishing either since the harvesting of animal skins, seal furs and oil was an important part of the business.

Thus some of the fine Jersey “Cod” houses that are so desirable and expensive today may well have been built from wealth not derived from just plain fishing.

Doubtless some Channel Islanders served on the whalers of other places in later years and since Madeira and Iberia had flourishing whaling fleets until the 1960s, it was not necessary to sail to the Southern Oceans and Antarctica to join the hunt for these animals of the deep.

More recently, Jersey was the port of registry for many whaling vessels.
Precisely why this was so is not entirely certain but from the late1920s there was a trend for whalers hunting in Antarctica around the Falklands and South Georgia to operate from the Jersey British register. Possibly it was an early form of Jersey’s haven status being used to avoid some regulatory or tax obligation.

In 1929 the “Polar Chief” of 7,000 tons was owned by the Falklands Whaling Co – then the South Georgia Whaling Co in 1930 - before transferring to Norway in 1939. During the war she was requisitioned for service by the British government but remained on the Jersey register until 1952, when she was scrapped in Scotland.
A full search of the Jersey registers might reveal other and earlier examples.

During 1939/40 more than twenty whaling vessels were registered in Jersey for the South Georgia Whaling Co – based in Leith, Edinburgh, or the Seville Whaling Co which was initially based in London. It was the latter company that owned the “New Sevilla” a whaling factory ship and former White Star ocean liner named“Runic” of 13,000 tons.

On 20 September 1940 the “New Sevilla” of Jersey was torpedoed by German submarine U 138 off Northern Ireland, sailing from Liverpool to South Georgia, with a cargo of whaling stores and several hundred people. Just two men drowned since she stayed afloat for many hours. The victims are remembered on the plaque shown above which exists in London.

Whaling around South Georgia was established after 1904 by Norwegians. By 1912 there were seven whaling stations and the trade intensified after 1916 with the founding of the South Georgia Whaling Co whose parent company was set up in the 1840s by the Norwegian  Salvesen brothers in Edinburgh. They also ran the Seville Whaling Co.

South Georgia soon became the world capital for the highly lucrative business.
From 1904 until 1965, over 175,000 whales were processed there.
The Salvesen Company established its own “Leith” whaling station and remained in whaling until 1963 and in shipping until 1990. The company continues in other businesses today.

Other Jersey registered whaling vessels included the “Salvestria” and “Sourbaya,” both factory ships and previously Royal Mail Packets. The former sank after hitting a mine in 1940 and the latter was torpedoed in the North Atlantic in 1942.
The “Semla” was sold to Chinese subjects in 1948.
The “Sluga” beached at Hawks harbour, Labrador the same year and was scrapped.
The “Sukha” transferred to St. John’s, Newfoundland and was reported “burnt, stranded and scrapped” in 1976.
The “Sarna” lost by enemy action as was the “Shera” and “Seura.”
The “Sabra” sank at South Georgia in 1964.
“Bouvet 4” was sold to Chileans in 1946 as was the “Satsa” in 1954.
Others were taken into British government service etc.

The Jersey British shipping register was closed from 1940 until 1945 during the war.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust promotes the history of the Island and protection of the indigenous fauna and flora.
Some of the hazardous materials left by the whalers have been cleared and rats eradicated.
There is a conference planned at Dundee in September 2011 and more information is available on their website.

It is unlikely that any of the 1930s whaling vessels ever visited Jersey and this is just like so much of our finance based business today. We just do not know what is going on in Jersey's name.

There are thousands of companies and trusts registered in Jersey today and we have little or no knowledge of their world-wide activities.

Deposits of billions in various funds are attracted to Jersey every year, but we have little information about how these are generated or where they go.

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