Search This Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wreck of American whaling bark found in Argentina

Whaling history unveiled

Ted Hayes on the site East reports that marine archaeologists from Argentina's National Institute of Anthropology may have found the remains of an 1850's whaler from the Rhode Island port of Warren.

The scientists believe they may have found the wreck of the Dolphin, a 325-ton, 110-foot whaling bark built in 1850 by Warren shipbuilders Chace and Davis.

The wreck is beached along the coast of Argentina at Puerto Madryn in Bahia Nueva (New Bay). Parts of it show signs of having been burned and it is partially visible at low tide. Much of the structure above the keel is gone, leaving a section of wreckage about 80 feet long.

Argentinian archaeologist Cristian Murray said that while some locals had known about the wreck for many years, it was first noted by archaeologists in 2002 when shifting sands revealed a larger area of wreckage than was previously visible. Field work at the site is mostly complete, and the focus now is on coming up with a preservation plan to prevent its deterioration, and positively identifying the wreck.

There is a good chance they are right, as the bark Dolphin certainly met her end on that coast.

In fact, her history was a disastrous one.

Built in 1850 as part of the huge expansion of the American whaling trade into all the Seven Seas of the world, the Dolphin started her maiden voyage on November 15 that same year, and returned almost exactly three years later, on September 5, 1853.

To make money, a whaler had to return with a cargo of about 3,000 barrels  (about 100,000 gallons) of oil, having killed about fifty whales.  The master of the Dolphin, Captain Charles R. Cutler, reported just 260 barrels.

It had been a very unlucky voyage.  In the logbook (now held by the New Bedford Whaling Museum) he wrote on June 8,1852: "We are getting no oil. God help us and send us many whales so that we may put once more to a Christian land again to my dear wife and family."

Nevertheless, he was given the command again, departing from Warren on May 17, 1854. As before, he steered for the Indian Ocean.  Part way through the voyage, he left the ship, probably because of illness.  The mate, who was left in charge, died. The vessel finally returned on January 17, 1858, but at least the report -- 824 barrels -- had improved.

Still, however, it was a losing voyage. The owners in Warren were making no money.

On her third voyage, Captain Samuel Norie was in command. She sailed on September 30, 1858, and within months was reported lost on the coast of Patagonia.

Her story will be told in a book by Walter Nebiker, the author of a comprehensive history of Warren whaling that is as yet unpublished.

Dolphin probably looked like the whaling bark in the lively scene above, which was painted by a seaman on the bark Washington of Greenport.  It is now held by the Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient, Long Island

No comments: