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Home > Research > The Anstruther Whale Fishery Company > Whaling Project Outline

 

Introduction:

The Scottish Fisheries Museum has expanded considerably during its 40 year history. Each property that has been added to the original site overlooking Anstruther harbour has a direct historical link to the fishing industry, whether as former industrial workshops, storehouses or fisher cottages. This assemblage of buildings, of many different ages and architectural styles, thus forms a highly appropriate setting for our Recognised fisheries collections and has a significant impact on the visitor-experience at the museum.

Recent research on one of these buildings by Dr Robert Prescott of St Andrews University, School of History (in order to protect and re-display an 18th century carved ship stone), has revealed that the building is the former storehouse of the Anstruther Whale Fishery Company, established c.1750 during a period of expansion for the Scottish whaling fleets. This revelation has directed our attention to our whaling collection, which though relatively small, contains material of considerable interest and has not been fully developed in the past. The realisation that we have in our care a building with such significant connections to the whaling industry will encourage a re-assessment of our approach to the interpretation and display of both the collections and this building, to the benefit of both the research community and the visiting public.

We propose, therefore, that a full survey of the building should be carried out, allied to a reassessment of our whaling collection. The opportunity should also be taken to place the building and our collection in context with reference to other sites and collections around Scotland.

19th century print of a Narwhal

19th century print of a Narwhal

Project Details:

1. The Anstruther Whale Fishery Company Storehouse and Ship Stone

This 18th century stone building has a carved stone depicting a three-masted ship, dated 1757, set into the exterior wall overlooking the harbour. Evidence suggests the stone depicts a whaling ship and commemorates the founding of the Anstruther Whale Fishery Company. The stone is badly weathered and we have obtained listed-building consent to replace it with a new carved replica, displaying the original inside the building. The removal has been successfully completed.

We also intend to carry out a full documentary, cartographic and structural survey of the building, covering its diverse uses from the 18th century (the whale fishery storehouse) through to the present (via functions as boat-building premises and eventually a museum gallery) and to emphasise its origins in the whaling by displaying, in addition to the carved ship-stone, a large whale-jaw arch (saved from a cottage garden in Cellardyke) and other relevant artefacts from our collections.

2. Review of SFM whaling collections in relation to other Recognised Collections in Scotland

Our collections include photographic, documentary, social history and natural history elements connected to the Scottish whaling industry. Though not extensive, much of this material is of high quality and considerable significance e.g. whaling vessel log-books kept by Anstruther skippers; decorative scrimshaw work; Inuit and sailor-made models; whaling tools and whale-oil and baleen samples. Museum staff, working with Dr R G W Prescott, will audit this collection and compare it with the Recognised Collections held by Aberdeen Maritime Museum, Aberdeen University, and Dundee City Museums and Archives. We will also look at further material held by Historic Scotland (Trinity House, Leith), and museums in Montrose, Peterhead and St Andrews.

3. Whale remains outwith museums in Scotland

In a previous research project we located a series of whale-jaws utilised as standards along the length of a roperie in Montrose. We should now like to extend these findings by further work at the roperie, in particular to identify the species of whale involved and to explore and survey the tar-house associated with the laying floor in the roperie (which is likely to be a unique survivor of such a rope-works building in Scotland).

A gazetteer of whale-jaw arches will also be compiled. These decorative devices had their origins in the extremely practical process of extracting whale oil by gravity drainage from the spongy bone of the jaws on the homeward voyage from the whaling grounds. Several have been identified in the course of earlier research and our aim is to record these and any others identified during the project.

19th century print of a Dolphin

19th century print of a Dolphin

Proposed Outcomes

  • New displays
  • Conservation of ship stone
  • Gazetteer of whale-jaw arches
  • Publication of research
  • Improved knowledge of buildings and Recognised collections
  • Improved context in relation to other museums
  • Increased public awareness of whaling collections
The Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust Ltd
St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB
E-mail: enquiries@scotfishmuseum.org
Tel (within UK): 01333 310628
Tel (from outside UK): +44 1333 310628
Charity Number: SC 006185
VAT Reg Number: 270 2790 64
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