Wild winds and wild men

Just acquired this nice item–a printed Act (London, 7 April, 1803) allowing whaling vessels involved in the Greenland fishery to complete their crew rosters at certain ports (other than their hailing ports) for the season. This Act was passed in the midst of an uneasy peace between Georgian Britain and Napoleonic France: the Treaty of Amiens was 25 March 1802, and hostilities were renewed on 18 May 1803 (a year later Napoleon would declare himself Emperor).

From the text: “Whereas it may be difficult, in the present circumstances, for the masters or owners of ships employed in the fishery carried on in the Greenland seas and the Davis’s Straights . . . it shall and may be lawful for any ship or vessel which is not provided with the full complement of men . . . at the port from which such ship or vessel shall be fitted or cleared out, to proceed from thence to any of the ports in the Forth of Clyde, or in Lough Ryan, or to Lerwick in the Isle of Shetland, or Kirkwall in the Orkneys [etc.].”

According to Basil Lubbock’s The Arctic Whalers (1937), “It was the custom for both English and Scottish whalers to recruit the younger members of their crew from the Shetlands and Orkneys, whose natives, besides being naturally hardy, were unequalled as boat men; they were, at the same time, steady, hard-working men, and far less given to drunkenness than either the Scottish or English seamen. At the time . . . of the outward bound whaling fleet Lerwick was probably one of the most lawless town[s] in the British Isles. This period of the year in the Shetlands was noted for what was called its Greenland weather, viz., that of wild winds and wild men.”

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