William John Huggins, a one time a sailor with the East India Company and firsthand witness to the scene depicted, first painted this well-known image in 1828. Entitled Northern Whale Fishery, the image was engraved by Edward Duncan in 1829 (Huggins son-in-law) and brought greater fame to both men for illuminating the rewards and perils of whaling in the icy waters on the Davis Strait whaling ground between southeast Baffin Bay, Canada and Greenland. The original 1828 work now hangs in the renowned New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts. A photo of the engraving is shown here for reference.
This painting is a good 19th century copy of that work, made after Huggins death in 1845. The artist of this work, unknown, had a skilled hand. The fact that this work was copied is a testament to the popularity of the image even a few decades after it was painted. Just as in Huggin’s original work, this painting is filled with detail throughout and nearly every aspect of whaling is depicted- from the chase and capture, to processing the catch alongside, to trying out or boiling down the blubber on HARMONY’s bow. It is this detail that captivated viewers of the 19th century, making the landlubber feel as if they were there experiencing it all firsthand.
The American built bark HARMONY of 292 tons was one of the earliest American China traders. She engaged in the sealing and fur trade in cold climes en route to China. The quality of American ships built for the China trade is evidenced by the fact that her working life was at least 32 years.
About the turn of the century she was British registered and was whaling by 1803. That year she was captured by a Dutch privateer. The three Englishmen remaining on board overpowered the six-man prize crew, weathered a bad gale and sailed back to Hull to a heroes' welcome. In 1805 Harmony was purchased by R. Bell, an active whaling owner, and in 1806 she caught 11 whales and returned with 360 butts of oil, being one of the best fished Hull ships of those years. Her whaling record continues at least through 1818.
HARMONY is pictured in the waters of the Davis Straits, Greenland with her May Day garland hoisted halfway up the main-topgallant stay. These garlands were made of ribbons and usually -- as in the picture -- had a model of the ship in the center. They were never removed until the whaler arrived home. The May Day celebration consisted of an initiation of first-time sailors similar to that inflicted in the crossing of the Equator ceremony.
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