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The London whaling trade

Early Arctic whaling
Things to do with a dead whale
The southern whale fishery
London declines as a whaling port
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Things to do with a dead whale

Whale products

Whalebone staybusk.
View full size imageWhalebone staybusk. © NMM

The whalers' quarry - the right whale - was a slow-moving animal and easily caught. It had a very thick, oil-rich blubber and a mouth full of whale bone or baleen, which acted as a sieve to catch plankton. These bony plates were as valuable to British manufacturers as the oil and were used for stiffening corsets.

Trade token of oil merchant John Fowler.
View full size imageTrade token of oil merchant John Fowler. © NMM

The blubber from whales caught in the Arctic was chopped up small and shipped back to the Greenland Yards in British ports.

There it was rendered down to extract the oil. By the time it was processed it was usually in a fairly advanced state of decay.

Trade token of oil merchant John Fowler.
View full size imageTrade token of oil merchant John Fowler. © NMM

Whale oil was used in soap making and to clean wool before it was made into course cloth.

Rapeseed oil provided a less smelly alternative.


Find out more
StoriesGoing for growth: The West India and the Greenland Docks
New dockyards on the Isle of Dogs and Rotherhithe are opened to ease congestion.
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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