Monday, August 03, 2009


This chimney, a few nearby ruins and some scattered whale bones are all that remain of the old whaling station down in Harris. It was operated by the Norwegians between 1903 and 1920, when Lord Leverhulme took it over and it continued to be run by his soap and detergent company, Lever Brothers, until it closed down in 1929.
The whaling station was successful for quite a long time, but in common with other more recent fisheries, became a victim of over fishing, leading to total collapse of the whaling industry locally.
When the station was fully functional, the whales were harpooned out at sea and then taken individually to the shelter of Village Bay at St Kilda. They were then towed, four carcasses at a time, back to this whaling station for processing. Boats took the whale products to Glasgow and returned full of coal for the whaling ships and the whaling station boilers.
The whaling station reopened between 1950 and about 1959, but the venture became uneconomic again and the operating company concentrated its efforts on catching whales around South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

Now we're on a whaling trip, we'll continue on the same theme for a while away from the Hebrides.


Having taken a couple of years to master the fairly basic skill of loading several pictures at a time on to this blog, I'm on a bit of a roll and thought I would dig out some other relevant photos I had tucked away and show you these.
As a child, I read Moby Dick again and again and was always fascinated by the adventures of explorers such as Scott, Amundsen and particularly Shackleton.
A few years ago, I decided to get off my backside, take myself to the verge of bankruptcy and go to Antarctica and all points South. I had an unfulfilled ambition to pay homage at Shackleton's grave at Grytviken, South Georgia, was quite keen to see a penguin in the flesh and was interested in the wildlife and recent military and social history of the Falkland Islands.
Well, leaving day came and with a fresh crease in my trousers and newly polished shoes, off I went skipping gaily to the airport.

Grytviken is an amazing place. Many Hebrideans have worked in the whaling industry there. The whaling station is now abandoned and is just decaying very slowly. The whaling boat shown above, one of several along the shore, looks as if the crew simply walked away one day and left it to its own devices. Which, I think, is exactly what happened. The whaling stopped and the men went home, leaving South Georgia to the penguins and seals.

Whale boat propellors. Elephant seal snoozing in the middle.

I'm not absolutely sure, but I think these engines powered the boilers which rendered the blubber and purified the oil.

A very moving experience to see where the great man is buried, but spoiled a little because these other tourists from a different ship refused to move to allow me to get a clear shot. There were a lot of visitors that day and my boat left first so this was the best I could manage.

A very sad story to this picture. The grave, a few yards from Shackleton's last resting place, is occupied by Felix Artuso, a young Argentinian sailor. He was a Petty Officer on the Argentinian Submarine 'Santa Fe' during the Falklands conflict. On the 25 April 1982, the Santa Fe was sailing close to South Georgia when it was attacked by a British naval anti Submarine helicopter with depth charges. The Santa Fe sustained extensive damage in that attack and limped into the jetty at King Edward Point, Grytviken, where the crew abandoned ship and surrendered to British forces. On close examination by the captors, the submarine was found to be in a dangerous condition, primarily because it was leaking oil and chlorine gas and was losing buoyancy. There were also ready to fire live torpedos on board which were a concern.
A major headache for the British was that the submarine was moored at a jetty needed for other ships from the British task force and it was considered imperative that the vessel should not be allowed to sink at the jetty.

During the next few days, essential maintenance was carried out on the Submarine by some of the Argentinian crew, including Petty Officer Artuso, under armed British guard. The guards were not familiar with all the equipment on the sub and at some point during 30 April 1982, Felix Artuso was seen to move swiftly towards a valve which the guard thought was used to flood the boat with water. Believing the Submarine was about to be scuttled by the Argentinian sailor, the British guard shot him dead. When the valve was then examined, it was found to have a completely innocent purpose and could not have allowed water into the submarine.

The enquiry that followed found that the guard, acting under great pressure and with wrong information about the purpose of the valve, had killed Petty Officer Artuso mistakenly.
Felix Artuso was confirmed as having acted completely innocently and he was given a funeral with full military honours by the British and buried in the little cemetery at Grytviken, where he remains. Twelve of his comrades were present at the burial.
The Santa Fe was later towed out to deep water and sunk by the British.

I have been unable to find out if the Argentinian Government accepted the findings of the enquiry and have no idea why Felix Artuso's body has not been repatriated closer to his family in the Argentine.
The full Board of Enquiry Report into the death of Petty Officer Artuso is published on the Internet and provokes thought about the pressures and circumstances faced by participants in wartime.
In the background of this photo can be seen old whaling ships, whale oil boilers and the Norwegian whalers church, which is maintained in pristine condition and is used regularly.


pat said...

I think your posts and photos are
great, hope you continue at the
same rate.

Richard Barrett said...

Hi there,
Enjoyed that posting very much. I recently read The Island Book Trust book on Whaling and the Hebrides and it was interesting to see more recent photos.

Anonymous said...

....a fascinating post Lewispot athough, at first, I suffered a geographical mental "quantum jump" from the Hebrides to South Georgia! Hopefully this has not disconcerted your readers too much! There are many similarities between the Hebrides and this area of the world, and, as you rightly point out, many people from the Hebrides have emigrated to the Falklands. Let us also not forget that it is in these "far flung" outposts of the world (and I include the Hebrides here) that so many people have found inspiration and a sought a purpose in their lives....I think of Shackleton in particular, though Nansen for the Arctic....and Amundsen for both Poles - and many others. Excellent pictures as always. Thank you.

carol said...

great post