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Captain William Scoresby

Sailors - Whaling - Fishermen of Whitby

Captain William Scoresby senior


William Scoresby (senior), was born on 3rd May 1760, in the village of Cropton, twenty miles south west of Whitby, on a small farming estate called Nutholm. His attendance at school was very spasmodic, due partly to the distance from his home plus the adverse weather conditions encountered. At the age of nine his father removed him from school to work the farm. At one stage he went to work for some neighbouring farmers, living with them and receiving such unpleasant treatment, he resolved not to work in the profession his father wished him to pursue.

He came to Whitby in the winter of 1779 and secured a three year apprenticeship on the ship called "Jane", owned by Mr Chapman, a Quaker. As the ship was laid off for the winter period, he returned to his father's farm and studied all he could for his new profession, being particularly interested in navigation. When he returned to Whitby in mid March 1780, he assisted in the re-fit of the "Jane" and early in April, she put to sea making good progress until encountering a storm at the Naze of Norway. This storm nearly wrecked the Jane.

William Scoresby ( senior) made two further voyages on the Jane before leaving to join the Government cutter "Speedwell", sailing with stores for Gibraltar. Off the Cape of Trafalgar, the cutter became an enemy prize and the crew imprisoned. Scoresby (senior) managed to escape with another prisoner, eventually reaching the coast and stowing away on an English ship, which had been exchanging prisoners of war. On his return he married Mary Smith, the daughter of a yeoman farmer. They had three children, Mary, Sarah and William (junior). In the Spring of 1785, he returned to the sea on the Greenland whaler "Henrietta", under Captain Crispin Bean and by his sixth voyage had risen to second officer, the "Specksioneer". This title is of Dutch origin and applied to the officer in charge of all the fishing apparatus and the principal harpooner. In 1790, Captain Bean informed the ship`s owners that he would shortly be retiring and suggested that Scoresby (senior) be his replacement and was appointed the new Captain over the protests from the crew. On the next voyage Scoresby (senior) experience many mutinous events. The next voyage Scoresby (senior) engaged himself upon, he insisted he would pick his crew. His careful choices paid dividends, returning to port having caught eighteen whales, the far by biggest catch seen in Whitby. In the next six years from 1792 - 1797, the "Henrietta" caught eighty whales that produced 729 tons of oil. During his command, Scoresby (senior) introduced one of his many innovations. The Government were paying a bounty of twenty guineas per ton burden of ships engaged in whaling, provided they employed a steward / surgeon. Scoresby employed medical students from Edinburgh university, solely as surgeons with officer status. William Scoresby`s (senior) success brought many offers from other ships and being discontented with his own ship owner, Mr Piper, who had withheld allowances given to other Captains, Scoresby (senior) accepted command of the "Dundee", a much larger ship. On his first voyage in the Dundee in 1798, he returned with thirty six whales and maintained that success over the next five years. In 1799, William Scoresby (junior) made his first eventful voyage to sea on the "Dundee". Just off the Yorkshire coastline, an enemy ship came bearing down on the Dundee, which was heavily armed with twelve eighteen pounder guns. Scoresby (senior) concealed these guns and surprised his enemy as he came closer, revealing them at the last minute. His enemy turned and retreated quickly without a shot being fired.

In 1802, Scoresby (senior) was invited to join a partnership of eight people, to build a new Greenland whaler in the town of Whitby. Each share cost 1000 pounds, two shares being owned by the builders, Fishburn and Broderick. Scoresby (senior) took up one share and was paid wages, on a par with those he had been earning on the Dundee. The ship was launched on 21st February 1803 and was named the "Resolution". (not to be confused with the Captain Cook`s Resolution). She sailed on 21st March and on the 18th April she caught her first whale. It was on this voyage William Scoresby (junior) then aged 14 years of age was apprenticed. He graduated to mate at the age of 17 and at the age of 21 years, the earliest one could take command of a ship, took over the Resolution. William Scoresby (senior) in the year 1870, invented what we call today "the crows nest". This was a look out on the main top mast, consisting of a framework four and a half feet high by two and a half feet in diameter, covered with leather or canvas. Entry was by a trap door in the bottom, with provision for storage of a telescope, flags, speaking trumpet and possibly a fire arm. At a later date, a removable screen, one foot high, was added for additional protection. Way back in 1776, the British Government had offered a reward of 10,000 pounds to anyone who could penetrate north of 89 degrees, this was East or West of the Bering Straits. Whilst Scoresby (senior) did not gain this prize, he did reach beyond 81 degrees in 1806, breaking through the ice at Spitzbergen. In 1810, Scoresby (senior) joined three Greenock businessmen to form the "Greenock Whaling and Fishing Company" of which he was appointed manager. In 1814, Scoresby (senior) retired from the company. He remained ashore until 1815, then purchased the ship "Mars" which he commanded for the next two whaling seasons. Another year of retirement followed and he then purchased with his own savings, a teak built ship called "Fame". The fitting out of the ship was delayed as there was the possibility the Government wanted use of her, but this did not materialise. The Fame was ready for sea for the 1818 whaling season, with Scoresby (junior) in command, sailing from Liverpool but returning to Whitby. The following Spring, Scoresby (senior) resumed command and moved the Fame, which had more draught than any of the ships he had sailed, to the deeper waters of Hull. Fame had four more voyages and in 1823 proceeding as far as the Orkeneys, when she set on fire and was totally destroyed. Captain William Scoresby (senior) had just seen his career at sea come to an end. Throughout his life, he had been a deeply religious man, always holding prayer on Sunday. In later years, whaling on the Sabbath was suspended. William Scoresby (senior) had spent forty three years at sea. He spent his retirement years proposing and making improvements to Whitby and included, East pier lengthened, Scotch head required a protective rock and stone shoreline and Downdinner Hill has had its gradient reduced. Living in Church Street, known as Scoresby house, he joined the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society three years after it was founded. Captain William Scoresby (senior) died on April 28th 1829, whilst living at 13 Bagdale, Whitby.

Livelyboats of Whitby
"Lively" and the "Mulgrove" at Bog Hall, Whitby


Captain Scoresby Junior  William Scoresby (junior)
In 1806, William Scoresby (junior) left Whitby to attend Edinburgh university, where his interest in science was noted. However, he did not complete the courses, leaving to go back to sea and spending a short time in the Royal Navy. Later in London, he was introduced to Sir Joseph Banks, who had sailed on the first voyage of Captain James Cook in 1768. William Scoresby (junior) returned to his studies at Edinburgh university and married Mary photo Scoresby (junior) Eliza Lockwood on 25th September 1811, returning to sea in 1812, taking command of the Resolution. In 1813, he took command of a new ship built in Whitby, called the "Esk". The maiden voyage on the Esk was to be a successful one, both scientifically and commercially. During this voyage, Scoresby (junior) proved that the temperature of the sea is warmer below than on the surface. He sent his findings to Sir Joseph Banks and together had a proper instrument made. The first time it was used at a depth of 300 fathoms, the wood swelled and the glass broke. Scoresby (junior) then made a similar model, cast it in brass and with the aid of a mechanic, attached valves made by Carey. It weighed twenty three pounds and he called it the "Marine Diver" On 28th June 1817, according to his records, the Diver was lowered to a depth of 7,200 feet, raising it some two hours later, but the main line broke and lies at the bottom of the ocean.

Whilst on this voyage in 1817, Scoresby (junior) visited Jan Meyen island, surveying the land, geology and wildlife and he found that the longitude and latitude were incorrect, naming the spot where they had landed, "Jameson Bay". He also noted a remarkable diminution of the polar ice, allowing penetration to within sight of Greenland`s East coast. In 1819, Scoresby (junior) and his family, which was now including two sons, William and Frederick, moved to Liverpool, where he was to command the new ship "Baffin", having been built to his own design. The plans, in his own handwriting, and a scaled model of this ship can be seen in Whitby museum. Whilst the ship was being built, he continued his writings and in 1820, published his book "An account of the Arctic Regions" which still forms a landmark in Arctic studies today. The Baffin was launched on 15th February 1820, having a successful first voyage and in 1822, he mapped the East coast of Greenland, having his findings published that same winter. The original chart can be seen in the Whitby museum. On the return from this trip to sea, he was informed of the death of his wife. He made one more voyage to sea in 1823, which brought little success and so decided to retire from the sea, after undertaking twenty voyages. He too, like his father, was deeply religious and decided to join the church. He was ordained at York in July 1825 and was appointed as curate to Bessingley, together with sole charge for the church of St Magnus, just over a mile from Bridlington. His saddest duty during his Bessingley curacy, was to preach at St Mary`s parish church, Whitby in 1826, on the occasion of the loss of two whaling ships that had sailed from the port. The "Lively" was lost with all hands in an Arctic storm and the "Esk" sank at Marske, less than thirty miles from her home port of Whitby. Sixty five brave men were lost to the sea, twenty were from Shetland and the remainder came from Whitby. It was this loss which effectively ended Whitby`s whaling industry. Scoresby (junior) maintained his keen interest in the sciences and in 1838 was asked by the Admiralty to assist in the construction of compass needles, combining different laminae of tempered steel. He agreed, asking for only acknowledgement to anything that was achieved by him. For two years, the Admiralty said the needles he had produced were not up to the required specifications, yet several years later, the Admiralty began to use one the specifications to a needle produced by Scoresby (junior). Bitter rows broke out, but the Admiralty were not about to give the acknowledgements to the deserving inventor. Scoresby continued to combine his clerical work with his love of science, even travelling to America and giving lectures. He was in communication with many famous scientists of his day, Faraday, Joule and Ampere. Many of his original instruments and written work are displayed in Whitby museum. William Scoresby (junior) died on 21st March 1857, having suffered two heart attacks.