Whaler Disko Bay Account Book

An important component of my art practice is research. It informs and nudges my work.  Accuracy in some ways is vital to me, as is the ability to play with imagery, text and other found content.  Quite often I will collect something with no real reason or plan for its use, but am guided by a gut instinct that it may be useful sometime (or it’s just too interesting not to investigate).  And so I found myself at Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn last week hand transcribing a whaling ship account book from 1786.

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

I went there in the spring to see their Poppies display (which was very moving) and got chatting to an archivist about whaling heritage in the North East (as I do). We found an enigmatic entry in the collection database  ‘Account Book of the whale ship Disko’ It was from the ship Disko Bay and from 1786. I was able to view it that day, but unfortunately due to copyright issues unable to photograph the beautifully written copper plate entries.  I made some notes and was determined to come back next time I was passing.  Unfortunately I live 280 miles away.

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

I finally made it back last week sandwiching it in between a visit to Edinburgh and my weekend at Cornucopia Festival. Prepared with a new notebook and lots of sharp pencils I managed to transcribe 14 pages.  Fortunately my experience with whaling log books meant I could read most of the writing with little difficulty and understood most of the terminology.

I’ve listed some of the most noteworthy entries below and added a couple of photos of my handwritten notes

To an anchor of gin £1/6/-

(a Dutch term anker? 38.75 L or 45 bottles)

To plates and dishes  £-/6/6

To an Indenture for John Linney  £-/6/3

(yes the indenture was less than the plates and dishes)

To a pilot out of Stromness £-/12/6

To boys washing £-/7/6

To cleaning the surgeon’s instruments  £-/5/0

To coals for boiling oil £1/1/2

There are also payments to rat-catchers, coopers, painters, carpenters, brewers, butcher, boat builders, braziers and all sorts of other interesting things.  And rather poignantly

To J Beaton’s board & funeral £4/9/2

At the moment I’m not sure what I’ll do with this treasure trove of information, but I’m sure it will be useful one day!

At Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn

At Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn

Woodhorn is a great place and well worth a visit. Not only does it house the Northumberland Archive, but it’s a mining museum at a disused pit head. There are displays about pit life both above and below ground, a display of miners’ banners, a gallery of Pitmen Painters’ art, a good shop and lovely cafe (OK, yes, I really like the place – but it is very good!).

 http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/