Arctic Initiation – British Whalers’ traditions

This is a small piece inspired by a particular aspect of arctic whaling that has interested me for a while now. British Arctic Whalers had various superstitions and traditions and the ones that interest me at the moment are those that relate to their material culture – special things that they made. In December I was privileged to be able to read and photograph some original whaling log books at the Hull History Centre in December 2015. One of these mentioned two of the interesting rituals of the whalers.

 Log book of the Whaler Neptune of Hull 1821, off Spitsbergen, Captain Munroe

May 1st  The Crew diverting themselves with their usual shenanigans in fixing a garland made of ribbons on the main top gallant stay and initiating regularly such of the crew as never before been to the arctic region by blacking their faces with a kind of blacken and then shaving off with a hatched iron hoop in the shape of a razor.

Arctic Initiation - image of joke razor on digitally printed whalers logbook

Arctic Initiation – image of joke razor on digitally printed whalers logbook

The ribbons for the garland were given to the sailors by their wives and sweethearts prior to the voyage. Representations of the garlands can be glimpsed in some of the paintings of whaling ships in the Arctic in the Hull Maritime Museum.  They also have an original joke razor, which I used as the basis for the drawing.  I digitally printed out part of my photograph of that page of the log book containing the above text on blue fabric and using free hand machine embroidery and sheer fabric made the quilted outline of the razor.