The Leviathanic Museum (Hull), Textile

The Leviathanic Museum (Hull)

In Chapter 102 of Moby-Dick Ishmael discusses the size of sperm whales and he uses one fictional and one real example (the sperm whale skeleton at Burton Constable) for his measurements. He also explains that ‘there are skeleton authorities you can refer to’ in order to test his accuracy.

There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull, England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales.

It is not clear how Melville heard of the Museum at Hull as it is unlikely he ever visited. It may have been via descriptions of whale skeletons in Gray’s account of whale species in The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus and Terror or in the report of the stranded sperm whale at Burton Constable, a summary of which was in Beale’s A Natural History of the Sperm Whale, which Melville is known to have owned.

The Leviathanic Museum mentioned by Melville was that of the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society. This society, founded in 1822, had several early locations before it found a permanent home in Albion Street, Hull. A copy of the beautiful 1860 guidebook for the museum and collections exists and can be viewed (by appointment) at the Hull History Centre. It contains a wealth of information about the wide range of specimens (not just whale skeletons) on display.  The plan of the museum and book cover have some wonderful decorative lettering. Early photographs of the Albion Street Museum also exist, and I have taken inspiration from these images, particularly the suspended blue whale and the entrance hall, along with the decorative lettering to produce two textile pieces for the Leviathanic Museum as imagined by Melville. I have also produced a small illustrated hand-made book telling this story.

The Leviathanic Museum (Hull), Textile

The Leviathanic Museum (Hull), Textile

The Grand Plan, Textile

The Grand Plan, Textile