Russell Lights - Vol 10 Issue 11 - May 2007

Russell was a port of call for visiting whalers for over a hundred years. Russell Museum has a collection of whaling related items – harpoons, whalebones, a record of ships visits in the 1870s.

Whalers had a lot of spare hours at sea and turned their hands to hobbies to fill the time. They used whatever was at hand and made items they could use or to take home as gifts to family.

These examples are a ladle for a water cask made with half a carved coconut shell with a whalebone handle and a whalebone pipe rack. The small knife has a whalebone handle and the blade edged implement is a seam rubber to flatten newly sewn seams. The final two items are fids – used in splicing rope.

We don’t have a whalebone corset stiffener which whalers often made for a sweet heart back home. At least one whaler wrote a love poem on part of a corset:

Accept, dear girl, this busk from me;

            Carved by my humble hand.

I took it from a Sparm Whale’s Jaw,

            One thousand miles from land!
In many a gale,

Has been the Whale,

            In which this bone did rest,
His time is past,

His bone at last

            Must now support thy brest [sic]


This poem came from a busk in the collection of W.W. Bennett, cited in The Yankee Whaler by Clifford W. Ashley. The same book describes a busk as “a flat fence-paling-like ‘stay’ about two inches wide, which in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was thrust into an open slit at the front of the corset. Any woman so fortified was bound to remain true to her sailor.”