Good Riddance to an ‘Intolerable’ Year: James Hogg Bids Farewell to 1831

To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of James Hogg (1770-1835), we are featuring a peculiarly timely manuscript from Edinburgh University Library’s collections. Hogg’s poem ‘1831’ will strike a familiar chord with readers in 2020. It bids a hearty good riddance to a year plagued by a rampant epidemic, public unrest, conspiracy theories, and disruption to work and trade.

The poem’s refrain damns 1831 as the accursed year of ‘Burking, Bill, and Cholera’. The first major 19th-century outbreak of cholera reached Northern England in late summer 1831, probably via ships bringing imports from India. By the end of the year, it had entered Scotland, where it spread rapidly through the growing industrial towns, killing over 9,500 people. The disease also caused massive unemployment, particularly among weavers, as the demand for their wares plummeted. Quarantine regulations further prevented hawkers and travelling salesmen from travelling between towns. Economic deprivation led to ‘cholera riots’ in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Paisley. The target of the rioters’ fury was the medical profession which was suspected of Burking cholera patients. This term alluded to the body-snatching spree of Burke and Hare, crimes fresh in the public memory. It implied that doctors were systematically murdering cholera-sufferers to meet the demand for anatomic specimens.

Some protesters also claimed that the British government was deliberately spreading cholera in order to thin the numbers of the politically troublesome working classes. By ‘Bill’, Hogg means the Reform Bill of 1831, which envisaged a huge expansion of the (male) electorate. The rejection of the Bill by the House of Lords led to a nationwide outbreak of popular violence. Rioters set fire to Nottingham Castle (hence Hogg’s references to ‘flames’ and ‘fumes’) and seized control of Bristol for three days. Suspicion that cholera was being used to suppress the working classes blurred the boundaries between ‘Reform riots’ and ‘Cholera riots’.
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In popular culture, archives sometimes have a cryptic reputation: if some filmmakers were to be believed, in the middle of dust and darkness would rest ancient manuscripts and parchments containing secrets about the occult and the mystic, jealously kept by a lone archivist (or a librarian, since they often appear to be interchangeable)[1]. Even though archives do hold fascinating, touching, thought-provoking materials in a myriad of shapes and forms, any archivist would tell you that such a description is a bit more glamorous than the reality…or, is it? It turned out manuscripts can hold supernatural secrets, as I discovered in a mysterious (and bibliographic) quest started on a rainy autumnal Saturday…

Two years ago, while looking for something to do to entertain my French guests, I had found a web page describing an abandoned castle in the woods near Gifford, a small village 40-minute away from Edinburgh. It seemed like a lovely walk – and even better, a part of the castle was said to have been built in the 13th century by demoniac goblins summoned by a necromancer! Talk about intriguing. The three of us set off. The starting point of our walk was a little path heading into the woods in the middle of the countryside, near a lonely, faded Victorian house. This was a particularly rainy and quiet day; and our directions were not very clear – soon, we were lost. We knew the castle was there somewhere, ancient and hidden, but our position at the bottom of a small valley prevented us from seeing anything other than trees and colourful foliage. Eventually, we met three other walkers who sent us in the right direction. They smiled knowingly when we told them we were looking for Yester Castle, and told us they had left candles inside the vault, “for the atmosphere”… Even more intrigued, we continued our quest, passing a number of old stone bridges hidden by the autumn leaves: perhaps this trail used to be followed by the castle’s inhabitants and visitors?

One of the bridges on the way to Yester Castle.

Finally, after an ultimate bridge curved over the river running at the bottom of the glen, we caught sight of a stone wall at the top of a hill. There it was! We had found our castle! And thanks to the rain, we had it for ourselves. The first edifices we encountered were an impressive tall wall, and the ruins of the stone keep. The castle had been built in the middle of the 13th century by the Laird of Yester Hugo de Giffard (or Hugh Gifford), descendent of a Norman immigrant who had been given land in East Lothian during the reign of David I[2].

The tall wall leading to Yester Castle.

A remaining tower.

We soon spotted stairs descending into a cold, large, dark chamber. That must be it – the vault supposedly built by the same Hugo de Giffard, a man who left an ambiguous trace in historical records. Officially, we know he was one of the Guardians of the young Alexander III of Scotland; and one of the Regents of the Kingdom appointed by the Treaty of Roxburgh on 20th of September 1255[3]. However, he also had the reputation to be a warlock and a necromancer, and according to the legend he had summoned hobgoblins to build a subterranean vault under his castle, known as Bohall or Goblin Ha’, that he subsequently used for his demoniac activities.

The former entrance (?) of the vault.

The stairs leading down to the vault.

After wandering around the ruins for a while, we discovered a small entrance behind the castle, enabling us to enter the chamber by crouching through a narrow corridor in complete darkness. The size of the vault is still impressive today. The ceiling is high, and reminded me a stony, upside down rib cage. At one corner of the room there were stairs going down even more deeply into the ground. We were not disappointed.

Inside the Goblin Ha’.

Once back to the safety of our home, far from any threat of goblins or medieval wizard, we tried to learn more about this incredible place. Finding a trustworthy source for the occult legend surrounding Hugo de Giffard was not easy. The original citation on which a large part of Hugo’s dark reputation seems to have been built was quoted in his Wikipedia page as follows: “Fordun thus speaks of him in noting his death in 1267: “Hugo Gifford de Yester, moritur cujus castrum vel saltem caveam et dongionem arte demoniacula antiquae relationes fuerunt fabricatas,” (vol.ii, p. 105).” [4]. The quote can be translated as: “Hugo Gifford of Yester died. His castle, at least his cave and his dungeon, was said to have been formed by demoniac artifice”. The Wikipedia page for Yester Castle presented the same idea: “14th century chronicler John of Fordun mentions the large cavern in Yester Castle, thought locally to have been formed by magical artifice.”[5] This was very vague – there was no indication of the work where the quote had been found, and which edition… We decided to get to the bottom of things. After all, we thought, the ruins of a castle built by demoniac forces during the middle ages are only cool if it can be supported by genuine contemporary evidence, not some hearsay on Wikipedia!

The source was said to be Fordun – so we assumed at first that the quotation was from the Chronica Gentis Scotorum (“Chronicles of the Scottish people”) written by the Scottish chronicler John of Fordun in the 14th century[6]. This work was one of the first attempts to relate the history of the Scottish people, from its mythological origins to the death of David I in 1153. Which meant, of course, that it could not have mentioned Hugo de Giffard and his Goblin Ha’, built in the middle of the 13th century… We hit our first hurdle. To make matters more confusing, Sir Walter Scott himself mentions Hugo de Giffard and the infamous Goblin Hall in his book Marmion, published in 1808[7]. We wondered – was the quote just an imaginative addition from a 19th century author to give more credit to a local legend, inspired by Walter Scott’s novel? It seemed all the online mentions of this particular extract stemmed from the same inaccurate Wikipedia citation, copied and pasted in various websites. No recent scholarly publications available online seemed to examine the legend.

However, while reading more about Fordun and his chronicles, we did find a clue: in 1440 Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum was continued by a Scottish abbot named Walter Bower born around 1385 at Haddington in East Lothian, which is only a few miles away from our mysterious castle[8]. Ah! Could it be that the mention of the Goblin Ha’ was in Bower’s writings, rather than in Fordun’s chronicles? Bower, having grown up in the region, would have known about the local legend. The combined texts from Fordun and Bower are called the Scotichronicon, and are an invaluable source of Scottish history. Fordun was also commonly cited as the main author, especially in older sources, which would explain the mix up in the Wikipedia pages. The only edition available online was the Joannis de Fordun Scotichronicon: cum supplementis et continuatione Walteri Boweri, edited by Walter Goodall and published in 1759. Our Latin quote was in vol. 2, p. 105 – this seemed like the probable source of the Wikipedia entry, which mentioned a “vol. ii, p. 115”. Goodall’s work was for a long time the only complete edition of the Scotichronicon, and is based on Edinburgh University Library’s very own copy dating form 1510 (MS 186)[9]…

This is when I thought – why content yourself with a transcription when you can check the original source directly? I was at the time working with postgraduate students on a project to produce an online catalogue of our Western Medieval Manuscripts, so I took the opportunity to have a look at MS 186. I retrieved the medieval book, which is of an impressive size – it is one of the few manuscripts in our collection which still have its original binding, and I must say, it did look like my idea of an ancient esoteric grimoire full of dark secrets! I then located the capitulus X, liber 21 as instructed by the 1759 edition, and…. There it was! The very same sentence in Latin, about Hugo de Giffard and his vault built by Hobgoblins.

MS 186, with its original binding. The book measures 41 cm x 25 cm.

Original text in MS 186 – transcription in Latin – translation in English (from Scotichronicon, 8 volumes, ed. by D. E. R. Watt (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987))

I later put our Wikipedia editing training to good use by fixing the entries and clarifying the source and the author of the quote. This marked a satisfying ending to our quest for truth – we could rest easy knowing that our mysterious castle was an authentic ghoulish lair, and that we had done our part in disseminating knowledge through accurate bibliographical sources – could any archivist ask for more?

Aline Brodin, cataloguing archivist at the Centre for Research Collections.

References:

[1] Oliver, A. Daniel, A., “The Identity Complex: the Portrayal of Archivists in Film.” in Archival Issues 37, no. 1 (2015): pp. 48-70.

[2] Ritchie, Robert L. G., The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1954), p. 276.

[3] William Anderson, The Scottish Nation: Or The Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland, vol. 2 (Edinburgh and London: A. Fullarton & co., 1862), p. 298.

[4] “Hugh de Giffard” (last edited in 2019), Wikipedia, Available at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_de_Giffard (Accessed: October 2018).

[5] “Yester Castle” (last edited in 2020), Wikipedia, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yester_Castle (Accessed: October 2018).

[6]  “Fordun, John of”, in Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 10, ed. By Hugh Chisholm, 11th edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911). pp. 643-644.

[7] Scott, W., Marmion, 10th edn (Edinburgh: Archibald Contsable, 1821), p. 157.

[8] Watt, D. E. R., “A National Treasure? The Scotichronicon of Walter Bower”, in The Scottish Historical Review, Volume LXXVI, 1: No. 201 (April 1997), pp. 44-53.

[9] Scotichronicon, 8 volumes, ed. by D. E. R. Watt (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987). See in particular, ‘Introduction’ to Volume 1 and Volume 8.

Bicentenary of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Abbot’

This week marks the bicentenary of Sir Walter Scott’s twelfth novel The Abbot, published in Edinburgh on 2 September 1820 and in London two days later. Alone among the Waverley Novels, it was presented not as a stand-alone narrative but as the sequel to an earlier volume, The Monastery, which had appeared just six months earlier. Set in the early years of the Scottish Reformation, The Monastery had sold well but had disappointed many readers and reviewers. Criticism was directed, in particular, at the pivotal role played by the ghostly White Lady, guardian spirit of the House of Avenel. Contrary to widespread belief, Scott rarely resorts to the supernatural, and his use of the White Lady struck many as an incongruous Gothic throwback.

The White Lady appearing to Halbert Glendinning, engraved by Charles Heath after Richard Westall (Corson P.3000)


Genesis

Scott later hinted that the decision to set a second novel in the Reformation stemmed from frustration with the relative failure of The Monastery and a determination to show that the period provided fertile subject-matter. Accepted by most of his biographers, this account has been called into question by Christopher Johnson, editor of the recent Edinburgh Edition of The Abbot (2000). Johnson shows that the contract for a sequel was signed before the completion of The Monastery, and that Scott had simply found that he had enough narrative materials for two novels. The idea of depicting the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots at Loch Leven Castle—The Abbot’s central episode—had occurred to Scott as early as summer 1817.
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THE SALVESEN ARCHIVE CONTAINS THE NORWEGIAN WHALING GAZETTE, FROM 1917 TO 1968 – A WEALTH OF RESEARCH ON WHALES AND WHALING FROM THE DECADES PRIOR TO THE INTERNATIONAL WHALING COMMISSION (IWC) MORATORIUM, 1986

The Salvesen Archive is one of the larger collections in the care of the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). It is composed of manuscript and typescript material in the form of correspondence, diagrams, charts, accounting data, and photographs relating to some of the maritime and whaling activities of the long gone Christian Salvesen & Co. of Leith.  It can be regarded as a ‘hybrid collection’ as well, containing printed pamphlets and journals, a small amount of books, and a few three-dimensional objects. Of particular interest to those keen to research the 20th century whaling industry is a reasonably long run of the periodical The Norwegian Whaling Gazette, or Norsk Hvalfangst-Tidende.

Bound copies of journal, ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’ [Salvesen Archive]

Published in Sandefjord, Vestfold county (part of the modern county of Vestfold og Telemark), Norway, The Norwegian Whaling Gazette was the voice of the whaling, guano, and herring-oil industries, and its first issue appeared in November 1912. In these early years the journal was published monthly, and at first – and for several years subsequently – it was privately owned and closely connected with Den Norske Hvalfangerforening (the Norwegian Whaling Association). Its first editor had been A. J. Dahl who retired in 1921.

Connections with the Norwegian Whaling Association became even closer on the appointment of Sigurd Risting (1870-1935) as editor in April 1922. Risting had been Secretary of the Norwegian Whaling Association. Formerly the headmaster of the local school, Risting had joined the editorial staff of the journal in June 1914.

On Risting’s death, Harald B. Paulsen (1898-1951) succeeded both as Secretary of the Whaling Association and as editor of the journal  (Paulsen Peak in the Allardyce Range, South Georgia, was named after him). On his death, Einar Vangstein took over both jobs. Latterly, the journal had become a bimonthly title. In later years too, its articles appeared in both Norwegian and English.

By the late 1960s, all members of the International Association of Whaling Companies had ceased whaling and it was deemed no longer necessary for the continued publication of The Norwegian Whaling Gazette, and issue number 6, published November / December 1968, marked the end of its existence.

Articles in the journal were varied, scientific, and generally informative on many things cetacean, covering subjects such as: the determination of fat in whale meat extract; studies on the structure of baleen plates and their application to age determination; propellers for whaling ships made by KMW (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, based in Munich); the marking of whales in New Zealand waters to measure resources; whales entangled in deep sea cables; the taxonomic position of the Pygmy Blue Whale; underwater sound from Sperm Whales; the cross-sectional anatomy of the dolphin; a new whaling station in Peru; and, the size of annual whale catches and annual seasonal oil production (indeed, throughout the life of the journal, the extent of whale catching and the size of the surviving whale was meticulously noted).

In addition, across many numbers of the journal during 1957 (Nos. 4-9), The Norwegian Whaling Gazette carried a historical narrative by the Norwegian Antarctic historian Hans Bogen, entitled Main events in the history of Antarctic exploration. Bogen also wrote a piece on Captain H. K. Salvesen for issue No. 9 of the journal in 1957.

Article appearing in No.11 of ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, 1934, p.182, offering an overview of the whale catch in the Southern Ocean, 1933-34. The South Georgia Co. Ltd. was a subsidiary of Christian Salvesen Co. Ltd. and at that time the firm operated the whale factory ships ‘Salvestria’ and ‘Sourabaya’ as well as the ‘fast stasjon’ or land-based shore station at Leith Harbour, South Georgia. The other firm noted as having a shore station was Compañía Argentina de Pesca SA (the Argentine Fishing Co.) operating at Grytviken, South Georgia

The above illustrations together show a list appearing in No.11 of ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, 1934, p.182, describing the companies operating in the Southern Ocean during whale catch season 1933-1934. The columns show, from the left: name of company; type of ‘kokeri’, whether factory ship or shore station; number of whales caught, whether Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale (Knølhval), Sperm Whale; the combined total of all of these whale species; number of barrels of Whale Oil and Sperm Oil; and, notes on whether the production was during pelagic operations, or at a shore station

Chart of the whaling grounds off central California appearing in No.7 of The Norwegian Whaling Gazette, 1963, p.182. In the 21st century this maritime region can see 94% of migrating Pacific Grey Whales passing by, and Blue and Humpback Whales regularly feeding. Rather than facing slaughter, they are now the focus of a thriving tourist and whale watching industry. The main threats to nursing whales these days are ship propellers and Orca Whales

Advertising had provided the principal financial resource for  the production of The Norwegian Whaling Gazette throughout its 57 years of life, with advertisements placed by firms involved in the supply to the whaling industry of goods and services as diverse as: industrial cookers and separators, ropes and line, whale cannons, explosives and gunpowder, marine oils and lubricants, and lowly milk powder.

Ad’ for unsweetened ‘Viking Melk’ (dried milk powder) produced by De Norske Melkefabriker, Oslo, Norway. The firm claimed that ‘Viking Melk’ had always been ‘in the field’. Produced in Norway, the powder possessed all the characteristics necessary for use in the whaling grounds, namely: durability in all conditions and applicability to all types of cooking on board [Ad’ from an issue of ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Salvesen Archive]

Ad’ for Caltex Marine Oils, placed by Norsk Caltex Oil A/S, Oslo, Norway. Caltex oils, the company claimed, were quality products recognized for their good lubricating properties, and Caltex lubricating oil contributed to a safe and secure operation of machinery. The ad’ was illustrated with a pod of whales. with the pod leader lamenting that the ‘enemy keeps coming with better equipment every year, the worst of it being that so many of them are using Caltex lubricating oil that I don’t know what we are going to do!’ [Ad’ from an issue of ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Salvesen Archive]

Ad’ placed by the Greenock Dockyard Company, Greenock, Scotland, a yard which built many types of vessel and performed repairs to them too. It was incorporated as Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. in 1920, and was earlier known as the Greenock & Grangemouth Dockyard Co., and before that had been owned by Russell & Co. of Greenock, and prior to that J. E. Scott of Greenock [Ad’ from an issue of ‘The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Salvesen Archive]

Ad’ for the former Tønsberg Reberbane AS, in Tnsberg, Vestfold, Norway. Tonsberg ropeworks….:

Graeme D. Eddie, Honorary Fellow, Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Library… engaging with the Salvesen Archive of maritime trading and whaling

References:

Vangstein, Einar. ‘Editorial – The Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Norsk Hvalfangst-Tidende, Vol.57. No.6, Nov/Dec.1968, p.117

If you have enjoyed reading this post, check out previous ones about the Salvesen Archive, or using Salvesen Archive content, which have been posted by units across CRC since 2014:

A narrative on the whaling industry: as told through a whale catch log-book and other items in the Salvesen Archive October 2019

Salvesen Archive – 50 years at Edinburgh University Library – 1969-2019 May 2019

Cinema at the whaling stations, South Georgia August 2016

Exploring the explorer – Traces of Ernest Shackleton in our collections May 2016

Maritime difficulties during the First World War – Christian Salvesen & Co. October 2015

Talk on the Salvesen Archive to members of the South Georgia Association November 2015

‘Empire Kingsley’ – 70th anniversary of sinking on 23 March 1945 March 2015

Pipe bombs, hurt sternframes, peas, penguins, stoways and cookery books: the Salvesen Archive July 2014

Whale hunting: New documentary for broadcast on BBC Four June 2014

Penguins and social life May 2014

Centenary of Hamish Henderson

Yesterday a plaque was unveiled at the School of Scottish Studies Archives celebrating the centenary of Hamish Henderson, who was born in Blairgowrie on 11 November 1919. As a songwriter, song-collector, poet, and political activist, Henderson is widely acclaimed as the father of Scotland’s post-war Folk Revival. He was appointed as a lecturer and research fellow at the newly founded School of Scottish Studies in 1951, where his fieldwork and his many writings, both academic and non-academic, provided a major catalyst for the movement.

Just part of Edinburgh University’s Hamish Henderson Archive

The Papers of Hamish Henderson (Coll-1438), amounting to over 60 boxes of material, are one of Edinburgh University’s most important archival collections. Original manuscripts by Henderson in the collection include poems, songs, essays, articles, talks, lectures, letters to the press, and translations. There are also fieldwork notes, including many transcripts of songs, and a wide range of materials relating to Henderson’s work for the School of Scottish Studies. Henderson’s political life is reflected in papers connected to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Apartheid movement, and the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. In addition, there are a number of personal papers, including materials relating to Henderson’s service in the Second World War.

There is extensive incoming correspondence from major figures in the worlds of literature, folk music, and scholarship, illustrating the extraordinary breadth of Henderson’s interests and the extent of his influence. There are letters from:

  • Writers such as George Mackay Brown, Helen Cruickshank, Ian Hamilton Finlay, W. S. Graham, Tom Leonard, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, and Tom Scott
  • Singers, songwriters and musicians including Martyn Bennett, Shirley Collins, Lizzie Higgins, Ewan MacColl, Jean Redpath, Jean Ritchie, Jeannie Robertson, Peggy Seeger, and Pete Seeger
  • Folklorists and song-collectors including Margaret Bennett, John Lorne Campbell, Peter Kennedy, A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd, Alan Lomax, Iona and Peter Opie, and Duncan and Linda Williamson
  • Figures from the world of screen and theatre including Joan Littlewood, Dolina Maclennan, and Jonathan Miller
  • Historians and cultural commentators such as Richard Hoggart, Tom Nairn, E. P. Thompson, Philip Toynbee, and Raymond Williams.

There are also numerous manuscripts of songs collected by or submitted to Henderson, as well as original verse by writers including Joe Corrie, T. S. Law, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, and Tom Scott.

There is further material of Henderson interest in other archival collections held by Edinburgh University Library, including letters from Henderson to Helen Cruickshank (Coll-81), Maurice Lindsay (Coll-56), Michael Sharp (Coll-1492), and Hugh MacDiarmid (Coll-18). Considering the pair’s much publicized disagreements on the role and significance of folksong, there is a surprising wealth of Henderson materials in our MacDiarmid Collection. Together with 70 letters from Henderson, there are manuscripts of poems and songs by Henderson, including the anti-Apartheid anthem ‘Rivonia’, an impassioned plea for the release of Nelson Mandela.

For more information on the Papers of Hamish Henderson see:

Paul Barnaby
Acquisition and Scottish Literary Collections Curator

A narrative on the whaling industry: as told through a whale catch log-book and other items in the Salvesen Archive

WHALING AS TOLD THROUGH A CATCH LOG-BOOK – THE FANGST DAGBOK of SOUTHERN HARVESTER, SEASON 1948-49, A FLOATING FACTORY OPERATED BY THE SOUTH GEORGIA CO., A SUBSIDIARY OF CHRISTIAN SALVESEN OF LEITH

Catch log-book of the ‘Southern Harvester’ – a stern-slip whaling factory-ship – for season 1948-49. Many of the crew, particularly the officers, were Norwegians and a vessel’s catch log-book, or ‘fangst dagbok’ was bilingual in response to this

A vessel’s log-book provides a record of the most important daily events in its management and operation. Log-books have long  been vital to navigation, and most national shipping authorities and admiralties require these to be maintained should radio, radar and global positioning systems (gps) fail.  Log-books and their data can be of great importance in any legal case involving maritime accidents or disputes.

Cover of the ‘Southern Harvester’ catch log-book issued by the UK Ministry of Transport and relevant to whaling season 1948-49 [Salvesen Archive]

Log-books maintained by crews involved in whaling operations provided a record of the position of the particular vessel, wind speed and direction, as well as the number of whales taken. The latter statistic would be submitted to the relevant government ministry/ministries and authorities responsible for licensing and quotas. This data would assume greater importance during the early half of the 20th century, particularly during war years (supply of whaling industry by-product), and later on into mid-century as pressure to end commercial whaling became a political issue.

However, a log-book can tell us so much more than weather, navigational and catch data, as the whale catch log-book of the stern-slip factory-ship Southern Harvester illustrates.

The opening page of the 1948-49 catch log-book notes the basic statistics of the floating factory.  At the start of the whaling season late-1948 it had a gross tonnage of just over 15,087 tons, and a net tonnage of over 8,092 tons (gross tonnage being the  volume of all enclosed spaces of the ship, and net tonnage the volume of all cargo spaces of the ship). The tonnages might vary from season to season depending on whether or not maintenance of the vessel and any refitting or conversions had affected its configuration.

Basic statistics and technical data relating to the ‘Southern Harvester’ captained by Konrad Granøe, which included the information that the vessel was fitted out with 14 whale oil boilers and 2 Hartmann’s Apparatus [Title page of the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

The log-book informs us that the port of registry of the Southern Harvester was Leith, Scotland. This home port (or hjemsted) was the place where the details of the ship were officially recorded. Scotland was not where the floating factory was built however. Southern Harvester was completed in October 1946 by the Furness Shipbuilding Company – on the Tees near Middlesbrough in England – and was the sister ship of Southern Venturer, also built by Furness in 1945. It had been completed in time for the start of the 1946-47 catch season.

The stern-slip whale factory ship ‘Southern Harvester’. The stern-slipway enabled whales to be hauled directly onto the flensing deck of the vessel where they could be cut down and then processed – ‘worked up’ –  below decks in a battery of cookers and boilers [Photographic collection, Salvesen Archive]

Painting of the ‘Southern Venturer’ – sister ship of the ‘Southern Harvester’ – showing the stern-slipway for hauling whales up onto the flensing deck. The painting was the work of George McVey, 1956, and was featured on the cover of the book ‘Salvesen of Leith’, by Wray Vamplew, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh and London, 1975

The log-book shows that the 1948-49 season began on 20 November 1948, and ended on 26 March 1949, and that the floating factory Manager (its Captain) had been Konrad Granøe (1889-1961).  Granøe was a Salvesen (South Georgia Co.) veteran, serving as Mate aboard the Saragossa during the seasons from 1924 to 1928, attending Masters’ training 1928-29, serving as Manager of Saragossa, New Sevilla, and Salvestria between 1929 and 1936, serving throughout the Second World War, and then serving as Manager of the Southern Harvester from catch season 1947 through to the end of the 1950 season.

The log-book had been written up by another Salvesen veteran, Sigurd Jørgen Bang-Olsen (born in 1902), who had served aboard both the Southern Harvester and Southern Venturer during various catch seasons from 1945 until 1963, and whose career with Salvesen began in Leith Harbour, South Georgia, in 1926. He experienced shore-station work at Leith harbour until 1930 and again during the 1940s (also at the offices of Tønsberg Hvalfangeri, South Georgia) and from 1950 until 1957.

Completed in 1913, the Salvesen vessel ‘Salvestria’ had been captained by Konrad Granøe in the 1930s, and it was lost August 1940 after it struck a mine in the Forth estuary off Inchkeith during the last leg of a voyage from Aruba in the Caribbean to Grangemouth. Sigurd Jørgen Bang-Olsen had also served on ‘Salvestria’ [Photographic collection, Salvesen Archive]

The 1948-49 log-book indicates that Southern Harvester had been fitted with both Hartmann’s Apparatus and Kvaerner’s Apparatus for the rendering of whale carcasses. The vessel also operated a Rosedown Meat Meal Plant and Liver Meal and Oil Plant. Aboard the floating factory operating for the season in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic whaling grounds (or fangstfelt) was a complement of 380 crew, supported by 220 crew aboard 13 supporting vessels. The support vessels in question were whale-catchers, buoy boats, and tug-boats (the latter two used for rounding up, holding and towing the whales killed during a hunt).

Technical data relating to the ‘Southern Harvester’ indicating that the vessel was kitted out with a Rosedown Meatmeal Plant and Liver Meal and Oil Plant [Title page of the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

So-called ‘apparatus cooking’ using the Hartmann process – cookers constructed originally by R. A. Hartmann, Berlin, Germany, and specifically for floating factories – took up much less space than on shore-based whaling stations. The Hartmann’s Apparatus treated whale carcasses and slaughterhouse waste, boiling down whale flesh and bone, and breaking up content into such small particles that they were almost liquidised.

Hartmann equipment for whale oil production shown in an advertisement stating that there were 4 such apparatus aboard the ‘Southern Venturer’, which was the sister ship of ‘Southern Harvester’ [From a copy of ‘Norsk Hvalfangst-Tidende’ / ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Salvesen Archive]

Whale meat was a by-product of the very much more lucrative whale oil industry, and the meat from carcasses aboard the Southern Harvester was processed using the Rosedown Meatmeal Plant and Liver Meal and Oil Plant, as well as the Kvaerner ‘digester’. The Norwegian Kvaerner Apparatus produced whale oil, bone meal, meat powder, and gravy concentrate, wasting little in the processing of a whales carcass.

Kvaerner Apparatus on railway wagons leaving the Kvaerner Works in Oslo, Norway [Advertisement from a copy of ‘Norsk Hvalfangst-Tidende’ / ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, Salvesen Archive]

Processing of whales – ‘working up whales’ – aboard an early floating factory. Processing was conducted below decks aboard the ‘modern’ vessels constructed during the 1940s [Photograph among material gifted by Sir Gerald Elliot in 2012, Salvesen Archive]

In addition to providing information about the technical equipment aboard the floating factory, the log-book offers data about local weather conditions at a particular place and at a set time each day. For example, on Sunday 12 December 1948, Southern Harvester had been located at latitude 60° 35′ South and longitude 79°02′ East, where it was encountering ‘a few small’ icebergs in cloudy and clear conditions, with a Force 3 wind from the North West.  That particular location was roughly half-way between the coast of Antarctica and Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI), in the Southern Ocean (in this case, part of the ocean south of the Indian Ocean). The HIMI were some of the remotest islands in the world, around 450kms from the Kerguelen Islands, and which a year earlier in 1947 had been transferred by the UK to Australia.

Page of the ‘Southern Harvester’ floating factory whaling log-book showing the vessel’s position on 12 December 1948. Latitude 60° 35′ South and longitude 79°02′ East was a location half-way between the Davis Station, Antarctica, and Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI), in the Southern Indian Ocean [In the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

The log-book tells us that at the end of a 24-hour period logged on Sunday 12 December 1948, Southern Harvester had 6 whales still to be processed (‘worked up’). At the start of that 24-hour period, 9 whales had been ‘in hand’ with the supporting whale-catchers, buoy boats, and tug-boats together engaged in rounding them up. These had been Sperm Whales (the log-book offering separate columns to be completed for ‘B’ or Blue Whales, ‘F’ for Fin Whales, ‘H’ for Humpback Whales, and ‘S’ for Sperm Whales).

In addition to the 9 ‘in hand’ at the start of the period, another 10 Sperm Whales had been killed over the course of the day (making 19 in total), and over the day 13 Sperm Whales of the total had been processed.

The above page of the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book informs us that ‘baleen whaling commenced 15 December 1948’. Sperm Whales (abbreviated as ‘S’ in the data) are of course toothed whales, Odontoceti. From 15 December, the log-book showed the catching of Blue Whales (‘B’) and Fin Whales (‘F’) which, together with Sei, Humpback, Bowhead, Gray, Minke, and others, are all baleen whales, Mysticeti [Page in the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

The weather conditions meticulously recorded in this catch log-book – together with similar data from the vessels of several other companies and operations – have helped modern climatologists to better understand climate change and polar and sub-polar weather patterns. The data that crews recorded over a number of decades included precise longitude and latitude measurements, weather conditions, the presence of icebergs and where the edge of the ice shelf was encountered. That data can be compared with current conditions, answering the question of, for example, whether or not there is sea ice today in the places where whalers saw sea ice decades and decades ago.

The catch log-book, kept up-to-date by the log-keeper, Sigurd Jørgen Bang-Olsen, has noted that on 12 December 1948 a 6.8 kilogram mass of ambergris had been found in a whale (the ambergris noted as being 15 pounds imperial weight). Ambergris is formed from a secretion of the bile duct in the intestines of the sperm whale, and would normally be passed in fecal matter. Ambergris acquires a sweet, earthy scent as it ages and so had been very highly valued by perfumers as a fixative allowing the scent to last much longer [Page in the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

Similarly, biologists interested in predicting the rate of whale population recovery, and the modelling of historical abundance and distribution, have taken geographic locations and whale catch numbers from log-books and combined that old data with modern technology – such as geographic information system (GIS) – to provide new insights into whale distributions.

Signature of Konrad Granøe (1889-1961), Manager of the ‘Southern Harvester’ [Page in the ‘Southern Harvester’ log-book, 1948-49, Salvesen Archive]

In 2016, the ship log-books, whale catch log-books and a small number of ice charts in the Salvesen Archive underwent rigorous research by scholars from the University of Exeter, part of the RECLAIM project (RECovery of Logbooks And International Marine data). The aim of RECLAIM was to locate and image historical maritime log-books and related marine data and metadata from archives across the globe, and to digitise the meteorological and oceanographic observations for merger into the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS) and for use in climate research.

Graeme D. Eddie, Honorary Fellow, CRC,  engaging with the Salvesen Archive of maritime trading and whaling

References:

In the creation of this post the following resources were used: (1) Ogden, Lesley Evans. ‘New data from old treasures: Whaling logbooks’, BioScience, Vol.66, Issue 7, 1 July 20-16, p. 620; (2) Wilkinson, Clive. ‘Ice and Meteorological Data in the Christian Salvesen Archive, University of Edinburgh’, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia Norwich UK & Faculty of Natural Resources, Catholic University of Valparaiso, Chile, 2013; (3) RECLAIM project, https://icoads.noaa.gov/reclaim/ [accessed 25 September 2019]; and (4) ‘The 19th-century whaling logbooks that could help scientists’, The Guardian, Thursday 17 December 2015.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, check out previous ones about the Salvesen Archive, or using Salvesen Archive content, which have been posted by units across CRC since 2014:

Salvesen Archive – 50 years at Edinburgh University Library – 1969-2019 May 2019

Cinema at the whaling stations, South Georgia August 2016

Exploring the explorer – Traces of Ernest Shackleton in our collections May 2016

Maritime difficulties during the First World War – Christian Salvesen & Co. October 2015

Talk on the Salvesen Archive to members of the South Georgia Association November 2015

‘Empire Kingsley’ – 70th anniversary of sinking on 23 March 1945 March 2015

Pipe bombs, hurt sternframes, peas, penguins, stoways and cookery books: the Salvesen Archive July 2014

Whale hunting: New documentary for broadcast on BBC Four June 2014

Penguins and social life May 2014

‘Not a Varsity Bird’: William Soutar’s Student Years

100 years ago this week, one of Scotland’s best-loved poets became a student of Edinburgh University. On 13 October 1919, the 21-year-old William Soutar added his name to the university’s Matriculation Album as a first-year student of English Literature.

Extract from Matriculation Album (EUA IN1/ADS/STA/2)

Like many young men of his generation, Soutar’s student years were delayed by war service. On leaving school in 1916, he joined the Royal Navy and spent two years with the North Atlantic Fleet. By the time he was demobbed in November 1918, he was already suffering from as yet undiagnosed ankylosing spondylitis, a rare and exceptionally crippling form of arthritis, which would lead to almost complete paralysis by 1930 and contribute to Soutar’s early death in 1943. Following a month in hospital, Soutar recovered sufficiently to come to Edinburgh in spring 1919 with the initial intention of studying medicine. Soutar appears to have attended classes without matriculating but found the anatomical specimens so ‘gruesome’ that he abandoned medicine after a fortnight, resolving to switch to honours English after the summer vacation. He found time, however, to contribute a poem to the 21 May edition of The Student, ‘Orpheus’, a lushly Romantic piece heavy with echoes of Keats and Shelley.

Extract from ‘The Student’, 21 May 1919

Soutar did not enjoy a distinguished university career. The first two years of his honours English course passed smoothly enough. He enjoyed Professor Herbert Grierson’s lectures on the English classics, particularly appreciating Chaucer, Wordsworth, and Donne. He read widely, ranging far beyond the curriculum, and as his taste developed, was moved to destroy most of his own teenage production. He wrote prolifically, devoting three months of his first academic years to a long poem ‘Hestia, or the Spirit of Peace’ in a vain effort to win the university’s Poetry Prize. Although he continued to suffer from stiffness of the joints, he was still sufficiently vigorous to sit as a model for his friend James Finlayson’s painting of the warrior-hero Beowulf.

At the beginning of his third year, Soutar was dismayed to discover how prominent a role Anglo-Saxon would play in the Junior Honours curriculum. Finding linguistic studies ‘musty stuff’, he contributed a letter-article to The Student of 21 November, arguing that Anglo-Saxon should be optional. Although it offered a ‘large field to the specialist’, Anglo-Saxon contributed little to the average student’s knowledge and appreciation of the literature of his country’. It occupied far too many of the undergraduate’s studying hours which ‘ought to be given to the far more significant study of the great masters of English literature’.

Extract from ‘The Student’, 21 November 1921

Soutar reluctantly attended third-year Anglo-Saxon lectures but stepped up his campaign against the subject in his Senior Honours year. He was granted an interview with Professor Grierson on 23 October 1922, but failed to convert him to his cause. At his parents’ insistence, Soutar dropped his public opposition to Anglo-Saxon, but ceased attending classes, having been assured that he would still be permitted to sit his honours exam. Although Soutar increasingly devoted his evening hours to cinema-going and card-playing, his final year was nonetheless of vital importance for his development as a poet. His first volume, Gleanings of an Undergraduate, was published in his native Perth on 9 February 1923. Meanwhile, influenced by Hugh MacDiarmid, whom he had met during the 1922 summer vacation, he extended his knowledge of Scots verse beyond Burns to the medieval makars. His work began to appear in the MacDiarmid-edited journals Northern Numbers and The Scottish Chapbook, which spearheaded what came to be known as Scottish Literary Renaissance.

Title page of William Soutar’s first published volume, inscribed by the author (probably to art critic John Tonge) (JA 3537)

At the end of the spring term of 1923, Soutar fared disastrously in a preliminary exam on Shakespeare. When Professor Grierson subsequently remarked in a lecture that an honours course was not really for ‘Minor Poets, Geniuses or Journalists’, Soutar suspected that he was the target. Soutar’s final examinations were held on 15 and 19 June, and at the end of the month he learned that he had ‘scraped through’ with a third-class degree. Looking back, he suspected that aversion to Anglo-Saxon was not the sole reason for his low marks. In his exclusive passion for poetry, he had refused to read any of prescribed. It is also true that his medical condition, provisionally diagnosed as ‘rheumatics’, had worsened during his final year of study and may well have affected his academic performance. Soutar remained philosophical, reflecting: ‘I’m afraid I’m not a ‘Varsity bird’—one is apt to get cobwebs on one’s wings’.

Soutar graduated from Edinburgh University on 12 July 1923. Over the following months, his illness worsened, frustrating his hopes of becoming a journalist for The Scotsman. He began teacher training in October 1924 but had to return to Perth to begin treatment for his finally diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis. From then on, he was confined to his parents’ house, from which he would published a stream of slim volumes containing some of the finest Scots verse of the 20th-century. The best-known perhaps are the ‘bairn-rhymes’, or Scots children’s verse, collected in Seeds in the Wind. Soutar famously remarked that ‘if the Doric is to come back alive, it will come first on a cock-horse’.

For Edinburgh University’s collection of William Soutar manuscripts, see: Papers of Willam Soutar (Coll-796)

All quotations from: Alexander Scott, Still life: William Soutar, 1898-1943 (London: Chambers, 1958)

Paul Barnaby
Acquisition and Literary Collections Curator

‘This Single Song of Two’: Centenary of the Marriage of Edwin and Willa Muir

7 June 2019 marks the centenary of the marriage of Edwin and Willa Muir, one of Scottish literature’s great creative partnerships. Acclaimed in their own right as poet and novelist respectively, they worked together as a translating team to bring the novels and stories of Franz Kafka to an English-speaking audience.

Edinburgh University holds a number of remarkable documents, bearing witness to their long and exceptionally close union.
Continue reading

Fifty Years of ‘An Orkney Tapestry’

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of two of George Mackay Brown’s landmark publications, An Orkney Tapestry and A Time to Keep. While Brown was already well established as a poet, these works made his reputation as a master of prose.

Unusually, An Orkney Tapestry was a commissioned publication. In late 1967, literary agent Giles Gordon approached Brown on behalf of Victor Gollancz publishers to inquire whether he might be interested in writing a general guide to his native Orkney. Although it was not the kind of work that appealed to Brown, Gollancz were offering a generous advance, and it presented an opportunity of visiting parts of the Orkney archipelago that he had not previously seen. The manuscript that Brown eventually submitted, however, was very far from a conventional guidebook. Instead, in An Orkney Tapestry, Brown wove prose, poetry, and drama together to commemorate the stories and traditions that had forged the character of the islands and their inhabitants.

The book consists of six sections: a polemical sketch of contemporary Orcadian life; a history of the ‘ghost village’ of Rackwick; a retelling of crucial episodes from the Orkneyinga Saga; an essayistic account of Orkney folklore; a short story-like evocation of a ballad singer’s performance at the Renaissance court of Earl Patrick Stuart; and a play ‘The Watcher’ concerning the apparition of an angel in an everyday Orkney setting.

Brown’s intention was to stress the importance of stories in creating a community and holding it together. A community cuts itself off from these formative stories at its own peril (p. 23), and Brown feared that the life of contemporary Orkney was increasingly meaningless (p. 19). An Orkney Tapestry is as much a jeremiad as a celebration. Time and again, Brown rails against progress–or rather a dogmatic, utilitarian ‘religion’ of Progress–as a ‘cancer’ that ‘drains the life’ out of ‘an elemental community’ (p. 53). He laments the loss of the old Orcadian speech and the uniformity created by compulsory education and the omnipresent new media of radio and television. With An Orkney Tapestry, he hopes to reawaken Orcadians to their history and traditions, and to inspire them to return to their life-giving roots.

Edinburgh University Library hold a much-corrected MS draft of An Orkney Tapestry (Gen 1868/5) together with a fair copy with instructions for a typist (Gen 1868/4).

We also hold George Mackay Brown’s letters to fellow poet Charles Senior (E2000.11), in which he traces the genesis of An Orkney Tapestry. In a letter of 28 December 1967, Brown tells Senior that he has been commissioned to write ‘a book about Orkney’. It is not ‘the kind of thing I like doing’ but should ‘bring in a couple of hundred quid or so’. On 8 January 1968, he reports that his usual publisher Chatto & Windus have reluctantly granted him permission to write for Gollancz, but Brown is unsure ‘whether I’ll be good at that sort of thing or no’. By 13 January, his doubts have grown: ‘I’m not good at patient research and reappraisal and I have no idea where the drift of history is taking the Orcadians’. He hopes to hit upon some ‘valid & original way’ to tackle the commission. On 20 January, he declares that he is determined, at least, not to write ‘some kind of a glorified guide book’. By Candlemas Day (2 February), the book is clearly beginning to take shape. It will be ‘highly impressionistic’ and entirely free of statistics: ‘I shun figures and tables as I would the devil’. He is planning a chapter on Rackwick, and a section contrasting a medieval or renaissance bard with the contemporary Orkney poet Robert Rendall. By 9 February, he reveals that he has been working on the ‘Orkney book’ all week, and has finished the first draft of the chapter on Rackwick (‘interlarded with poems’). This has left him ‘with a flush of achievement’, though he suspects that closer scrutiny may discover ‘a hundred flaws’. On 16 February, he laments the difficult of translating (‘or, rather, freely adapting’) Norse heroic verses for the third chapter of An Orkney Tapestry. These ‘stretched all my faculties to the utmost’ but ‘it’s good for writers to tackle something hard now and again’. Unfortunately, the correspondence with Senior is suspended at this point, as Senior was now, in fact, living close by in Orkney. These few letters, however, give a vivid impression of how An Orkney Tapestry swiftly evolved from impersonal commission to personal vision.

Within a fortnight of publication, An Orkney Tapestry had sold over 3,000 copies. One of its first readers, composer Peter Maxwell-Davies was so transfixed by Brown’s prose, that he was inspired to move to Orkney and make it his base for the rest of his life. Edinburgh University holds manuscript librettos for three works that Brown wrote for Maxwell-Davies: Apples and Carrots (MS 2846/4/2), Lullaby for Lucy (MS 2843/8/1), and Solstice of Light (Gen. 2134/2/4).

Another enthusiastic reader was veteran poet Helen B. Cruickshank. We hold Cruickshank’s well-thumbed copy of An Orkney Tapestry (JA3388), inscribed on the title-page by Brown and by artist Sylvia Wishart (whose illustrations for An Orkney Tapestry first brought her to prominence). There is also a brief letter from Brown on the half-title page, congratulating Cruickshank on the receipt of an honorary M.A. from Edinburgh University. A further letter from Brown in our Helen Cruickshank Papers (Coll-81) grants Cruickshank permission to quote a line from An Orkney Tapestry in her memoir Octobiography (Montrose: Standard, 1976): ‘Decay of language is always the symptom of a more serious sickness’. What Brown says of the decay of Orcadian speech (An Orkney Tapestry, 30), Cruickshank applies to the decline of her native Scots (Octobiography, p. 77).

The commercial success of An Orkney Tapestry was largely matched by critical approval. Seamus Heaney praised it as ‘a spectrum of lore, legend and literature, a highly coloured reaction as Orkney breaks open in the prisms of a poet’s mind and memory’ (Listener, 21 August 1969). For J. K. Annand, it was ‘one of those rare books which capture and convey the essential character of a place’ (Akros, January 1970). Not everyone, however, was entirely convinced. Robin Fulton, in the New Edinburgh Review (November 1969), felt that the problems raised by Brown ‘deserve more serious treatment than can be afforded by polemics and jeremiads’ and wondered ‘how closely in touch’ Brown was ‘with the way of life he professes to reject’. Brown rails against progress as a ‘new religion’ but ‘in fact who does in 1969 naively accept such a belief?’ (p. 6). Similarly, Janet Adam Smith felt that ‘Mr Brown is a far better poet than preacher and some of his diatribes on the present run too glibly’ (Times, 12 July 1969).

No such doubts were expressed about Brown’s second major publication of 1969, A Time to Keep, his second short-story collection after A Calendar of Love (1967). Alexander Scott wrote that Brown ‘gives more fundamental insights into our common humanity in even the shortest of his stories than will be found in a hundred full-length fictions of the conventional kind’ (Lines Review, 28 March 1969). Janice Elliot described him as a ‘precise, poetic, and dazzling writer’ (Guardian, 7 February 1969). Paul Bailey wrote the stories ‘often brought me close to tears’ and that there ‘are few writers alive today with the courage to be so simple and direct, or with the talent—the sheer, unforced talent—to lighten up the most humdrum detail’ (Observer, 2 March 1969). Even Robin Fulton, despite some reservations about the volume as a whole, declared that its strongest tales were ‘among the finest stories written by any Scottish writer’.

We do not hold any manuscripts or working papers relating to A Time to Keep. We do, however, have Norman MacCaig’s personal copy of the volume, signed by MacCaig on the half-title page.

For further information on our Papers of George Mackay Brown, see:

Scottish Literary Papers

Sources (other than previously cited)

    Timothy Baker, George Mackay Brown and the Philosophy of Community (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
    Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life (London: John Murray, 2007)
    Berthold Schoene-Harwood, The Making of Orcadia: Narrative Identity in the Prose Work of George Mackay Brown (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1995)
    Hilda D. Spear, George Mackay Brown: A Survey of his Work and a Full Bibliography (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 2000)

Salvesen Archive – 50 years at Edinburgh University Library – 1969-2019

50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARRIVAL OF THE CHRISTIAN SALVESEN & CO. ARCHIVE AT CRC – MARITIME TRADING AND WHALING MATERIAL

50 years ago in May 1969 former colleagues of the Centre for Research Collections had been busy collecting a large maritime trading and whaling archive from the offices of Christian Salvesen & Co. in Leith. The collection of company records was deposited on ‘permanent loan’, and would be joined by a second tranche in 1990, and a third in 2008. A gift of the entire archive to Edinburgh University Library was negotiated and signed in May 2012. That year, a small additional collection of material relating to the firm and its activities was received from Sir Gerald Elliot (1923-2018), a great-grandson of Christian Salvesen (1827-1911), the founder of the company.

Christian Salvesen and his wife Amelie, with their family, and photographed on holiday in Norway, in about 1860. The children may be (from left to right) Johan Thomas (b. 1854?), Edward Theodore (b.1857), and Frederick (b. 1855).

From Mandal, Norway, Salve Christian Fredrik Salvesen, son of a Norwegian merchant ship owner, first arrived in Scotland in the 1840s working at the Grangemouth shipbroking business owned by his brother, Johann Theodor Salvesen (1820-1865). Later on, after gaining experience on the continent, at Szczecin (then Stettin), he returned to Scotland and joined his brother again at Salvesen & Turnbull, now in Leith. On Johann’s retirement, the name changed to Turnbull, Salvesen & Co. The firm imported grain and timber, exported coal and iron, and also handled cargoes of salt and Norwegian herring. The carrying of migrants and gold prospectors to Australia was also an important trade.

Letter addressed to Christian Salvesen at the offices of Messrs Turnbull and Salvesen & Co., Leith, May 1861.

Following his brother’s early death in 1865, and after arguments with Turnbull, Salvesen went into business on his own, and his new firm, Chr. Salvesen & Co. began life on Bernard Street, Leith, in 1872. This change coincided with the advent of the steamship, and the expansion of maritime commerce with German and Baltic ports. In the 1880s, Salvesen was joined in the business by three of his sons.

For the Salvesen whaling enterprise in the South Atlantic, a subsidiary company was formed – the South Georgia Company of Leith (1909-1966), based at Leith Harbour, Stromness Bay, South Georgia.

By 1911, the year of Salvesen’s death, the firm’s vessels were trading with ports on the Baltic, in Norway and Sweden, and were servicing whaling stations in the Arctic, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Cargo lines were also opened up between Leith, Malta, and Alexandria, and then into the Black Sea.

The Salvesen Archive contains ledgers and cash and account books in various forms, both from the firm Christian Salvesen & Co., and the important subsidiary, the South Georgia Co.

During that first decade of the 20th century, the shipping industry was in a depressed state and, globally, shipping companies made heavy losses. While the Salvesen fleet fared no better, the company’s whaling interests – now expanding as far as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia – helped it to show occasional profit. The Salvesen whaling enterprise in the waters of the South Atlantic was operated by a subsidiary company, the South Georgia Company of Leith (1909-1966), based at Leith Harbour, Stromness Bay, South Georgia.

Whale on the ‘slip’ prior to be being ‘worked’, South Georgia. From a large photograph collection in the Salvesen Archive.

Into the 20th century, whaling began to dominate Salvesen business and the firm became an industry leader just at the time when food oils and other products from the Antarctic were considered a boundless resource.

Conservation of species… far from the concern of our own time… Report on whale stock and conservation in The Times, 9 September 1918, from a correspondent in Oslo. However, the concern about conservation at that time was not so much about the various whale species themselves, but rather more about continuing access to whale oils. Conservation of whale oils, rather than conservation of whales. From a collection of newspaper cuttings albums in the Salvesen Archive.

A third Salvesen generation entered the business in the troubled economic period of the inter-war years. The firm managed to ride out these troubled times, and whaling was expanded and modernised. As stocks began to diminish however, the firm of Salvesen – whalers for nearly 70 years – was prominent in urging conservation. In 1963, they gave up whaling.

Distinctive funnel colours of the Chr. Salvesen & Co. shipping line shaded-in on the plans for the whale catchers ‘Southern Lily’ and ‘Southern Laurel’. From a collection of plans in the Salvesen Archive.

By the 1960s and 1970s, a fourth generation was still playing an important role in the firm, and over that period the company had begun to diversify its interests: home construction; canning, and cold-storage facilities; food processing; frozen and chilled food logistics; generator rental; off-shore oil support; and, road transport logistics.One of Salvesen’s acquisitions was the Buttercup Dairy cold storage business, taken over in 1964… though the company was unable to save the well-known and popular Buttercup Dairy stores.

Day Books of the Aberdeen-based Glen Line, a shipping firm owned by John Cook and Son which had been an acquired by Christian Salvesen & Co. in 1928.

In 1985, Salvesen went public on the London Stock Exchange – Christian Salvesen PLC. In 1990 the firm left shipping, and in 1997 it moved to Northampton, England. In October 2007, the Christian Salvesen board recommended a takeover of the firm by Norbert Dentressangle, the large French-based European logistics firm (the unmissable red trucks of Groupe Norbert Dentressangle are almost on a par with Eddie Stobart among the lorry-spotting community!). 

The Salvesen Archive includes many years of the ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’, or’ Norsk Hvalfangst Tidende’, which is rich in articles concerning the whaling industry (in Norwegian and English), and rich in contemporary whaling industry advertisements.

It was with Christian Salvesen Investments Ltd., a Groupe Norbert Dentressangle subsidiary, that the Centre for Research Collections would finally agree acquisition of the Salvesen Archive in 2012, so ending much involved contact and conversation between CRC staff and the firm in Northampton over access to the deposited collection.

Advertisement for BP bunker fuel placed in the ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’.

Taking up just short of 70 metres of storage space, the archive is composed of a wide mix of material representing the firm’s early shipping interests, its whaling interests, and the firm’s later diversification. The archive includes: office ledgers; cash, accounts and invoice books; letter and day books; order and stock books; whale catch records; log books; correspondence; newspaper cuttings; photographs; and, copies of the ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’ and the company magazine of latter years ‘Salvesen News’.

Advertisement placed in the ‘Norwegian Whaling Gazette’ by the Tønsberg ‘ropewalk’ (or reperbane), a covered pathway, where long strands of material are laid before being twisted into rope.

When the first tranche of the archive arrived at the Library in 1969, Christian Salvesen & Co. had been preparing to make a move from their offices at 29-33 Bernard Street, Leith, to larger and recently constructed premises at Citadel House, East Fettes Avenue, in Edinburgh. Doubtless the impending move had spurred the firm into disposing of unneeded company records, and the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) had surveyed and drawn up a list of material in July 1968.

Whales being ‘worked’ on a whale factory ship. From a photograph in the Salvesen Archive photograph collection.

The NRAS list shows that the material now in the care of CRC had been located at several places: Inveralmond House, Cramond, the home of Captain Harold Keith Salvesen (1897-1970), grandson of Christian Salvesen; Attic No.1 at the firm’s offices, 29 Bernard Street, Leith; Metal cupboards at the top of the stairs at the same location; Captain H. K. Salvesen’s room in the offices at the time of the survey; and, the Operations Store Room, at the Bernard Street offices (it is worthwhile noting here too that some material in the second tranche, 1990, had been drawn from not only the headquarters in Edinburgh, but also from the abandoned whaling stations on South Georgia).

The interior of the cinema at Leith Harbour. Many of the films (in Norwegian and English) were brought out to South Georgia from Norway and the UK.

In 1968, the Library had moved into its new premises on George Square in closer proximity to the academic community and departmental offices, and from an exchange of correspondence between the Company and the Library, and between the Library and Professor Samuel Berrick Saul (1924-2016), Economic History, it can be speculated that Professor Saul may have been a prime mover in having the Salvesen Archive brought to the Library. As an economic historian, he may have been helping us to build up a business archive. Professor Saul had facilitated the commissioning of Mr Wray Vamplew, a postgraduate Economic History student, to write a history of the Company.

Painting of a whale factory ship, the ‘Southern Venturer’, by George McVey, which illustrates the cover of Wray Vamplew’s book, ‘Salvesen of Leith’.

The book, entitled Salvesen of Leith, was eventually published by the Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh and London, 1975.

Copies of the Salvesen in-house magazine. From a run of the magazine in the Salvesen Archive.

Graeme D. Eddie, Honorary Fellow, CRC… Engaging with the Salvesen Archive of maritime trading and whaling

If you have enjoyed reading this post, check out previous ones about the Salvesen Archive…:

Cinema at the whaling stations, South Georgia August 2016

Maritime difficulties during the First World War – Christian Salvesen & Co. October 2015

Talk on the Salvesen Archive to members of the South Georgia Association November 2015

‘Empire Kinsley’ – 70th anniversary of sinking on 23 March 1945 March 2015

Pipe bombs, hurt sternframes, peas, penguins, stoways and cookery books: the Salevesen Archive July 2014

Whale hunting: New documentary for broadcast on BBC Four June 2014