A Scottish Witness of the Great Kantō Earthquake

To mark the centenary of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, we are publishing a blog by Ash Mowat, a volunteer in the Civic Engagement Team, which explores the archives of a Scottish survivor. The composer Sheena Tennant Kendall was resident in Japan from 1919 to 1924 and lived through the catastrophe, describing its impact in her diary and photographing the ensuing devastation. Continue reading

Come Hither: Walter de la Mare and the Young of All Ages

The English writer Walter de la Mare was born 150 years ago this week on 25 April 1873. To mark his anniversary, we are publishing a blog by Ash Mowat, a volunteer in the Civic Engagement Team, which also marks the centenary of Come Hither, de la Mare’s much loved anthology of verse for ‘the young of all ages’. The blog also contains details of Edinburgh University Library’s extensive collection of de la Mare correspondence. Continue reading

Volunteering at the CRC: Charlotte’s experience

Today we’re introducing Charlotte Holmes, a postgraduate student who is doing some volunteer work under the supervision of archivist Aline Brodin. Her main task is to catalogue and box-list two very different collections from our archives, the Archive of Illustrators Richard and Alison Douglas Tod (Coll-2029) and the Archive of productions of Varsity Vanities and various dramatic groups (Coll-1581). Volunteering with the CRC is a great way to gain some new skills and some practical experience while working with our heritage collections. Charlotte tells us about her background and her work in our reading room:

Hi everyone! My name is Charlotte, and I am a final-year PhD student in History. My thesis is entitled “Domestic Medicine in Early Modern Scotland, c. 1650 – c. 1750”. Before this course, I spent a few years in the “real world” after my undergraduate and masters at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the University of Edinburgh respectively. My undergraduate degree was in History and French, concentrating on Western Europe and Africa, while my masters was in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. I am interested generally in the history of Scotland, medicine, and gender.

Charlotte working in our reading room.

My position with the Centre for Research Collections is as a Box-Listing Volunteer. As it says on the tin, I have been listing what is in the boxes for two collections: the Richard and Alison Tod fonds and the Varsity Vanities fonds. Richard and Alison Tod were Scottish children’s book illustrators throughout the 20th century and the Varsity Vanities fonds contain photographs and programmes from Edinburgh University student theatre productions from the mid-20th century. Most of my role involves thinking about what researchers need to know about items in the collections: are the photographs or artwork in black and white or colour? Can we determine the year in which the item was created? Then, I enter this data into ArchivesSpace with other archival descriptors such as the call number.

A student acting in a Varsity Vanities play, 1940s (Coll-1581)

Varsity Vanities programme, 1940s (Coll-1581)

I took this position because I wanted to learn some basic archiving practices. As a researcher, I only look at the published side of the catalogue and I wanted to learn how it worked from the back end. I have certainly learned how much is involved in cataloguing items: it was challenging at first to fight my instincts to analyse them and to remain as objective as possible. But there were pieces in both collections that involved some subjectivity and further research. For example, there were racial depictions that are now commonly understood to be harmful to sections of society. So, I got to stretch my research muscles as well as exercise some subjectivity within the archiving process. It made me remember that there is a very human side to archival objectivity.

Booklet by Alison Tod entitled “Bunnikin’s Adventures”, with original illustrations, 1935 (Coll-2029/2/3/1)

Booklet by Richard or Alison Tod entitled “Fairyland Tales: Googoo’s Gamp”, 1939 (Coll-2029/2/1)

What I am leaving with from my time at the CRC is an incredibly positive learning experience. Everyone that works there, including and perhaps especially the front of house staff, are helpful and supportive. My supervisor, Aline is extremely patient and explains everything well and thoroughly. When I’m in, she makes a point to come say hi. I also have a regular table in the Reading Room, which is infinitely funny to me because of course my regular table wouldn’t be at a coffee shop or pub, but in a nerdy environment! Anyway, if you are interested at all in archives and history, I would highly recommend volunteering for the CRC. It’s worth climbing the six flights of stairs, I promise!

If you are interested in volunteering with us, you can find all the relevant information, including how to be added to our mailing list, on this page: Volunteers and Interns | The University of Edinburgh  

John MacLeod Durward, Queen’s Scholar

Enquiries are very much central to what we do.  As well as helping others with their own research, enquiries are often the means by which we learn something new about our own collections. Recently we received one about a (potential) former student, John Macleod Durward, who was recorded in the 1861 as being a Queen’s Scholar.

Newspaper accounts supplied by the enquirer also listed John as having received received various class prizes at the University in 1864 and 1865, including in Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric and English Literature and Mathematics, along with him being from Arbroath. However, we were unable to find him amongst our graduates and the term Queen’s Scholar seemed to have no relation with the University (our initial investigations only uncovered it as something relating to Westminster School).

Nevertheless we persitsed as John had clearly been at the University and we should have some record of him.  We discovered that he had in fact matriculated in Arts for the academic years 1863/4 and 1864/5.  So, this all tiednicely with the newspaper accounts but what about Queen’s Scholar?

Our colleages at the UK National Archives proved to be a vital part of our deliberations.  Their online guide to records of Teacher Training states:

“At 18 pupil-teachers could apply for the Queen’s/King’s Scholarship Examination (later the Preliminary Examination for the Certificate). Successful scholars had the opportunity of attending training colleges for two or three years.”

The University of Edinburgh did not offer teacher training in this period but there were two institutions in Edinburgh which did, the Church of Scotland Training College and the Free Church of Scotland Training College.  Both were forerunners to Moray House College/Institute, which is now part of the University but then were independent entities.

While the student records for the latter for this period have not survived, those for the former have.  Would we be lucky?  As you can see from the image below, we were.

Church of Scotland Training College: Report on Progress of Male Students

This places John at the Church of Scotland Training College in 1861 (the year he appeared on the census as Queen’s Scholar). John then attended the University for two years immediately after undertaking his teacher training.


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.


[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)


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 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


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


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


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