Miss Rachael Utting

Supervised by

Research interests

Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775-1860)

The project investigates the culture of collecting onboard whaling voyages associated with the British Southern Whale Fishery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It considers the circulation of artefacts, specimens and imagery through various networks including auction houses, curiosity shops, major museums and private collections.

The Southern fleet was active between 1775-1860 and for part of this period was the largest whaling fleet in the world. The average voyage of a London-based whaler lasted about three years meaning regular stops at ports of call across the world had to be made in order to collect fresh food, water and wood. Whaling logs and private journals (particularly those kept by whaling surgeons) indicate that during these island layovers, whalers interacted in various ways with local inhabitants, acquiring indigenous artefacts and other objects retained for personal interest, exchange or sale as ‘curiosities’. Ports of call frequented by whaleships were found all across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and these spaces became cultural contact zones due to the mixing of ethnically diverse ship’s crews, but also due to this trade in curiosities.  

These objects then moved in myriad ways – for example through informal exchange, commercial networks, family inheritance or formal donation - into personal and public museum collections around the world. By analyzing these moments of exchange and encounter through sources such as whaling logs, journals, auction house records and public and private correspondence I am creating an understanding of the role played by the whalemen in supplying the trade in curios, and the networks of exchange within which they operated. This project aims to enhance our knowledge and understanding of early British collecting practices and highlight the agency of the whalers of the British Southern Whale Fishery within this.

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