In June 1838 a report reached Perth that the American whaling ship Harvest was lost during gale force winds somewhere between Perth and Leschenault (near Bunbury and Australind).
The report was vague and while The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal chose to print the news anyway, they did so with the proviso that it may be best to await more accurate information before completely declaring the ship sunk. People who were anxious to hear news of the ship had about a month’s wait before the story was revealed.
While today (in most parts of the world) whaling is thankfully banned, in the past, whaling was an occupation that was carried out regularly. Whales were hunted to extremes for their blubber, oil and bones. Western Australia was no exception with whaling being an early industry in the colony. Early accounts indicate great excitement at whales being killed and reports were regularly printed in the papers. On 2 September 1843, the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal printed an article recounting the news for the whaling industry for the previous fortnight. They then went on to describe “a curious scene” in Fremantle.
Numerous whales had been attacked by the whalers however it was reported that one of them had been harpooned and then managed to pull away, dragging the boat and its occupants with it. Near Straggler Rocks it began to dive and the whalers in the boat had no choice than to cut the rope attached to the harpoon.
Thinking that they had lost the whale, the whalers returned to shore. A few days later news soon spread that the whale had in fact died from its wounds and had been found washed up on North Beach, located a few miles from Fremantle. The whalers gathered what they needed and headed straight to the beach, hoping to recover as much of the whale as possible.
Meanwhile, news also reached Perth of the whale on the beach. The fascination at seeing a whale close up was too much for some and as it was only an hour’s ride from Perth to the Fremantle area, many people took off on their horses to catch a glimpse of it. One amongst the group was a young man, suitably nicknamed ‘Jonas’ by the paper, perhaps in a bid to protect his identity.
‘Jonas’ arrived and noticing that the first spade was about to be dug in, decided to seize the opportunity of being first for himself. He jumped on top of the whale and dug in his spade, only to be met with an almighty explosion! There was nowhere else for ‘Jonas’ to go but down into the rotting belly of the whale.
Initially everyone laughed at his predicament but seeing as though ‘Jonas’ was struggling, they quickly went about undertaking the difficult task of rescuing him from inside the whale. ‘Jonas’ was safely returned to land unhurt but left in a rather putrid state.
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article may contain images and names of deceased persons.
Long before a vision of a state arose in the heart and mind of Sir James Stirling, American ships regularly navigated the southwest coastal waters of Western Australia in search of their quarry: whales.
These American whalers had been visiting our coast since the late 1700s and often came ashore in order to replenish their water supplies. They were known to have traded with the Indigenous tribes and even took wives on their visits. Each season, upon returning to Western Australia, they reunited with the Indigenous tribes and again took up with the same wife; often finding that children had been born from the union.
So frequently did the Whalers visit our shores they deemed it necessary (or prudent) to sink wells either to establish a new well or to deepen an existing waterhole.
Crews often consisted of a mixing pot of ethnicities with a large number tending to be of Creole-Native American or African American descent. Conditions were harsh and it was a well-known fact that crew members regularly jumped ship at the places they visited. Perhaps it was after some time spent in Albany that African American, John Fisher, decided that he’d had enough of the whaling life and would stay in Western Australia.