How a radio episode in Aberystwyth wetted my curiosity

Two weeks ago, at the 10th October on a Sunday afternoon, I took a Bus in Birmingham and travelled 4 hours to Wales, to Aberystwyth to be precise. Given that Aberystwyth is a small rural city with 18.000 inhabitants, and excluded from any motorway or any bigger cities or metropole areas in Wales, I was astonished of the vivid atmosphere, which shaped the city, even on a sunday night.

The city has an university and its 6000 enrolled students as well as the beautiful promenade along the coast definitely shape this city. To be honest: Aberystwyth belonged to one of those places of Wales, which I had never heard of. The cities of Cardiff, of Swansea, as well as the Snowdonia National Park, the welsh football team and dragons (!?) were the only things, which came me or my friends in mind, with whom I talked about Wales. Yet, what is much more known to me is that Wales, or rather Milford Haven, had a brief chapter of whaling industry too as this small collection of research articles demonstrate:

Allen, Richard C. (2010): Nantucket Quakers and the Milford Haven Whaling Industry, c. 1791-1821. In: Quaker Studies 15 (1), pp. 6-31.

Clayton, Jane (2007): Nantucket Whalers in Milford Haven, Wales. In: Historic Nantucket, A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association 56 (1), pp. 4-7.

Follini, Maida (2006): A Quaker Odyssey. The Migration of Quaker Whalers from Nantucket, Massachusetts to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and Milford Haven, Wales. In: Canadian Quaker History Journal 71, pp. 1-21.

McKay, K. (1989): A Vsion of Greatness, the history of Milford, 1790-1990, Pembrokeshire: Brace Harvatt Associates.

Thomas, Flora (1920): The Builders of Milford. Haverfordwest: The Pembrokeshire Telegraph.

National Library of Wales – private Picture – 12.10.2021.

Despite its small composition, the city of Aberystwyth is also centre of the National Library of Wales, which is the most important reason, which bring me to this rural place at the coast of Wales. I have spent here a week and pre-ordered manuscripts related to the Starbuck Quaker whaling family, who were known to have relocated to Milford Haven further southwards of Wales between roughly between 1795 and 1820.

The material, which I have found here date mostly later than 1830 up to 1870 and the marriage certificates and wills show that the descendants of this part of the Starbuck family remained in Wales and England after the arrival. Clayton could reconstruct at least fifteen Nantucket families, who settled across the Atlantic to Milford Haven.1 The settlement was

“led by the Starbucks and the Folgers. Samuel Starbuck Sr. [who] came with his wife, Abigail, and their two sons, Samuel Jr. [Starbuck] and Daniel [Starbuck], along with their families. Timothy Folger brought his wife, Abiel [Folger]; one daughter, Peggy, with her husband David Grieve; and their son, Timothy Jr., along with his family.

Others who came to settle included several ship captains: Zacchary Bunker and his wife, Judith, with some of their children; Elisha Clarke and his wife, Elizabeth, with their children; Barnabus Swain; James Gwinn; Peter Macy; Benjamin Folger; David Coleman; Jonathan Paddock; Nathaniel Macy; Uriel Bunker; and Frederick Coffin – with or without their families. Several returned to New England, while others remained in Britain for the rest of their lives.”

Jane Clayton (2007)

Due to Covid-restrictions, it was necessary to book a reading desk a few days before-hand for each day. Arriving at the front-desk of the National Library, remained very curious, as the security had already a “guest-list” of all individuals, who had booked a reading desk beforehand. Apart from manuscripts, I found numerous interesting articles and books, which kept my interest.

  • The very helpful library staff, furthermore, directed my attention to audio-visual sources too. They pointed me to a short video clip of 1947 entitled “Milford Haven”, which is online available here and is kindly provided by the British Film Institute and the National Sound and Screen Archive of Wales. The 14 minutes give an impression of a whaling settlement, and pictures the small city as “little America”.

Apart from written documents and video clips, the collection also holds two BBC radio episodes about the Quakers in Wales of the BBC show “Good evening Wales”. They were published 7th November 2000 and 14th November 2000, but the first part is not available anymore in the National Library’s collection. They were produced by Sunny Davis, Jimmy Davis and Collin Davis.

Listening to the second part, however, was very fascinating as it seems to be a documentation which contained many quotes of several prominent and local individuals, who were familiar with the whaling industry, such as the famous Nantucket-located author (1) Nathaniel Philbrick, (2) Richard Allen, who published extensively on Quaker whalers in Wales, and as well as (3) George Springer, who was the local curator of the Milford Haven Museum at that time.

Among the many quotes, I found one oral statement of a person called Duckburg (?) worth to transcribe, which I will quote here now. He refers to the role of Milford Haven as a whaling harbour for the Quaker whalers and there is the assumption that Milford Haven was only used as an entrance harbour to remain access for their whale oil to sell it duty-free into the british market in the late 18th century. The American Revolutionary wars of 1776 found the Quakers in Nantucket excluded from selling their whale oil to the British market, and Quaker whalers put high efforts to relocate and establish whaling settlements on places such as Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Dunkirk, London and Milford Haven. Duckburg, however, wonders about the strikingly short whaling voyages and the high whale oil casks of Milford Haven whaling ships at the same time.

“[Moderator voice:] But those greasy whaling voyages could be strangely short. Duckburg. [Duckburg voice:] Unlike those from Nantucket, they would return to port with a full load of a good oil onboard in a matter of just a couple of month instead of several years, and one wonders if perhaps some of the Nantucket vessels met with some of the Milford Haven vessels and exchanged cargoes along the way, thereby avoiding the very heavy duties in tariffs, that had been placed upon American Oil, pretty crude (?) move as quakers remained nobodies provved (?) move (?).”

BBC Radio Episode, 14.11.2000, minute: 13:50 onwards

This last quote opened me a wide range of further questions and demonstrate again the translocality and the social and economic connection of these Quaker whalers in the Atlantic world. I clearly need to analyse these entanglements more specifically.

  1. Clayton, Jane (2007): Nantucket Whalers in Milford Haven, Wales. In: Historic Nantucket, A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association 56 (1), pp. 4-7 []

Author: Haureh Hussein

Haureh Hussein is Doctoral Researcher and Research Associate in the DFG research project ‘Family Business: Creating a “Maritime Contact Zone” in the Colonial Anglo-World, 1790–1840’ at the Trier University. He studied history and political science at Trier and at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium. He can be contacted via his blog:

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