The Hawaiian Islands and the whaling industry

I would like to put your attention on the following article of Amy Jenness about the connection and importance of the Hawaiian Islands for Nantucket’s whaling industry. She wrote the article in 2016 in the “Yesterday’s Island, Today’s Nantucket”1 and I will briefly summarize the text.

The history of the Hawaiian Islands is deeply intertwined with the rise of the whaling industry in the 1820s.

The arrival of whalers Edmund Gardner and Elisha Folger in 1819 heralded a new chapter in Hawaii’s maritime heritage. Soon ports such as Honolulu, Lahaina and Hilo were buzzing with activity as whaling ships from Nantucket and beyond made their presence felt. Initially venturing into the Pacific Ocean in search of sperm whales, these ships found a welcome haven in the Hawaiian Islands, thanks to treaties with local monarchs such as King Kamehameha.

The following years saw a surge in maritime activity, with traders establishing routes to Canton, China, and thriving on the lucrative trade in Hawaiian sandalwood. However, it was the emergence of the whaling industry that would shape Hawaii’s history and become its economic backbone for the next two decades. Local communities thrived on the influx of sailors, supplying ships and providing essential services to the burgeoning maritime trade. Honolulu, in particular, underwent a rapid transformation with the installation of water mains and the establishment of businesses to cater for the needs of the whalers.

But this period of prosperity was not without its challenges. The clash of cultures led to conflict and tension as Western influences clashed with traditional Hawaiian ways. Disease ravaged the native population, while missionaries tried to impose their beliefs, leading to social upheaval and unrest.

Among the prominent figures of this era was Nantucket captain Valentine Starbuck, whose exploits aboard the English whaleship L’Aigle would become the stuff of legend. Starbuck’s encounters with King Kamehameha not only forged a bond between two distant worlds, but also hinted at the tantalising prospect of Hawaii’s allegiance to the British crown.

  1. Jenness, Amy (2016): An important stop for Nantucket whalers – Hawaii”, in: Yesterday’s Island, Today’s Nantucket, https://yesterdaysisland.com/important-stop-nantucket-whalers/, [Last Access: 30.3.2024]. []
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