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]. []

NHA YT Channel: “Real Nantucket History”

The Youtube channel of the Nantucket Historical Association provided parts of its virtual exhibition from 2019. One clip, which I would like to recommend watching is the brief recollection of Nantucket during the American Revolution and its impact on the Island, the whaling industry and the Quaker Community in manifold ways with a distinct focus on the Rotch family.1 The nine short episodes had been produced by Ian Opaluch.

  1. Opaluch, Ian (2019): Real Nantucket History: The American Revolution, in: Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cECaaGTmXg, [Last Access: 21.2.2024]. []

Whaling Logbooks or “The art of whaling”

Today, I would like to shed light on the “Public domain review” (PDR) Journal. It is a non-profit public Journal that also keeps a blog about a vriety of topics. On their homepage, they introduce themselves with the following words: “Founded in 2011, The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.”1

The reason how I came across the journal is an obvious one! Some years ago, it was during the pandemic times, when people were actually used to conduct social distance, I was drawing and fighting with analyzing whaling logbooks. As you might remember in this former blog post almost exactly one year ago, I was digging into several logbooks and eventually found a very helpful way how to analyze and to extract the rich details of a logbook with an excell sheet.2

During my research, I have found another wonderful blog article of Jessica Boyall3 and I immediately bookmarked it in my online bookmarked treasures, which contain numerous articles and pages that are somehow more or less related to whaling history. I hope you will enjoy reading the article as much as I did. You can find the article here.3

  1. About, in: The Public Domain Review, https://publicdomainreview.org/about, [Last Access: 27.02.2023]. []
  2. Hussein, Haureh (2022): Logbook analysis: “William Hamilton” (1834-1837), in: transoceanic Voyages, https://transoceanic.hypotheses.org/445, [Last Access: 27.02.2023]. []
  3. Boyall, Jessica (2021): The Art of whaling, Illustrations from the logbooks of Nantucket whaling, in: PDR, https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/the-art-of-whaling, [Last Access: 27.02.2023]. [] []

Prof. Dr. Tiya Miles: New Guinea and the Island of Nantucket.

Last year, on 31st August 2021, Professor Tiya Miles, department of history at the Harvard University, published an article in The Atlantic about the Island of Nantucket entitled: “Nantucket doesn’t belong to the Preppies”.1 The article grew out not only from the vivid history of the island itself, but also through her conversations with many figures of the island.

Combined with private observations, biographical experiences and conversations, she first pictured colonial-white-focussed perceiptions and quickly corrects the impressions.

Picture Nantucket, and you probably imagine whales and hydrangeas, white people swimming in white-capped waves. But that’s only part of the story. Although the Black community of New Guinea has passed into history, its mark on the landscape remains, a reminder that Nantucket was once a place of working-class ingenuity and Black daring.

Tiya Miles

While the most stories of Nantucket typically began with the popular anektode of English settlers, who arrived in 1690, and noticed whales while they surveyed the sandy land, the Wampanoag people had already lived there, “dispersed across multiple villages.” Miles shows how the rising wealth of “Anglo-Nantucketers […] particularly through the commercial whaling industry” based on the rising “labor from populations with ready skills that would not, or could not, reject dangerous maritime work.” For this, they not only “compelled Indigenous people to row their boats”, but also drew back to slavery by bringing people with descent from the African continent to Nantucket.

According to a census of 1764, the Island inhabited 148 “indians + Sqwaws” and 50 “Negroes”, of which a majority were enslaved. In this regard, Miles also recounts the famous case between William Swain and Boston:

One black family, the Bostons, lived on Nantucket for generations and profoundly shaped the island’s history. Boston and his wife, Maria, and their eight children were enslaved by a merchant named William Swain. In 1760, for reasons that are not documented, Swain freed the couple and their youngest baby. He placed the other children on a manumission schedule, guaranteeing that he could extract their labor for years. Eventually, members of the Boston family moved to a hilly region at the edge of town, where a handful of other free Black families lived, near the four noisy windmills that served as the island’s power source.

Tiya Miles

In the 1770s, when the island suczessively “phase out slavery”, many free persons now settled themselves at “New Guinea”or “Newtown”, where they intermarriaged with Native Americans and so shaped the place as “a multicultural hub”.

You can read the full article here.1

  1. Miles, Tiya (2021): Nantucket doesn’t belong to the Preppies, in: The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/nantucket-doesnt-belong-to-the-preppies/619874/, 31.08.2021. [last Access:25.7.2022]. [] []

1842: Starbuck from Nantucket applies for British Naturalization in Sydney

In 29th September 1842, the “Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser” informs their readers about the naturalization of an American person named George Starbuck from Nantucket, who officially requested to become a British citizen:

“Naturalization of an Alien. – A Mr. George Starbuck, who is a native of Nantucket, in the United States, took the oaths of allegiance to her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria on Tuesday last, before His Honor the Chief Justice, in the Court of Equity.”1

Reading of a Starbuck family member from Nantucket in the mid of the 19th century, one can easily draw a connection to the whaling industry. Unfortunately it remains unclear, how he arrived in Sydney or whether he captained a whaling ship or not (at least according to the database of www.whalinghistory.com). Only one entry lists a George Starbuck person as an Agent of the whaling ship “JOSEPH STARBUCK”, which went on a Pacific whaling voyage between 1838 and 1842, and was captained by Wilbur Sanford.2

The website of the “State Archives & Records” in Sydney hold the records of the Naturalization processes in detail and give further knowledge about the legal history of the naturalization too.3

Naturalization is the means by which aliens (non-British subjects) gain the privileges and rights of citizenship held by British subjects or people born in New South Wales.

There was no law covering naturalization before 1849. Prior to that year, the process of naturalization was known as denization and could only be performed through an Act of Parliament. Denization gave an alien the right to own land. The Act to Amend the Laws relating to Aliens, 1849 (No 11 Vic No 39) established the system of naturalization, which gave much broader rights and made denization obsolete.

State Archives & Records NSW

Since Starbuck applied in 1842, his records fell into the “Letters of Denization” in the collection of the State Archives. Receiving the British citizenship came along with many privileges and benefits such as the right to vote (only for men), but what might have been much more interesting for the applicants was the right to buy or own land, which seem to have been only confined to British settlers. One important requirement was the Residency of at least five years. This means that George Starbuck must have been living in Sydney since at least five years.

The database of the naturalization applicants do only consist of Non-British people with backgrounds from all over the world. Individuals from Ireland or Canada did not need to become naturalized as they already belonged to the British Empire. In these online provided naturalization database, I was able to find the name of George Starbuck, yet his name was mistyped as George Starbrick.

The entry is kept very brief, yet I assume that the entry might provide further information about the background.

  1. Naturalization of an Alien, in: Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser, 29.09.1842, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/2557455, [last Access: 12.06.2022]. []
  2. Joseph Starbuck, 1838-1842, in: whaling history, https://whalinghistory.org/?s=AA1190, [Last Access: 12.06.2022]. []
  3. Naturalization / Citizenship Guide, in: State Archives & Records, Sydney, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/naturalization-citizenship-guide?fbclid=IwAR3lEsZshEranA8ILV01U-X4iHgdq70Syw2iqbRk_TuTuxu42lYl8jom6Ww, [Last Access: 12.06.2022]. []
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