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,, [Last Access: 30.3.2024]. []

GHI London Blogpost


Thanks to a scholarship of the German Historical Institute London, I have spent several months of last year (September 2021 to November 2021) in several english cities (Birmingham, London) and welsh cities (Aberystwyth, Pembrokeshire, Milford Haven) in order to undertake archival research in a number of Archives, Museums and Libraries.

In the Cadbury Research Library of the University of Birmingham I was able to read (and to copy) extensive amounts of manuscripts of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Stations and its actors at the Bay of Islands (roughly from the period between 1814 until 1840). Adopting on one particular meeting minute of the CMS in London, I summarized my PhD research project for the blog of the German Historical Institute. I remain very grateful for this wonderful opportunity of the GHIL and thank Dr. Marcus Meer for the lectoring process.

You can read the blogpost on the GHIL Blog here.1

  1. Hussein, Haureh: Māori Iwi, Quaker Whalers, and Missionaries at the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1790–1840), in: GHIL Blog, [Last Access: 24.11.2022]. []

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 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,, [last Access: 12.06.2022]. []
  2. Joseph Starbuck, 1838-1842, in: whaling history,, [Last Access: 12.06.2022]. []
  3. Naturalization / Citizenship Guide, in: State Archives & Records, Sydney,, [Last Access: 12.06.2022]. []

Logbook analysis: “William Hamilton” (1834-1837)

Some years ago, the Providence Public Library in Rhode Island has digitized its entire whaling logbook collection, which includes over 750 logbooks of American whaling voyages and covers an amazing time period between 1762 and 1931. The whole collection is now available through archive.org1 In order to receive a certain overview, this collection offers a detailed finding aid to the public.2

During the year of 2020, when most of the world was overwhelmed with the Pandemic, I had the opportunity to analyse a part of those available logbooks of the Swain and Starbuck family, which cruised into the Pacific Ocean. In this context, I would like to introduce you the logbook of the whaling voyage of the WILLIAM HAMILTON whaling ship, which was at sea between 1834 and 1837.3

The whaling ship was owned by Isaac Howland at New Bedford, and William Swain captained the voyage. In this blog article, I want to show you how I have reconstructed the voyage and analysed the digitized logbook, which you can find here.4

For this, I used a simple Excel document, and defined already beforehand, what kind of developments and encounters I am interested in. On the Y axis, I decided to categorize my observations in “Sojourn in”, “Communication with”, “Land in sight”, trading with”, “Recruitment”, “whale in sight”, “Hunting process” as well as “etc.” The X axis marked the timeline. In doing so, I moved from page to page, and “screened” each whaling logbook page for relevant observations, which I noted down immediately. This allows me, to go through the Logbook just by scrolling the document to the right and I have immediately access to the most interesting information for myself.

Private Excel document. Click on the picture in order to view the picture in more detail.

As you can see on this small glimpse of the Excel document, I can immediately reconstruct the sailing route of the whaling ship only by following the ports, which the logbook mentions. In this case, the whaling ship departed from New Bedford and most likely rounded the Cape Horn because he stopped for the first time in Chile, then went further northwards for a stopover at Payta, continued its voyage in the direction of the Society Islands and headed to Aotearoa/ New Zealand, before he sailed to Otaheite and then sailed back to New Bedford. On the whaling voyage, the ship meet many other ships, as you can see.

Stopovers were crucial for whaling voyages. They needed them for refreshment and in order to trade goods, supplies, and also to recruit Indigenous sailors for their voyages. While the logbooks keepers did routinely trace developments during the voyages at sea, they remained disappointingly silent on land, and only continued with entries when they began to sail again. Having these gaps in mind, helps me to realize for how long the ships did stay at harbour.

Now let me go in further detail on one of the stopovers and skip to January 1836, when the whaling ship arrived the Bay of Islands. At the 8th of January 1836, the logbook mentions: “5 PM spoke the LADY AMHERST5 of London 28 month out with 2500 bbl Oil” and then: “Land in sight”. You can read the entry at the end of the left page here.6

Whaling ships saw it essential in coming in touch together and to exchange crucial information, and their current state of their voyage; thus, one often read of whaling ships, which also give their amount of whale cargo which they have hunted and boiled already. As you can see from the page, William Swain did meet at the Bay of Islands also the whaling ship SARAH AND ELIZABETH7. Since the ship was on the end of his voyage, the Logbook just briefly records “spoke the Sarah and Elizabeth, full bound home”. The captain of this London-based whaling ship was also another William Swain, one of his relatives, who lived in London and was regularly with whaling voyages in the Pacific Ocean too. Together with the LADY AMHERST, the SARAH ELIZABETH sailed back to London.

Both William Swain do have the same family background in the Quaker community of Nantucket, and the name of the Ship William Hamilton shows already, that the whaling ship of owners of Howland in New Bedford seem to have been aware of the history of the Quaker whalers, who migrated to Europe roughly between 1790 and 1815 for William Hamilton is considered as the pivotal contributor of the establishment of the Milford Haven. He is known to have invited and supported those Quaker whalers to come to Wales in order to establish and to continue their whaling activities.

The whaling ship William Hamilton arrived at 10th January 1836 the Bay of Islands and seems to have remained until 27th January 1836 at the harbour, because there are no logbook entries for the days in between, which you can see on the right page.6

In the days after they sailed they prepared the stores and the logbook regularly mentions entries such as “all hands employed storing chicken” or “the watch employed in ships duty”. Just two days after they left the Bay of Islands, they saw a whale and lowered the boats, and such whale sightings were even drawn in the daily entries.

On the last pages of the logbook, the keeper shows unusually the crew of the different parts of the ship and shows, how the constitution of the boat-crews changed and differed during the voyages. This proves to be a valuable insight into the multi-ethnicity of the crew, because it also mentions the places and islands from where some crew-members were taken off. Some crew members were taken from Pacific Islands such as the Galapagos, Navigator Islands, Society Islands Tongataboo or New Zealand as you can see on this logbook page here.8

Thank you very much for reading this. This was a very brief overview of a logbook, and in case you have a question to any part or aspect, you are welcome to leave a comment.

  1. Nicholson whaling collection, in,, [Last Access: 12.03.2022]. []
  2. Wells, Kate (2019): Finding Aid, Nicholson whaling logbook collection 1762-1931,, [last Access: 12.03.2022]. []
  3. William Hamilton, 1834-1837, in: whaling history database,, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  4. William Hamilton Logbook 1834-1837, in:,, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  5. LADY AMHERST, in: whaling history database,, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  6. William Hamilton Logbook, in:, [Last Access:12.03.2022] [] []
  7. Sarah and Elizabeth, in: whaling history database,, [Last Access: 12.03.2022] []
  8. William Hamilton Logbook, in:, [Last Access:12.03.2022] []

What my dissertation project would say about the year 2021 (1/2)

I had aimed to write this article already earlier in December 2021, yet the last month of the year literally rushed over me. I travelled back from my archive stay in the UK – (in retrospect I came back very timely before the rise of the new Omicron variant) – and only some weeks afterwards I presented my research topic as well as the first archive results to the audience in the context of the German Historical Institute London Colloquium. Perhaps you have seen already the new page of my blog “upcoming events”.

From my dissertation’s point of view, the year of 2021 was very productive and I would like to go once again through the quartals and by giving some further insights.

January to March 2021 – Second Writing process

Before I come to the writing process of 2021, I need to give a few notes into my former writing process from the last year. In the first half of 2020, I wrote already the first coherent chapters by outlining the theories, concepts and questions of my dissertation topic. I was happy to have started writing at a very early stage in english language, because I quickly realized how difficult and heavy it was for me, to write this dissertation in a language, which I can use for sure, yet to which I still bear a bit of respect.

The writing process has also much to do with the comfort zone. It is comparably very easy to spent hours and days in databases, taking notes in research journals and quoting passages in research articles and monographs. These (still important) works merged to a “productive” way of procastination. It is however, much more difficult to write these results down, to form the thoughts and notes into sentences and passages and pages.

During my studies, I very seldom had experienced writing blockades, as I wrote the most of my works in german language, which is, in fact, my native language, and in which I feel much more comfortable. Therefore, I had many difficulties at the beginning to combine and to stick my quotes and notes of research articles and monographs into my own words and to structure them into coherent and logic passages. The first writing process of 2020 therefore was highly shaped by feelings of wrong perfectionism, by deleting passages and pages (sorry, I will never do it again!) and many discussions. Therefore, it took a while to recognize that it is all a process and that it does not need to be “perfect” yet, because right now the focus is on production, production, production, and not on perfection, perfection, perfection.

In the first months of 2021, however, the “second” writing phase went much easier and much more structured. While I dived deeper into the “Atlantic” part, I also started with writing the first few general chapters of the “Pacific” part. Starting with an “Atlantic” chapter allowed me to go in more detail into the characteristics of Nantucket, New Bedford, the history of the early colonization process of New England, the history of Quaker settlers, the Wampanoags, Native American, to the history of slavery as well as of practices of indentured servitude and unfree labour in the whaling industry too.

By focussing explicitly on the members of the Starbuck and the Swain Families, I filtered and extracted any information and knowledge, which I could receive from existing secondary literature (thank you CITAVI), and, what was much more important: from digitised historical aids like the database or the Barney Genealogical records of the Nantucket Historical Association.

All this combined with primary sources such as the entirely digitsed “Nicholson whaling logbook collection” of the Providence Public Library in Rhode Island as well as the entirely digitised Probate records for Nantucket I was able to collect and built my first source fundament (thank you EXCELL) in order to write down my first results and insights.

During this writing process, I regularly attended the online writing sessions of a group of doctoral researchers from various german universities, which had been established in Dec. 2020. I found it very helpful for myself, to create a sense of reliability together and to stay connected with like-minded during a period of lockdowns and physical social distance.

April to June 2021 – pursuing digital archive research – and applying for analog archive research

The addition of new aspects, changes and never ending revisions of chapters and the chapters’ structures shaped the month of April, while at the same time, I stuck to the screen for reading and analyzing digitised colonial sources about the local history and the economic circumstances of the whaling industry in Nantucket and New England in the 18th and 19th century.

It was in this period of time, when the German Historical Institute London announced their scholarship-application for archive stays for doctoral researchers who work on colonial or british-history related topics. The preparation of the research proposal – deadline: 31st May – was very intense and time-consuming, yet it gave me much inspiration and motivation for another writing process for the month of June.

The White-Board suffered a lot under my ideas and visual concepts. – private picture – 11th June 2021.


In manifold ways, the June formed one of the highlights of the year, because

1) the DFG decided to fund the research project, in which I am working in

2) the German Historical Institute London accepted my application

3) I finallly received the appointments for my Covid vaccinations 🙂


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