Whaling and Newhaven

— #11 Whale Brae

Overview John Pottinger Whaling and Newhaven Tae a Guider
A whale being speared with harpoons by fishermen in rowing boats in the Arctic. Creative Commons Licence, Wellcome_V0021283

Newhaven's Oarsmen in Demand

Whaling had always been an alternative occupation for the young skilled fishermen of Newhaven, and their reputation as oarsmen kept them in high demand with the Arctic whalers.

Whales were caught using small boats and hand-held harpoons, a truly dangerous although lucrative job.  It was a gala occasion every April, right up to the early 20th century, when the 400-ton whalers would sail from Leith with many Newhaven men as crew.   However, such was the extreme dangers that these brave sailors faced, many sore hearts greeted the whalers return from Greenland’s waters in late autumn.

The cargoes of blubber, used in soap making, were boiled up in vats on Fishermen’s Park which gave Newhaven at those times an aroma all of its own.


By the end of the 19th century, steam and then diesel engines replaced sails and the whaling boats ventured south to the Antarctic.  Salvesen’s, a Leith firm founded by Norwegian Christian Salvesen, was one of the leading companies involved in this work, establishing a base called Leith Harbour in South Georgia, Antarctica. 

Many a Newhavener would have called this home for a few seasons attracted by the lure of the decent wages which reflected the perilous nature of whaling. 

1_1034 A harpoon head previously on show in Newhaven Community Museum.