In June 1838 a report reached Perth that the American whaling ship Harvest was lost during gale force winds somewhere between Perth and Leschenault (near Bunbury and Australind).
The report was vague and while The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal chose to print the news anyway, they did so with the proviso that it may be best to await more accurate information before completely declaring the ship sunk. People who were anxious to hear news of the ship had about a month’s wait before the story was revealed.
While today (in most parts of the world) whaling is thankfully banned, in the past, whaling was an occupation that was carried out regularly. Whales were hunted to extremes for their blubber, oil and bones. Western Australia was no exception with whaling being an early industry in the colony. Early accounts indicate great excitement at whales being killed and reports were regularly printed in the papers. On 2 September 1843, the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal printed an article recounting the news for the whaling industry for the previous fortnight. They then went on to describe “a curious scene” in Fremantle.
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article may contain images and names of deceased persons.
Long before a vision of a state arose in the heart and mind of Sir James Stirling, American ships regularly navigated the southwest coastal waters of Western Australia in search of their quarry: whales.
These American whalers had been visiting our coast since the late 1700s and often came ashore in order to replenish their water supplies. They were known to have traded with the Indigenous tribes and even took wives on their visits. Each season, upon returning to Western Australia, they reunited with the Indigenous tribes and again took up with the same wife; often finding that children had been born from the union.
So frequently did the Whalers visit our shores they deemed it necessary (or prudent) to sink wells either to establish a new well or to deepen an existing waterhole.
Crews often consisted of a mixing pot of ethnicities with a large number tending to be of Creole-Native American or African American descent. Conditions were harsh and it was a well-known fact that crew members regularly jumped ship at the places they visited. Perhaps it was after some time spent in Albany that African American, John Fisher, decided that he’d had enough of the whaling life and would stay in Western Australia.