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Prince Olaf Harbour 1921 - Image courtesy Peter Henderson

Click the pic for gallery of photos taken during a whaling expedition to the South Shetland Islands, by the Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. in 1922 - 23.
Warning - these photos show whale hunting in all its gory detail.

Southern Whaling & Sealing Co.

The Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. were owners of the 'Sound of Jura' from 1911 until 1919.

Image courtesy Peter Irvin Charlton - great grandson of George Driver Irvin - Inscription at base


'The harpoon is solid brass, around 11.5 inches long, the trigger is spring loaded, and the harpoon comes out and opens up, it rotates and pivots on it's stand, the handle in the back (the breech) rotates, and the sight moves' - Peter Irvin Charlton.

Richard Irvin & Sons were a North Shields based fishing company, whose interests had expanded in the late 1800 & early 1900's into shipbuilding & maintenance as well as the manufacture & supply of ice. Some of their companies included the Shields Engineering & Dry Dock Co., the East Coast Herring Drifter Co., & the Shields Ice & Cold Storage Co. Ltd.
Richard's son, George Driver Irvin, became based in South Africa at Cape Town and in 1903 established the African Fishing & Trading Company with its head office in North Shields. This company had two steel trawlers built in England, as well as a timber trawler in Sweden. These trawlers were all of similar size - the 'Star of the South', built by Smith's Dock Co. North Shields, was 115ft long with a 21ft beam & a gross tonnage of 210.
Carl Ossian Johnson emigrated from Sweden to Durban in 1897, and became involved in trawl fishing as well as establishing the Southern Sealing Co., which engaged in sealing at Prince Edward Island. His first trawler the 'Berea', which he had built in Sweden in 1902, was the first privately owned trawler in South Africa. This was followed in 1907 by the 'Bluff' built also in Sweden, both vessels being taken under their own power to South Africa by Johnson himself.
While the two companies operated successfully, Irvin saw the benefit of Johnson's fishing expertise, as the latter saw benefits in Irvin's marketing methods. They together founded the firm Irvin & Johnson Ltd. in 1909.
(Irvin & Johnson became the most important fisheries enterprise in South Africa - still existing today - (2007).

Richard Irvin Snr

The Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. is formed

Richard Irvin & Sons - North Shields, were granted a licence, valid from July 1911 to engage in whaling from Prince Olaf Harbour in South Georgia. These above partners then became the basis for a new company, The Southern Whaling & Sealing Co., which was formed after the granting of the South Georgia licence. During this year they also bought the 'Sound of Jura' - a four masted barquentine to be used as a cargo transporter.
Around this time they also purchased a second hand ship, the 'Restitution', and had her converted into a whaling factory at Norway, with pressure cookers as well as the traditional open boilers, to cook the oil from the meat & bones, to fully utilise the carcass as required by regulations. 'Restitution' was also fitted with a wireless telegraph, being among the first whaling factory ships to do so.

Carl Ossian Johnson

For a comprehensive guide to whaling in the Falkland Island Dependencies during this era - Consult this book written by renowned expert on the subject Ian B. Hart.

Read the full article here

More reading on the early development of the marine diesel

Preparations for their first whaling expedition.

The shipbuilding firm of Smith's Dock Co. Middlesborough were commissioned to construct two steel 92ft. diesel powered whale catchers as well as fit a diesel auxiliary in the 'Sound of Jura'. These were probably the first diesel powered whale catchers built and probably the first diesel auxiliary powered windjammer to ply the oceans. The SWSC were also the first to use wireless, and the picture below of SN170 'C.O.J.', believed to be one of the two identical catchers referred to in the Rudder 1912 article, clearly shows wireless aerial equipment. The other whale catcher figuring in the article was the 'G.D.I.' (Initials for George Driver Irvin)
These catchers were very similar in style & size to the herring steam drifters of the time - minus of course the steam funnel.

The diesel engined catchers were apparently unsuccessful, either because the sound of the diesel engines scared the whales, or because they were notoriously unreliable - or a combination of both. According to the 'History of Modern Whaling' 'The engines, however, proved so unreliable that they were dumped ashore after two years and replaced by steam engines'. The diesel auxiliary in the 'Sound of Jura', had a major problem during a voyage to South Georgia in 1912. The air reservoir exploded killing the engineer. She was also re-engined with the more reliable steam option in 1916.

They planned to whale in the summer at Prince Olaf Harbour, South Georgia, & the winter at Port Alexander in Angola.

Image courtesy Google Earth

Image courtesy Google Earth

Seven consecutive whaling seasons at South Georgia

As well as having a whaling lease at Prince Olaf Harbour, South Georgia, the Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. established a station at Port Alexander in Angola.

They also undertook some sealing expeditions to Marion & Prince Edward Islands from Cape Town, but these proved unsustainable.

The main activity undertook by the Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. in the period to 1919, was the whaling activity at Prince Olaf Harbour, South Georgia.

Image courtesy Google Earth
1911-12 to 1916-17 at South Georgia

Their first whaling season at Prince Olaf Harbour utilised the factory ship 'Restitution' along with the 'Sound of Jura' used as a cargo transporter. They were accompanied on this first trip by the catcher 'T.W.I.' and it is probable that one or maybe both of the new diesel catchers 'G.D.I.' & 'C.O.J.' also were at this first season.
The following season of 1912-13 saw the dismasting of the 'Sound of Jura' on her homeward voyage. She was carrying a load of whale oil in her bulk tanks which had made the replacement of the mast impossible until the oil had been pumped out. During the 1915-16 season (see Hetty Rochester's diary), the 'Sound of Jura' is recorded as having left South Georgia en-route to Falmouth with 9,100 barrels of whale oil. The SWSC catchers at South Georgia this season were the 'Southern Sea' & the 'Southern Sky'. It is part of history that the 'Southern Sky' was used by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his first rescue attempt of the survivors from the Endurance expedition trapped on Elephant Island. The following season the 'Restitution' was lost off the Scilly Isles en-route to South Georgia. This 1916-17 season failed to produce any whale oil & saw the commencement of the construction of the shore station at Prince Olaf Harbour.
'The Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. worked in co-operation with Salvesen's at Leith Harbour 1915/16 and also 1916/17 after the loss of the Restitution. This was presumably to produce as much blubber oil as possible for the war effort in Europe' - Ian Hart. (Whale oil was used in the manufacture of explosives for WW1).

1917-18 & 1918-19

The 'Sound of Jura' did not return to Britain in 1917, instead choosing to go to Baltimore, presumably because of the submarine threat. In 1917 SWSC leased the Stromness factory and catchers from Sandefjords Hvalfangerselskab while the Prince Olaf Station was being completed.
'They worked with six boats in 1917/18 and brought home 4,600 tons of oil' - Ian Hart.
The 'Sound of Jura' did not return to South Georgia for the 1918-19 season, and in 1919 the Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. was sold to Lever Bros.

Lever Bros. & the SWSC
(The history of the SWSC when owned by Lever Bros. is beyond the scope of this website)

Lever Bros. developed the Prince Olaf Station into possibly the most modern on South Georgia, & operated it until it was closed in 1931. For an insight into some of their activities during this period visit the gallery of images taken in 1922-23 on the left & the excellent page on Capt. William Williams on the right.

Sources & acknowledgements
Draft copy - Irvin & Johnson history
Margaret Cox - Carl Ossian Johnson biography
Maritime History Archive - University of Newfoundland
Rudder magazine
Peter Henderson
Max Buhl
Mrs Rhona Casson - grandaughter of Capt. George Rochester
Ian B. Hart - author & South Georgia whaling expert
Tim & Pauline Carr
Peter Irvin Charlton