Home » For and about students » Techne Community » Techne Students list » TECHNE Students 2017-18 » Rachael Utting
AHRC Techne funded doctoral student
Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the Southern Whale Fleet (1775-1860)
Year of enrolment: 2017
Supervisor: Professor Felix Driver
The project will investigate the collecting of Pacific material culture on whaling voyages associated with the Southern Whale Fishery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also considers the circulation of artefacts through networks emanating from the docksides of British ports, through auction houses, curiosity shops, gentlemen’s clubs, private collections and ultimately into the ethnographic collections of major museums. The Pacific fleet was active between 1775-1860 and for part of this period was the largest whaling fleet in the world outstripping even that of the North-East Coast of America. The average voyage of a London-based whaler lasted about three years meaning regular stops at ports of call across the Pacific had to be made in order to collect fresh food, water and wood. Whaling logs, private journals, correspondence and museum collections indicate that during these island layovers, whalers interacted in various ways with local inhabitants, acquiring indigenous artefacts and other objects retained for personal interest or later sale as ‘curiosities’.On returning home, the sailors sold their curios to interested buyers. The docksides of London and other major ports became cultural contact zones due not only to the mixing of ethnically diverse ship’s crews, but also because of this trade in exotic material culture. These artefacts then moved in myriad ways – for example through informal exchange, commercial networks, family inheritance or formal donation - into personal and public museum collections. By analyzing these moments of exchange and encounter through whaling logs, journals, auction house records and public and private correspondence I propose to build an understanding of the networks of exchange spreading out from the London dockside and thereby to enhance our knowledge and understanding of early British collecting practices and the making of ethnographic collections.