Fishing for whales (part one)

This blog article is the first in a series of three on arctic whaling off the coast of Spitzbergen.  The series draws on a rich set of witness statements made in the case of Batson against Gosling and others in the High Court of Admiralty of England in late 1656 and early 1657 (HCA 13/71), and is supplemented by answers in a further High Court of Admiralty volume (HCA 13/128) from early 1657.1

The series has been written to illustrate the research potential of the High Court of Admiralty records.  In this case, into commercial practices of whaling, into the seventeenth century arctic environment, and into historical technology.


In this first article we set the scene – exploring the 1650s arctic ice, looking for whales, and meeting a lively cast of characters.

The second article in the series explores the geography and environment of whale fishing off “Greeneland” (Spitzbergen), focussing on the route and travails of two ships, the Owners Adventure and the Greyhound, captained and commanded by Thomas Damerell.

The last article deals with the technology and material culture of mid-seventeenth century English whaling, including the chasing of the whale in six man oared shallops and the boiling of blubber in shore based furnaces on Spitzbergen, as well as at Blackwall on the River Thames.


The normal practice of English arctic (“Greeneland”) whalers, was to establish a summer base on the shore of one of a number of southern Spitzbergen bays.

This required fragile wooden ships to penetrate the sea ice to the whale rich coastal bays, towed by their crews in the ships’ shallops or wherries.  Success in working through the ice was highly dependent on the arctic weather, and on the courage and skill of the whaling crews.  The ships carried sizeable crews, appropriate to the challenges of navigation through ice and to the people intensive hunting of the whales.  The harpooners were highly experienced men, who knew the conditions of the ice intimately from many summers in the north.

The whales were hunted in the bays, where they were harpooned from the same ships’ shallops, and eventually lanced and killed, before being towed to shore.  There “land men” stripped the blubber from the carcasses and reduced the tissue to oil in large metal furnaces.  Skilled butchers, brewers and coopers augmented the muscle of general labouring landsmen.

Travelling on the Owners Adventure was Maurice Foarde, a thirty year old brewer from Shadwell. He had been hired by Captain Damerell “to goe a copper man for boyleing of the whales taken the sayd voyage.”2  He was joined by Edward Ashmore, a forty year old butcher from Whitechappel and Edward Reynolds, a fifty yeare old cooper from Saint Botolph Algate.3 4 All told, there were thirteen land men together on the Owners Adventure and the Greyhound, with at least twenty-five mariners.  The land men of the two ships were supervised by Richard Kirton, a forty year old Ratcliff man. Kirton’s job?  That the landsmen “did their office and duty in cutting up and boyleing and ordering of such whales as should bee taken the sayd voyage.5

In contrast, the Dutch, by the mid-seventeenth century, made use of furnaces on their ships to boil blubber whilst at sea.6

The proximate cause of the dispute between Richard Batson and Edward Gosling was the failure in May and June 1656 of the two ships under the command of Thomas Damerell to reach the southern Spitzbergen shore in unusually heavy ice.  Given the available technology and feeding habits of the preferred species of whales, it was much harder to fill the ships away from the rich hunting grounds of the bays.

They returned home near empty handed “onely with as much bloober as made (when it was boyled at Blackwall) eighteene tonns and upwards of oyle and the finns of two whales.”7  Even the blubber was largely of walruses, rather than whales, having “about twenty butts of blubber of sea horses“, which they had stripped from carcasses of walruses killed by Dutchmen on Hope Island.8  The Dutch took only the walrus teeth, which a contemporary writer on Dutch Spitzbergen estimated to be of greater value than ivory.9

The contrast with the other four London ships was painful.  Despite the undoubtedly tough ice conditions, they had brought back considerable quantities of blubber and oil, having finally put into shore on 13th of July.10

The adventure, with its failure to gain any harbour, took a heavy toll on Damerell’s crews, especially the crew of the pinke, the Greyhound.  On the Owners Adventure many “for want of refreshment on shore fell sick of the scurvie, and some of the Greyhounds Company dyed thereof.”11

Richard Batson was the lead London merchant behind the financing of Damerell’s whaling adventure, and was joined in the action by his fellow London merchants and partners, Humfrey Beane and Gowan Golderne, who are collectively described in the litigation as Batson and Company.

Edward Gosling was masters mate and one of the harpooners on the the larger of the two ships, the Owners Adventure, which accompanied the smaller pinke, the Greyhound.  Gosling was joined in the action by Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye, respectively fellow masters mate and harpooner on the Owners Adventure, and company member and harpooner on the same ship.

At the heart of the problem was the condition of the Spitzbergen ice sheet that summer, and the failure of Damerells ships to get to shore, first at Bell Sound, and then anywhere else on the coast of Spitzbergen.  There was also a simmering conflict between Captain Damerell and Edward Gosling.  This started with their conflicting judgements on the risks of the Bell sound ice, and continued throughout the voyage.

After returning to London, Damerell (and his backers) attempted to blame Gosling, his fellow masters mate, the harpooner Richard Maundry, and a third harpooner, William Humfrey, for the failure of the adventure.  The financiers refused to pay the crews wages and a war of litigation broke out with multiple suits and over a hundred pages of depositions in the High Court of Admiralty.


It was the carpenter’s third voyage to Greenland, all three in the service of Batson Beane and Golderne.  The condition of the ice had been much easier on the first two voyages, as the carpenter, William Clarkson, told the court:

His first voyage was in the Richard (one Mr Peryman Master) which shipp went to Bell Sound to first where shee safely arrived and the second voyage was in the Gentleman of London (the foresayd Damerell Master) which shipp went to the foreland point, and to Smiths Bay Crosse Road, Port Nock, and Ducks Cove and anchored safely in all those harbours or places, and the last voyage being the voyage in question, in the Owners Adventure (the sayd Damerell Master) in which as is predeposed shee gott not at all to harbour,

And saith that the sayd first voyage there was little or noe Ice upon the Coast, in soe much that a smale wherrie might safely have passed into harbour, And that the sayd second voyage there was smale store of Ice in soe much that  in this deponents Judgement there was not by a thousand parts soe much Ice as was the voyage in question.

And that the voyage in question there was soe great store of Ice that in the judgement of the sayd Damerell himselfe and all the masters of the other shipps Company with him they never sawe soe great a quantitie of Ice upon the Coast and soe they and the sayd Damerell did saye and declare severall tymes in presence of this deponent and others of their shipps Companies whilst they were at Greeneland and since.”12a 12b

The condition of the arctic ice was highly changeable, so that:

“At Greeneland the Ice doth usually open and shutt, and men that goe thither when great yeares of Ice are most watch their opportunitie to get into harbour.”12b

Taking an opportunity to tow a ship through light ice was one thing, but in June 1656 conditions were horrendous.  Captain Damarell’s men were exhausted from working their two ships through leagues of heavy ice, fending off iceflows as they progressed into Bell Sound. The four other English Captains decided to turn back, but Damerell was determined to press on.

Captain James Golding, The master of the Merchant Adventure, was astonished by Damerell’s appetite for risk.  William Clarkson recalled:

The arlate Master Golding (leaning over the Quarter of his own shipp) called to Richard Maundry then aboard the Owners Adventure and sayd thus, or the like in effect, Dick, I thinke your Master (meaning the sayd Damerell) is madd, for hee hath bin at us (meaning himselfe and the sayd Master Welch) to worke further into the Ice toward shoare, and seeing our selves to the Northward of our harbour thinke it to gett in, the Ice being soe thick and wee soe farr northerly, that and are therefore mynded to worke out to sea againe.”13

Clarkson himself “supposed the danger soe great shee the (Owners Adventure) being soe farr in the Ice that the least gale of a Westerly winde would sinke the sayd shipp and stave her to peeces.”14

The dangers of working a ship through thick ice were acute. Captain Pybus’ ship came close to disaster in the same ice that Captain Damerell was determined to press through:

The sayd Pybus his shipp by her goeing into the Ice at the same tyme and place (though not soe farr as the Owners Adventure did) was soe much damnified and hurt thereby and by breaking through the Ice againe to sea, that when shee was gott cleere to Sea she was ready to sinke by reason of a hole the Ice had staved in her bowe, at which shee tooke five or sixe feete water in hold, and her company were ready to forsake her had shee not ther had the helpe of the Companyes of the sayd Golding Welch and Child their shipps, and of the Company of the Owners Adventure to helpe to pumpe her and stopp her leake.”15

The historian John Appleby has summarised the difficulties facing whalers off Spitbergen from the 1640s onwards:

“The underlying competition for access to the southern sounds and bays at Spitsbergen, an inherent characteristic of the trade since its earliest days, appears to have been intensified by the declining number of whales due to, particularly the onset of colder weather during the 1640s and beyond.  Not only did this leave bays and harbours enveloped with ice for longer, cutting the hunting season, but also it may have contributed to increasing mortality among whales…According to the Company, even the “best Harbors make more loosing voyages than gayning, but once in 3,4, or 5 yeares the Whales Coming in plentifully by scoales.”16

Undoubtedly 1656 was a tough year in a tough decade, but the relative success of the other whaling ships left Captain Damerell exposed, and determined to excuse himself through allegations of mutinous behaviour by Gosling and Maundry. Batson and his fellow owners chose to side with the captain, to the disgust of the crews.


Richard Batson (alt. Battison) (b. ?, d. ca. 1667) was a cutler and a successful London merchant, as well as the part-owner of the Owners Merchant, and a freighter and employer of the accompanying pinke, the Greyhound.17

In contemporary records, he often appears as the lead merchant in Batson and Company. This firm had a substantial interest in the Greenland fishery in terms of capital commitment and activity.

When the Yarmouth merchant and whaler, Thomas Horth (alt. Howarth), proposed in 1654 that English merchants should supply 3000 tons and 500 men for the Greenland fisheries, he pencilled in 200 tons for “Battison and partners.” A further 300 tons were suggested for Whitwell and partners, 500 tons for unnamed Yarmouth merchants, and 1600 tons for unnamed London merchants.18

The second owner and financier was Humfrey Beane (b. ?1613, d. 1679/80), a cordwainer and merchant, and also part owner, freighter and employer of the Owners Adventure and part freighter and employer of the Greyhound.19

Humfrey (alt. Humphrey) Beane of Ebisham (alt. Epsom), Surrey, had broad commercial interests. J.R. Woodhead suggests that Beane was available at the Turkey Walk on the Exchange, and that he had “great interest in Greenland whale fisheries.” A dissenter, Beane was buried in Bunhill Fields.20

In a further case in HCA 13/71, Humphrey Beane and Company is identified by the master of the Sarah as the owner of the same ship, which was captured by a privateer off West Africa carrying black slaves and elephants teeth and bound for Virginia.21

Thomas Damerell (b. ca.1619, d. ?) was the master of the Owners Adventure and the commander, director and orderer of the Greyhound.  He was thirty-seven when the events took place and described himself as a mariner from Limehouse, in the parish of Stepney.

Gowan Golderne (alt. Goldagne; Goldegay; Goldgay) (poss. b. ?1614, poss. d. ?1657) was the third of the named part-owners and financiers of the two ships in question. He is likely to have been a merchant.  His unusual name appears only occasionally in records, in 1647 when appointed to a committee of the militia in Southwark, and as having unsucessfully sold on a job lot of prize commission tobacco in 1653.22

Edward Gosling (alt. Goslin) (b. ?, d. ?), the prime object of the suit against Batson et al., was an experienced mariner and harpooner, who believed he had the confidence of Richard Batson.

William Humfrey (alt. Humphrey) (b.?, d.?).  Member of the company of the Owners Adventure and a harpooner.  Humfrey was the third crew member named, after Gosling and Maundrie, in the suit against Batson et al.

Richard Maundrie (alt. Maundrey, Mandry) (b. ?, d. ?) was Gosling’s fellow masters mate and a harpooner on the Owners Adventure.  It is possible that he was from the family of Maundrey mariners in the Thames estuary town of Leigh on the Essex shore. Leigh (alt. Lee, Lee-on-sea), together with neighbouring Eastwood, was home in the early seventeenth century to a number of important mariner and merchant families, including Goodlads, the Haddocks, and the Moyers. Fifteen miles downstream of Tilbury and Gravesend, the town was a popular point for pilots to embark and disembark onto ships. It was the home of the writer Samuel Purchas, and had a strong link with the Greenland trade through William Goodlad (b., d. 1639), who had been chief commander of the English Greenland fleet for twenty years.23


The article is based upon the collective work of all five MarineLives transcription teams, and has been made possible through the transcriptions, insights and support of thirteen project associates and facilitators:

Dr Janet Few, Karen Gunnell, Colin Greenstreet, Dr Liam Haydon, Philip Hnatkovich, Alex Jackson, William Kellett, David Pashley, Daniel Richards, Laura Seymour, Alexis Harasemovitch Truax, William Tullett, and Jill Wilcox.


(1) Cornelis de Man, Detail of Smerenburg land station of the Noordsche Compagnie on Amsterdamøya Island, off northwest coast of West-Spitsbergen, oil on canvas (1639), sourced from wikimedia

(2) Anonymous, Whale boat off Eden, New South Wales, Australia, towed by a harpooned whale, photograph (late C19th)

(3) Detail showing Spitzbergen and surrounding seas, from Augustus Petermann, Map of the sea of Spitzbergen, to illustrate ‘Sir John Franklin, the sea of Spitzbergen and whale-fisheries in the Arctic regions,’ Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. 23, 1853, betw. pp. 130 & 131, viewed 10/01/13, sourced from an Internet Archive edition

(4) Fig. 194, Woodcut, in Thevet, Cosmographie Universelle (Paris, 1574), sourced from an Internet Archive edition

(5) Edges’s map of Greenland (Spitzbergen), ca. 1611, published in James Travis Jenkins, A history of the whale fisheries: from the Basque fisheries of the tenth century to the hunting of the finner whale at the present date (London, 1921), facing p.58, sourced from an Internet Archive edition, viewed 10/01/13

(6) Detail showing Bell Point and Bell Sound, from Edge’s map of Greenland (Spitzbergen), ca. 1611, sourced from an Internet Archive edition


(1) HCA 13/71 contains 13 separate depositions relating to the dispute between Batson and Gosling. HCA 13/128 contains several answers addressing different aspects of the same dispute.
HCA 13/71 ff.463r-469r Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 1. John Ely of Saint Mary Magdalen Bermondsey in the County of Surrey Mariner aged twenty eight yeares; Date: 18/12/1656.
HCA 13/71 ff.469r-472v Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 2. John Colvile of Ratcliff in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Mariner Gunner of the Owners Adventure aged thirty sixe yeares; Date: 29/12/1656.
HCA 13/71 ff.472v-477v Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 3. William Clarkson of Shadwell in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Shipwright Carpenter of the Owners Adventure aged twenty nyne yeares; Date: 03/01/1656
HCA 13/71 ff.479r-484r Case: Richard Batson Humfrey Beane Gowan Golderne and Company against Edward Goslinge Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye; Deposition: 1. Thomas Damerell of Lymehouse in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Mariner Master of the shipp the Owners Adventure and Commander alsoe of the Greyhound aged 37 yeares; Date: 23/12/1656.
HCA 13/71 ff.484r-488v Case: Richard Batson Humfrey Beane Gowan Golderne and Company against Edward Goslinge Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye; Deposition: 2. Edmond Reynolds of the parish of Saint Botolph Algate London Cooper and Cooper of the Owners Adventure for the voyage in question aged fifty yeares; Date: 01/01/1656(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.488v-490v Case: Richard Batson Humfrey Beane Gowan Golderne and Company against Edward Goslinge Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye; Deposition: 3. Thomas Chauntrell of the parish of Saint Bottolphe Algate London Cooper, and Coopers Mate of the Owners Adventure the voyage in question aged twenty five yeares; Date: 07/01/1656(57)
HCA 13/71 ff.490v-493v Case: Richard Batson Humfrey Beane Gowan Golderne and Company against Edward Goslinge Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye; Deposition: 4. Edward Ashmore of Saint Mary Matsellon Whitechappell London Butcher aged 42 yeares; Date: 09/01/1656(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.493v-497v Case: Richard Batson Humfrey Beane Gowan Golderne and Company against Edward Goslinge Richard Maundrie and William Humfreye; Deposition: 5. Maurice ffoard of Shadwell in the parish of Stepney and the County of Middlesex Brewer aged thirty yeares; Date: CHECK(57)
HCA 13/71 ff.500r-502r Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 6. Richard Kirton of Ratcliff in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Overseer of the Landsmen in the Owners Adventure and the Greyhound aged forty yeares; Date: 29/01/1656(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.578r-581v Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 4. Lovewell Luckett of the parish of Saint Olave Southwarke Mariner aged twenty two yeares; Date: 12/02/1656(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.581v-586v Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 5. Jeramie Joffrey of Ratcliff in the County of Middlesex Rope Maker aged thirty eight; Date: 16/02/1656(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.586v-589r Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 6. John Pibus of Greenwich in the Count of Kent Mariner master of the shipp the Adventure of hull aged forty fower yeares; Date: 28/02/1655(57).
HCA 13/71 ff.589r-591r Case: Batson against Gosling and others; Deposition: 7. Nicholas Parkins of Wapping in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Mariner aged forty yeares; Date: 02/03/1655(57).
HCA 13/128 no foliation Case: Henry ffreeman and others against Richard Batson, Humphrey Beane, and Gowen Goldegay; Answer & schedule of unpaid wages: Richard Batson, Humphrey Beane, and Gowen Goldegay: Date: January 13th 1656 (57).
HCA 13/128 no foliation Case; Edward Gosling and Richard Mandrye against Richard Batson, Humfry Beane, and Gowen Goldgue; Date: February ?8th 1656(67).
HCA 13/128 no foliation Case: Edward Gosling, wages; Answer: Richard Batson; Date: Repeated in court on February 13th 1656(57)
HCA 13/128 no foliation Case: Batson and others against Edward Goslinge and others; Answer: Edward Goslin and Richard Maundery; Date: Repeated in court on April 15th 1657
(2) HCA 13/71 f.494r 
(3) HCA 13/71 f.490v
(4) HCA 13/71 f.484r
(5) HCA 13/71 f.500r
(6) HCA 13/128 (1656-58) Case: Edward Gosling, wages: Answer: Richard Batson; Undated, no foliation, recto
(7) HCA 13/71 f.500Av
(8) HCA 13/71 f.480v
(9) Hessel Gerritszoon van Assum, ‘Description of the new country, called by the Dutch Spitsbergen’ (Amsterdam, 1613), in William Martin Conway, Early Dutch and English Voyages to Spitsbergen in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1904), p.28), Internet Archive edition, viewed 19/10/12
(10) HCA 13/71 f.475r
(11) HCA 13/71 f.471r
(12a) HCA 13/71 f.476v
(12b) HCA 13/71 f.477r
(13) HCA 13/71 f.473v
(14) HCA 13/71 f.475v
(15) HCA 13/71 f.470v
(16) Appleby, John C., ‘Conflict, cooperation and competition: The rise and fall of the Hull whaling trade during the seventeenth century’, The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord, XVIII No. 2, (April 2008), p. 24), viewed 22/01/13
(17) ‘Batson, Richard’, in J.R. Woodhead, ‘Backwell – Byfield’, The Rulers of London 1660-1689: A biographical record of the Aldermen and Common Councilmen of the City of London (London, 1966), pp.21-42, viewed 10/01/13; PROB 11/324/232 Carr 59-116, Will of Richard Batson, Cutler, June 16th 1667
(18) ‘The Greenland trade from 1620 to 1673′, in William Robert Scott, The constitution and finance of English, Scottish, and Irish joint-stock companies to 1720, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1910), p.74 and more generally pp, 69-75, Internet Archive edition, viewed 22/01/13
(19) PROB 4/1778 Beane, Humphrey, of Epsum alias Ebisham, Surrey, esq. 1680 6 Sept.
(20) ‘Beane, Humphrey’, in J.R. Woodhead, ”Backwell – Byfield’, The Rulers of London 1660-1689: A biographical record of the Aldermen and Common Councilment of the City of London (London, 1966), pp. 21-42, BHOL edition, viewed 22/01/13
(21) HCA 13/71 f.636v Case: A busines of Examinations of Witnesses on the behalfe of John Jeffreys, Thomas Colclough and Company Owners and employers of the shipp the Rappahannack whereof Thomas Clarke was Master and her tackle furniture and lading, And of humfrey Beane and Companie Owners of the shipp the Sarah, whereof Arthur Perkins was Master and of Robert Lewllin and Companie Owners of the goods in the same against John Scroall Captaine and Commander of the shipp the Mary of Amsterdam and the Unicorne of Middleburgh and against Vandergosse and Coymans and all others Owners of the said shipps in particular and all others in generall etcetera; Deposition: 4. Arthur Perkins of Wapping in the County of Middlesex Mariner Late Master of the said shipp the Sarah, aged 44 yeares; Date: 16/03/1656
(22) C.H. Firth, R.S. Rait (eds.), ‘September 1647: Ordinance to settle the Militia of Southwark.’, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660 (1911), pp. 1010-1011, viewed 22/01/13
(23) H.W.King, ‘Ancient wills. No. 7.’ (A sketch of the genealogy of the Purchas family), in Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, vol. 4 (Colchester, 1869), pp. 166-71, Internet Archive edition, viewed 22/01/13


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Since the start of the project in September 2012, the project team has transcribed 1025 pages containing approximately 560,000 words of HCA 13/71 (1656-1657).  The original manuscript volume is held at the National Archives in Kew.  We expect to complete transcription and editing of the entire volume by the end of March 2013.

The transcriptions referenced in our Shipping News blog are work in progress.  We encourage our readers to compare the transcriptions with the digital images of the transcribed pages.  If you see an error, or can fill in blanks in our transcriptions, we would be delighted to hear from you and we will incorporate your improvements.


  1. CAPTURE_Conway_M_Early_Voyages_Spitsbergen_1904_betw_p136_p137_IA_CSG_DL_191012
  2. WIKIPEDIA_536px-Eubalaena_glacialis_with_calf_DL_CSG_211012
  3. CAPTURE_DETAIL_De_Man_Cornelis_Smerenburg_1639_WiMed_CSG_DL_161012
  4. WP_Fax_of_a_Woodcut_in_the_Cosmographie_Universelle_of_Thevet_in_folio_Paris_1574
  5. CAPTURE_EXTRACT_Map_Edges_Greenland_ca1621_Travis_JT_1921_facp58_CSG_DL_IA_151012
  6. CAPTURE_Map_Edges_Greenland_ca1621_Travis_JT_1921_facp58_CSG_DL_IA_151012
  7. CAPTURE_Sea_Of_Spitzbergen_Petermann_18XX_FreeJournal_CSG_DL_151012
  8. CAPTURE_DETAIL_Whale_Boat_off_Eden_NSW_Towed_By_Whale_AusGeog_DL_CSG_191012

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