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The Winter Whale
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History, History
Publication Date
16 October 2008
Paperback (also available as an eBook)
Available for Sale
Birlinn Limited
8pp b/w plates

The Winter Whale


eBook also available from the iBookstore

'A remarkable and compelling tale' – Scots Magazine

In late November, 1893, a humpback whale – as rare a sight in the North Sea then as it would be now – followed herring shoals into the Tay estuary, and travelled as far upstream as Dundee docks to linger in the home waters of the biggest whaling fleet in Britain, and one of the biggest in Europe. The whale became an instant celebrity, known simply as the Monster, but a handful of boats were launched to try and catch it. The hunt was farcical, protracted, and ultimately grotesque – the whale remained elusive for four weeks before towing six vessels out past the Bell Rock lighthouse. All the lines parted in building seas and the whale escaped, but it was mortally wounded and was found floating off Stonehaven on January 6, bristling with ironmongery.

After a public auction was held for the corpse, the whale was hauled to Dundee. The public was charged sixpence or a shilling to see it, special trains were run from all over Angus, Perthshire and Fife, and for three shillings they could have their photograph taken sitting at a table inside the whale’s propped open mouth. The whale was immortalised by the poetry of William McGonagall and went on tour by train on a specially built cradle to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London and Edinburgh, before returning to Dundee. Its skeleton was presented to Dundee Museum, despite lucrative offers from big museums in London, Europe and America.

The Winter Whale is a remarkable historical set piece, a product of its time, although even then public opinion was divided between glee and outrage, pro-whaler and pro-whale.
Jim Crumley is a Scottish nature writer whose contribution to the literature of the land – now amounting to more than thirty books – has attracted many accolades throughout the British media and in North America. He is a passionate advocate of species reintroductions, especially of wolf and beaver, the widespread restoration and expansion of native habitats, and a radical reappraisal of the relationship between the people of Scotland and the land. He is also a columnist in the Scots Magazine and The Courier, both based in his home town of Dundee. He now lives in Stirling.

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