Hamish Jennings kindly agreed to talk to the Past Finders about his experiences whaling in South Georgia during the late 1950s.
Hamish worked on a whaling ship in South Georgia from June 1958 to April 1960. Hamish worked on a factory ship called the Southern Adventurer, he explained that this ship had 13 catchers (the boats that caught the whales). The Southern Adventurer also had 20 winches and steam saws. Hamish said that these ships could catch around 5-6 whales a day during the summer months.
The working hours were long and tough for Hamish and the rest of the crew. He had to work 12 hour shifts, either from 6am to 6pm or 6pm to 6am. Hamish wasn't alone working these grueling hours though, he explained that during the winter there would have around 200-300 people working at Leith Harbour for Salvesen with around 500 workers there for the summer. It wasn't just Falkland Islanders working in South Georgia, there were also Germans, Japanese, Dutch and Norwegian nationals who Hamish worked with.
The seasons were long working on a whaling boat, Hamish recalled spending three months on board without seeing land and would sail out as far out as Australia.
Hamish recalled that being on board for this length of time meant the food was interesting, he even sampled whale meat and thought it was tastier than beef! The working conditions on board where very extreme, it was smelly and arduous work. The only protection the men wore were spikes on the bottom of their long leather boots to stop them slipping.
They used to cut and saw up all the carcasses and put all the blubber and bones down holes which led to different processing tanks. Hamish remembers a 93-foot Blue Whale being the largest he had ever seen on board the factory deck. The Sperm whales were separated because the cost was different. They also caught the Sei and Finn whales.
The whales where made into margarine, perfume, lubricants, oil and bovril. Bone meat was crushed down and made into fertiliser, nothing was ever wasted. Baleen was used to make corsets, combs and shoe horns.
Hamish pointed out the hospital and recalls getting all his teeth taken out by a dentist who previously fixed his jaw in Stanley a year or so before and hasn’t had a tooth ache since!! He also got blinded by watching someone weld and told the children never look at anyone who is welding.
The temperatures were so severe in the winter Hamish used to walk from his living quarters to the mess and have icicles hanging off his beard and had to pull them off. During the winter time there was no sun light for three months.
The blacksmith's only had four men who made and repaired the harpoons. Two men worked on the factory ships and two men worked in the blacksmith's and all day long they would sharpen knifes.
Hamish talked about the store which only opened on the weekends, he would buy cigarettes and chocolate by bulk. Not just one bar of chocolate but a whole box of 24. All shopping was taken off your wages, no money changed hands.
Hamish was there for the opening of the cinema and said there was only one paraffin heater to heat the whole building. They also had a recreational hall for playing darts and cards.
They used to enjoy football competitions and skiing making loads of friendships from all over the globe.
A lot of fond memories in extreme conditions.