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New England whalers and sealers at the Malvinas / Falkland Islands (Summer 1834)
Fishery operations, glimpsed through the journal of Rev. Titus Coan

The Visit of the Missionaries

In late January 1834, two young U.S. missionaries, William Arms and Titus Coan, arrived at the settlement of Port Louis in the Falkland [Malvinas] Islands. They had just spent ten weeks with the Aónikenk natives in the vicinity of Gregory's Bay, on the Magellan Strait (published extracts ; full diary transcript). During that period, they had occasion to observe a steady traffic of ships (U.S., British and French) passing through the Strait in both directions. At times the pair were able to go on board and talk with the ships' captains; and it was on one of these passing vessels, whose final destination was the East coast of the U.S., that they began their return home. However, owing to a shortage of supplies, they were obliged to seek a passage on another ship, resuming their journey northward in March.

The Journal of Titus Coan

Coan kept a private journal throughout his six-week stay in the Falklands; this material eventually formed the basis of a supplementary chapter (transcript) to his Patagonia narrative. The published text was significantly abridged, presumably for editorial reasons. Having seen the original manuscript, now held by the US Library of Congress (finding aid), we thought it useful to transcribe the relevant pages in full.

malvinas mapa

Coan's observations in the Falklands

The picture Coan paints is of an orderly free-for-all. The Falklands archipelago was almost uninhabited. However, a newly-appointed British governor had arrived on the islands only weeks before, and his first priority was to bring to heel a group of outlaws who had murderered several inhabitants, including the previous administrator. There was also a steady stream of visiting ships, predominantly from the U.S. Meanwhile, on land, there were substantial numbers of feral horses, cattle and pigs — previously introduced, abandoned, and now turned wild.

Coan was impressed by the number of whaling and sealing ships plying their trade in the Falkland Islands — so much so that, seeing as many as six together in the same bay, he was reminded of the busy ports back in New England — especially since many of these vessels hailed from his home State of Connecticut (see table below). Their captains and crews were engaged in slaughtering the large marine wildlife (hair and fur seals, sea lions, elephant seals and whales) for their fat, oil and fur. Coan provides details of this cruel process, as he heard them from the participants.

Finally, as befits the ardent young preacher that he was, Coan also recorded his reflections on what he perceived as the rootlessness and moral emptiness of the common sailor of the time, whose life was necessarily rough and dangerous, and often brief.

Taken altogether, Coan's observations present an authentic first-hand view of the precarious way of life of whale- and seal-hunters in the early 19th century, in a remote part of the world.

sailing ship

U.S. whaling and sealing ships observed (Nov. 1833 — Mar. 1834)

Name of vessel Port of origin Captain Other information
Antarctic New York, NY Nash schooner; 173 tons; en route to Falklands
Atlantic Bridgeport, CT Young whaler
Caroline New York, NY Storer schooner; whaler; tender to the Hamilton
Charles Adams Stonington, CT Staunton whaler
Commodore Barre New York, NY Chester barque; whaler
Elizabeth Jane New York, NY Albertson schooner; sealer; came from Western Patagonia; intends to engage in whale fishery
Hamilton US [CT?] Pendleton whaler; 500 tons
Hancock Stonington, CT Davison schooner; sealer; en route to Western Patagonia
Mary Jane Mystic, CT Clift, William sealer; owner Silas Burrows; came from New York City; intends to operate at Tierra del Fuego and Magellan Strait
McDonough New London, CT Clift [Hiram] whaler; tender to the Hamilton
Plutarch Mystic, CT Miner [sealer]; came from Falklands; en route to Magellan Strait
Talma New London, CT Allyn sealer; in company with the Hamilton; came from South Shetlands; en route to New London, CT
Uxor Stonington, CT [Wheeler] brig; [whaler]; tender to the Charles Adams

open boat

Locations visited

Arch Island
Berkeley Sound
Choiseul Bay
Clarke's Harbour (Eagle Island)
Fish Bay
Island Harbour
New Island
Port Albemarle
Port Louis
Saint Salvador Bay
Ship Harbour
West Point Harbour

This page last updated: 24-VIII-2013