Our Collections

From the Scrimshaw collection

Whaling in Tasmanian waters was one of Australia’s leading export industries before the advent of petrochemicals in the 1860s. Whaling is inextricably linked with Hobart’s origins. In 1803, the Albion captained by Ebenezer Bunker to take Captain Bowen and his party to Risdon Cove paused to capture and render down three sperm whales at Great Oyster Cove. The Southern Right Whale was the quarry of Tasmanian whalers until the mid 1830s when numbers decreased. The era of deep sea whaling in pursuit of the Sperm Whale then began. Hobart’s wealthier citizens (including Captain Andrew Haig of Narryna) took an interest in whaling.

Scrimshaw is decorated Sperm Whale teeth or bone from the Sperm Whale’s lower jaw. Baleen was obtained from the feeding plates of the Southern Right Whale. In the days of deep sea whaling, sailors were at sea for months and even years at a time. To relieve boredom crews made and decorated scrimshaw objects using tools that were to hand. A design was drawn or traced onto the surface and scratched in with a knife or needle; then colour, India ink, paint or even soot was wiped into the scratches, usually with the thumb. The decorated items were often presented as gifts for wives and sweethearts. 

Scrimshaw Narryna collection (7).JPG

dressing table set c.1858

Dressing table or desk set with pan bone (section of sperm whale jawbone) plaque engraved with a ‘fashion plate’ scene of three women in broad crinolines, bonnets and shawls. The crown surmounting the scene hints at the image being taken from a fashionable journal illustration of British or European royalty. 



Pilot whale jaw bone c. 1860

Engraved with an image of a semi-draped nude perhaps Susannah from the Apocryphal story of Susannah and the Elders.


Corset busk c. 1830

Perforated with a star at the top and engraved with naïve images of a heart, two love birds, a sailor and mounted soldier and a woman. The back is engraved with domestic farm scenes.

Presented by Miss Violet Mace whose great grandfather, George Meredith (1778-1856) of Cambria, Swansea, Tasmania, was a whaler