Sealers and Whalers
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Sealers and Whalers

The second group of Europeans to arrive were the sealers and whalers who were first recorded to have visited NZ around 1791.

Initially the sealers were the most active but by 1830, with significantly reduced seal numbers, sealing had declined to a low level.

Whale oil was a commodity, which was in great demand. It was used for machinery lubrication and as a clean burning fuel for lamps in Europe, Asia and America, where the oil from the head and jaw of these mammals did not congeal in extreme cold, nor require any form of refining, and could therefore be used to lubricate the cogs and wheels of the most delicate of instruments such as clocks and watches. Whaling ships came from as far away as Europe, America, Britain, France and Australia to 'fish' the waters off New Zealand.

The earliest records of whaling in New Zealand show that the first arrival was the whaler, William and Ann in 1791 captained by Eber BUNKER and visited Doubtless Bay, Northland, NZ. Shortly after, in 1792, the Britannia under Captain RAVEN, began sealing operations in Dusky Sound (South Island). Raven left a gang in Dusky Sound for 10 months to hunt seals. William LEITH the 2nd mate was in charge of the ten other volunteers, including Thomas MOORE the ship's carpenter.

In 1795 the Endeavour captained by William Wright BAMPTON foundered and was wrecked in  Dusky Sound. There were 244 people on board including 41 (or 46) escaped convicts including 1 woman. Crew and passengers were rescued by the brig Fancy, the Providence (which had been built by the crew of the Brittania a few years earlier)  and the Assistance ( the longboat for the Endeavour) which all left Dusky Sound for Sydney early 1796. 35 people were left behind and eventually rescued 20 months later by the Mercury, an American sealer. 

In 1796 the Mermaid sighted the Kaikoura mountains.

From 1797 American whalers arrived, and during the 1830s the French whaling ships turned up in significant numbers.

A shore station was established in Dusky Sound for sealing. Seals were hunted, and their skins taken to make hats which were fashionable in Europe and America.

In 1809 ten sealers were marooned near Open Bay on the South West Coast. They were not rescued for 4 years until 1813. Also in 1809 Captain CHASE in the sealer Pegasus was the first European to enter Lyttleton harbour and named Pegasus Bay.

In 1810 five sealers and a boy James CADDELL were attacked by Maoris after landing on Stewart Island. The men were killed but James grew up with the Maori.

In 1815 the first Europeans to land in Canterbury were from the sealer Governor Bligh.

The first shore based whaling station was established at Cloudy Bay in 1828. By the early 1830s whaling activities were largely shore based and had peaked with probably around a 1000 men involved in some 30 or so whaling stations. Many of the early Whalers and Sealers stayed on in New Zealand first as traders and often later as farmers.  

In 1831 or 32 the WELLER brothers established a shore based station at Otakou, Otago.

More information is available from Whaling in New Zealand