The origins of the Scottish northern whale fishery
The entire history of pelagic whaling has been chaacterised by a series of recurring cycle, eacch with distinctive phase following a pattern of discovery, exploitation, overexapansion, fierce competition, rapid depletion, the application of new technologies and techniques, and eventually, diminishing resources, exhaustion and decay. Scottish involvement in Arctic whaling followed this sequence in all essential details. Although Scotsmen sometimes sailed on Muscovy Company whaling vessels, and served as crrew on earlier Dutch expeditions, Scottish comanies in the early stages of the Northern trade did little more than invest and participate in outside enterprises. Despite at least three subsequent attempts to establish a Scottish foothold in Arctic whaling, it was not until 1749 that an increase in the bounty acted as the trigger for the Scots to begin. The 40s. government subsidy, described by an Edinburgh newspaper as the "Great Bounty", was sufficient to eliminate the risk of serious financial loss and permit investors opportunities for rich profits. Nevertheless, the transformation of Scottish Northern whaling from a limited and tentative venture into a large-scale ongoing seasonal operation was slow and lengthy process. While Arctic whaling had become a traditional mode of economic activity in parts of Scotland by the beginning of the nineteenth century, initial participation was both temporary and periodic. Then began, following 1749, a fairly lengthy period of cautious, but continuous attachment which was characterized by the ebb and flow of ports, vessels, personnel and capital. Scotland remained suspended between this phase of tentative involvement andone of commitment to a larger-scaled venture until the end of the French Revolutionary War. The 1790s were critical years in the development of the Scottish trade. At no time during the war was the industry reduced to the dangerously low levels of the late 1770s and 1780s. Additionally the benefirs of whaling learned over half a century were well understood and manifestly appreciated. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Scottish whalemen had finally served their apprenticeship and were poised and ready to outstrip their English and continental rivals. This study examines the general determinants underlying the historical-geographical growth of the trade, with special emphasis on its seasonal, year-by-year development between 1750-1801. This was the crucial "establishment" phase in its evolution. The study also utilises a geographical perspective so that changing spatial relationships are analyzed and the role of environmental influences highlighted.