Hull's last whaler and its Arctic adversity
By the late nineteenth century there were few Hull whaling ships left. The Crimean War had driven oil and bone prices sky high it was seen as a good (and last) opportunity to resurrect the whaling trade. The Diana was one such whaling ship. She was a 350 ton German-built vessel captained by John Graville.
Diana heads North
In May 1866 despite a recent fruitless voyage the Diana, re-provisioned, left again in the hope of finding bountiful waters. The ship headed north and although they caught a small number of whales, the dense ice and whale shortage led Captain Graville and his crew to begin their homeward journey. Gales and thick ice hampered their journey throughout and preparations were often made for abandoning the ship.
In August they came across the whale ship Intrepid and its Captain explained that the homeward journey was proving difficult and that they were changing their course. Though the Captains agreed to journey together the Intrepid pulled away into clear waters leaving Diana to cope with harsh winds and dangerous ice floes.
The crew's hopes were continually raised and dashed with conditions improving only to worsen soon after. Food was rationed as the seriousness of their situation became increasingly obvious. Fuel was also in short supply and so parts of barrels, upper masts and seal clubs and any other sources of wood were used.
Into the Ice pack
In September the decision was made to take the ship into the ice pack and trust that the Atlantic drift would take them southwards. By the end of October they passed land known to have a settlement but their efforts to hoist flares went un-noticed.
In December the crew removed everything that could be moved from the badly damaged ship and laid it out on the ice. Spare materials were used to erect tents and make the unbearable conditions as comfortable as possible. However, the exhausting process of moving everything was to be repeated whenever ice broke around the ship.
Despite their circumstances the crew celebrated Christmas with small portions of plum duff, meat and biscuits which had been saved for the festivities. Unfortunately, the raised spirits were short lived as on Boxing Day Captain Graville died at the age of sixty four. Sadly there were more deaths to follow that of the captain's.
Gradually the ship drifted southwards, as the crew had hoped. The waters cleared of ice and by early March sails could be set. This was not to say that it was plain sailing by any means. The ship was regularly battered by loose lumps of ice and the crew were deteriorating quickly.
Finally, on the evening of the 1st April 1867 the crew had their first sighting of the west coast of Shetland and the next day arrived into Ronas Voe. In total thirteen of the Diana's crew died, eight (including the Captain) passed away on deck and the others died soon after their arrival. The Diana's disastrous voyage signalled the end of Hull's whaling industry.