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The Post-Napoleonic Employment of Former Warships in the British Southern Whale Fishery, 1815-1845

Strand Building, Strand Campus, London



The Royal Navy saw many changes during the conflicts of the Revolutionary, American and Napoleonic wars between 1793 and 1815. This included the introduction of new classes of smaller warships such as sloops and the taking into British service of former prizes. From 1815, with the conflict ending, the active fleet was reduced with many vessels laid-up in reserve or sold. In due course, most surplus warships were sold at auction or by tender, providing a steady supply of vessels of known provenance to the second-hand shipping market. Some smaller vessels were sold directly into mercantile trades; others ostensibly were sold for breaking, some then being rebuilt and sold on for mercantile use.

Many such vessels entered the whaling trade, and it is estimated that over 50 former warships entered the British southern whale fishery in the period between 1815 and 1845. However, changes from naval to commercial whaling employment are not always easy to identify, and the veracity of the histories of individual vessels in different contexts not always assured. Such warship-to-whaleship transitions will be examined through the processes of disposal out of naval service, purchases by ship owners, repairers or breakers, and the entry of vessels into the British southern whale fishery.

Speakers: Julie Papworth and Roger Dence

Affiliation: King’s College London


Julie Papworth is an independent maritime and medical history researcher, a member of the Society for Nautical Research and several medical history societies, and a Past-President of the History of Medicine Society at the Royal Society of Medicine. She studied for an MA in the History of War at King’s College London. In her professional career, she practiced as a dentist.

Roger Dence is an independent maritime history researcher and a member of the Society for Nautical Research. He studied for an MA in the History of War at King’s College London. Previously he worked in technical journalism, in high-technology fields in public relations, marketing and management roles, and as a lecturer in management education.

The King’s Maritime History Seminar is hosted by the Laughton Naval Unit and the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. It is organised by the British Commission for Maritime History in association with the Society for Nautical Research and with the support of Lloyds Register.

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