SOME of Scotland’s last whaling crews have shared their stories of adventure, homesickness and life at sea in a new book set to launch tomorrow.

Packed with photographs, Whaling Days captures the memories of former whalers and their families.

Citadel Arts Group met with Leith locals who had joined the once-lucrative industry in their teens, sailing across the world and spending up to a year away at a time.

The men tell of the danger and excitement of the hunt, and their regret that the industry took such a heavy toll on numbers of the “magnificent creatures”.

John MacLean, who signed up at 15, told how he spent so long at sea that the Teddy Boy-style suit he’d been saving for was out of style.

Meanwhile, James Yorkston told how crews melted shoe polish and mixed aftershave with pineapple juice to create alcohol while away from home.

The 65-page book will be launched in Leith tomorrow, together with a new short play based on their testimonies.

Malky, written by Jim Brown, is inspired by the whalers’ stories and tells of a young man who signs up with local whaling company Christian Salvesen to escape poverty.

Founded by the son of a Norwegian merchant ship owner, the business – which introduced penguins to Edinburgh Zoo – exited the whaling industry in 1963 to become a major European transport and logistics firm.

Liz Hare of Citadel Arts Group said: “It’s a subject people find fascinating. It’s a piece of our social history and was a huge employer.

“Whaling took the workers into a different world away from their families. some of them said they were attracted because they had read about Roald Amundsen and other explorers.

“It was an international trade that took in Norway, Russia, Japan.

“But it’s also a sad story. Most of the men were around at the end of whaling in the early 1960s when they realised there had been too much overfishing and the stocks were depleted.”

Daniel Morrison, who served 17 seasons from 1946 until 1963, said: “Looking back, it makes me sad to think of how so many of these magnificent creatures were killed, but it has to be noted that the whaling was an essential part of recovery after five years of war.

“Europe and beyond was in a mess as far as agriculture was concerned and food was in very short supply, which made the whaling industry an important and indeed essential contribution towards recovery.

“Whale bones were powdered down for fertilizer, the meat was dried and bagged and also made into fertilizer for the fields. Whale oil was used for making margarine. Nothing was wasted.

“Thankfully we hear how the whales are recovering in numbers now and people are more aware of the importance of conservation.”

The launch takes place at Trafalgar Lodge Hall from 2pm-2.30pm tomorrow. To reserve tickets costing £3 or buy the book, email


HERE’S Thomas Yorkston on chasing a sperm whale: “Most of the whales were killed instantly. The gunners knew where to hit them – just below the fin. It took the flensers half an hour, forty minutes, tae cut a whale up. Nothing was wasted.

“On the catcher Southern Archer in 1952, we were chasing a sperm whale. The gunner had shot it but the harpoon had gone through the tail end and exploded on the other side so the whale was still quite active and when it came back round it must’ve seen the propeller and stuck the heid on it.

“The sperm whale’s the one wi the big jaw like Moby Dick and he’s got teeth. It hit the propeller and came up wi the broken bit in the side o’ its head. It took the complete leaf off the propeller – about 75 ton.

“The whale hit us on the stern, the ship went sideways and we all thought she was going to go under but she righted hersel again.

“The sperm whale come up again and we put a killer shot into it. Just a bare harpoon wi a killer shot in it.”