Tribute to Kirkcaldy whaler lost in Arctic

Kirkcaldy whaler
Kirkcaldy whaler

THE destruction of a Kirkcaldy whaling ship by Arctic pack ice over 150 years ago is being commemorated by an artist and historian.

Sarah Keast, who is originally from Fife, is taking part in Spring Fling 2013 – Scotland’s premier visual art and craft open studios event – is creating a driftwood artwork recalling the ‘Abram’, which was lost in 1862.

She has been commissioned by retired Lancaster University lecturer, Dr Rob David, to celebrate the publication of his book about the remarkable vessel.

Sarah said: “It’s a really dramatic story – ‘Abram’ had sailed from Kirkcaldy, hiring extra crew in Shetland to hunt whales in the Arctic. The men faced horror and hardship and they thought of the whales simply as fish, rather than highly intelligent mammals.

“The ship was caught in a dreadful storm and crushed when the wind blew two huge sheets of ice together. Remarkably all the crew were rescued although they barely had time to escape onto the ice. It seems astonishing that anyone could have survived in those conditions.

“Stories like these are fascinating to learn about. A lot of my art is about the sea and maritime life, and it’s a real pleasure to be asked to create something that recalls Abram and its men.”

Dr David, who has co-wriiten ‘The Voyages of Abram (1806-62)’ with another retired Lancaster University historian, Dr Mike Winstanley, said: “The Abram had a long career, carrying goods like sugar and rum to Lancaster and Liverpool from the West Indies before being sold to become a whaler sailing out of Hull, then being sold again and operating from Kirkcaldy. She was also hired by Lady Franklin to search for survivors of her husband’s doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage – one of the greatest ever polar disasters.

“Everything went wrong in 1862 when the weather was terrible and a total of eight British whaling ships were reported lost – including all three of the Kirkcaldy fleet. When ‘Abram’ was caught between two vast sheets of ice the pressure built and built until the wooden hull couldn’t withstand any more and she just splintered and sank.”

An eyewitness, who was reported in the Fife newspapers of the time, said it had simply disappeared as if “crushed to atoms”.

Sarah, who has been combing beaches for the perfect piece of driftwood, is creating an artwork that includes a compass rose crafted from copper, the names of the Abram crew members and lists of the creatures they caught. It will also have harpoons and ceramic whale vertebrae.

Visitors can view the artwork at her studio in Moniaive, near Thornhill, this weekend.