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December 2023

A merry Xmas?” – Whaler’s Diary and Photograph album 1937
It seems it was perhaps not the merriest Christmas for one man, John Moore, who was working on a whaling ship off South Georgia in 1937. We know because his diary was recently donated to the South Georgia Museum as a result of the launch of the Whalers’ Memory Bank Project in June 2023. John’s diary and an accompanying photograph album were some of the early objects we heard about and which are now giving insight into the lives of the whalers working at South Georgia.

John Moore who wrote the diary/log


The diary and album were donated to the museum by John’s daughter after she saw an article about the Whalers’ Memory Bank in her local newspaper. When she contacted the Whalers’ Memory Bank Project she told us: “My father, John Moore, called Ian, was born in 1911 and died in 1996. He was a merchant seaman and went whaling to South Georgia with Salvesen of Leith. Dad went whaling for two years, it was the oil rig work of its day, earning good money, and he was saving to marry my mother in 1938. I know my father would be happy to know his memories are to be preserved.’

John was working aboard a ship called Salvestria, and every day he made an entry in a small book; a voyage log with records of the ships position, catch and the weather and also included some personal records of events on the ship, or ashore.

Salvestria, on the left, is the ship John Moore was working aboard


At Christmas 1937 they were in poor weather and amidst quite a bit of ice at sea and were hunting whales despite it being the festive season. As is traditional, the Norwegians aboard celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. John did not enjoy the food that night, and certainly did not appreciate it when the men who had overdone the festivities were not fit for work the next day!  His entry for Christmas Day is headlined with the question “A merry Xmas?”. That “?” at the end says a lot! Here is some of what he wrote for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that year…

The diary entry on 24 December 1937


‘Friday 24th December 1937

…Norwegian (unreadable) Xmas at 5.0 p.m. Usual lumpy bony pork with potatoes. …Got a table cloth for tonight which was hardly used…. ‘

(Whales caught 6 Blue, 5 Fin = 11. Oil 1719, Total: 20, 486)

Diary entry heading for the entry made on Christmas Day 1937


‘ “A Merry Xmas?”

Saturday 25th December 1937

…Several of crew still under the weather after last night and not much being done on the plan, several men not appearing. Whales falling off slightly, but we have plenty for this week.’

(Whales caught 10 Blue, 6 Fin = 16. Oil 1711, Total 22,197)

The lovely old album of photographs allows us to see John on his ship (somewhere warmer by the look of his clothing) and also the ship he was working on, some of the other crew, and the process of whaling. These photos, along with the log/diary are a valuable record of an past industry and a time when thousands of men worked at South Georgia.

The photograph album that accompanied the whaler’s diary/log


The Whalers’ Memory Bank is a major project capturing the human stories of ex-whalers and their families. The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Whalers’ Memory Bank will capture, collect, preserve and share memories, photographs, film and objects held by ex-whalers and their families.
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