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February 2023

Object Title: Steel rivet.


A close up of the steel rivets

This month, in celebration of the opening of the Grytviken Main Store to visitors, our object of the month will focus on an item that is present on the site in the thousands.  The Grytviken Main Store, or Magasinet, is a large two-storey building built in around 1920 as a store for tools, machinery and spare parts. This is a historically significant site and is one of the few intact original buildings of the whaling station. The store contains an amazing amount of material considering that it was abandoned in 1964.

Due to the remote location of South Georgia the shore whaling station operations had to be self-sufficient. South Georgia has very limited natural resources and so everything from coal, to food and raw materials had to be brought in.  The organisation of stores and supplies for the whaling station was critical. Supplies had to be ordered and delivered in time for the summer season of whale catching (October to March) and the winter season of repair and maintenance. Ships were loaded and sailed from Europe via South America to the Southern Ocean, in good time for the whaling season.

The Main Store at Grytviken whaling station, 2022


Inside the main store showing the many shelves of rivets, 2022

Materials had to be stockpiled for the repair, maintenance and construction of the whaling factory. The factory was an industrial, mechanical process and several big boilers, originally powered by coal, would have created heat and steam to drive the machinery. Any emergency repairs relied on having all the spares parts and tools to hand, stores and workshops ready. Not only was it vital for the factory to be maintained but it was also essential that the whale catcher boats were working; all requiring specialist skills and supplies. The Main Store at Grytviken includes items used for these repairs, from simple steam pumps, pipework, nuts and bolts, and thousands and thousands of rivets in all shapes and sizes.

Close-up of a shelf showing the rivet size in the black stenciled label – and more shelves of rivets

A rivet is a simple, short metal pin or bolt for holding together two plates of metal. It would be inserted into a drilled hole and then beaten down to form a clamp. They are very simple in design and yet very strong and durable. They were originally used in ship building as the only method of fastening together steel plates and frames. It was a very laborious and skilful process. They were needed in great numbers to maintain the mechanical whaling factory machinery and the many whaler catcher ships. About three million rivets were used to hold the Titanic together!

The rivets are made from steel and varied in size from ½ inch to 1 ¼ inch and were sized up in ⅛ increments.  The image above shows a box of rivets sized 7/8 x 2 ¼. This is a size given in inches, an imperial unit. The rivet head was 7, 8ths of an inch wide and it was 2 and a quarter inches in length


The Main Store from the side with the whale catcher Petrel moored alongside the repair jetty, 2022


Petrel alongside the Grytviken Stromness jetty c. 1950s


Close up of the hull of Petrel showing the hammered rivet heads under the rust and paint, 2022

At Grytviken the stores were often integrated and located next to the workshop or activity they supplied. The catcher jetty at Grytviken, where the whale catcher Petrel still sits today, was surrounded by workshops. They included a machine workshop; blacksmiths; foundry; steel plating shop and the Main Store. The Engineering Workshop is located on one side of the jetty – ideally placed for repairs and maintenance of the whale catchers, with the Main Store on the opposite side, providing the station with spare parts and fittings.