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March 2023

Object Title:  Copper plate etched with rabbit and penguin motif
Object Number : 2022.43
This month’s object was chosen by Aoife McKenna, the Curatorial Intern for the 2022-23 museum season.
The men working at South Georgia’s whaling stations spent a long time away from home – at least six months of the year. Crafting was a way to fill the hours in-between whaling, and we are very lucky to have some examples of these crafts at the museum. This object was created by an unknown whaler at Leith whaling station in 1955. This original illustration depicting a rabbit presenting a penguin chick on a plate has been carved into a copper sheet.

An unknown whaler engraved this rabbit onto a copper sheet. It is wearing an apron and serving up a penguin on a plate.


This is an important object in many regards. It demonstrates the great talent and skill of the men who worked on South Georgia’s whaling stations. Though today Antarctica’s whaling history is looked upon with horror, South Georgia’s whalers were ordinary men working a respectable profession in a time when the practise was not widely questioned. It is important to remember the damage the whaling industry did to South Georgia, but also to remember the humanity of the people living and working on the whaling stations. Separated from their families and stuck in one place with little access to the outside world, the whalers had to find different ways to occupy their time. The recent crafting popularity boom during the Covid-19 lockdowns across the world has demonstrated the appeal of creative work in isolated situations!

The most well-known of all whalers’ crafts is undoubtedly the carving of scrimshaw – carving the teeth or bones of a whale into intricate designs. But our copper rabbit demonstrates that whalers’ crafts were far more diverse than just scrimshaw, in both material and subject matter. The copper plate illustration has no obvious visual link to whaling, and instead is a whimsical illustration reminiscent of a Beatrix Potter drawing. The penguin connects the plate to the sub-Antarctic landscape where it was created, but the domestic visuals (the apron, the serving plate) both recall home. We can only speculate on the inspiration behind the image – perhaps inspired by a childhood book, or an in-joke between friends. As the accommodation at the whaling stations was quite basic, bringing or making your own decorations were a way to make it a little homelier.

We know where it was made and when, but do not know who made it.


We may never learn the exact origins of the copper plate, or what happened to the whaler who created it. Nonetheless, we are privileged to have it as part of our collection to show our visitors a different side to life on the whaling stations of South Georgia. The men and women who lived on the island during the whaling period are an important part of South Georgia’s history, and this object shows their humour and humanity.