Whaling significance described at upcoming event
GENEVA — This historical significance of whaling in America will be discussed Tuesday at the Geneva History Center.
The event is part of the history center’s “Brown Bag Lunch” series held monthly.
The cost is $5 for adults and $3 for GHC members and students.
Tom Conley will be presenting the discussion on whaling and he recently sat down with the Republican to talk about the upcoming event.
Why is whaling history important to us?
It’s history not generally taught in schools but it is a significant part of the history of this country. It employed about 70,000 people in the late 1840s, the peak of the whaling industry, when 735 Yankee whalers were out. Whale byproducts, including whale oil and bone, created vast fortunes for ship owners and investors. New Bedford, Mass. became one of the wealthiest cities in the country and was known as the “City that lit the world” because whale oil was considered the very best source of illumination at the time.
How did you become interested in this topic?
My initial interest was in scrimshaw, a byproduct of the whale fishery. Sailors on long whaling voyages would fill their leisure hours creating decorative and practical items from whale bone and teeth. In 1995, my wife and I acquired a piece of scrimshaw we thought was authentic but turned out to be fake. Our initial research led us in 1996 to the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Mass. (it merged with the New Bedford [Massachusetts] Whaling Museum in 2001). We’ve been members since 1996 and we attend symposiums annually.
How will you discuss whaling?
I’ll begin by describing why we whaled, the whale ship, the whale boat and the implements used in capturing the whale. I’ll talk about the importance of the industry to our country. I’ll talk about the sailors’ art of scrimshaw and The New Bedford and The Nantucket Whaling Museums, repositories of the finest collections of scrimshaw in the world. And I’ll talk about Captain Lemuel Milk Potter and his first-hand account of whaling in the mid-19th century.
How did you become a presenter of this topic at the history center?
Neighborhood friends told us of visiting the GHC and meeting a volunteer whose great, great grandfather had been a whaling captain. We contacted that volunteer, Mr. Lynn Landberg. We were thrilled when Lynn invited us to his home to see, among other things, journals kept by his great, great grandfather, Captain Lemuel Milk Potter, which chronicled two whaling voyages. It is because of Mr. Landberg’s generosity that we happily offered to speak at the GHC on the subject of whaling and scrimshaw and, of course, Captain Potter.
What is your background?
I’m a retired United Airlines captain, having flown for 34 years. I’m also a fifth generation Conley in Huntley. My wife and I live in the 1856 home of our town’s founder, Thomas Stillwell Huntley. I have a keen interest in history and preservation, have restored 5 historic homes in Huntley, was a Historic Preservation Commissioner and am a member of the Huntley Historical Society. Our involvement with the Kendall and New Bedford Whaling Museums has resulted in enriching travel to other whaling countries including Australia, Portugal, the Azorean Islands and England.
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