William Huggins

b.1781, d.1845

South Sea Whale Fishery

  • 1825
  • Hand-coloured aquatint and engraving
  • Purchased 2015
  • 752 x 860mm
  • 2015/040
  • View on google maps

There once was a ship that put to sea

The name of the ship was the Billy O’ Tea

The winds blew up, her bow dipped down

Oh blow, my bully boys, blow

Soon may the Wellerman come

To bring us sugar and tea and rum

One day, when the tonguing is done

We'll take our leave and go

She’d not been two weeks from shore

When down on her a right whale bore

The captain called all hands and swore

He’d take that whale in tow


Before the boat had hit the water

The whale’s tail came up and caught her

All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her

When she dived down low


No line was cut, no whale was freed

The captain’s mind was not of greed

And he belonged to the Whaleman’s creed

She took that ship in tow

Soon May the Wellerman Come is a sea shanty first published in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1970s and probably written between 1890 and 1910.

(Ship Nails and Tail Feathers, 10 June – 22 October 2023)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Kā Honoka 18 December 2015 – 28 August 2016

    Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick (1851), judged William John Huggins to be one of very few artists able to portray a whale convincingly. Melville advised that “the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him”.

    Huggins, after several years at sea with the East India Company, established himself in London as a “Marine Painter, Printseller & Publisher […] Merchants & Captains Supplied on Reasonable Terms”. This engraving was produced after a painting commissioned by the owners of the two ships in this dramatic whaling scene. Its setting is by the island of Buru in Indonesia; the expression South Sea Whale Fishery related to oceans below the southern tip of Greenland.