Arthur Conan Doyle’s Arctic Whaling Journals

The Hope of Peterhead, on which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent the summer of 1880 in the Arctic.

According to Maev Kennedy in The Guardian, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Arctic whaling journal is going to be published by the British Library. I wrote about his 1880 voyage over at the Venetian Vase blog in February last year, basing my post on Doyle’s published reminiscences. Kennedy’s short article describes the journal as a “a rip-roaring account of his adventures as ship’s doctor on the Arctic whaler Hope.”

Doyle apparently “ran away” from his medical studies to join the Peterhead whaler, but it was relatively common for medical students to sign up as ship’s surgeon on Arctic whaling voyages, and in fact Doyle “inherited” the position from a fellow student at Edinburgh. As Doyle himself puts it: “I went in the capacity of surgeon, but as I was only twenty years of age when I started, and as my knowledge was that of an average third year’s student’s, I have often thought that it was as well that there was no very serious call upon my services.”

At least as far back as the early nineteenth century a voyage on an Arctic whaler was a kind of informal internship for young doctors. Their journals are among the most detailed and readable of the accounts of these voyages. Whaleship captains did not, as a general rule, mix with the crew, so besides their medical knowledge, surgeons were also recruited to provide companionship and conversation for the ship’s commander.

More on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Arctic at the Venetian Vase.

EDIT: The book Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure is available for pre-order from the British Library Shop.

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