The Holderness Whale: Exhibition at Burton Constable

BCBT01-300x203I first met artist Caroline Hack at the “Moby Dick on the Mersey” marathon read I organised in Liverpool in 2013. We’ve since worked together on a little book about the 1816 voyage of the Whitby whale ship Esk. Back in 2013 Caroline was already established with a back catalogue of work related to whales and historic whaling and she is currently Artist in Residence at Burton Constable Hall in East Yorkshire, where there is a famous skeleton of a Sperm Whale, washed up on the Holderness coast at Tunstall in 1825. This skeleton featured first in Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839) and later, via Beale, in Moby-Dick (1851) itself.

Caroline has built an exhibition with this skeleton–now in the stables–as its centrepiece, starting from Saturday March 26. If you’re in the area the hall and grounds themselves are a good day out anyway, but this exhibition just makes it all the more worthwhile. Caroline’s work with printed and sewn fabrics is both reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century, and starkly corporeal in its use of whale bones and historic objects.

The exhibition runs from Easter Saturday to Thursday 28 April 2016. Opening Times: 11am – 5pm, seven days per week (the hall itself is not open on Fridays). The project is funded by the Arts Council England via Grants for the Arts and the Friends of Burton Constable.

See more of Caroline’s work at


Melville in Liverpool on BBC Radio 4

On Monday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Four for a programme by poet Paul Farley on Herman Melville and his relationship with England and with Liverpool in particular. Melville came to England three times: as a cabin boy in 1839, as an established, and quite famous writer in 1849, and as a writer facing “annihilation” in 1856. We talked by the side of a breezy, chilly Albert Dock. I’ve done several radio and TV interviews over the years and even though we cowered in an alcove by the entrance to the public toilets, this was, from my point of view at least, the most enjoyable and relaxed. The programme, Herman Melville’s Sea Change, is very atmospheric and thought-provoking. If you are in the UK can be heard at this link until early March.


From Liverpool’s Greenland Street to Greenland’s Liverpool Coast: William Scoresby, Whaling, and Exploration

On April 17th this year I gave a public lecture based on my research on William Scoresby Jr, Liverpool, whaling and exploration at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. This was the first in a series of public talks exploring whaling and Liverpool as part of the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival. The video below is a recording I made while I was speaking combined with the slides from my talk. I’ve also included links below to the audio on its own.

If you want to listen to the talk without the slideshow, the mp3 is downloadable from here, or you can use the audio player below.

This public lecture series was organised as part of the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival by Claire Jones of the Department of Continuing Education, University of Liverpool.


Arctic Whaling in Liverpool

I aim to write something about the extraordinary weekend I’ve just had, helping to organise and taking part in Moby Dick on the Mersey, and about all the wonderful people who turned up and read. But before that, here’s a piece I wrote for the BBC website which came out while we were busy reading Moby-Dick. It’s about the brief, but quite significant role Liverpool played in Arctic whaling in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries:

Arctic whaling in Liverpool


The Kathleen and May

Kathleen and May

The Kathleen and May is a wooden three-masted schooner built in 1900 and restored to her current immaculate condition in 2000 by owner Steve Clarke. She is currently moored in the Canning Half-Tide Dock in Liverpool where she is used for school visits to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, corporate events, and, next weekend, as the setting for some of the reading for the Moby-Dick marathon, and events in the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival. If you go on board, please leave a donation for her upkeep.

KathleenandMay 7

During her working life Kathleen and May was one of many similar ships that sailed around the coasts of Britain carrying cargoes such as coal and grain. It is surprising to learn that sail was still in use on commercial cargo vessels into the 1950s, and that ships like the Kathleen and May were not finally replaced until the 1960s. The parallel with the end of steam on the railways is an obvious one, but somehow commercial sail seems even more distant. Kathleen and May is the last remaining example of her type.

Last week I wandered around the deck taking pictures and was lucky enough to be allowed to climb into the rigging to take some pictures from above. In the next few months I’m hoping to set up some events on board through my job in Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool.

I’ve set up a Flickr group for pictures of the Kathleen and May. Feel free to add to it.

KathleenandMay 8

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KathleenandMay 22


Thank You to Oxford World’s Classics

Moby-Dick 10.38.53One of the things I’ve liked most about working on Moby Dick on the Mersey is the way that everyone has rallied round to help out. Both major partners–Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool–have been very supportive, while our still-growing band of volunteers is turning out to be a brilliant bunch of people. We’ve tried as much as possible to do this using existing budgets and of course that has meant a great deal of unpaid work and generosity with time from a lot of people. But for some things we need outside help. Most recently I asked Oxford World’s Classics whether they could help out with some copies of Moby-Dick to use as ‘reading copies’ during the marathon, and they came through with an almost immediate “Yes”. This means that if you’re attending the event you’ll find copies of the novel available to follow along with the reading, while the timekeepers and helpers will have copies they can use to manage the event–it will be a big help. So thank you to Oxford World’s Classics and to everyone else working to make the weekend of May 4th-6th as good as it possibly could be.


Moby-Dick Lecture Series

Thanks to everyone who came along to my public lecture about William Scoresby Jr., Liverpool whaling and Arctic exploration yesterday. That was the first public airing for my Scoresby project other than the Letters to Elizabeth blog and it was good to put it out in front of an audience [Update June 5th, 2013: the talk and slideshow are available online here]. It makes the project feel quite a lot more developed than I thought it was, and has reminded me that I need to get on and start writing properly now.

The lecture was the first in a series of six being held on Wednesdays at the Merseyside Maritime Museum as part of the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival, arranged by Dr. Claire Jones. A further two free public lectures, one on scrimshaw, by Dr Janet West, of the Scott Polar research Institute, and another on Herman Melville and Liverpool, by Katie McGettigan of Keele University, are taking place over the weekend of May 4th-6th as part of the Moby-Dick marathon reading itself. The full lecture series programme can be found here. The complete programme of events for adults and children over the marathon weekend can be found here.



Talks on Scrimshaw and Herman Melville in Liverpool

Talks on Scrimshaw and Herman Melville in Liverpool

Free talks on scrimshaw and on Herman Melville’s time in Liverpool are featured on the Moby Dick on the Mersey website. These are part of the marathon reading weekend May 4th-6th.


Volunteer to Read at Moby Dick on the Mersey


Moby Dick on the Mersey is the first ever marathon reading of Moby-Dick in Liverpool and takes place over the weekend of May 4th-6th 2013 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. There are still places available for readers who want to take part in this great event. There’s no need to have read the whole novel, though I recommend you do, so if you want to sign up, just click here and follow the instructions. Reading assignments will be finalised in early April.