"The Vagabond Fleet: A Chronicle of the North Pacific Sealing Schooner Trade" (used book)

"The Vagabond Fleet: A Chronicle of the North Pacific Sealing Schooner Trade" (used book)

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The Vagabond Fleet: A Chronicle of the North Pacific Sealing Schooner Trade

by Peter Murray


About the Book

Used Book. Hardcover. Dust jacket included. Excellent condition.

-- From the dust jacket

This gripping history of Canada’s unknown seal hunt is a saga of greed and subterfuge, of bubbling diplomatic intrigue that almost led to war. At the same time it is the story of brave men who battled stormy seas in aging ships, many of which had seen better days. Countless ships, many of which had seen better days. Countless lives were lost. Many men were drowned when their schooners vanished without a trace in mountainous seas in the Gulf of Alaska; others were lost when their small hunting boats became separated from schooners in fog or sudden gales.

Many of the victims were native Indians recruited with their canoes and spears from villages along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The effect of these tragedies on the Indian population and the economic impact of the fur seal hunt on their way of life is examined here for the first time.

Over the years, a romantic mythology ahs evolved about the seal hunt. But it was a harsh trade, carried on by hard-bitten men financed by speculators who never sailed past Race Rocks. Logbooks were doctored and perjured testimony given to tribunals in an effort to conceal the slaughter.

Led on by the false information given by the sealers, and statistics provided or concealed by the Dominion Government, Britain boldly disputed protests by the United States about the pelagic hunt and unreasonable claims to jurisdiction over the Bearing Sea. On more than one occasion, the two countries came close to war over the seals.

The Americans have been portrayed as bellicose aggressors who harassed the schooner fleet merely to protect their own investment. There is an element of truth in this assertion, but the fact remains that the killing of seals at sea by Canadians was far more wasteful than the U.S. harvest on their Pribilof Island rookeries.

As the fur seal population fell alarmingly and profits from the hunt declined, the vessel owners pinned their hopes on compensation for losses incurred when the inevitable treaty ending the trade was signed. But a commissioner appointed by Ottawa to investigate the claims concluded that the sealers and investors in the Victoria Sealing Company were entitled to little or nothing in the ay of financial assistance. Bitterness over this ruling lingered in the city’s business community for many years.

Threaded throughout the book are stories of the colourful characters who skippered and manned the sealing schooners. These included the flamboyant McLean brothers – Alex and Dan – whose daring exploits came to symbolize the adventures, hazardous trade of pelagic seal hunting. Many believed that Jack London’s portrait of “Wolf Larsen,” the infamous villain of his epic sealing novel, The Sea Wolf, was modelled on Alex McLean. London denied this, but admitted he heard tales of McLean’s derring-do during a sealing voyage out of San Francisco that launched his writing career.

Others involved in sealing were captain J. C. Voss, who won fame for his round-the-world voyage in a converted Indian dugout canoe, the Tillikum, Victor Jacobson, a garrulous old sea-dog who sealed to the end, the Balcom brothers from Nova Scotia who later went into the whaling trade, and businessmen like Joe Boscowitz, R. P. Rithet and Morris Moss.

After years of acrimonious negotiations, a four-nation treaty was finally signed in 1911, which saved the fur seals from extinction. It was a landmark agreement in the conservation of marine life, which set the pattern for a number of other international treaties over the years.