Thomas Welcome Roys

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Thomas Welcome Roys (c. 1816 - d. 1877) was an American whaleman. He discovered the Western Arctic bowhead whale population and patented and developed whaling rockets in order to hunt the faster, more powerful species of whale that had until then eluded European whalers.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or simply America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. Most of the country is located in central North America between Canada and Mexico. With an estimated population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City.

Whaling hunting of whales

Whaling is the hunting of whales for their usable products such as meat and blubber, which can be turned into a type of oil which became increasingly important in the Industrial Revolution. It was practiced as an organized industry as early as 875 AD. By the 16th century, it had risen to be the principal industry in the coastal regions of Spain and France. The industry spread throughout the world, and became increasingly profitable in terms of trade and resources. Some regions of the world's oceans, along the animals' migration routes, had a particularly dense whale population, and became the targets for large concentrations of whaling ships, and the industry continued to grow well into the 20th century. The depletion of some whale species to near extinction led to the banning of whaling in many countries by 1969, and to a worldwide cessation of whaling as an industry in the late 1980s. The earliest forms of whaling date to at least circa 3000 BC. Coastal communities around the world have long histories of subsistence use of cetaceans, by dolphin drive hunting and by harvesting drift whales. Industrial whaling emerged with organized fleets of whaleships in the 17th century; competitive national whaling industries in the 18th and 19th centuries; and the introduction of factory ships along with the concept of whale harvesting in the first half of the 20th century. By the late 1930s more than 50,000 whales were killed annually. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling because of the extreme depletion of most of the whale stocks.

Bowhead whale Species of mammal

The bowhead whale is a species of baleen whale belonging to the family Balaenidae and the only representative of the genus Balaena. The bowhead is the only baleen whale endemic to the Arctic and sub-arctic waters. The species is named after its characteristic massive triangular skull, which is used to break through Arctic ice. Other common names of the species are Greenland right whale, Arctic whale, great polar whale and Arviq in aboriginal languages (Inuktitut).


Open-boat whaling

On 23 July 1848, in the Sag Harbor bark Superior, he sailed through the Bering Strait and discovered an abundance of "new fangled monsters" (bowhead whales). [1] The following season fifty whalers (forty-six Yankee, two German, and two French vessels) sailed to the Bering Strait region on Roys's success alone. [2]

Bering Strait strait between Russia and Alaska, United States

The Bering Strait is a strait of the Pacific, which separates Russia and the United States slightly south of the Arctic Circle at about 65° 40' N latitude. The present Russia-US east-west boundary is at 168° 58' 37" W. The Strait is named after Vitus Bering, an explorer in the service of the Russian Empire.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance, and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands to the west.

France Republic in Europe with several non-European regions

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Roys, in the Cold Spring Harbor vessel Sheffield, spent the summers of 1851-1853 cruising in the Sea of Okhotsk, obtaining in all over 4,500 barrels of oil. [3]

Cold Spring Harbor, New York Hamlet and census-designated place in New York, United States

Cold Spring Harbor is a hamlet and census-designated place (CDP) in the town of Huntington, Suffolk County, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island. As of the 2010 United States Census, the CDP population was 5,070.

Sea of Okhotsk A marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, between the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kuril Islands, the island of Hokkaido, the island of Sakhalin, and eastern Siberian coast

The Sea of Okhotsk is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, between the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, the island of Hokkaido to the south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a long stretch of eastern Siberian coast along the west and north. The northeast corner is the Shelikhov Gulf. The sea is named after Okhotsk, the first Russian settlement in the Far East.

Rorqual whaling


In 1855, while cruising south of Iceland in the 441-ton Hannibal, he was able to kill a "sulphurbottom" (blue whale) with a Brown's bomb gun. [4] He realized that if he had a better way to dispatch such large rorquals as the sulphurbottom that he could easily fill his ship's hold with whale oil. Due to his ship having taken a beating in a heavy gale in these waters, he was forced to put into Lorient, France. While there, he ordered for "two rifles in pairs for killing [rorqual] whales," staying long enough in France to see them nearly completed, then leaving for home in a steamer, and, when finished, having the guns sent by way of England to the US.

Iceland Island republic in Northern Europe

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 360,390 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country being home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude almost entirely outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

Blue whale Baleen whale, largest animal known to ever exist.

The blue whale is a marine mammal belonging to the baleen whale parvorder, Mysticeti. At up to 29.9 meters (98 ft) in length and with a maximum recorded weight of 173 tonnes, it is the largest animal known to have ever existed.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

The following spring, he went out in the 175-ton brig William F. Safford to test his experimental whaling guns. [5] The guns Roys had ordered from France were lost on the voyage out, so he had to persuade C. C. Brand of Norwich, Conn., to let him use his bomb lance, but to increase his bomb missiles to three pounds in order to ensure greater success. Roys sailed to Bjørnøya, where he encountered vast numbers of blue, fin, and humpbacks. [6] He fired at around sixty, with only a single blue whale being saved. He then sailed to Novaya Zemlya, capturing two humpbacks there. After cruising off Russia and Norway, he came to anchor at Queenstown, Ireland, and thence went to England to reconstruct his lost French-made guns. [7] He had Sir Joseph Whitworth manufacture him some rifled whaling guns and shells. Roys returned to his ship, sailing from Queenstown on 26 November for the Bay of Biscay. Here, when testing one of the guns, he blew off his left hand, having to amputate it "as well as we could with razors." They sailed to Oporto, Portugal, where Roys's lower arm had to be amputated. [8]

Norwich, Connecticut City in Connecticut, United States

Norwich, known as 'The Rose of New England,' is a city in New London County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 40,493 at the 2010 United States Census. Three rivers, the Yantic, the Shetucket, and the Quinebaug, flow into the city and form its harbor, from which the Thames River flows south to Long Island Sound.

Novaya Zemlya Arctic archipelago in northern Russia

Novaya Zemlya, also known as Nova Zembla, is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in northern Russia and the extreme northeast of Europe, the easternmost point of Europe lying at Cape Flissingsky on the Northern island. West of Novaya Zemlya is the Barents Sea, and to the east is the Kara Sea.

Bay of Biscay Gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea off the west coast of France and the north coast of Spain

The Bay of Biscay is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Point Penmarc'h to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal.

Having failed in securing whales on another cruise in 1857, Roys redesigned his gun. This time, the rocket-powered harpoons proved too weak to penetrate the whales correctly. Undaunted, he made another cruise, this time to South Georgia, but he wasn't able to take any whales. [9] He cruised north to put into Lisbon, sailed to Africa, then west to the West Indies in early 1859, where he was able to capture several humpbacks. [10]

South Georgia Island Island in the South Atlantic

South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The main settlement is Grytviken. South Georgia is 167.4 kilometres (104 mi) long and 1.4 to 37 km wide. It is about 830 km (520 mi) northeast of Coronation Island and 550 km (340 mi) northwest from Zavodovski Island, the nearest South Sandwich island.

Lisbon Capital city in Lisbon metropolitan area, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Lisbon's urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon metropolitan area, which represents approximately 27% of the country's population. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost portions of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.

Africa The second largest and second most-populous continent, mostly in the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres

Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent. At about 30.3 million km2 including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.3 billion people as of 2018, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It contains 54 fully recognised sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1861 Roys joined forces with the wealthy New York pyrotechnic manufacturer Gustavus Adolphus Lilliendahl in order to perfect his "whaling rocket". [11] In mid-May 1862 Lilliendahl purchased the 158-ton bark Reindeer, appointing Roys as her master. [12] Unfortunately, she was seized on suspicion of being a slaver, and when everything was finally cleared up, she sailed to Iceland, but arrived too late for the summer whaling season, and had to return home and wait until next year.

In 1863 Roys refitted the Reindeer and once again sailed to Iceland, but he damaged his rudder while off the coast of the island, and was only able to save one of the many whales he shot that season. [13] Roys was much more successful the following season of 1864, saving eleven of the twenty whales that were shot, in part because he was using stronger harpoons and better lines. In November 1864 Roys obtained the rights to establish a shore station on the coast of Iceland from the Danish government. He acquired the twelve-ton, sixty-two-foot iron steamer Visionary in Scotland, and returned to Iceland in the spring of 1865. He arrived at Seydisfjordur on 14 May, finding his bark Reindeer had already arrived there in April, loaded with whaling equipment, boilers, steam engines, timber, bricks, and everything necessary for the construction of his shore station. Lilliendahl supplied them with defective rockets, and before the station was built, they were forced to tow the dead whales to the Reindeer, where they were flensed and processed the old fashioned way. [14]

After his rockets were rebuilt, Roys and his crew set out in the Visionary, with whaleboats in tow astern, to search for rorquals. Once a whale was sighted, the crews went to their respective boats, and if a whale was successfully captured, they'd heave the carcass to the surface with a steam winch, fasten it to the side of the ship, and tow it back to Seydisfjordur. For the 1865 season they took twenty or more whales, but also lost another twenty. [15] The next season, 1866, he used the Sileno and the iron steamers Staperaider and Vigilant- identical ship, bark-rigged, 116-feet long, each carrying two whaleboats and equipped with steam tryworks and powerful winches to bring aboard large strips of blubber when flensing whales. [16] They killed ninety whales this season, with forty-three or forty-four being saved to produce 3,000 barrels of oil. Roys and Lilliendahl parted company at the end of the season, with Lilliendahl continuing on in Iceland for another year. Using the Vigilant and Staperaider, he only caught thirty-six whales. After this season, he departed as well. [17]

British Columbia

In 1868 Roys chartered the 83-three-foot, 25-ton steamer Emma to catch whales in British Columbian waters. His first cruise was a disaster, while the second cruise from early September to October he reportedly struck four whales, killing three, but lost all three in dense fogs. [18] Persistent as ever, Roys formed the Victoria Whaling Adventurers Company on 22 October, and in January 1869 he sent the Emma to erect a shore station in Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island. Again, Roys was met with by failure, having made fast to only one whale. The harpoon broke free, and the whale escaped. [19]

The next season, seemingly undeterred, Roys returned to British Columbia in the 179-ton brig Byzantium on 10 May 1871. He constructed a station at Cumshewa Inlet in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and fitted out the Byzantium with proper onboard tryworks. As usual, Roys fared poorly. The Byzantium struck the rocks in Weynton Passage, Johnstone Strait, forcing the men to abandon her and row ashore, to spend a frigid night huddled on the beach. Roys never operated a whaling company again.


Roys shipped aboard a vessel in San Diego and contracted yellow fever. He was put ashore in Mazatlan, where he died in abject poverty on 29 January 1877 of a stroke. [20]


  1. Bockstoce (1986) , p. 21
  2. Bockstoce (1986) , p. 93
  3. Schmitt et al. (1980), pp. 47-50.
  4. Schmitt et al. Thomas Welcome Roys, America's pioneer of modern whaling (1980), p.66.
  5. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.67.
  6. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.68.
  7. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.70-71.
  8. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.71-72.
  9. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.73.
  10. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.74-75.
  11. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.92.
  12. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.95.
  13. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.101-102.
  14. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.105-108.
  15. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.113.
  16. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.116-117.
  17. Schmitt et al. (1980), p.134-136.
  18. Webb (1988), p.126.
  19. Webb (1988), p.126-127.
  20. Schmitt et al. (1980), p. 181.

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