Whalers who took part in the expeditions to the South Atlantic will have their work commemorated in a memorial to be installed in Lerwick shortly.
A possible site for the plinth and plaque has been identified on the new walkway and seating area in front of the Small Boat Harbour, and it is hoped the memorial will be in place before Shetland Ex-Whalers Association’s planned reunion during the weekend of 10th-12th September.
The proposed site was provisionally agreed by the SIC planning department, the owners of the land Lerwick Port Authority and the former whalers at a meeting on Monday.
Port authority chief executive Sandra Laurenson said the authority was “happy to host the memorial” and her deputy Victor Sandison added: “It is a very worthwhile project and we are keen to support it.” The proposal still has to get through the planning procedure.
The idea for the memorial came about when Shetland Ex-Whalers Association secretary Pat Christie, her father and ex-whaler Mitchell Arthur and ex-whaler Gibby Fraser were working with photos for a slide show. They thought it was about time for another reunion – the last one had been held to coincide with the visit of the whalecatcher <i>Southern</i> <i>Actor</i> in 2000 – and the idea of a memorial grew from there.
Mrs Christie said: “There has been huge support from Lerwich Port Authority and the SIC for this project in recognition of the work the whalers did. Whaling is part of Shetland’s heritage. There were hard times but the whalers enjoyed the camaraderie.”
The memorial has been designed by Davy Cooper of Shetland Amenity Trust, and will comprise a drystone plinth, made of local stone and similar to that of the Shetland Bus Memorial in Scalloway, topped with a black granite plaque. The plaque will feature a white etching of a map of South Georgia, a whalecatcher and a factory ship, plus text.
The finished article will be a “comfortable reading height” of around one metre, Mr Cooper said. Black granite, which comes from India, is the only stone that can take a photo etching.
If the plinth, which is being built by the amenity trust, is not be completely ready for the reunion, a temporary plinth will be in place. However, the plaque, which Mr Cooper said was the “most important thing”, will be finished. In any case, he said, “there will be something to unveil.”
During the big reunion in September former whalers from Edinburgh, the Western Isles and Orkney will join their counterparts in Shetland.
They will celebrate more than half a century of the industry at the island of South Georgia, which began in 1904 and ended in the 1960s. Just over 100 whalers survive, the youngest of whom are now in their mid to late sixties.
Whaling was an important industry at a time when there was little other work in Shetland. Hundreds of men left home in the autumn, signing on with Salvesen’s of Edinburgh to undertake the six-week journey to the South Atlantic. Most stayed until the following spring working either on the shore stations, the catchers or the factory ships, although trips of a whole year were not uncommon.