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Uke Whaling with Bagpipes (36) Whaling with Bagpipes 08 Feb 05


I have just come across this amazing account in a book called "Salt Sea Tang", by Angus Cameron Robertson, published 1927. The author was a Highland Scot who went to sea as a boy (probably in the mid-19th century) before settling many years later in Dunedin, New Zealand. Here he describes the use of the shipboard use of the bagpipes:

"When hoisting the topsails and top gallant sails at sea, we usually mast-headed them to the stirring skirl of the pipes or the sweet airs of Gaelic songs. Always entering or leaving port, our pipe band played in full strength as we hove on the capstan or manned the windlass...When tacking ship at sea the band always played all hands to their stations, and as the ship came round majestically to the music of the pipes there seemed to be a sweet caress in every roll and lurch of her."

Has anyone ever heard of the bagpipes being used like a shanty in this way? I sure haven't.

And, as the title of this thread indicates, that's not all:

"We were once becalmed in the Tropics when on the 'Lady Jane' with a good number of cabin passengers on board, bound for Calcutta... Four bells struck (10 p.m.), when the ball began in real earnest, fore and aft the decks, to the music of the pipe band... both ladies and gentlemen, irrespective of the tropical heat, might be seen whipping through the Highland Reel with amazing vigour. But lo! our merry-making was quite unexpectedly brought to a sudden stop. A big school of whales, bound south, came sailing around us, evidently having been attracted by the music of the bagpipes. The whales lashed the ocean with their tails... they would dart right round the 'Lady Jane' at a terrific rate of speed, leaping over one another.

The old man [Captain McDonald] alone did not express surprise, and proceeded as follows to explain: - "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, addressing the passengers, "you seem to be surprised at this whale dance; but in my young days when I was a whaler, we made 'flat-foot' dance often enough, let me tell you. Having discovered that the whale has a darned nerve somewhere near his brain that makes him very suceptible to sweet music, we never went whaling without a band of good pipers. And whenever we sailed into our whaling ground the band played up, and 'flat-foot' came rising and playing about in scores; with the result that we invariably filled up with whale oil and homeward bound before some of the other whalers had fairly started. But we alwyas took good care to keep this affair a strict secret for reasons better known to ourselves.""

Tall tale?

Can anyone out there corroborate Robertson's tale of bagpipe music being used as a lure by whalers?


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