Announcing the launch of The Whalers’ Memory Bank – a digital platform collecting and sharing important whaling social history.

With thanks to funding from the UK National Lottery Heritage Fund, SGHT announced today the start of a major project capturing the human stories of ex-whalers and their families. Over the next two years, the South Georgia Heritage Trust and South Georgia Museum will be working alongside a number of former whaling communities in Scotland to create The Whalers’ Memory Bank. The Memory Bank will be a living, growing digital time capsule where veterans of the whaling industry, their families and communities can come together to contribute and share their stories with a wider audience.

The story of modern whaling in the Southern Hemisphere is a controversial one and some British companies played a key role in the industry. These companies had a largely Scottish workforce and attracted many working-class men to work half a world away on South Georgia with the promise of adventure and good wages. Now, only a dwindling number of men survive that have first-hand memories of this industry. They are the last generation to be able to share their stories, knowledge and personal collections before they are lost forever.

The Whalers’ Memory Bank will capture, collect, preserve and share memories, photographs, film and objects held by ex-whalers and their families. There will also be a Virtual Reality tour created of a whaling station on South Georgia.

The Whalers’ Memory Bank Project will launch in July 2023 and will run for two years. At the heart of the project will be a series of community events to gather stories and to help shape the Memory Bank that those communities want to see and will value. The Memory Bank will also make the connection between why whaling happened, where it happened (a great deal of it on South Georgia), and where many of the whalers came from in Scotland. The South Georgia Museum Collection will be a rich source of information for the Memory Bank and so will be central to the project.

The Whalers’ Memory Bank will also aggregate and bring context to collections currently held across a range of museums and associations in Scotland. These organisations are keen to better tell the story of whaling. The Whalers’ Memory Bank will give them access to a well-catalogued and curated resource on whaling and the experiences of the men who worked in it. This will enable them to present their collections in new ways and to tell the whalers’ story from different perspectives. Whole new ‘galleries’ of collections will be able to be created that explore specific themes such as the wives’ experience, entertainment, food and drink, or a living glossary of whalers’ language. Importantly, while it will have a real depth and richness of content, the Whalers’ Memory Bank will be easy to understand and to navigate, so it is accessible to the widest range of users.

Partner museums that will be working with SGHT and South Georgia Museum on the Whalers’ Memory Bank include the Scottish Fisheries Museum, the Scottish Maritime Museum, and Dundee Heritage Trust’s Verdant Works, all of which hold hidden whaling archives and collections. The aim will be to make those collections much more easily accessible and available to a much wider audience. Some of these organisations will also be involved in the community events in spring 2024. Other participating organisations will be The Shetland Maritime Heritage Society, Salvesen Ex-Whalers Club and the Shetland ex-Whalers Association.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust manages the South Georgia Museum on behalf of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

If you might want to share anything with the Whalers Memory Bank you can get in touch via the email: memorybank@sght.org

More information on the South Georgia Museum Whaler’s Memory Bank: https://sgmuseum.gs/memorybank/