NEFA - The North East Folklore Archive

The Ledger of The Polar Star

The Ship

"About 1850 the firm of Stephen and Forbes was founded, with premises in Bridge Street. From their yard was launched one of the finest fleets of vessels either in Britain or the colonies. The whalers 'Polar Star' and 'Windward' owe their origins to this firm."
J. T. Findlay's History of Peterhead, 1933.

The whaling ship 'Polar Star' was commissioned by ship owners Messrs. Mitchell & Co. in partnership with Captain David Ewan of Peterhead in 1856 and launched from the building yard of Stephen and Forbes in January 1857.

'The Polar Star' was sold to Dundee and from there took part in yet another attempt to breath life into a dying industry. Along with the other Dundee vessels, 'Active' [also late of Peterhead] 'Balaena' and 'Diana', in September 1892 she sailed for the Antarctic in search of the southern Right whale. They saw very few whales and their catch had to be supplemented by taking nearly 15,000 seals. So, the four vessels were back in Dundee in time for the 1894 season. [The Polar Star and Diana sailed under the respective commands of Peterhead brothers Captains James and Robert Davidson]
"The Peterhead Whaling Trade" Alex R Buchan, 1993.

The ship's famous career came to an end in October, 1899, when, after being battered by gales in Davis Strait, she ran aground and had to be abandoned in a sinking condition on the shores of South Baffin Island. The crew. with her cargo of 132 walrus skins and four bears, were taken off and brought home by the 'Active' leaving the local Inuit to break the ship down and make use of what was left of the wreck.


Thanks to Dr David Bertie of Aberdeenshire Museums Service for the following information:

'Polar Star'
Launched: 16th February, 1857
Built: Peterhead
Builders: Stephen and Forbes
Construction: Carvel, one deck, 3 masts
Rig: Barque
Length: 104.9 ft.
Breadth: 24.2 ft.
Depth: 14.7 ft.
Tonnage: 215.65
Official Number: 19568
Registry Opened: 17th February, 1857
Registry Closed: 12th January, 1882 (Transferred to Dundee)

Owners / Managing Owners:
17th February, 1857, William Mitchell, Merchant, 21 sixtyfourths.
11th January, 1882, William Mitchell, Merchant / Ship Owner, 64 sixtyfourths.

17th February, 1857, David Ewan
25th February, 1860, William Sellar
1st March, 1865, Alexander Walker
3rd March, 1866, George Sellar
2nd March, 1870, Aiken
24th February, 1871, McDougal
3rd March, 1874, Birnie

The 'Polar Star' was built in Peterhead for the town's whaling fleet. The vessel sailed to Greenland each spring from 1857 to 1874. There was a second voyage to Davis Straits in 1858 and 1860, while th Greenland voyages of 1861-63 were extended to the Daivis Straits. In 1874 the ship was used in the Ivigtuk cryolite trade. The vessel spent two winters at the Cumberland Gulf, 1875-76 and 1877-78. The 'Polar Star' was sold on 11th January 1882 to Robert Kinnes, ship agent, Dundee, and the registry tansferred to Dundee on 12th January 1882.

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