betties

All that remains of the old whaling station, today, are the foundations of some of the main buildings; the remains of the old blubber tanks; the rails line, the original slip way and the two houses which had been managers’ houses when the whaling station was in operation. A large municipal shed stands on the site was built more recently after the whaling station had ceased to function.

These are scarce reminder of the large constructions, which used to stand there. The buildings were set on concrete and made of timber and corrugated iron. They were the Boiler shed, the blubber house, the Oil Storage tanks, the employee’s quarters, meat house, guano factory and pump house. Some of these structures were three stories high. Photos can be viewed at the Whaling Station Restaurant in Betty’s Bay.

From the years 1913 to 1930 two whaling boats hunted whales in the seas off Hangklip-Kleinmond and brought them ashore at Stony Point to be processed at the Whaling Station. In 1913 the first year’s catch was 179 whales but in later years went up 300 in a season.

Betty's Bay1The Southern right whale, which frequents the shores of Hangklip-Kleinmond, was the most hunted.

They were brought in by the two steamboats, which would anchor off the small natural harbour. The whales would be pulled up the slipway by a winch and rope to the cutting plane. There they would be cut up and carried to the meat and Blubber houses by push trolleys. You can still see some of the tracks. Oil from the blubber was pumped into the large storage tanks to be later pumped to transport ships destined for Europe where it was used for lighting and lubricating machinery.

Mr. Frank Cook from the Southern Cross Waling Company leased 60 acres of land owned by a Mr. Walsh, in 1912. Permission to set up a whaling station was granted by the Department of lands, Cape Town. Mr. Cook employed a small group of Norwegians, the
whaling experts at the time, to build the station and manage the factories. In 1917, Irvin & Johnson Ltd. took over the whaling station, which they operated till 1930. In 1926 the fishing trawler the Una was sunk next to the slipway as a breakwater.

There are some stories that she was sunk in order to claim on insurance money.

During the whaling station’s heyday, 220 men were employed, most being housed in the quarters at the station. They grew some vegetables for provisions and kept a few pigs. Water was pumped down from a reservoir in the mountains. Other provisions were shipped in and fetched from the ships anchored offshore. Workers rowed out in small rowing boats with rafts to transport the goods, a hazardous experience. A rope was strung from ship to shore to aid the workers in the often windy and stormy seas.

Goods were also brought by wagons to Kleinmond and transported across the Palmiet River by the pont operated near the Palmiet lagoon before the last stretch on a wagon trail to the whaling station. The road from Gordon’s Bay had not as yet been constructed.

Today there are plans to reconstruct some of the old buildings to house a whaling museum and information center.

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