The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Aldrich Collection of photographs consists of 258 images captured by journalist Herbert L. Aldrich (1860-1948) during the 1887 Arctic whaling season. Aldrich spent time on eight New Bedford whaling vessels between March and October of 1887, documenting the whaling industry and the native peoples of the Arctic.
Herbert L. Aldrich spent only eight months aboard whaling ships and 87 days in the Arctic Ocean, but his photographs and subsequent writings provide important documentation of the Arctic whale hunt and the Masinker and Nakooruk Eskimos. Photographs in the collection capture all aspects of the whale hunt and processing, the landscape of Alaska and Siberia, and the culture and customs of native peoples.
Aldrich resolved to accompany the Arctic whaling fleet after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told he had less than a year to live. At the time, he was a 27-year-old reporter for the New Bedford Evening Standard. Aldrich sought and received the support of leaders of New Bedford’s whaling industry, who wanted the journalist to document what they knew to be a dying industry. Aldrich sailed from San Francisco aboard the bark Young Phoenix (sometimes called the Young Phenix) on March 3, 1887. During the course of his journey, Aldrich was a passenger aboard the bark Eliza, the bark Hunter, the steam bark Balaena, the steam bark Lucretia, the steam bark Beluga, and the steam bark Thrasher, finally returning to San Francisco on October 25, 1887 aboard the steam bark Orca. These vessels were among the 32 New Bedford and San Francisco whalers that cruised in the Arctic Ocean during the 1887 season. This year was remarkably successful: it was one of the few during which no vessels were lost and the 600,000 pounds of baleen it produced was the largest single-year total taken by Arctic voyages between 1872 and 1909.
Aldrich had with him two Scovill detective cameras. He developed and printed photos aboard ship using primarily film negatives. It is estimated that Aldrich took over 700 photos during the season. Upon his return, Aldrich wrote and lectured extensively on his experiences in the Arctic. In 1889, Arctic Alaska and Siberia, or, Eight Months with the Arctic Whalemen was published by Rand, McNally and Company. In 1937, an abridged version of this text was published. Excerpts of the texts were also included in a variety of popular and trade magazines.
Aldrich went on to become managing editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Jacksonville Florida Citizen. He founded the Aldrich Publishing Company of New York in 1897 and published engineering books and magazines including Marine Engineering and The Boiler Maker. He was a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Explorers’ Club, and the Whalemen’s Club of New Bedford. Although Aldrich did not live in New Bedford after 1897, he frequently visited the city and was a strong supporter of efforts to save the Charles W. Morgan. Upon Aldrich’s death in March 1948, many of the photographs and other artifacts of his Arctic travels were donated to the New Bedford Free Public Library.
Search the online database for images in the collection
Click on SEARCH PHOTOGRAPHS, then SEARCH. On the top of the page, type “Aldrich” in the keyword field.