Harpoon gun on the bow deck of a whale catcher boat.
The harpoon used for killing and catching baleen whales
was (is) a formidable and heavy weapon. The harpoon itself is re-useable
and consists of a long shaft that fits in the barrel that ends in four
large hinged barbs. In front of the barbs is a large threaded boss onto
which screws the (in this case) pointed and explosive harpoon head.
After use, the harpoon is recovered, straightened out and re-used with
a new explosive head being fixed to the front. The shaft is not solid
but has an open groove running it's whole length, a rope is fixed into
this groove, when the harpoon is in the gun, the rope is slid to the
front and here is seen hanging down ready for firing. The barbs of the
harpoon are held back by wires which break when the harpoon has hit
its target and the explosive charge detonates.
The harpoon itself is about 6 feet long (1.8m) and
weighs 120lbs (54.5kg), it is made of high quality steel. The gun has
a bore of 3in (76mm) and uses a charge of around 14oz (390g) of gunpowder.
The gun itself is quite a crude instrument, it can
be swivelled easily by the gunner and tilted up and down, the sight
is the long metal rod seen on top.
The real key to the effective use of this gun is the
gunners skill and experience. Gunners were the top rank of all whale
men, they were treated with the greatest respect and easily earned far
more than any other rank in a whaling fleet. If a gunner didn't do his
job properly, then the whole enterprise was a failure, if he did do
his job properly it would mean success and riches for all, the majority
of a gunners considerable pay was linked to how many whales he could