Last month we learned that many relatives in the Leonard Destin family were whalers. New London, Connecticut, was the third largest whaling port in the United States with 260 vessels that went on more than 1,000 whaling voyages. Whalers went all over the world following the whale’s migratory path. Where the whales went the whalers followed.
What I learned in doing the historical research for my latest book, "DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin," is that George Destin Jr. (1808-1865), Leonard Destin’s oldest brother, had the longest and the most colorful whaling career in the Destin family. He went on a total of 14 whaling voyages to all oceans of the world. Many voyages were for two to three years. His career began on June 27, 1828, when he signed on as a Cabin Boy on the ship Anna Marie. His last and most famous voyage was 30 years later. George was the master (captain) on the brig Nile, which left New London for to the northern Pacific whaling grounds on May 24, 1858.
What made this voyage so important in whaling history, and why this is our History Mystery this month, is that this voyage proved to be the longest recorded whaling voyage in history – 18 days short of 12 years.
As they set out on their course for Cape Horn and the Pacific grounds that May morning, neither the 22-year veteran commander, Capt. George Destin Jr., nor any of the 31 officers and crew aboard could know that they were embarking on what would prove to be the longest whaling voyage in the history of the industry. The Nile would sail the Pacific for 12 years before seeing New London again, and no member of the original ship's company would return home aboard her.
Within a month of leaving port, the Nile, with seasoned captain George Destin Jr., had come upon sperm whales in the Atlantic and took on board 50 barrels of sperm oil. The following month she was off the coast of Brazil, about 500 miles east of Aracaju. She had been headed east round the Cape of Good Hope, scudded across the Indian Ocean, and by the end of the year had left the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, and was headed north with 80 barrels of sperm oil and 200 barrels of whale oil on board. By October, the Nile was hunting in the Okhotsk Sea as reported by the master of another New London whaler, the General Williams, who stated that the bark had 500 barrels of whale oil aboard.
After arriving at Honolulu late in the fall, Capt. Destin decided to ship part of his cargo home. On Dec. 7, 1859, he consigned 18,965 gallons of whale oil and 5,985 pounds of whale bone to Williams & Haven, whaling agents of New London, to be carried by their ship Siam. The vessel arrived safely in New London with her cargo intact on April 17, 1860, four months and 10 days from Honolulu. Based on the average prices for 1860, the Nile's portion of the Siam's cargo was worth approximately $14,200.
Capt. George Destin Jr. continued whaling aboard the Nile until Nov. 5, 1860. After his two and one half year tour as master of the Nile, Asa Fish relieved him as captain. Captain George Destin, Jr. returned home to New London aboard the Tempest. Destin arrived at New London 152 days later, on April 6, 1861. This ended the whaling career of 53 year old George Destin, Jr., but it did not end the whaling voyage of the bark Nile.
The bark Nile continued on and remained in the Pacific Ocean and continued to hunt whales for 10 more years under the command of Asa W. Fish and other whaling captains. Capt. Fish was followed by William H. Kelley, Thomas Long, William H. Long and finally William Earle. In all, the Nile would have six captains on its 12-year whaling voyage. The Nile departed Honolulu for New London on Dec. 4, 1869. The Nile landed in New London five months and two days later on May 6, 1870, having been away 18 days short of 12 years.
During those nearly 12 years, the Nile took on 98 barrels of sperm whale oil, 4,906 barrels of baleen whale oil and 42,671 pounds of whale bone. It is estimated that she had taken oil and bone worth a total of $1,168,000, which would be the equivalent, in 2017 dollars, of $23.2 million or about an average of $1.9 million for each of the 12 years of the Nile’s voyage. Whaling was a lucrative business!
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.