Saturday, 20 March 2010


The whaling ships that sailed to the Arctic from Whitby would take polar bears as well as whales. These could be sold to zoos and fairs for a tidy price. Frequently a mother and cub would be encountered by the crew in the desolate landscape of the northern ice field.

This story is of a polar bear captured by the most famous of 18th century whaling captains, William Scoresby senior of Whitby.

It seems a member of Scoresby's valliant crew came upon a female bear and her cub and carried out the usual protocol. It was customary to dispatch the mother with a well aimed shot. Often the cub would be more puzzled and frightened than vicious. It was swiftly trussed up and taken back to the ship.

Usually the cub would be kept in a barrel with bars over the front for the entire voyage. Maybe a fish would be tossed in every now and again, occasionally the hapless animal would be doused with a bucket of sea water.

Scoresby however fastened this particular bear to a point on the deck. With a regime of painful taps to the bear's black nose and rewards of whale meat for good behaviour, the good captain was able to lead the cub round the deck on a rope leash. By the end of the season he considered it tame.

Unfortunately, once the ship was back in Whitby, the unfamiliar noises and smells of the port confused the bear. It reared up on its hind legs, broke free of its tethering and ran off through the town, disappearing into the alleyways and yards.

Eventually a posse of angry men surrounded the bear in Cockmill Wood. With weapons at the ready, they were quite prepared to kill the beast if need be.

Much to everyone's surprise, Captain Scoresby added to his reputation by pushing his way through the rabble before anyone was injured. He walked up to the cub which proceeded to lick his hand with its long black tongue, welcoming back its master. He tied a length of rope around its neck and led it peacefully away, much to the relief of the assembled townsfolk.

Soon afterwards the bear was taken to London's Tower Zoo where it eventually died.

No animals were harmed in the production of this featurette.

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