Did You Know? (Rudyard Kipling and Whales)

That the Old Annisquam Customs House on River Road is also the site where Rudyard Kipling wrote parts of his 1897 novel Captains Courageous, which follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne Jr., the arrogant and spoiled son of a railroad tycoon. The novel originally appeared as a serialization in McClure’s, beginning with the November 1896 edition.

The book’s title comes from the ballad “Mary Ambree”, which starts, “When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt”.  Kipling had previously used the same title for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times of November 23, 1892.

The last photo is of a pot beside the Customs House that was once used for boiling down whale blubber to oil used for the lighting of lamps.  Whales were brought to the Customs House and cut up, then boiled down for their oil.  Whales are now valued in New England for their sheer majesty and whale watches are a popular excursion and business, but whale hunting and harvesting was once a major industry in the colonies. During the 18th and 19th century, whaling was a lucrative business with whale oils used for lighting and whalebone used for many other products. Hundreds of ships left New England harbors each year on dangerous whaling expeditions that sometimes took them all over the globe. With the emergence of crude oil, interest in whale oil plummeted around 1850 and the industry thankfully went into demise.

Another very interesting tip courtesy of Allen Estes.

E.J. Lefavour


4 thoughts on “Did You Know? (Rudyard Kipling and Whales)

  1. That is interesting, and I wasn’t aware of the Kipling connection. I have read that the whale oil produced heavy black, smokey film on lighthouse glass, making it an arduous task for the keepers who had to climb the towers such as Thachers and repeatedly wipe the mess off so the lights wouldn’t be so dim. I would imagine that hauling the oil up there wasn’t an easy job either! Thanks for this neat post!


  2. Hi E.J.
    I think when I was about 5 years old (1944) my parents and older brother rented the Customs House for at least 2 summers. I have wonderful memories…walking to Lighthouse Beach, daring each other to run down the ramp to the forbidden yacht club, taking the rowboat out to cross over to Wingaersheek, claming in the muck. One day we were caught in the outgoing tide and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. And in those days there were black-out curtains on the windows because of the threat of the Germans off the coast.
    My love of Cape Ann started at an early age and I am blessed to be living in Rockport. Thanks for sharing all your wonderful photos.
    Liz Spaulding


    1. Thanks Liz, what a great memory share. It is such a cool old place with those massive hand hewn beams, and you can’t beat its location. Those must have been magical summers indeed.


  3. It’s been also rumored throughout the years that Kipling stayed at the Fairview Inn in EastGloucester while he was still writing CaptainsCourageous, and was inspired at this local as well.


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