Captain William Adams senior: whaling Master

Hugh M. Begg (Lead / Corresponding author), John Watson

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Captain William Adams (1837–1890) was one of the exceptional whaling masters who sailed from Dundee in Scotland. This paper uses primary sources to confirm his reputation not only as a whaler but also as an adventurous explorer and wealthy businessman. He became outstandingly successful with Alexander Stephen & Sons, the Dundee shipping company that pioneered the use of auxiliary powered vessels for use in sealing in Labrador and fishing for whales in the Davis Strait and beyond. His first command was the Arctic in 1868, and his reputation was such that he was chosen by Albert Hastings Markham as his mentor in gaining experience for polar exploration. The unfortunate loss of the Arctic in Regent Sound in 1875 did no damage to this reputation and Adams was made Master of the newly built flagship of the company's fleet, the Arctic II. In 1883, by then a rich man, Adams became his own Master with the purchase of the Maud. In 1890, the vessel was returning to Dundee from Arctic waters when Captain Adams, who was accompanied by his son also William Adams (1869–1942) acting as Mate, was taken fatally ill, dying at Thurso in Caithness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-402
Number of pages7
JournalPolar Record
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


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