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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cevantes, Western Australia

Lobster boat at Cevantes

The town of Cervantes was named after a whaling ship of the same name that foundered at Jurien Bay in 1844. Cervantes is also the name of the Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote.

Cervantes is one of Western Australia's newest towns. In 1962 the government removed 505 hectares from the northwest corner of the Nambung National Park to establish the town. Today it's a pleasant holiday village but the main industry is lobsters, the fishing fleet operates from November until the end of June. There is also a lobster processing plant in the town. The season is now winding down, some of the boats have already left.

In the 1800's, the Americans dominated the whaling industry. By 1846 there were 735 American whaling vessels which was 80% of the world's total whaling fleet. They followed the whales into the southern ocean then through to Western Australian waters.

One American whaling ship didn't make it back home. Captain Sylvanus Gibson from New Bedford and his ship the Cervantes became stuck fast on a sand bar off Jurien Bay. Even though the Cervantes wasn't wrecked, just grounded, to move her would have proved too expensive so Captain Gibson decided to put her up for auction.

The auction was conducted by L. & W Samson at Fremantle, with an advertisement in the Perth Gazette of the 13 July 1844 providing the details:

The wreck of the American barque Cervantes - coppered and copper fastened, as she now lies in Jurien Bay on a sand flat about 80 miles to the northward, with all her stores, whaling gear, cutting-in falls, whale boats, anchors, chain cables, a kedge anchor, spare planks, oars and casks. She was fitted out about a year ago with everything new for a whaling voyage and the gear is of the best description and quality, and has not yet been used.

A Mr Wickstead paid 155 pounds for the lot, except the ship's chronometer which sold separately for 23 pounds. After Wickstead organised the salvage, only the shell of the Cervantes was left.

In 1956 John Houston made the mighty epic film Moby Dick with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab in search of the white whale. We weren't outraged then but we are now and chase the Japanese all over the Southern Oceans for daring to kill them. And we stand on clifftops, gazing out to sea, or go out in chartered boats, just to catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures.