Bunavoneader Whaling Station Project

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A whaling station was first built in the village of Bunavoneader by Carl and Peter Harloffsen, successful whalers from Tonsberg in Norway. The station began operations in 1904 and was very successful with the highest yield of whale oil from a single station outside of Iceland. At its high the station employed over 158 local men and woman and played an important part in the economy of North Harris and beyond. Operations ceased at the station during the First World War and resumed in 1918, although yields were high the decline in market price for whale oil resulted in the closure of the station in 1921.
In 1922 the station was sold to the Harris Whaling and Fishing Company which was co-founded by Lord Leverhulme who bought Lewis and Harris in 1918 with the aim of boosting the economic fortunes of the Island population. In 1925 Lord Leverhulme died although the Station remained operational until 1928 when the reduction in stocks meant that the station could no longer continue to operate.
The station lay empty for 22 years until it was reopened in 1950 under the management of another Norwegian Captain Jesperson. The scale of the operation at the Station was much reduced employing only one catcher and 50 staff. The venture proved to be unsuccessful though and Station closed for good in 1953.
Fast forward to 2014 and the station site has been derelict and exposed to the elements for over 60 years and is in a very sorry state. Having said that, it is the only remaining example of an early 20th century shore based whaling station in the UK and possibly further afield which is why it was designated as an ancient scheduled monument by Historic Scotland in 1992 showing it significance with regard to both heritage and culture.
When the North Harris Trust was formed in 2003 the preservation of the Bunavoneader Whaling Station was identified as a priority due to the important heritage and culture which it represents. A few years after its formation the Trust, along with other interested parties from the community formed a steering group with the purpose to take forward a conservation project at the Station. This resulted in the commission and production of a conservation and management plan in 2007. Since this plan, which detailed options and plans for the stations conservation and repair was produced little has been done to take its recommendations forward. This was due to a few different factors including a lack of sufficient staff time and resources.
The good news is that we are now in a position to look at the Bunavoneader Whaling Station project again and do all we can to take it forward and preserve this very important site. We want to save and repair the site and allow its story to be told. The whaling station played a vital part in the economy of Harris in the early 20th century and many people from across the Western Isles and indeed Scotland worked in the whaling industry all over the world. The Station in Bunavoneader gives us the opportunity it recognise and commemorate this historical industry and the role which it played. Once we have completed the conservation and repair work we would like to have the site open to the public to learn more about our collective heritage which is not widely recognised at the moment.
With this in mind we got to work earlier this year to get this project live again, this has involved working closely with a range of different agencies and organisations. A lot of work had been put into the production of the conservation and management plan and the majority of its recommendations are still valid. All of this work and effort culminated last month with an application being submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for 90% of the project costs. The result of this initial application is expected in December after which we will give a further update.
For further information on this project please contact Karen MacRae on either 01859 502222 or karen@north-harris.org

 

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