Alexander Stephens & Son (Dundee) Whaling Ships.

The Whaling and Sealing Ships built by Alexander Stephen and Sons in their Dundee Shipyard.


The part played by Alexander Stephen and his son William in their shipyard in Dundee helped with the revival of the Seal and Whaling industry in the second half of the 19th Century.

Their Dundee shipyard was the first to realise the importance of applying steam to the whaling vessels. The first one they modified was Baillie William Clark’s ship the ‘Tay’.

“The ‘Tay’ weighed 455 tons and had a 75 horsepower engine. She was the first of a series of the new breed of arctic whaling ships to be launched by the yard. The ships looked much the same as their sailing counterparts (they still had masts and rigging and could often sail faster than they could steam). The only addition was a funnel indicating the presence of an engine. Although the engines were not powerful by modern standards, they were sufficient to give the ships the edge over sailing competitors on the hunting grounds. They were known as auxiliary powered vessels.”

The ship was fitted with an auxiliary screw propeller and gave an impressive performance in the ice flows of the David Straits and was able to push its way through the pack ice.  The Stephen’s yard seized on this idea and developed it remarkably well.

William Stephen was always ready to adopt anything that would improve the whaling industry, he also became the owner of whaling vessels. In his yard he could construct and send out two new vessels every year.

After the ‘TAY’ was launched other sealers and whalers were built for the Dundee fleet – Arctic I and Arctic II, Aurora and Resolute, Thetis and Camperdown,  Polynia and Narwhale, Alexander and Eric, Esquimaux and Nimrod and of course the last one to be built in the yard – famous ‘Terra Nova’

Stephens not only built whaling ships and sealers for the Dundee Whaling fleet but for other ports and owners as well. The well built wooden Dundee Whalers became famous and a must for other ports and companies.

There was also another ship built by them in 1872, the ‘Discovery’, however it was not the famous one used by Captain Scott, but a predecessor, originally named the Bloodhound II, but renamed the ‘Discovery’ when it was bought by the British Government for their expedition to find the North West Passage

When the Greenland seal fishing became unproductive due to over killing, Stephen sent his ships to the Newfoundland coast and achieved a lot of success there. In the 1870’s William Stephen leased ground to the south of the harbour at St John’s, Newfoundland and built a yard for rendering the blubber, there were also large storage tanks, a blubber crushing machine, boiling coppers, and a coal depot to supply the ships. This enabled the ships to do two trips, one to the Newfoundland seal colonies, back to St John’s to unload and then on to the Davis Straits for the Whaling.

Stephens also established the Arctic Tannery in Marine Parade in Dundee, this for storing, tanning and curing seal skins, there was also large tanks for the storage of oil, and where salted skins and whalebone were stored, this establishment in the 1870’s held the largest stock of sealskins, oil and whalebone in the UK.


Name Type of Ship Built for Tons Completed
Alexander Sealer & Whaler Gilroy Bros 590 1864
Arctic (I) Sealer & Whaler Alex Stephen & Sons 567 1867
Arctic (II) Sealer Alex Stephen & Sons 828 1975
Aurora Sealer Alex Stephen & Sons 580 1876
Bear Sealer W. Grieve 689 1874
Camperdown Sealer & Whaler Dundee Ship & Whale Fishing Co. 541 1860
Commodore Sealer & Whaler John Munn 427 1871
Discovery (Bloodhound) Sealer British War Vessel 396 1872
Eagle Sealer & Whaler N. F. Sealing & Whaling. Co (C. T. Bowring Bros) 506 1871
Eric Sealer & Whaler G. Gibbs 533 1863
Esquimaux Sealer & Whaler Dundee Ship & Whale Fishing Co. 593 1863
Hector Sealer Job Bros 427 1870
Iceland Sealer & Whaler D. Murray & Sons 423 1872
Mastiff Sealer & Whaler John Munn 360 1867
Narwhal Sealer & Whaler Dundee Ship & Whale Fishing Co. 533 1859
Neptune Sealer Job Bros 684 1972
Nimrod Sealer & Whaler Job Brothers 334 1866
Polynia Sealer & Whaler Dundee Ship & Whale Fishing Co. 472 1862
Proteus Sealer J. W. Stewart 687 1873
Ranger Sealer & Whaler Robert Alexander 520 1871
Resolute Sealer & Whaler Dundee Ship & Whale Fishing Co. 624 1880
Retriever Sealer & Whaler Ridley Son & Co 462 1863
Terra Nova Sealer Alex Stephen & Sons 744 1884
Thetis (I) Sealer & Whaler Alex Stephen & Sons (American War Vessel) 723 1881
Wolf (1) Sealer & Whaler Walter Grieve 400 1863
Wolf (II) Sealer & Whaler Walter Grieve 520 1871