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19 November 2014
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Christian Salvesen fleet
Christian Salvesen
Christian Salvesen - once the largest whaling company in the world - was based in Leith. Originally from Norway the company dominated Leith business for 100 years.

In 1843 Johan Theodor Salvesen set up in business as a shipbroker at Grangemouth, a few miles west of Edinburgh and three years later opened another office in Leith. In 1851 his brother, Christian, left Norway to join him in Scotland and was given responsibility for the Leith office.

At the time Christian joined the company, the Leith office was being operated jointly with George Turnbull as Turnbull, Salvesen and Company. The main trade involved the export of coal and the import of timber. In 1872, the partnership with Turnbull ended and Christian Salvesen and Co. was formed. Meanwhile Johan concentrated on the Grangemouth office and, in 1853, withdrew completely from the Leith business. Eventually, the company started at Grangemouth passed to the control of F.T. Everard.

Scottish Executive building
Christian Salvesen offices, Leith

A raft of steamships operated out of Leith until as late as the 1960s. When they pulled out many were left to rot in the harbour.

Salvesen's association with the importation of whale oil encouraged the company to set up a land-based whaling station at Olna in the Shetland Isles in 1904 where whale catchers were based until the station was closed in 1929. In 1907, the company started Antarctic whaling. Initially a base was established in the Falkland Islands but was soon relocated to Leith Harbour, South Georgia, to be nearer the whaling grounds. Floating factory ships were acquired to operate from the new base, which in turn was serviced by supply ships drawn from the company's tramp ship fleet. The whole operation was managed by the newly formed South Georgia Company.

By 1914, Salvesen's whaling fleet consisted of two factory ships, five supply ships and 18 whale catchers. The introduction of stern ramps on factory ships in the late 1920s enabled the whale carcasses to be hauled up onto the deck for cutting up. Before then, harpooned whales were dissected alongside the vessels.

Directions: From the harpoon after listening to the history of whaling, continue on by the walkway through - Victoria Bridge. Walk through here then turn left following the roadway by Ocean Drive opposite the Scottish Office and to the next point, Commercial Quay.

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