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The Royal Whale in Sidney Park

Whale Bone Arch in Sidney Park

Turning the clocks back over 100 years, a very sad yet historic event took place on our Cleethorpes Beach.

A magnificent 76 ton female Rorqual whale was found dying in the Humber at Spurn Point, on Good Friday, the 2nd April 1892. When it died, it was towed to our area by a tugboat and for a while became an attraction on Cleethorpes beach, until the rotting corpse became hazardous.

The second largest living mammal after the blue whale, the Rorqual (also known as Finback or Fin) is slimmer and better equipped for shallow waters than sister species.

Since whales are, under the Royal Prerogative, a ‘Royal Fish’, the Crown, according to custom, had put in a claim for the capture of this particular creature and it was then organized by Her Majesty’s Receiver of Wrecks for the body to be auctioned off.

Rumours had been afloat as to the almost famous value of the carcass and the sale naturally aroused a good deal of interest and curiosity, which was not confined to our area alone.

On the day of the auction, the law of ‘Royal Fish’ became an “amusing spectacle” for local residents on our Cleethorpes Sands.

The auctioneer involved was Her Majesty’s Receiver of Wrecks called Mr Garvey. To the amusement of the crowd, he attempted to lecture his audience for some time, informing them that ‘the sale was one which would take up a page in history, the subject being by far the largest creature which had been put under the hammer in the neighbourhood for a considerable distance round’. He explained that in his view the creature was worth several hundred pounds, but the crowd were not to be worked up to any enthusiasm.

After some hesitation, an offer was made for £5, then £50 by a visitor from Sheffield, to which it was sold to the annoyance of the auctioneer.

Arrangements were made with the purchaser from Sheffield for a deposit to be made, but after a close discussion with him, the auctioneer turned his horse around with discontent and returned to the heart of the crowd who cheered.

Mr Gravey commenced, “Ladies and Gentlemen. I have the honour of again offering you this fish. It is perhaps necessary for me to explain that a deposit is required and that the Sheffield gentleman has no money with him. We do not give credit on whales”. Loud laughter erupted from the Pontoon.

At great amusement to the crowd, the bidding began again by a voice that shouted, “Will you take a right royal bid? I’ll give you a sovereign”. The crowd had found their enthusiasm as energetic laughter and cheering erupted from the crowd.

Bids followed in rapid succession up to £17, which evoked the acknowledgement from the auctioneer of “Thank you, madam” and general laughter mingled with some applause.

The public interest seemed to lapse at £23, but the crowd was spurred on to greater things when the auctioneer indignantly declared he had never saw “such a lot of people with such bad mettle”.

Offers followed at £25, £26, £27, £28 and £30, when a voice shouted excitedly, “Knock it down, or you’ll have another walk round”. Loud laughter burst from the crowd again. Bids came thick and fast in units to £50.

After some anxious waiting, a visitor from Hull shouted £52 and a battle began between our neighboring visitor from Hull and a local man from Grimsby.

The following bids were then productive of a running string of comments among the now highly interested auditory. The offers were:- £54 (laughter and “out of our hands”), £56 (“in our hands again”, hear hear and general cheerfulness), £58 (“lost” and continued laughter), £60 (“Cleethorpes”), £63 (“t’other side”) and £66 (“home again”).

Loud laughter and cheering followed when eventually a venture of £72 was made and when the hammer fell without an advance upon that figure; Mr Dowse of Grimsby was declared the purchaser on behalf of a consortium of three. The other two being Mr Schuke, a pork butcher from Victoria Street and  Mr Hercock, a banana importer from Pasture Street.

The canvas was once again put round the whale as speedily as possible and it was once more upon exhibition.

Mr Matthew Dowse, a Cleethorpes café and amusement arcade owner, became particularly famous for his purchase of the whale.

After butchers had removed the blubber, a shed was built near the railway station in which the enormous skeleton was assembled. It weighed 15 tons and the skull alone was 17ft long.

The consortium charged visitors threepence a time to view it over the next couple of days, until the stench from noxious gases became so “corrupt” that it was said to have been experienced as far away as Hull.

The authorities ordered disposal him whereupon Mr Schuke and butcher colleagues rendered down the corpse.

Its 12-inch thick squares of blubber yielded six tonnes of oil, 40 gallons of blood and a huge quantity of flesh which was sold for fishing bait.

But that is far from being the end of the story. Dowse’s real stroke of commercial acumen was in saving the skeleton which went on a 10-year tour including Blackpool and New York, earning a steady revenue until it was sold for £200 to an American showman.

However due to some sort of epidemic scare in New York, the new owner was ordered to dump the skeleton at sea – but Dowse bought it back for £5, returned it to England and resumed touring.

In 1921 the jawbones of the whale was presented to Cleethorpes Council. Then during the 1950’s they were used to form an impressive archway and put on display for many years at Sidney Park, until they fragmented and then mysteriously disappeared, only to be found eventually in the local Council possession.  The bones were then passed to The Jungle Zoo in Cleethorpes.

In our area, about 100 yards past the bend in the North Sea Wall and about 50 yards out there existed two 12ft high posts. They are still visible at low tide though one is now only a stump.  The posts are about 70ft apart and the story is that this measured the length of the whale from nose to tale. Several stories exist about this whole event and so whether this particular one is true or not, is a mystery.

But one other story that is told concerns the weight of the whale and how that was known so accurately.  This is simple, so the story goes, as it was close to the Whale Weigh station!

Whale Sidney Park