'The Diana'



The 'Diana' the last whaler out of Hull, locked in the frozen waters of the Arctic Circle
from an original painting by Edward Holt 1989

The story of the "Diana" is a fascinating and interesting piece of history. Captain John Gravill (1802/1866), captain of the Diana, must have been a remarkable and resourceful man who lost his life in tragic circumstances. I am proud to have him as an ancestor.



The whaler 'Diana' which was a screw steamship of the very early type, sailed on the 1st February 1866 for Greenland and the Davis Straits under the Command of Captain Gravill. When reaching Melville Bay, which is North of Baffin Bay, she came into company with the whaler 'Intrepid' captained by Capt. Deuchar. The Ice had by then begun to move into the Ships which made for open water. The 'Intrepid', with the more powerful engines, pulled clear and to the dismay of the crew of the 'Diana' steamed out of sight, Capt. Deuchar thinking the 'Diana' Was following. This was not to be, she was held firmly in the ice. Even though Capt. Gravill tried for days to get out of the ice pack, it was impossible.  He then decided to drift with the ice, a very hard decision. 

She drifted in the ice for Six Months from Melville Bay into Baffin Bay, drifting past Ponds Bay through the Davis Straight to Cape Mercy, past Cumberland Sound, Frobisher Bay on to Resolution Island, until she broke through the Ice barrier opposite Cape Farewell on the Greenland Coast

This nightmare voyage in all took 14 months. During this time Capt. Gravill died on Wednesday 26th December 1866. The crew knelt in and around the Captain's cabin and offered up a prayer thanking God for taking their beloved Captain away from much suffering and misery. He was then sewn up in canvas and carried to the bridge where he was to remain until the end of the voyage. 

In all, 8 men died of scurvy for the want of fresh food, mostly vegetables. Their stock of food was almost nil, and the spars of the ship, barrels and anything which would burn were chopped up. Even this could only be used on the galley stove to heat food at certain times. The ship inside was frozen; everything was covered in ice and rime; for anyone to be on deck for more than half an hour was inviting severe frostbite, from which a large number of the crew suffered, as well as scurvy.

The man who brought the crew through was the ship's surgeon, Dr Edward Smith. His last survey of the crew read; 13 disabled completely in bed, 2 very bad ulcered feet, 14 severely affected, 6 getting very bad, 3 slightly affected, 5 very slight, 3 show no symptoms at all. These men, with the Doctor, sailed the ship which arrived back in Hull on the 26th April 1867. Captain Gravill was buried in the Spring Bank Cemetery, Hull. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral.

The 'Diana' was wrecked off the Lincolnshire coast In 1868.


The Life and Death of Captain Gravill           The Great White Whale to Snare

 "The Diana"   by James A. Pottinger


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