From the SimonPure
documentary Connecticut & the Sea
Last of New London's Whaling Captains
FRED CALABRETTA (Assoc.
Curator, Mystic Seaport):
He was born in Quebec in 1858. His father was lost
at sea and his mother couldnít support the children and apparently he
spent some time in an orphanage and then was placed out with a foster
family in East Haddam, Connecticut as a young boy and lived in East
Haddam for the rest of his life.
the age of 17 in 1875 he walked from East Haddam to New London and
shipped out on a whaler. And over the next 44 years only 3 years passed
during which he didnít spend at least some time at sea.
He sailed as captain or master of a ship for the
first time in 1895. He specialized in arctic
whaling. A typical voyage would be 27 months, about 16 months of which
would be spent in winter quarters when the ship was completely frozen in
the ice and there was virtually no activity possible.
They had to survive on
everything that they brought with them, and for fresh meat they obtained
deer meat and salmon from the Inuit in trade.
There would be a community
of Inuit camped through the entire winter right near the vessel and they
became part of the social activity and all the activity during the
Comer had an
interesting relationship with the Inuit. He
really developed an affection for them.
He was also interested and
became involved in arctic exploration. He collected
for some of the great natural history museums not just in the United
States but in the world and became the leading authority in the world of
the Inuit of the Hudson Bay region.
Captain Comer retired from
the whaling industry in 1912 but it wasnít the end of his career at sea.
He participated in a couple of arctic expeditions in association with
the American Museum of Natural History.
Despite the fact that he was
59 years old he enlisted in the Navy during
World War I. and made several cruises onboard naval
vessels. When he came back he became involved in a
trading and exploration venture heading again for Hudson Bay. Went back
one more time in 1919 at the age of 62. I think the primary reason he
went back was because he wanted to visit his Inuit friends.
And he returned to East
Haddam permanently at that point, was somewhat of a local celebrity.
He served a term in the
Connecticut State Legislature. He was
in declining health later in life in part because of the rigors of
arctic whaling and died in 1937