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The recent discovery of a whale in the middle of a 17th century Dutch painting in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, made me think of the following.

Schelluinderberg in 2013The small village where I grew up is home to a lovely 16th century ‘hunting lodge’ in the so-called Dutch renaissance style. During my childhood, the owners were known as the family of a former captain of the last Dutch whaling factory ship, the Willem Barendsz. Two items in the garden refer to that: a rather conspicuous deck mounted harpoon launcher, pointed away from the house; and a garden arch formed by two jaw bones of a whale, placed upright. 1)I have not succeeded to take a photo of that, but it was still there a year ago. The house is currently for sale, but in a derelict state. I think I’ve been in the house only once during the 1970s, and even then the interior sort of looked like it does on the realtors photos.

Harpoon gun (not deck mounted)As a child, I took the building for granted and thought the whaling parafernalia in the surrounding garden were special. Little did I know at the time, that Dutch renaissance buildings are quite rare, but that whale bone garden structures were everywhere (except maybe not so much in Holland).

The first time I noticed the latter, was a few years ago when I saw photo’s of the -now lost- arch at Connaught Park, in Dover. This was exactly like the arch of my youth. Examples of other uses abroad are the arch in the Meadows in Edinburgh (consisting of four bones) and the whale bone doorway in a folly in the park of Cockenzie House, also in Scotland.

Chopped up bones
These are all structures that use and take advantage of the complete bones. At Groenendaal, in Heemstede, a garden feature made of chopped up whale bones was created: the whale bench (walvisbank). This bench is said to have been created when Adriaan Elias Hope owned Groenendaal. From 1784 onwards, after the early death of his father John Hope, this estate was combined with next door Bosbeek. Adriaan Elias Hope was still a child at the time, his be-widowed mother ran the estate. As the Hope family fled the country during the uprisings of the 1790s, the whale bench is thought to be built in the early 1800s, only when Adriaan Elias returned to the country.

However: it may have been built earlier, or at least the bones could have been at Bosbeek/Groenendaal much earlier than we think. There is evidence that suggests that Adriaan Elias Hope’s mother was helped or at least attended to during the 1780s by the Rotterdam high society she originated from. 2)She was Philippina Barbara van der Hoeven, born in Rotterdam in 1738, died in 1790 in The Hague. John Hope was part of the Amsterdam based family of bankers. On at least two occasions (1787 and 1789), the Groeninx van Zoelen family visited her and her children at Bosbeek. 3)Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 65, Verschot en Stalboek 1783-1799: 6 June 1787, and August 1789.

1788 whale bone purchase

That may be important when we see this in relation to the fact that in 1788 (between those visits) Groeninx purchased 6 jaw bones of a whale. 4)Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 1348, Kwitanties en andere bijlagen bij de kasboeken (1788). As far as we know, these bones were not used at Huys ten Donck. 5)People familiar with the situation will note that there ís the so-called whale bridge (walvisbrug) at Huys ten Donck. But this was built in an area that was layed out c1792 (Nieuwe Werk). The family purchased two jaw bones in that same year, probably to function as supports for the bridge. The six bones bought a few years earlier obviously were in use somewhere else. (Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 65, Verschot en Stalboek 1783-1799: July 1792).

Seeing the amount of people involved in procuring these bones, and the person paying for it in the end (the Rotterdam realtor Manta Mijndert van der Loeff), this seems to have been a team effort. Could it be these six jaw bones were a gift to a friend who was going through rough times, being a widow with three children? It could, and it could not.
Here’s hoping for some evidence to pop up, one way or the other.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I have not succeeded to take a photo of that, but it was still there a year ago. The house is currently for sale, but in a derelict state. I think I’ve been in the house only once during the 1970s, and even then the interior sort of looked like it does on the realtors photos.
2. She was Philippina Barbara van der Hoeven, born in Rotterdam in 1738, died in 1790 in The Hague. John Hope was part of the Amsterdam based family of bankers.
3. Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 65, Verschot en Stalboek 1783-1799: 6 June 1787, and August 1789.
4. Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 1348, Kwitanties en andere bijlagen bij de kasboeken (1788).
5. People familiar with the situation will note that there ís the so-called whale bridge (walvisbrug) at Huys ten Donck. But this was built in an area that was layed out c1792 (Nieuwe Werk). The family purchased two jaw bones in that same year, probably to function as supports for the bridge. The six bones bought a few years earlier obviously were in use somewhere else. (Stadsarchief Rotterdam, toegang 30, Archief van het Huys ten Donck te Ridderkerk, inv.nr 65, Verschot en Stalboek 1783-1799: July 1792).
Summary

De walvisbank die ooit in de tuin van Groenendaal in Heemstede stond, was een van de bekendste uit kaakbeenderen van walvissen opgebouwde tuinornamenten. Als datering wordt het begin van de 19de eeuw aangehouden, op het moment dat Adriaan Elias Hope eigenaar was van zowel Bosbeek als Groenendaal.
In de late jaren 1780 zien we aanwijzingen voor een hechte band tussen de moeder van Adriaan Elias Hope, de uit Rotterdam afkomstige Philippina Barbara van der Hoeven, en de eveneens in Rotterdam gevestigde familie Groeninx van Zoelen. Die laatsten kopen tussen twee bezoeken aan Bosbeek in, 6 walviskaakbeenderen.
Hier wordt de vraag gesteld of die beenderen misschien voor Bosbeek bedoeld waren?

6 Responses to “Whale bone garden structures”

  1. on 07 Jun 2014 at 7:59 pmSorbus

    There’s also Whalebone Park, Barnet, in north London. It has a bone arch gateway:

    http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/139403

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-169874800.html

  2. on 08 Jun 2014 at 12:52 amHvdE

    See, they are everywhere! :-)
    Thanks for this addition, I am sure there is a long list that can be compiled over this topic…

  3. on 16 Jun 2014 at 1:19 pmHvdE

    About Whalebone Park (source: http://www.barnet.gov.uk/info/940044/barnet/740/barnet/7):

    “More curiously on Wood Street there is a house called The Whale Bones, which gets its name from two large whale bones in the entrance way. There is a local legend that the polar explorer John Franklin (1786-1847) put up the first set of whale bones up some time in the 1830s.
    Another set was put up around 1875, which were in turn replaced in 1939 by the present bones. The bones are 24 foot long and come from a 90 foot Blue Whale caught in the South Seas.”

    I found one other London park where whalebone arches were set up, at Peckham Rye Park (although only for a short period, it seems):
    http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2582/history

  4. on 12 Aug 2014 at 11:14 amWim Meulenkamp

    En dan hebben we natuurlijk nog de duiventoren in het park van
    huis Doorn, die op een stel walvisribben stond maar die helaas door houten spanten is vervangen. Van Laar’s Magazijn van tuinsieraaden geeft twee voorbeelden van het gebruik van walvisbeen. In Amstelveen ben ik een stel walvisbenen als poort tegengekomen, en er stonden twee poorten in het park van Tong Castle, Shropshire, voorzien van latijnse inscriptie die erop duidden dat we deze moesten interpreteren als het vrouwelijk pudendum.
    Natuurlijk zijn er wel walvisbenen hier en daar aan en in kerken en stadhuizen te vinden – de Grote Kerk van Scheveningen staat me bij, en een aan de zijgevel van een Westfaals stadhuis.

  5. on 12 Aug 2014 at 11:28 pmHvdE

    Een inscriptie, da’s interessant. Ik moet toch de tuin van Schelluinderberg eens binnensneaken om te zien of dat hier ook het geval is. Het staat te koop, maar ik geloof niet dat ik eruit zie als iemand die 8,5 ton (and then some, voor de verbouwing/restauratie) te besteden heeft…

  6. on 20 Sep 2014 at 7:36 pmHvdE

    Today this came by on Twitter via https://twitter.com/LeNostre:

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