CAPTAIN GEORGE COMER
of East Haddam, Connecticut (1858 – 1937)
- Attended school for only two years
- Went to sea at age 17; participated in whaling, sealing, and coasting trades early in his career
- Enjoyed a successful career as an Arctic whaling captain
- Made 14 voyages to the Arctic between 1875 – 1919
- Developed a strong bond with the Inuit, based upon mutual respect
- Conducted pioneering fieldwork in Arctic anthropology; employing the use of photography, sound recordings, archaeology, written records and plaster casts
- Made significant collections of Inuit artifacts for several of the world’s leading natural history museums
- By about 1905 had become the world’s foremost authority on the native people of the Hudson Bay region
- Enjoyed friendships with many prominent museum professionals, scientists, and Arctic explorers
- Became a celebrity in the state of Conn.: served in the state Legislature; honored by the state after his death
- Survived 2 shipwrecks, 2 near-drownings, 1 attempted shooting
Captain George Comer (top row, middle holding Inuk child) and Whaling Crew
Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum
Capt. George Comer (1858 – 1937) enjoyed dual careers as a successful whaling master and amateur ethnologist and archaeologist. As a whaling captain, he specialized in the Eastern Arctic branch of the fishery and made fourteen voyages to that region, twice surviving shipwreck.
While in the Arctic he became fascinated with the Inuit, or Eskimos, of Hudson Bay. He developed a great respect for their culture and a genuine concern for their well-being, and consequently was able to develop an excellent relationship with them. Under the direction of several major museums and prominent anthropologists, he conducted comprehensive studies of Inuit life; the first ever made in the Hudson Bay region. These studies resulted in extensive written records, photographs, sound recordings, and museum collections of Inuit objects.
Mystic Seaport holds important collections of Comer material. These include the G.W. Blunt White Library’s manuscript Collection #102, which includes thirteen volumes of journals and notebooks, as well as correspondence and additional material. Also in the Library are several Comer-related oral histories. The Museum’s curatorial collections include nearly 400 photographic images credited to Comer, plus several ivory carvings, a narwhal tusk, and a collection of plant specimens from Hudson Bay. Collectively, these resources document the career of an extraordinary Connecticut mariner.
Compiled by: Fred Calabretta
June 29th, 2004