The Raith was one of the ships owned by Peter Wood (1749–1826), a central figure in the whaling industry. He and his brother owned several whaling ships and a blubber-smelting business on the Leith shore. This ship model can be seen today in nearby Trinity House, home of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters – of which Wood was a member.

Each year, the Raith would sail north to the ice-bound whaling grounds of the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada. Whales – especially right whales – were highly sought after for their oil, blubber and baleen (the bristles they use to filter food). Baleen, a flexible material, were used for corset stays, parasol ribs and collar stiffeners.

The partially rigged wooden model has masts, spars, sails and simple deck details. Finished in black varnish and venetian red, it has some metal corrosion. The model has 25 small and delicate pieces made to go with it, many of them figures of whalers. Some hold tiny details like a pipe to smoke or a length of rope. There are also barrels, skiffs (small boats), a polar bear, a walrus and parts of a whale.

The model gives us a rare insight into the risky nature of early 19th-century whaling. The Raith was wrecked in 1819.

Trinity House

Trinity House and its remarkable historic collections give amazing insights into Leith’s celebrated maritime past. The present building was the Port of Leith headquarters of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters for nearly 200 years.

This charity was set up to support the needs of injured and retired seamen and their families. Its origins can be traced back to 1380, when it was granted the right to levy a tax known as prime gilt on goods imported into Leith.

Thomas Brown designed the elegant Georgian building that now stands on the Kirkgate. It was built in 1816 on the site of a former Trinity House and hospital dating from before 1550.

Read more on the history of Trinity House [PDF, 8MB]

Maritime treasure house

The layout and historic furnishings of Trinity House still have many unique features that emphasise its former maritime function.

The War Memorial Window designed by W.J.R. Cook in 1933 honours local merchant sailors who died in the First World War. It was rededicated in 1945 for those killed in the Second World War.

The ground floor has a grand entrance and inner hall, with a unique collection of chairs commissioned by the Incorporation from the Edinburgh cabinetmaker William Trotter. Off the hall is the Master’s Room, a cosy space with a fine collection of paintings showing Leith as a busy commercial port in the 1700s and 1800s.

The highlight of Trinity House is the Convening Room on the upper floor, where the Incorporation held meetings around the long mahogany table. Maritime subjects feature in the ceiling’s ornate plaster friezes, and the table now displays a fascinating variety of objects to do with shipping, navigation and the whaling industry.

On display in the room are:

  • navigational instruments
  • wartime charts
  • whaling harpoons
  • rare objects such as narwhal tusks
  • ship models – ranging from early whaling ships to modern merchant ships

Hung on the walls are portraits of famous mariners and former Masters of the Incorporation – some by the great Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn. Vasco da Gama Encountering the Spirit of the Storm, a huge oil painting by the Scottish artist David Scott, is also on display.

The vaults below the building, which date from the 1500s, once housed a school for young mariners.


Find out more about Trinity House


Date Made
Circa 1800
710 x 580 x 270mm
Property Information
Trinity House
Object Number
Access Status