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.