Phillis Seal

Date of Event: Mid 19th Century

Vessel type: Whalers

Location: Hobart & the Southern Ocean

Suggested title: A woman of consummate skill


Phillis Seal floated a number of boats—ships, in fact—in Tasmania in the 1850s. After her husband’s death in 1852, she actively managed their whaling fleet, dealing with the everyday problems and intricacies of a large business. At least 12 ships were registered in her name, including Grecian, Cheviot and the barque Aladdin. She managed, stated a competitor, with ‘consummate skill and commensurate success’. This was high praise for a pioneering businesswoman.

She even took a leadership role on behalf of other shipowners, petitioning the Hobart Marine Board for changes to the Merchant Seaman’s Act intended to make recruitment of skilled, specialized whaling crews easier.

As well as running a successful, complex shipping business the widowed Phillis raised the five of her nine children to have survived beyond infancy, and ran a number of other businesses, including a tobacco shop.

Interesting anecdote

While presumably being very busy with the whaling fleet, retail businesses, children, and philanthropy, Phillis still found time to enjoy herself, hosting ‘an exceedingly elegant Fancy Dress Ball’ for 200 guests in a wharfside shed (now Princes Wharf).

The Seal House Flag - flown from the mastheads of their whalers.

The Pacific, one of the Seal's whaling fleet. Sketched from an original painting. Maritime Museum of Tasmania

Please briefly note any objects (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the story

The Maritime Museum of Tasmania has numerous objects and documents relating to the business of whaling - a business upon which te wealth of the city of Hobart was founded.

Name of person submitting the story

Mark Hosking


AMMC Member Institution

Maritime Museum of Tasmania

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