1819 New Hampshire: A Whale Is A Fish?

On 2 February 1819 the New-Hampshire Gazette of Portsmouth New Hampshire reported on a courtroom dispute about the classification of whales as follows:

“A very long and sage trial has been carrying on in our court, relative to the question whether a whale is a fish, referring to some dispute relative to fish oil.  On this occasion all the learned men of the age have been called in to decide on the question, and the majority of opinions maintain that a whale is not a fish. This is stretching a point of learning to a dangerous length, and all the minute distinctions of genera, in the science of icthiology, will not prevent a man of common sense from believing that a whale is a fish, for the simple reason that it is not a beast or a bird. After all, we adopt the motto of Ollapod, in such cases, “rhubard is rhubarb, call it what you please.” 

The case was finally decided that a whale is a fish; and whale oil is fish oil. —N.Y. Adv.” 

Headline: [Trial; Court; Occasion]; Article Type: News/Opinion Paper: New-Hampshire Gazette; Date: 02-02-1819; Volume: LXIV; Issue: 10; Page: [1]; Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire


This strange story of misguided icthiology is my submission for the 2nd Edition of  “Cabinet of Curiousities” Carnival.  Feel free to join this and other stranger submitters! (See submissions to the first edition)

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