Because of good reports from early European visitors, Russell became a popular base for visiting Pacific whalers who needed a base to pick up supplies, get repairs done, and give their men shore time.
For nearly a hundred years whalers, particularly American, visited the port. Kororareka changed to accommodate their needs with waterfront grog shops and brothels a feature. It earned the nickname Hell-hole of the Pacific.
Russell Museum has whaling items – harpoons, flensing spades, oars and whale bones. There are examples of scrimshaw, baleen and a whale embryo.
Russell also had a nearby shore based whaling station at Whangamumu. The binoculars used to spot seasonally passing whales are on display together with a sample of whale oil.
Russell Museum has the whaling record book of James Macfarlane, who acted as the United States Consular agent in the Bay of Islands in the 1870s.
The leather covered book has entries for each visiting American whaler, giving the name of the ship, her home port, owners, and where and when she was built. There is also the name of the captain, first and second mates, the cargo, the date of arrival and departure, and the destination. Men discharged or shipped are also listed.