Believe me, I am no fan of the whaling industry. As an animal rights activist, I'm the one
rooting for the whale when it destroys the ship. Fortunately, whaling is now illegal, although certain countries don't honor that law, such as Japan and
Norway. However, I got seriously interested in whales when I read Herman
Melville's Moby-Dick, considered by some to be one of the greatest American
novels. Well . . . That's a matter of opinion. It was definitely one of the most bizarre novels I've ever read, and one of the most difficult, too, and
despite the horror of the subject matter, I learned a great deal about whales, which has made me interested in pursuing the subject.
This particular book is the true event on which Melville based his story. He was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, and the Essex set sail eleven days later from Nantucket, which was the whaling port of America, and perhaps the world, I believe. I was thrilled that Dover carried this narrative, and even happier that they ran it on sale when I was ready to buy it. I was unable to find it in eBook form.
It is a very short read—88 pages, most of which is the narrative of Owen Chase, who was the first mate of the Essex. He had saved his trunk when the ship went down, which contained a pencil and some paper, so he was able to keep a sort of diary. That was first published in 1821.
I had hoped to learn more about the whale, but it was not this account that spoke of it. There was a later account of a white whale, named Mocha Dick off the South American coast, which obviously Melville was aware of, too, but it was later—in the 1830s. However, it could have been the same whale, as it was full of harpoons and thought to be old.
I don't know if the whale which attacked the Essex was white. All Chase mentions is that it came at them with deliberate vengeance, which, seriously, if you were a whale and a bunch of guys were chasing you and your family and sticking harpoons in you, wouldn't you do what you needed to do to stop them? Especially if you were ninety feet long?
The Essex had taken off on August 12, 1819, sailed around Cape Horn, and traveled along up the west coast of South America, then to the Galapagos Islands, heading west along the equator. (The book includes a little map, but I also used my globe for reference.) It was on November 20 that the whales were spotted, and the men went out in the boats, (it was a crew of twenty). The boat that Chase was in got struck and sprung a hole, so they returned to the ship while the other two boats continued pursuit. It was then that they observed this monster whale coming at them at a pretty good speed and struck the ship with his head, The men were stunned, and so was the whale, but soon they realized the ship had been damaged, and the whale was returning for round two. Chase ordered the pumps going, then noticed the whale:
Accordingly they were rigged, but had not been in operation more than one minute, before I perceived the head of the ship to be gradually settling down in the water; I then ordered the signal to be set for the other boats, which scarcely had I despatched, before I again discovered the whale, apparently in convulsions, on the top of the water, about one hundred rods to leeward. He was enveloped in the foam of the sea, that his continual and violent thrashing about in the water had created around him, and I could distinctly see him smite his jaws together, as if distracted with rage and fury.
The whale recovers, and comes at them again, this time twice as fast, to finish
the job. At this time, they were more than a thousand miles from land. They lowered the spare boat, then managed to grab what they could including navigation
Soon the other two boats that had been on the chase, realized the ship was gone. When all three boats came together, they planned their course of action. They were able to salvage some food and stock the boats with water, plus some planks, sails and canvas, and other odds and ends. They spent the night and next day there, but by the 22nd they had loaded all that they could, and the Essex was now sinking fast. They divided the men between the three boats, and were off, on what proved to be the journey through hell.
I have never been on the ocean, and I have to admit, with all the seafaring novels I've read in the past few years, I probably wouldn't ever want to be. This one was the epitome of horror, well written so that the reader could actually feel they were there in the boat, starving, burning up from the sun, fighting the unending storms, (I'm dealing with those on land and that's bad enough). But I think the worst part was their thirst, being rationed only a cup of water a day. I think I would have died very soon. I drink tons of water. Of course it is the chemtrails that are super-dehydrating us these days, but—OMG just the thought of having to go without water is a nightmare in itself.
And it was theirs, too. along with their growing emaciation from slow starvation. And to exacerbate the problem, part of their supply of biscuits had gotten wet during a storm, which meant they were covered in salt water, yet they were still forced to eat them.
Our extreme sufferings here first commenced. The privation of water is justly ranked among the most dreadful of the miseries of our life; the violence of raving thirst has no parallel in the catalogue of human calamities.
Eventually they discover land. Chases's account names it at Ducie's Island in
the South Pacific, but Chappel's account calls it Elizabeth's Island, which is nearby. The map in the book names that as the one on which they landed. Their
situation was only slightly relieved. They were able to find a small spring, and a few animals which they could eat, but barely sustain them. Three of the
men, including Chappel, decide to stay there, while the others took off in the three boats with a fresh water supply. But their misery only increases. The
three boats get separated, and the third boat is lost—never recovered. The men begin dying, and the others are forced to eat them.
In the end, the two remaining boats are rescued by two different ships, with only five men in all surviving. The three men on the island are also rescued. Chase's account takes us to page 73, and the last few pages are very short accounts by Chappel and the Captain, George Pollard, who later wrecked another whaling ship and was ruined.
Not a very pretty story, but fascinating reading and testimony to the strength of the human spirit to survive under the most ghastly conditions.
All material on this site copyright © 2017 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.