Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The sunken ship that inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick

One of the illustrations for Moby Dick. Image from

From the New York Times, february 11st 2011:
In the annals of the sea, there were few sailors whose luck was worse than George Pollard Jr.’s.
Pollard, you see, was the captain of the Essex, the doomed Nantucket whaler whose demise, in 1820, came in a most unbelievable fashion: it was attacked and sunk by an angry sperm whale, an event that inspired Herman Melville to write “Moby-Dick.”
Unlike the tale of Ahab and Ishmael, however, Pollard’s story didn’t end there: After the Essex sank, Pollard and his crew floated through the Pacific for three months, a journey punctuated by death, starvation, madness and, in the end, cannibalism. (Pollard, alas, ate his cousin.)
Despite all that, Pollard survived and was given another ship to steer: the Two Brothers, the very boat that had brought the poor captain back to Nantucket.
And then, that ship sank, too.
On Friday, in a discovery that might bring a measure of peace to Captain Pollard, who survived his second wreck (though his career did not), researchers announced that they have found the remains of the Two Brothers. The whaler went down exactly 188 years ago after hitting a reef at the French Frigate Shoals, a treacherous atoll about 600 miles northwest of here. The trove includes dozens of artifacts: harpoon tips, whaling lances and three intact anchors.
Keep on reading the story by Jesse Mc Kinley:

Two Brothers shipwreck. Picture from New York Times. By Greg Mc Fall

Let's read Herman Melville's description of the ship Pequod:
You may have seen many a quaint craft in your day, for aught I know;—square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box galliots, and what not; but take my word for it, you never saw such a rare old craft as this same rare old Pequod. She was a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the typhoons and calms of all four oceans, her old hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia. Her venerable bows looked bearded. Her masts—cut somewhere on the coast of Japan, where her original ones were lost overboard in a gale—her masts stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne. Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled. But to all these her old antiquities, were added new and marvellous features, pertaining to the wild business that for more than half a century she had followed. Old Captain Peleg, many years her chief-mate, before he commanded another vessel of his own, and now a retired seaman, and one of the principal owners of the Pequod,—this old Peleg, during the term of his chief-mateship, had built upon her original grotesqueness, and inlaid it, all over, with a quaintness both of material and device, unmatched by anything except it be Thorkill-Hake's carved buckler or bedstead. She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
Download Moby Dick:

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