Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thar She Blows...188 Years Later

"Call Me Ishmael."

So begins the fictional tale of a sea captain whose relentless pursuit of a huge whale in the 1800s led ultimately to the captain's death, the ship's sinking, and inclusion of Moby Dick onto hundreds of required reading lists for high school students. And now, we find out that it wasn't so much fiction after all.
The recent discovery of a Nantucket whaler Two Brothers that struck the French Frigate Shoals near Hawaii in 1823 has rekindled the story of its captain, one George Pollard, Jr. whose story provided the impetus for Melville's novel.
It seems that prior to the Two Brothers' sinking, Pollard had commanded another whaling ship: the Essex that was sunk by an enraged sperm whale (really!) in 1820. Pollard and the remainder of his crew spent three months adrift in the Pacific ocean plagued by starvation, madness, and death. Pollard and the ones who survived did so by copying the methods of the ill-fated Donner party of history lore...they ate the dead sailors.
Eventually, the remaining crew was rescued and taken back to Nantucket aboard the Two Brothers (how ironic is THAT) before Pollard again set out in search of whales, only to founder yet another ship and subsequently give up the life of a sea captain. After all, he was considered quite a Jonah (unlucky) having lost two ships. Not many seamen wanted to take such a chance, especially when whaling ships spent years at sea and were in great danger as a rule anyway. Picture yourself on a small, wooden ship with an enraged several-ton whale seeking to end your life...or worse yet, imagine yourself in one of those small whaleboats used after harpooning the beast. No thanks.
Melville actually met Pollard in the 1850s when the latter was serving as the night watchman for the town of Nantucket.
The connection between fiction and fact is often more significant than we imagine.


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There actually is a book that describes the whole ordeal of the Essex. Can't remember the title...but it was a very, very good read.


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