Page name: RR.In The Heart Of The Sea [Logged in view]
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This book is an account of the Nantucket whaleship the Essex, which was sunk on the 20th of November 1820. It was the events surrounding this ship that inspired Herman Melville to write the fictitious story of Moby Dick, but where the fiction ends when the ship is sunk the true story only really begins. Philbrick analyses two seperate published accounts of the whaleship disaster - those of it's Captain, George Pollard Jr and it's First Mate, Owen Chase. However, it also goes on to compare these with a manuscript discovered in the 1960's that was made by the ship's Cabin Boy and the youngest member of it's crew, Thomas Nickerson. Out of the total crew of twenty one only eight survived and Philbrick has done his utmost to research each of them and compile from all their own reports one of the most accurate narratives of the events involved. Beginning with a brief history of the island of Nantucket and it's industrious Quakerism, he details everything from the commission of the crew, to their departure from the island, their hunt for the elusive Sperm Whales leading up to the whalestrike and then the epic journey that ensues across almost five thousand mile's of open water. During this journey he explores the depths of the remaining crew's mindsets, and how their emotions are shattered and torn during a storm of almost biblical proportion that seperates one of their three whaling boats from the others - the boat of Chase and Nickerson. In a bitter twist of irony it is these two fortunate soul's boat that is the first rescued, amazingly by another whaleship captained by none other than the cousin of one of their own sailors. The book continues well beyond the others subsequent rescues though, and goes on to describe the welcoming home of the first survivors - heralded as heroes and credited with saving the crew by Chase's own account and glamourisation of his part in what happens after the sinking of the Essex, and then the shunning of the rest of the remaining crew, branded as cannibals and Jonahs. The penultimate chapter details what happened to the crew following their return home to Nantucket, explaining what they did with the rest of their lives and desribes how Chase's account damaged the reputation of Captain Pollard so much so that after another ship he commands is sunk, he never receives another commission in his life. The epilogue finishes the book with an eeiry hail back to it's main subject - the stranding of a Sperm Whale on the beaches of Nantucket 177 years after the disaster, with several broken ribs due to striking an unknown ship. Perhaps this book will not appeal to everyone, as Philbrick is primarily a maritime writer and it is filled with nautical terms that are not necessarily explained, rather he expects the reader to understand them but I would still recommend it to anyone who has even a vague interest in naval and maritime accounts as it is one of the most analytical and accurate records of a sea disaster I have ever read.
PJR 12th June 2009
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