In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was rammed by an angry sperm whale thousands of miles from home in the South Pacific. The Essex sank, leaving twenty crew members drifting in three small open boats for ninety days. Through drastic measures, eight men survived to reveal this astonishing tale. The Narrative of the Wreck of the Whaleship Essex, by Owen Chase, has long been the essential account of the Essex’s doomed voyage. But in 1980, a new account of the disaster was discovered, penned late in life by Thomas Nickerson, who had been the fifteen-year-old cabin boy of the ship. This discovery has vastly expanded and clarified the history of an event as grandiose in its time as the Titanic.
This edition presents Nickerson’s never-before-published chronicle alongside Chase’s version. Also included are the most important other contemporary accounts of the incident, Melville’s notes in his copy of the Chase narrative, and journal entries by Emerson and Thoreau.
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About the Author
Nathaniel Philbrick is a leading authority on the history of Nantucket Island. His In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award. His latest book is Sea of Glory, about the epic U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842. His other books include Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890 (which Russell Baker called "indispensable") and Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legend of Nantucket Island ("a classic of historical truthtelling," according to Stuart Frank, director of the Kendall Whaling Museum). He has written an introduction to a new edition of Joseph Hart's Miriam Coffin, or The Whale Fisherman, a Nantucket novel (first published in 1834) that Melville relied upon for information about the island when writing Moby Dick.
Philbrick, a champion sailboat racer, has also written extensively about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor (1987) and the forthcoming Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor's Odyssey. He was editor in chief of the classic Yaahting: A Parody (1984).
In his role as director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, Philbrick, who is also a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association, gives frequent talks about Nantucket and sailing. He has appeared on "NBC Today Weekend", A&E's "Biography" series, and National Public Radio and has served as a consultant for the movie "Moby Dick", shown on the USA Network. He received a bachelor of Arts from Brown University and a Master of Arts in American Literature from Duke. He lives on Natucket with his wife and two children.
Table of ContentsThe Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale - Thomas Nickerson, Owen Chase, and Others Edited and Introduced by Thomas Philbrick and Nathaniel Philbrick
Suggestions for Further Reading
THE ESSEX NARRATIVESFirst Reports
1. The Paddack Letter
2. The Macy LetterThe Mate's Story
1. Chase's Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex
2. Herman Melville's Annotation of Chase's NarrativeThe Boy's Story
1. Nickerson's "Desultory Sketches"
2. Nickerson's Letter to LewisThe Captain's Story
1. Excerpt from Ridgely's Letterbook
2. Excerpt from Wilke's Autobiography
3. Excerpt from Tyreman and Bennet's JournalThe Boatsteerer's Story
1. An Account of the Loss of the Essex
2. Excerpt from the Journal of the Surry
Extracts: Memories and ApocryphaNotes
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The collection of first-hand reports of the horrendous fate of the whaling ship Essex and its crew is startling and terrible. The documents are well edited with introductions for each. It is a valuable book for those interesting in the whaling industry and the dangers of that profession.
Thomas and Nathaniel Philbrick have done a remarkable and admirable job of collecting the known accounts of the wreck of the Essex, the shipwreck upon which Herman Melville based 'Moby Dick'. The complete text of the account of mate Owen Chase is presented here, along with a long sea-tale written by cabin boy Thomas Nickerson and a host of letters and pamphlets. Chase's account, long held to be the only full-length account, is engaging and fairly well written. Dubiously, it makes Chase out to be an all-round good guy that just happened to chow down on the dead bodies of his shipmates, but that's to be expected in a first-person account. Nickerson's account, discovered in 1980, is a fascinating tale that only peripherally deals with the wreck. For the most part, it is an even-handed account of the voyage up to the attack by the enraged whale and includes many digressions and asides, which are entertaining, but not necessarily why we are reading this book. Letters mentioning the wreck are included, as are marginal notes written by Melville himself. All of this is interesting enough the first or second time, but by the time you've finished this book, you've read about the horrific fate of these seaman nine times. Sometimes it's short & sweet, sometimes it's drawn out, but by and large it's the same story and the additional accounts don't really add much to anyone but an historian. One thing about the account that caused me to think was the fact that most of the sailors to die first were the black ones. In the end, no black sailors survived. It seems odd to me that, when people started dying of starvation and being eaten by their fellows, it was the black ones who happened to die first. I don't know if this means anything, and I'm not making accusations. It's just something I noticed.