WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ESSEX?

Today, Nantucket Island off the coast of New England in the United States, is a quiet peaceful place but its cobbled streets and large sea-fronted mansions are a legacy of a by-gone era.

That by-gone era lasted from 1720 until roughly 1860 and centred around the industry of hunting sperm white whales for both their blubber skin and liquid wax contained in their head which possessed great commercial value for many purposes.

This is the true story of one ship, the Essex, which set sail on a whaling mission on 2nd August 1819, with a crew of twenty captained by George Pollard with first mate Owen Chase.

The ship was 89 feet long and weighed 239 tons.

The Essex had reached the equator by November 1820 and was then two thousand miles from the nearest land in the middle of the pacific ocean.

The sperm whale is no mean adversary and the ferocity with which it would defend itself and the other whales in the whale pod from the  harpoon attack was severely udnerestimated by the crew of the Essex..

On 20th November, a sperm white whale, supposedly 85 feet long, charged at the ship, using its big head as a battering ram and forcing the crew to abandon ship into three smaller boats.

They spent a month sailing aimlessly around until they reached the desolate Henderson Island.  Three crew members decided to stay and stick it out while the others set sail again after only a few days in the hope of reaching Chile.

Only eight of the crew of twenty survived to tell the tale of what happened, rescued three months after the biggest ordeal of their lives which saw other crew members die of sickness, convulsion and disease and which resorted them to necessary cannibalism for survival.

Arguably, the three crew who stayed on Henderson Island would not have been rescued if other crew had not set sail a second time on the smaller boats.

Had all the crew stayed on Henderson Island, it seems unlikely that any of them would have been rescued or even would have survived.

The story inspired Herman Melville to write a fictional story about an obsessed ship captain who went in pursuit of a fiercesome white whale he named Moby Dick.

The whaling industry only declined during the middle of the nineteenth century when a new source of oil and energy was discovered, petroleum, which served to make whale oil obsolete..

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