In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex, thousands of miles from home in the South Pacific, was rammed by an angry sperm whale. The Essex sank, leaving twenty crew members floating in three small boats for ninety days. The incident was the Titanic story of its day, and provided the inspiration for Melville's Moby-Dick. The Narrative of the Wreck of the Whaleship Essex, by the ship's first mate, Owen Chase, has long been the fundamental account of the Essex's doomed voyage. But in 1980, a new account of the disaster was discovered, penned by Thomas Nickerson, the fifteen-year-old cabin boy who was steering the ship when the whale attacked. Now, Nickerson's harrowing tale can be read alongside Chase's in one authoritative edition, which includes more than a dozen other accounts from articles and newspapers, many of which have never appeared in book form.
"Here lay our beautiful ship, a floating and dismal wreck . . . at least six hundred miles from the nearest land and that land, too, in a direction rendering it impossible of aproach, being directly to the windward of us. And as the trade winds blow in the same direction the whole year around, this, of course, left us no hope in that direction. Our only chance was in a more distant land, in a more favorable position."--Thomas Nickerson
Thomas Nickerson and Owen Chase were two of the eight surviving crew members of the Ship Essex.
Thomas Philbrick is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Pittsburgh, and has edited critical editions of the works of Joshua Slocum and Henry Dana Jr.
Nathaniel Philbrick is the author of In the Heart of the Sea and director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies. He is also a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association.