Essex was an American whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which was launched in 1799. It had the reputation of being a lucky ship as the hauls were some of the best in the industry. In 1819, it left for a two-and-a-half-year voyage to the southern Pacific Ocean which had a bountiful supply of whales which provided a lot of oil, thus heat, for those living in New England and the various ports they'd reach to sell their product.
It was a very small whaler at 88 feet in length but with only 21 sailors and storage under the deck, the ship could handle a large payload. It was under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., who was 29 years old. His executive officer was only 23 and the youngest sailor on board was Thomas Nickerson who was just 14.
While harpooning whales, one of the whales (later called Moby Dick), went into an attack mode and ended up destroying the ship. Twenty survivors boarded three whaleboats (about the size of lifeboats), and they salvaged the ship’s wreckage for two days looking for food and water. They knew it was their best chance of making it to land although they weren’t too hopeful because they were a few thousand miles off the coast of South America.
Around a month after the attack, the men spotted land and were celebrating but when they landed on the beach, they found that it was uninhabited. Fortunately, they found some food and water but after a week, they realized the island couldn’t sustain all of them, so they loaded supplies and left. Three sailors stayed on the island thinking it would be better to die there than at sea. The amazing thing is that around a year later, they were rescued by a ship investigating the island and the men ended up in Australia.
After another month at sea, men were dying of dehydration and starvation. At first the survivors ate the men who died but then it wasn't enough, and they drew lots to see who would be killed so that the others could live. A total of seven crewmembers were cannibalized. During this time, the whaleboats had become separated because of winds and currents.
After more than three months at sea, one of the whaleboats was spotted by a ship and it had three survivors on it which included the Executive Officer of Essex and the young boy, Thomas Nickerson. Eventually they were transferred to the famous Navy warship the USS Constellation, so they could get home. Then Captain Pollard's whaleboat was spotted by coincidentally, another ship from Nantucket. He and only one other person was alive on the boat. Three more men were saved later from their whaleboat for a total of eight survivors.
Captain Pollard didn’t let the experience stop him and he was given command of another whaleship, but a storm caused the ship to wreck near Hawaii. Then he joined a merchant vessel and it too wrecked. He survived each time but at that point he was considered cursed, they called him Johah, and no one would hire him. He became a night watchman in Nantucket and died in 1870 at the age of 78.
In no way could I do this story justice through my post as it’s truly amazing. I strongly recommend reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about the Essex as it’s extraordinary. His 2006 book titled: “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War,” was also on the New York Time’s Best Seller List for several weeks.