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The Essex, three mast whaling ship sunk in 1820



THE ESSEX - This three-masted ship was made from white oak, especially known for its strength, measuring 87 feet (26.5 metres) and just 239 tons displacement. There were 21 men on board, including first-time captain, George Pollard, Jr.

On the 20th November 1820, a huge male sperm whale was spotted close to the ship. It was estimated to be 85 feet long where a typical male was no bigger than 65 feet.

The whale may have thought that the ship was another whale invading its territory. Whatever its reason, the whale began speeding toward the Essex, ramming the port side. After passing under the ship, the animal resurfaced and appeared stunned. It then resumed its attack “with tenfold fury and vengeance,” striking the bow and causing catastrophic damage before disappearing.

The Essex capsized. The crew rowed for land, many of whom were cannnibalized by the others over an 89 day voyage. Only two survived.

First Mate Owen Chase wrote: 'Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-ship Essex' in 1821. Thomas Nickerson, a cabin boy on the Essex, later wrote his account of the sinking and rescue, but the notebook was lost and not published until 1984. Chase's work inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published in 1851.





The giant white whale in Herman Melville's Moby Dick is modeled on the notoriously hard-to-catch albino whale Mocha Dick, with the book's ending based on the dramatic account of the sinking of the whaling ship Essex in 1820 by Owen Chase.


The book by Herman Melville inspired Warner Brothers to make a film with John Barrymore in 1930, followed by another, the Moulin production with Gregory Peck in 1956, also distributed by Warner Bros.







Herman Melville




In 1820, a giant sperm whale, about 85 feet long attacked a whaleship named the Essex, causing her to sink. Her crew were left adrift in three whaleboats thousands of miles from land. One by one the men succumbed to starvation and dehydration until only eight of the original twenty men remained. They were rescued more than three months later. Seven of them had given up their lives so that the others could eat their bodies to stay alive. It’s a tale of unfathomable hardship and extreme desperation.


The reason we don't hear of whales sinking whaling ships today is to do with the modern weapons, and size of some whaling ships that deny a whale a fair chance. In days gone by with whalers in rowing boats and hand held harpoons, any rogue whale could smash the vessels of those chasing them.


Where the boats were made of wood, a seriously large whale could sink the parent whaling ship if really pushed and with adrenaline coursing their veins from multiple harpoon strikes.


Put yourself in the whale's position, if you were injured and could sink your aggressor's means of attack, you'd probably give it a go.




There are two account of the sinking of the Essex, one by Owen Chase, and another by Thomas Nickerson. These publications were the basis of a novel by Nathaniel Philbrick in 2010, later made into a film starring Chris Hemsworth in 2015.





Though not a re-telling of the classic tale, in that the protagonist John Storm is trying to save a giant whale called Kulo Luna, rather than hunt it down, the concept of a whale sinking a whaling ship such as the Essex, is at the heart of the Jameson Hunter story development, such that it may please readers who are familiar with the original work of Herman Melville. As a fictional work, it is at least soundly based on the premise that a rust bucket could be sunk, if a cetacean had sufficient cause to defend another whale.












Shard Protest

51° 30' N, 0° 7' 5.1312'' W

Chapter 1

Arctic Melt

580 W, 750 N

Chapter 4

Sydney Australia

330 S, 1510 E

Chapter 6

Bat Cave

330 20’S, 1520 E

Chapter 8

Whale Sanctuary

200 N, 1600 W

Chapter 10


330 N, 1290 E

Chapter 13

Solar Race

200 N, 1600 W

Chapter 14

Darwin to Adelaide

130 S, 1310 E – 350 S, 1380 E

Chapter 15

Six Pack

200 N, 1600 W

Chapter 16

Whaling Chase

240 N, 1410 E

Chapter 20

Empty Ocean

200  N, 1600 E  (middle of Pacific)

Chapter 24

Billion Dollar Whale

250 N, 1250 E

Chapter 26

Rash Move

140 N, 1800 E

Chapter 27

Off Course

150 N, 1550 E

Chapter 28

Shark Attack

100 N, 1650 E

Chapter 29

Sick Whale

100 N, 1650 E

Chapter 30

Medical SOS

100 N, 1650 E

Chapter 31

Whale Nurse

100 N, 1650 E

Chapter 33

Storm Clouds

150 S, 1550 E

Chapter 34

The Coral Sea

150 S, 1570 E

Chapter 36

Plastic Island

20 S, 1600

Chapter 39

Media Hounds

170 S, 1780E

Chapter 40

Breach of Contract

200 S, 1520 E

Chapter 42

Fraser Island

250 S, 1530 E

Chapter 43


250 S, 1530 E

















The revenge of a whale or an accidental tragedy? A dramatic retelling of the story that inspired Herman Melville's classic novel will be hitting our screens on BBC One this Sunday - but do whales really attack humans intentionally?

Sperm whales are relatively placid mammals and very few incidents in modern times suggest otherwise. They mainly feed on squid and rarely attack, apparently only when mistaking other mammals for seals or prey.

In his 1839 book about the natural history of sperm whales, Thomas Beale, a surgeon aboard a whaleship, described them as "a most timid and inoffensive animal readily endeavouring to escape from the slightest thing which bears an unusual appearance".

But Dr Richard Bevan, a zoologist and lecturer at Newcastle University, suggests that a sperm whale may remember if it was previously attacked.

"I have no doubt that an individual would remember being harpooned and might respond aggressively if it thought that it was threatened," he said.

"On the other hand a large vessel like a whaling boat would probably look like a very large threat, even to a full grown sperm whale, so I'd have thought it more likely to have moved away."

But 19th century literature seems to suggest otherwise, with numerous stories of sperm whales attacking ships on purpose. But were they fuelled by threat, hunger or, as in Melville's classic novel, even revenge?





Whale Oil - Used to lubricate machinery and provide illumination by burning it in lamps.

Spermaceti Oil - Found in the skull. Prized and highly regarded oil. Waxy and commonly used in making candles. Candles made of spermaceti were considered the best in the world, producing a bright clear flame without an excess of smoke.

Baleen - A bone-like substance used in women's corsets, hairbrushes, buggy whops, collar stays and various other products. Sometimes called the 'plastic of the 1800's'.

Ambergris - Found in the bowels. Extremely rare and valuable, worth its weight in gold. Used as a perfume fixative, and was a profitable business for colonial exports.




In 1820, a giant sperm whale, apparently 85 feet long (the average is 50ft) attacked a whaleship named the Essex, causing her to sink. Her crew were left adrift in three whaleboats (lighter boats used in the capture of whales) thousands of miles from land.

Alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean the men had to decide whether to head for the nearest islands, a thousand miles downwind to the west, or set out on an epic journey of almost three thousand miles to reach the South American mainland.

Fear of cannibals forced them to choose South America, but they never made it.

Of the 21 crew members aboard The Essex, just eight members of the crew were rescued after more than 80 days at sea; with an incredible tale of starvation, dehydration and unfathomable, mortal desperation to tell.

Two members of the crew wrote accounts of the failed voyage. First mate Owen Chase's account was a widely circulated story of the time, published just months after his return home. The other, written by cabin boy Thomas Nickerson 50 years later, was not published, but, remarkably, was discovered in an attic in 1960, 80 years after Nickerson's death.

Their accounts differ in places, but what is indisputable is that they both recall exactly how their supposedly "lucky" ship sank. It was stove by a giant whale.

Herman Melville heard this story, met with the captain of the Essex and was inspired to write his classic novel Moby Dick.






Moby Dick was actually named after a real whale, Mocha Dick, first spotted by sailors in the 19th century near the island of Mocha, near southern Chile. Whales were often given pet names by sailors, Tom and Dick were common - though there are no accounts of a Harry.

Mocha Dick was an albino whale, described by explorer Jerimiah N Reynolds as "an old bull whale of prodigious size and strength… white as wool". Legend has it that it killed 30 men and was covered in scars and punctured with spears from previous attempts to harpoon it; before eventually being slaughtered in 1838.

Sometimes described as Leviathans, sperm whales truly are creatures of mythical proportions. They have the largest teeth of any whale and live to be more than 60 years old. They can dive deeper than any other sea mammal (around 3km) in order to catch their favourite deep sea food, the elusive squid.


Whaling in the 19th century was a lucrative business as whale oil became immensely valuable for lighting oil lamps and making candles and soaps. More than 900 whaleships were out to sea in the mid-1800s, hailing mainly from American ports, with an average voyage length of three or four years.

By the mid 19th century, whale numbers were depleting rapidly. But with the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859, the American whaling industry had almost completely disappeared by the start of World War I.






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