movie review: In The Heart Of The Sea
by Bob Yunger
Heart Of The Sea, big screen movie in 3D, directed by Ron Howard. I love movies based on real events, and this is a great movie, with maybe instant classic status. But it could have been more specific about the cannibalism the survivors of the 1820 New England whaling ship Essex endured to stay alive while adrift after their 87-foot ship is “stove in” and sank by a huge white sperm whale of roughly equal length. If it’s historical fact then it wouldn’t be too much to ask to show them slaughtering a corpse or two, would it? There were other parts that went by too fast as well, two being the tension of the class friction between the captain and first mate. Also the storm scene when they first leave port. One minute they’re arguing among themselves then clouds gather then they almost sink and then boom it’s over. Oh, what? But I liked the way the writer Herman Melville is portrayed as a tortured artist in search of inspiration because he feels like time is running out for him to write a work worthy of the ages. I don’t know if that’s really how he felt but we do know he went on to write Moby Dick. His story was powered by something somewhere. This was my first movie viewed in a theater in 3D and I found the attempt at an increased depth perception to be a bit distracting. Next time I’ll watch it the traditional way.
Only superficially related to the movie, here below is an account about the fate of the real whale ship Essex, reposted from whaleshipessexwreck.blogspot.com:
Nantucket men preferred to sail with men born and bred on the island, but the “whaling capital of the world” could no longer supply all the manpower needed so captains were beginning to recruit “coofs,” men from the Cape or mainland. These men were usually inexperienced, hoping to learn the trade on their first voyage. Many of them were black men, seeking the relative equality they enjoyed aboard whaling ships.
Captain Pollard gathered his crew of 20 men into three whaleboats. After four torturous months at sea, five surviving crewman, all Nantucketers, were rescued by whaling ships off the coast of Chile. These five, and the three who stayed on the island, were the only survivors of the ordeal.
IN POLLARD’S BOAT (6 men):
Pollard took all Nantucketers into his boat which was found on 23 February by the American whaling ship Dauphin. Pollard and Ramsdell, barely alive, were also returned to Valparaiso. They were reunited in March on the USS Constellation, where the captain was told about the three men left on the Island.
Captain George Pollard Jr. (Captain) ~ Was born in Nantucket, the son of a ship’s captain. Pollard and the others on his boat made the same dreadful decision that Chase and his companions would eventually make. The whaling ship Dauphin rescued him on 23 February 1821. He sailed only once more from Nantucket, as the Captain of the whaling ship Two Brothers. In March 1823, the ship was wrecked on a coral reef. Pollard returned to Nantucket a broken man, and served out 45 years as a night watchman.
Charles Ramsdell (Sailor) ~ Was born in Nantucket. The whaling ship Dauphin rescued him on 23 February 1821. He captained the General Jackson on a successful trip before his retirement from the sea. Thomas Nickerson became a captain in the Merchant Service before retiring to run a boarding house in Nantucket.
Lawson Thomas (Sailor) ~ Died on 20 January.
Owen Coffin (Sailor) ~ Of the Nantucket Island Coffins. Faced with a long lingering death, the crew suggested they draw lots to see who should next be eaten, the unlucky candidate to first be shot by one of his companions. By a cruel irony, it was Pollard’s 17-year-old cousin, Owen Coffin, who drew the shortest straw. Pollard at once said, “My lad, my lad, if you don’t like your lot, I’ll shoot the first man that touches you.” But Coffin was resigned to his fate. He said, “I’ll like it as well as any other.” He was shot on 11 February by childhood friend Charles Ramsdell, who drew the next shortest lot.
Barzillai Ray (Sailor) ~ Of Nantucket. Died on 11 February. He too was eaten.
IN CHASE’S DAMAGED BOAT (5 men):
Chase had some Nantucketers, some “coofs” and one black man. Found by the British ship Indian. The three were taken to Valparaiso, Chili.
Owen Chase (First Mate) ~ Was born in Nantucket. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. Owen’s account, the “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex”, was used by Herman Melville as one of the inspirations for his novel “Moby Dick”. He was appointed Captain of the Carroll in 1832 and made two very successful voyages into the South Pacific before retiring from the sea in 1840, partly due to ill health. For the rest of his life, he suffered from debilitating headaches, which seemed to owe their origins to the events of 1821. Towards the end of his life he became mentally unstable, and was found to be hoarding food in the attic of his Nantucket home on Orange Street. He died in March 1869, aged 71.
Benjamin Lawrence (Boat steer) ~ Of Nantucket. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. Went on to captain two successful whaling voyages aboard the Dromo and the Huron. Thereafter, he retired to the life of a farmer, and died at the age of 80.
Richard Peterson (Sailor) ~ Of New York. Let them every day in prayer and whose hymn signing in stronger days had comforted them. Died 18 Jan 1851 ‘having made up his mind’, as Chase later described it. He was buried at sea. BLACK?
Isaac Cole (Sailor) ~ From Barnstable. Died on 8 February, ‘in the most dreadful of agonies’ in Chase’s boat. By now the food was almost gone and it was decided that they would use his body for food. Chase wrote, “We separated the limbs from the body, and cut all the flesh from the bones, after which, we opened the body, took out the heart, and then closed it again, sewed it up as decently as we could, and committed it to the sea.” Both Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson readily agreed, knowing that their food supplies were perilously low.
Thomas Nickerson (Cabin Boy) ~ Was born in Harwich. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. His account, “The Loss of the Ship Essex Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats”, was lost until 1960. Its significance was realized in 1980, when it came into the hands of Nantucket whaling expert, Edouard Stackpole. It was published by the Nantucket Historical Association in 1984.
IN JOY’S BOAT (6 men):
Second mate Matthew Joy had a “coof” and the rest of the blacks. On 29 January his boat became separated from Pollard’s and was never seen again.
Matthew Joy (Second Mate) ~ Of Nantucket. 10 January 1851, Matthew was the first man to die. Chase maintained that he had been of a sickly constitution in any event, and that his death was as much due to that as the hardships of the voyage. His body was committed to the ocean the following day.
Obed Hendricks (Boat steer) ~ Of Nantucket. Took command of boat after Joy’s death. Never found.
Charles Shorter (Sailor) ~ Died on 23 January and eaten by his companions.
Isaiah Sheppard (Sailor) ~ Died on 27 January and eaten by his companions.
Samuel Reed (Sailor) ~ Died on 28 January and eaten by his companions.
Joseph West (Sailor) ~ Never found.
Henry De Witt (Sailor) ~ Never found. BLACK?
William Bond (Steward) ~ Never found. BLACK?
THREE STAYED BEHIND ON DULCIE ISLAND:
A month into the voyage, they happened upon an unpopulated island where they were able to restock their food and water. Three men chose to remain on the island rather than face the open sea again. After 111 days on the island, they were rescued, but their stay on the island was not much better than those who were in the boats.
Thomas Chappel (Boat steer) ~ Stayed behind on Dulcie Island. Rescued on 5 April 1821. An Englishman, he became a missionary preacher, and died of plague-fever on Timor.
Seth Weeks (Sailor) ~ Of Barnstable. Stayed behind on Dulcie Island. Rescued on 5 April 1821. He alone seems to have immediately retired from seafaring, retiring to Cape Cod.
William Wright (Sailor) ~ Of Barnstable. Stayed behind on Dulcie Island. Rescued on 5 April 1821. He was drowned in a hurricane while sailing in the West Indies.