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[Essex Whale-Ship Disaster.][CHAPPEL, Thomas.] An account of the loss of the Essex, from having been struck by a whale in the South Seas with some interesting particulars of the sufferings of her crew on a desert island and in the boats at sea. From the narrative of one of the survivors. London: Printed for the Religious Tract Society, [1824]. 8pp., Small 8vo. Woodcut vignette on title. Modern speckled calf with red spine label over marbled boards in period style, very good.


This scarce pamphlet recounts the event which would become a primary inspiration for Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”. On the 20th November 1820 the Essex, a whale-ship from Nantucket, sank after being attacked by a sperm whale three thousand miles off South America. While Melville is known to have possessed a copy of Owen Chase’s more substantial and widely known account of the same story, this work gives a different perspective as Chappel elected to separate, along with two others, from the sixteen other survivors and remain on Henderson Island which they encountered in the first month after the shipwreck. Of the sixteen who risked the 3,000 mile journey to South America in three boats, only Nantucketers survived. Matthew Joy’s boat, on which Chappel was boatsteerer, was never heard from again and the others suffered from unthinkable hardships culminating in the resort to cannibalism. Subsisting on a diet of turtles, sea birds and rainwater, Chappel and his companions discovered a number of skeletons in a cave before their eventual rescue in April 1821 by the Surry. An account by a mate (Edward Dobson, or W. L Edwardson) on the Surry of the rescue became the basis of the first published account of the Essex disaster in the Sydney Gazette, 9 June 1821. At least two versions of this pamphlet were printed, all are infrequently encountered. The present version is used by Penguin Books in the reprint cited below giving the date 1824, though other authorities (Forster) assert it was as late as 1830.
Forster 16. Philbrick, Nathaniel and Thomas, editors. The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale. First Person Accounts. Penguin Books, 2000. (#kfk001)