Thomas Nickerson sailed on the Essex along with Owen Chase. He was 14 years old when they left Nantucket and it was his first whaling voyage. He too survived the Essex wreck, returned to Nantucket, and in his old age wrote a series of “Desultory Sketches” detailing the voyage. His manuscript was lost and was only published in 1984.
The most obvious difference between Nickerson’s story and Chase’s is the amount of time Nickerson spends telling of the voyage before the wreck. Is it because he’s a boy and it’s his first time at sea? But he’s writing as an old man. He notices birds and fish, describes every tiny island the ship stops at, recounts the habits and fashions of the peoples there. He even describes the mechanism by which the ship takes on salt at an island with waves breaking hard on the beach. Did you know that when American whalers stopped at small islands in the middle of the Atlantic to trade whale oil for produce and poultry they first went to see the American Consul for permission to trade, for example? Neither did I.
This part of the narrative is pretty wonderful; Nickerson gives such a feel for life on the ship and the excitement of the voyage, though he purposely skims over the unique practices of whaling. He goes off on tangents to talk about later trips he’s taken around the world, and his stories are fascinating. And I loved his musings on ship owners, insurers, captains, officers, sailors. Like here:
Again the charge of tyranny onboard those ships comes from another class and which is too often the case many young men who are so wild, insolent and dissipated that their parents cannot keep them at home and send them onboard a whale ship
Continue reading Can it be possible that such poor objects as we, have a home.