This last novel I’ve read, a retelling of a famous shipwreck, was incredibly interesting. And though I’ve never heard of the Wager, which was the name of the capsized boat, the book held my attention. I also wondered, while reading gruesome details, if I’d have survived such dire circumstances.
The title of the book, fittingly, is the same as the ship that had wrecked. And the tale traces its voyage from the beginning, as it left England as a part of Commodore Anson’s squadron. Then, as they had cleared Cape Horn, albeit with a heavily damaged ship, they struck a series of rocks.
Seeking haven on a desolate Island, the mariners, who were diseased and weary, eke out a terrible existence, finding very little food on this Island.
Of course, the seamen have conflicting solutions for their dilemma. Needless to say, this fractures the crew into factions. It also causes a killing and renders the captain a deserted soul, with most of his sailors leaving him behind.
When all is said and done, three separate parties reach England. The country is entertained by stories of these survivors. The tales include thievery, mutiny and murder. And as Captain Cheap arrives years after the mutineers, the dramatic court martial becomes the climax.
I really enjoyed this book. The Author, David Grann, is equal parts historian and writer. And the information he provides, from common detriments to sailing vessels to rank and file, and Wager Island’s vegetation to nearby seafaring indigenous people, gives the events a tangible air.
But even as I say that, there are many instances that rendered disbelief. I could hardly fathom the sailors, as the crew sailed through Drake’s Passage, their boat violently tossed by treacherous waters, decimated with scurvy. Even more incredible, these ailing sailors survived a doomed ship and were ferried to a nearby island.
Yet, if these facts are to be believed, I think it’s testament to human survival instincts. Although, from reading these accounts, it’s quite obvious that, given their living conditions, the Wager’s crew, when it came to reaping the benefits of the region, were horribly inept.
There is also an odd parallel that came to me. John Byron, grandfather to the English poet Lord Byron, caused me to think of my father. And subsequently, I also thought of the many Victorian Era Easterners that relished books of the Wild West, and it made me consider what drove men to the sea.
There’s fantastical dramas in 18th century lit, many telling of daring voyages among the seven seas. That, and promises of riches, probably enticed men, like the sixteen year old Byron, to try the vast oceans. I believe similar 19th century Western tales, ones with well defined good and evil, drew people to the West. I know my Dad loves traveling to the west, and yes, my dad loves the old westerns.
And in the tradition of maritime lore, this depicts a perilous journey. More men reach bad ends than those that eventually return home. As for Wager Island, it is still an inhospitable landmass in the Pacific Ocean.
Have an excellent day!!