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Destruction of the larboard boat of the ANN ALEXANDER by a sperm whale in the South Pacific

Date: 1851
Overall: 192 x 281 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00006994

User Terms

    An engraving from the Illustrated London News titled 'Destruction of the larboard boat of the ANN ALEXANDER by a sperm whale in the South Pacific'. The image depicts a sperm whale breaking up the whale boat, with the crew in the water and the ANN ALEXANDER in background.
    The ANN ALEXANDER was a whaling ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts, that was rammed and sunk by a wounded sperm whale in the South Pacific on August 20, 1851. This took place 30 years after the famous sinking of the ESSEX under similar circumstances which became the inspiration to Melville's story 'Moby Dick'.
    SignificanceDespite modern views on whaling, the industry was the lifeblood for many towns in the C19th century. It was not an industry for the faint hearted with long periods at sea and dangerous working conditions. Tales of heroics were not unheard of but the very rare sinking of the ESSEX and later the ANN ALXEANDER truly were the stuff of legend.
    HistoryThis partial article tells the true story of the sinking of the ANN ALEXANDER by a large sperm whale in the Pacific, estimated to be around about 2,000–3,000 miles off the South American coast.
    After the sinking the crew were rescued by a passing ship, the NANTUCKET, and were all eventually returned to New York aboard the PROVIDENCE.
    Although not the inspiration for Melville's 'Moby Dick', the similarities between the ANN ALEAXANDER and the ESSEX sinking were uncanny.

    A partial account of the article appears below:

    "...first mate, and the latter by Captain Deblois. The whale which they had struck was harpooned by the larboard boat. After running some time, the whale turned upon the boat, and, rushing at it with tremendous violence, lifted open its enormous jaws, and, taking the boat in, actually crushed it into fragments as small as a common-sized chair!
    Captain Deblois immediately struck for the scene of the disaster with the starboard boat and succeeded, against
    all expectation, in rescuing the whole of the crew of the demolished boat, nine in number.
    There were now 18 men in the starboard boat, consisting of the captain, the first mate, and the crews of both boats. The frightful disaster had been witnessed from the ship, and the waist-boat was called in to readiness and sent to their relief. The distance from the ship was about six miles. As soon as the waist-boat arrived the crews were divided, and it was determined to pursue the same whale and make another attack upon him. Accordingly they separated, and proceeded at some distance from each other, as is usual on such occasions, after the whale. In a short time they came up to him and prepared to give him battle.
    The waist-boat, commanded by the first mate, was in advance. As soon as the whale perceived the demonstration being made upon him, he turned his course suddenly, and, making a tremendous dash at this boat, seized it with his wide-spread jaws, and crushed it into atoms, allowing the men barely time to escape his vengeance by throwing themselves into the ocean.
    Captain Deblois, again seeing the perilous condition of his men, at the risk of meeting the same fate, directed
    his boat to hasten to their rescue, and in a short time succeeded in saving them all from a death little less horrible than that from which they had twice so miraculously escaped. He then ordered the boat to put for the ship as speedily as possible; and no sooner had the order been given, than they discovered the monster of the deep making towards them with his jaws widely extended.
    Escape from death now seemed totally out of the question. They were six or seven miles from the ship; no aid even
    there to afford them necessary relief; and the whale, maddened by the wounds of the harpoon and lances which
    had been thrown into him, and seemingly gloating with the prospect of speedy revenge, within a few cables' length.
    Fortunately the monster came up and passed them at a short distance. The boat then made her way to the ship,
    and they all got on board in safety.
    They again pursued the whale, and threw a lance into his head; but it being near sundown they gave up the chase
    for the night.
    Captain Deblois was at this time standing in the nigh heads on the starboard bow, with craft in hand ready to
    strike the monster a deadly blow, should he appear, the ship moving about five knots: when working on the side of
    the ship he discovered the whale rushing towards her at the rate of 15 knots. In an instant the monster struck
    the ship with tremendous violence, shaking her from stern to stern. Captain Deblois immediately descended into the
    forecastle, and there, to his horror, discovered that the monster had struck the ship about two feet from the keel,
    abreast the foremast, knocking a great hole entirely through her bottom, through which the water roared and
    rushed impetuously.
    Springing to the deck, he ordered the mate to cutaway the anchors and get the cables overboard to keep the ship from sinking, as she had a large quantity of pig-iron on board. In doing this the mate
    succeeded in relieving only one anchor and cable clear, the other having been fastened around the foremast. The
    ship was then sinking very rapidly. The captain went into the cabin, where he found three feet of water; he, however, succeeded in procuring a chronometer, sextant, and chart. Reaching the deck, he ordered the boats to be
    cleared away, and to get water and provisions, as the ship was heeling over. He again descended to the cabin,
    but the water was rushing in so rapidly that he could procure nothing.
    He then came up on deck, ordered all hands into the boats, and was the last himself to leave the ship, which he did by throwing himself into the sea and swimming to the nearest boat. The ship was on her beam-ends, her top gallant-yards underwater.
    They then pushed off some distance from the ship, expecting her to sink in a very short time. Upon an examination of the stores they had been able to save, they discovered that they had only 12 quarts of water, and not a mouthful of
    provisions of any kind. The boats contained 11 men each, were leaky, and, night coming on, they were obliged to
    bale them all night to keep them from sinking.
    Next day they returned to the ship, but could save little. With the hope of reaching a rainy latitude, they directed
    their course northerly, and on the 22nd of August, at about 5 o'clock p.m., they had the indescribable joy of
    discerning a ship in the distance. They made a signal, and were soon answered, and in a short time they were
    reached by the good ship NANTUCKET, of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Captain Gibbs, who took them all on board,
    clothed and fed them, and extended to them in every way the greatest possible hospitality.
    On the succeeding day Captain Gibbs went to the wreck of the ill-fated ANN ALEXANDER, for the purpose of trying to
    procure something from her; but, as the sea was rough, and the attempt considered dangerous, he abandoned the
    project. The NANTUCKET then set sail for Paita, where she arrived on the 15th of September, and where she landed
    Captain Deblois and his men."
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