Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks ruined whaling careers. For George Pollard, Nantucket whaler and captain of the Essex, the proverbial lightning struck twice. After safely returning home in the summer of 1821, Pollard set out again that fall on the Two Brothers, a whaler bound back to the Pacif-ic. The ship struck a reef in shoals to the northwest of the Hawaiian Islands, and although he was reluctant to abandon ship, the crew safely evacuated to the nearby whaler Martha. The ship Two Brothers was lost to the sea…

…until maritime archeologists rediscovered the wreckage in 2008. Working at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i, a team of NOAA marine archeologists discovered a cooking pot and anchor sunk 15 feet onto the seafloor. Further exploration led by Dr. Kelly Gleason revealed more pots, bricks, grinding stones, and har-poons—all artifacts that pointed to whaling activity in the early 1800s.

While the Two Brothers was a victimless disaster (besides costing Pollard his career), other shipwrecks involved the tragic loss of life. In these situations, marine archaeologists follow the same protocols as their land-based colleagues, respecting the watery grave of mariners.

It was known among whalemen that along the equator there was a promising region to hunt the prized sperm whale. Charts by Charles Haskins Townsend document the number of whale kills “along the line”.

A lesser-known effect of whaling in the Pacific was a boom in the dis-covery of Pacific atolls and islands. Some of these islands, like Oahu and Tahiti, were already populated by indigenous peoples who would cater to the various needs of the increasingly frequent whaleships’ crew. Other islands were uninhabited and took their names from the captains who first discovered them. Baker Island was first discovered by Nantucket Captain Elisha Folger in 1818, who named it ‘New Nantucket.’ But this name had not caught on in 1855, by which time New Bedford whaler Captain Baker had claimed the island for himself and sold the land to the United States Government to extract its natural resources.

Perhaps the most famous shipwreck off Nantucket was the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria in 1956. On route to New York City, its “Moby Dick” was an eastbound vessel that collided with it. The vessel sank after 11 hours off the coast of Nantucket, with the loss of 46 lives.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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