Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks sometimes 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 in command of the Two Brothers, another whaler bound back for the Pacific. The ship struck a reef in Febraury 1823 in shoals to the northwest of the Hawaiian Islands, and, although he was reluctant to abandon ship, his crew safely evacuated to the nearby whaler Martha. Pollard never received another command.

In 2008, NOAA marine archeologists discovered the wreck of the Two Brothers. Working at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i, they discovered a cooking pot and anchor 15 feet down on the seabed. Further exploration led by Dr. Kelly Gleason revealed more pots, bricks, grinding stones, and harpoons—all artifacts pointing to whaling activity in the early 1800s.

While the Two Brothers wreck claimed no lives, other shipwrecks involved the tragic loss of life. In these situations, marine archaeologists follow the same protocols as their land-based colleagues, respecting mariners’ watery graves.

After 1820, it became known among whalemen that the equatorial Pacific was a promising region to hunt the prized sperm whale. Charts by Charles Haskins Townsend document the number of whales captured “along the line.”

Whaling in the Pacific led to increased worldwide awareness of atolls and islands in the Pacific. Some of these islands were populated by indigenous peoples, who began trading with the increasingly frequent whaleships. Other islands were uninhabited, and European and American captains often gave them new names. Nantucket captain Elisha Folger named one island “New Nantucket” in 1818. Subsequently, New Bedford captain Michael Baker claimed the island and gave it another name—his own. He sold the island to investors, and it was eventually mined for guano by the American Guano Company.

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.

> >