HONOLULU (Reuters) - Marine archeologists off Hawaii have found the sunken remains of a 19th-century whaling vessel skippered by a captain whose ordeal from an earlier shipwreck inspired the Herman Melville classic “Moby-Dick.”
Iron and ceramic scraps from the Nantucket whaling ship Two Brothers were located in shallow waters nearly 600 miles from Honolulu in the remote chain of islands and atolls that make up the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The ship, which struck a reef and foundered in 1823, was skippered by Captain George Pollard Jr. Two years earlier, Pollard commanded another ship that was rammed by a whale and sank in the South Pacific in a saga immortalized in Melville’s 1851 novel “Moby-Dick.”
The discovery was unveiled on Friday by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which led the initial 2008 expedition to the wreck and subsequent explorations of the site during the past two years.
NOAA said it marks the first discovery of a sunken whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts, birthplace of a U.S. whaling industry that played a key role in America’s economic and political expansion into the Pacific.
The wreck lies in an area protected by the U.S. government as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a fact that expedition leader Kelly Gleason, a marine archeologist, said was key in helping to preserve the site.
“Anywhere else in the world a ship like this in 10 to 20 feet of water probably would have been looted, or picked apart or just damaged by development,” she told Reuters.
Artifacts found there include two anchors, three cast-iron trypots used for melting whale blubber, remains of the vessel’s rigging, harpoon tips, whaling lances and cooking utensils.
The material and design of the items confirmed they were of 1820s New England origin, and no other whaler from that era is known to have wrecked in the vicinity, Gleason said.
She recalled the team reaching its conclusion after a day’s work on the reef in 2010. “We sat down to really record all of the different artifacts ... and there was a moment when we all looked at each other and said, ‘This is the Two Brothers.’”
Official announcement of the find came on the 188th anniversary of the night the Two Brothers went down off French Frigate Shoals in February 1823. The crew of about 20 survived by clinging to small boats until they were rescued the next morning, according official histories of the accident.
Two years earlier, Pollard was the captain of another Nantucket whaler, the Essex, which was rammed by a sperm whale and sank in a more tragic shipwreck that became the basis for Mellville’s tale about Captain Ahab and the vengeful white whale, Moby-Dick.
Pollard and other survivors of the Essex ended up drifting at sea for three months before they were rescued, resorting to cannibalism of their dead shipmates to stay alive. After the wreck of Two Brothers, Pollard never captained a ship again, and spent the rest of his career back as a night watchman.
Melville met Pollard in the 1840s, but the character of Ahab is believed to have been modeled not on the unlucky sea captain but perhaps on the Essex’s first mate, Gleason said.
Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman; additional reporting by Suzanne Roig in Honolulu; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Greg McCune