Saturday, 24 May 2008


From the Government Gazette (Calcutta). 03/01/1828. page 4

"Below the 40th parallel south there is no law. Below the 50th there is no God." Sailors' proverb

I tried looking for the logs of the ships mentioned here in the BL collection but came up short (though I hope the explanation for the "Hope" is that the Officers fell overboard along with their gear). It's very frustrating. The East India Company, as most businesses do, destroyed much of its records when it was wound up in two waves: in 1833 when it was discontinued as a trading company, and again in 1858 when it ceased its administrative role when nationalised by the British government to create the British Raj.

When I write about Flinders' wreck adventure, I'll include some of Rolla's log entries from the episode which have luckily survived, if in a rather interesting form. There may be something at the ANMM, Greenwich or Mystic recounting this episode, as perhaps not all involved were company ships.

Sealers and whalers were shipwrecked or stranded on a depressingly regular basis, in very remote areas, as it was the nature of their work to seek hunting grounds not yet cleaned out (check here for a list of wrecks and strandings for one very small area, and here to see actually how small that area is).

You can't get much more remote - even these days - than Amsterdam and St Paul, right smack bang in the middle of the South Indian Ocean. In fact they were really less remote then than they are now - as evidenced by the sightings these men made while on the island and the nature of their rescue. Captains often visited these waters to use the islands to get an accurate fix of their position, so even if they didn't land, there was plenty of traffic and attention paid was to them. These days ships rarely keep a visual watch, so starting a bonfire or waving your arms around won't accomplish squat.

The stories that come out of these adventures scare the hell out of me and fill me with a sense of awe at how tough and resourceful these people were. Imagine yourself dumped on a cold and windy barren island, soaking wet with not so much as a knife, zippo, or a snickers bar; nor even a TV crew or youtube there to witness your solitude.

I daresay I'd be dead in a fortnight, though of course all depends on how much you are able to salvage, and the company you find yourself in.

For a good example of this check out the experiences of the Grafton and the Invercauld, which both wrecked in 1864 on the Auckland Islands. Each party was ignorant of the other, and isolated for almost two years. Much was salvaged from the Grafton, and nothing from the Invercauld. Survivors of the Grafton managed to save themselves, while those of the Invercauld ended up killing and eating each other before the few left were picked up.

I heartily recommend Raynal's and Musgrave's respective books on the wreck of the Grafton. Must write about them also at some point, though a lot already has been written and apparently there's a movie being made so perhaps won't bother. Read the original accounts though.

Modern life being what it is, wealthy tourists may now visit the subantarctic reasonably easily, though if you get stranded on St Paul or the Auckland Isles without an epirb, you'll still have a long wait between hot meals. I wish the tourists (and operators) who visit these places in old Soviet oil guzzlers, oohing and aahing at the pristine wilderness would stop and think about what they're doing for a second. And then I wish they would sink, get magically glazed in a nice big iceberg, and float around Dutchman like, to act as a warning to others. I mean, I'm not a green crusader, but you've got to be reasonable. If you want to go that much, take a sailboat, and learn something about yourself while you're at it.

Actually, last year one of these tour buses did get in a lot of trouble, and sank. God knows (should he exist in those latitudes) what's leaching out of the wreck now. I'm glad no-one was hurt, but the only reason private people should take a ship to the poles is if they are going to ram a "Scientific" whaler with it.

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