The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex

by Owen Chase

Other authorsGary Kinder (Introduction), Iola Haverstick (Editor), Betty Shepard (Editor)
Paperback, 1999

Call number

910.45 CHA



Harcourt Brace (1999), 106 pages


Filled with art, photographs, maps, and artifacts, this is a richly illustrated edition of first mate Owen Chase's memoir of the sinking of the Essex by a sperm whale.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
Including a glossary of terms, this book is only 106 pages long, but packs a wallop! Gary Kinder, himself an author, wrote the introduction to this small narrative, and his ending words were "As you sit in your chair, the subliminal thought recurs: My god, this really happened." I knew then I was
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in for a good read.

The first mate of the whaleship Essex, Owen Chase, set down a chronological narrative of events that happened to himself and the crew of the Essex, after the fact. In November of 1820, the whaleboats of the ship were out trying to make progress on capturing & killing sperm whales when the Essex was rammed by another whale. This attack left a hole in the ship, and although the crew were able to board the ship & take out provisions, they were all forced to take to the whaleboats out in open sea. Twenty men started on the journey; only five survived. This book narrates what happened between the shipwreck & rescue. When you read this, you must consider that this book was a product of the times, so the reader gains the vantage point of one of the survivors, making the book all the more intriguing.

I liked this book very much; I will probably wish to reread it at some point. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member kropotkin
Read it for the thrilling account of the sole recorded instance of a whale fighting back and winning. Compulsive.
LibraryThing member AlCracka
The Essex is one of the stories that inspired Moby-Dick, the other being the legend of Mocha Dick, an albino sperm whale who was a dick. This edition collects every first- or firstish-hand account of the Essex, which is almost certainly more than you need.

The main narrative, and the one Melville
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got his hands on, is that of first mate Owen Chase. As a true adventure story, it's pretty great. Gripping stuff. Surprisingly well [almost certainly ghost-]written.

As a companion read to Moby-Dick, though, it's not terribly helpful. The description of the actual fight with the whale has clear connections to Moby-Dick, particularly in a short passage describing the strength of a sperm whale's head; it's the inspiration for chapter 76, which is an entire chapter about sperm whale heads because that's how Melville rolls.

The other major narrative here is by a cabin boy named Nickerson, and it's even less useful. He goes into much greater length about the pre-ramming part of the trip, which is a little fun - he's a kid, so he's mostly interested in relating awesome stories about pirates that he heard from other people - but once the ramming happens, he basically plagiarizes Chase the rest of the way.

There are also some notes by Melville that are nowhere near as interesting as you'd like them to be - mostly concerned with starfuckerish descriptions of his own encounter with Chase - and some random other letters and bits, dimly interesting due to the lack of agreement about who exactly shot Owen Coffin.

Four stars for being a great survival story; two stars for we didn't really need all that other stuff.
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LibraryThing member Mrsbaty
This is the same book that was originally published in 1821 as Narratives of the Wreck of the Whale-Ship Essex. It's fantastic. I'm immediately recommended it to my husband as a quick and engrossing non-fiction book. Herman Melville based a good deal of Moby-Dick on this narrative. I read it
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because I'm doing a historical presentation on Moby-Dick. I'll probably read it again just for the fun of it.

This is the first-person account of the disaster of the Essex by the first mate. The Essex was sunk by a whale and all hands had to escape in the whale boats 1000 miles from land. Chase's narrative is straight forward but wow, he has you in the boat with him. The hardships they endured are astounding but so is the ingenuity and will to live that the sailors displayed. They dealt with hunger, thirst, heat, sharks and eventually had to make very tough decisions to stay alive. Eight of the initial crew of 20 made it home. If you love a good adventure story or a good survival story or just a good story, this is it. For having been written in 1821, the language is very accessible. Highly recommended.

I was fortunately able to get this book from Netgalley in exchange for review.
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LibraryThing member la2bkk
Compelling first hand account of the incredible survival story of various members of the Essex whaler, sunk by an 85 foot sperm whale in the Pacific thousands of miles from the South American coast. Written by the ship's first mate Owen Chase, this brief book is a must read on many levels. Truth
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really can be stranger than fiction.
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LibraryThing member AmyMacEvilly
Very straightforward account. I actually read this in the Cosimo Classics edition via Hoopla. This is the incident that inspired Moby Dick. The account narrates the whale's attack on the ship and the misery of the crew as they survive in small boats and try to make their way to the west coast of
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South America. I read this to accompany the graphic novel adaptation of MD. You can think of MD as the prequel, and this as the sequel. I might be ready to take on the real thing now.
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