Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World

by Joan Druett

Paperback, 2007

Call number




Algonquin Books (2007), 272 pages


Auckland Island is a godforsaken place in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places in the world. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death.In 1864 Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew of four aboard the schooner Grafton wreck on the southern end of the island. Utterly alone in a dense coastal forest, plagued by stinging blowflies and relentless rain, Captain Musgrave inspires his men to take action. With barely more than their bare hands, they build a cabin and, remarkably, a forge, where they manufacture their tools.Incredibly, at the same time on the opposite end of the island, the Invercauld wrecks during a horrible storm. Nineteen men stagger ashore. Unlike Captain Musgrave, the captain of the Invercauld falls apart given the same dismal circumstances. His men fight and split up; some die of starvation, others turn to cannibalism. Only three survive. Musgrave and all of his men not only endure for nearly two years, they also plan their own astonishing escape, setting off on one of the most courageous sea voyages in history.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
“Deciding which version of each little event was closer to the truth was an interesting challenge” says Joan Druett in her authors note at the end of her account of two shipwrecks that happened in 1864. At the edge of the world refers to the Aukland islands group in the sub antarctic waters that lie 220 miles due south of New Zealand, where the weather is usually very unpleasant. Individuals within both groups of survivors, published accounts of their ordeals and it is from these that Druett has woven together her story of the events.

In January 1864 the Grafton was wrecked in a violent storm off the coast of the Aukland Islands, there were five survivors who made it ashore. The Islands had no settled population and the five men became castaways for eighteen months. In May of the same year The Invercauld was wrecked at the opposite end of the Islands and nineteen men made it ashore. Appalling weather and a mountainous terrain kept the two groups of castaways far apart. The Invercauld group spent 12 months on the islands but only three of the nineteen survived, whereas all five of the Grafton group made it back to civilisation.

Joan Druett has written a sort of documentary of the shipwrecks and by contrasting the two groups and moving from one story to the other she has highlighted why the small group were more successful than the larger group. Reading her account of the Grafton group is very much like reading Robinson Crusoe. Hard work, a never say die attitude and an ability to adapt and make the most of their surroundings along with their Christian ideals were the backbone to their survival. It was significant also that they managed to work together with a certain amount of camaraderie and a democratically elected leader. The Invercauld group by contrast could not overcome their reliance on the hierarchy of their naval rankings and when this failed to provide leadership the group fell apart.

These are not earth shattering events on the world’s stage, but are full of human interest. Reading about people coping with extreme conditions is fascinating to many of us and in this case knowing that the events described happened more or less as Druitt tells us, gives us a feeling of authenticity that we get when reading an extraordinary story in the newspapers. A real life adventure, although one few of us would wish to share is told brilliantly by an author who has painstakingly researched her subject and come up with an angle that is entertaining and enlightening. I was just glad to have experienced this from the comfort of my warm weatherproof study. 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
I have read the accounts of a few subantarctic shipwrecks, but never one which was as recently written and one that was so well-researched. This story was compiled from survivor accounts, official documents and newspaper clippings concerning the wreck of the Grafton in 1864 on the Auckland Islands, 300 miles south of New Zealand. It tells the story of the 5 survivors as they salvage what they can from their wrecked ship, and make a life for themselves in their wait for rescue.
The Auckland Islands are a harsh place. The main island has immense cliffs the entire western coast, it is cold, wet and tremendous storms batter it winter-long. The forest is gnarly, boggy and virtually impenetrable. The survivors faced the most shocking conditions as they wintered over, and, frequently on the brink of starvation, spent their days foraging, hunting, and trying as they could to improve their shelter.
There area many amazing things about this story, but one of the most incredible is that during their "stay", another ship wrecked at the other end of the island, a mere 20 miles away, and the parallel story of those survivors is also told. Each group knew nothing of the other. The most recent castaways faced even harsher circumstances. We come to see the value in having organisation and good leadership, the fortune of having a wrecked ship to salvage, and the importance of those first few days in getting food and shelter fast. I think this book is rare(ish),but find it if you can as it is a rollicking story- and true at that.
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LibraryThing member csayban
“Hundreds of miles from civilization, two ships wreck on opposite ends of the same deserted island in this true story of human nature at its best – and its worst.

Auckland Island is a godforsaken place in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places in the world. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death.”

-Island of the Lost

So begins Joan Druett’s book, Island of the Lost – Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World. It is a tale that would seem implausible, if not for the fact that it is all absolutely true. In 1864, near the end of the age of sail, two separate ships did indeed wreck along the coast of Auckland Island – a tiny sliver of land sticking out of the forbidding Southern Ocean – a place that remains uninhabited to this day. By piecing together logbooks, memoirs, newspaper accounts and Druett’s own personal trips to the desolate island, she is able to create a vivid account of two divergent stories of survival. The schooner Grafton and its crew of five wrecks at the southern end of the island. Through inspired leadership and the camaraderie of the whole crew, they are able to eke out an existence in spite of the vast hardships. At almost the same time, the Invercauld wrecks at the north end of the island. In contrast to the Grafton, most of the 19 surviving crew of the Invercauld quickly succumb to the elements, infighting and a leadership vacuum.

Druett does an excellent job of weaving the two stories together, contrasting a crew working together with a crew in shambles. Her credentials as a historian insure an exhaustive level of research, while her award-winning skills as a novelist ensure that the text is entirely readable. The story moves along nicely and never fails to give the reader a sense of just how precarious the castaways’ plight is. While the book spends perhaps a little too much time describing the multitude of ways to kill a seal and not quite enough time discussing the lives of the castaways after their ordeal, as a whole it is a wonderful effort at delivering a look into a place and time not widely understood. There is also a thorough collection of notes at the end that provide many more factual details. However, its greatest attribute is the way it shines a spotlight on a teachable moment of history – how survival is often determinant on who you are with and how well you work together. If you have any interest in sailing history or stories of survival in the remote reaches of the world, this is a great book to have.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
Joan Druett hit upon a gold mine of material for her book "Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World." Two different boats shipwrecked on tiny, inhospitable Auckland Island, miles off the coast of New Zealand. Completely unknown to each other, the two crews really illustrate the difference between men who are driven to survive and men who have given up. One crew worked together (and admittedly had a gun that made a big difference for its food supply) while the other crew fell apart, with most dying, unable to even try helping themselves. The facts of these true tales are really interesting, though I wasn't a huge fan of Druett's storytelling -- especially in the first half of the book... she includes lots of details about the island flora and fauna but the manner of the telling kind of pulled away from the story. I liked the second half of the book better as the story really started to come together.… (more)
LibraryThing member drneutron
Good story of not one, but two crews shipwrecked on Auckland Island. One crew worked together and accomplished some really astonishing things, like rescuing themselves. The other crew fell apart and only a few from nearly 20 survived. Really fascinating story!
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Joan Druett has rescued a shipwreck story from the mid-19th century, on an island in the sub-Antarctic south of New Zealand. Druett's sources are previously published accounts by the castaways. She paints a vivid picture of the geography and wildlife, and gives some insight into the castaways psychological state. A well balanced and nicely written book with a little bit of everything, but in the main a survival story. She reconciled relatively small differences in the accounts to the most likely version, but overall there is no great controversy. There are a couple minor unsolved mysteries, such as where the dogs came from and the smoke signal. Great story and memorable.… (more)
LibraryThing member fiverivers
Joan Druett's Island of the Lost is an impeccably researched, well-written, well-presented history of two concurrent wrecks on the Auckland Islands in the late 19th century.

Her easy style balances journalistic integrity with the need to captivate the reader, and holds you from the first paragraph and never lags.

Overall, the stories of these two groups of shipwrecked sailors is a keen contrast between the higher ideals and purposes of humans, and our more base, predatory instincts. In fact, the actions of these real, historical people will both astonish and disgust you.

Oh, and now Auckland Islands is now the second place on earth I would never wish to visit unless I had a death-wish.
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LibraryThing member Tess_W
The true tales of two different expeditions who left New Zealand and became shipwrecked in the Auckland Islands just weeks apart from each other in 1863. Although this particular island was only 35 miles in circumference, neither party found each other although they were relatively close. The author has done a good job of assembling the information (from diaries) comparing and contrasting the two wrecks. The section on the seals was very excellent.

This book could have been 4+ stars except that it was bogged down with too much detail (for me) in the tedious such as how they shaved wood and made planks, etc. The author is a maritime historian and perhaps if someone else, such as Erik Larsen had written this book it would have been more exciting. All in all, though, it was a solid, average read. 284 pages 3 1 /2 stars (for the seal section)
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LibraryThing member pbjwelch
Surviving a shipwreck...not impossible, you might think if you've grounded on an island, but after reading this fascinating account of two different shipwrecks in the same 'multitude of islets' (the remote Auckland Islands) within miles and months of one another makes you realise it's more than just finding shelter, water and food. One group builds a group shelter (Epigwaitt), pools their resources and skills and survives intact; the other, the crew from the Scottish square-rigger Invercauld doesn't.

This page-turner is well-researched and well-written, full of details culled from the survivors' diaries and notes and newspaper articles. It also includes vast amounts of information about the region, weather patterns, sealing, and sailing ships of the 1800s...not to mention how power hierarchies determined by birthright as opposed to competence and experience can be fatal structures.

This book was a bit outside my realm of research--which was shipwrecks of the early days of the East Indies companies--but the story of the double shipwreck with its radically different endings drew me in as fast as the winds and reefs that scuttled these two ships.

Recommended for anyone interested in 1800s adventure, sealing, survival, and the human any 14 year-old boys on my birthday list.
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LibraryThing member bness2
If you like true adventure stories that are well researched, this is a great read. It follows the stories of two shipwrecks that happened within six months of each other on a remote group of sub-antarctic islands SE of New Zealand. Although both groups wrecked on the same island, because of the island's size and the location of the wrecks, neither group was aware of the other. One group fared much better than the other, and although there were several factors that played a part in these differences, the group that did best had better leadership and a more egalitarian attitude, in addition to having one shipmate that was was very innovative. This is a true story of survival in one of the most climatically extreme places on earth.… (more)
LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
A very enjoyable read. Two groups of men, each from a different shipwreck are inhabiting the same island unbeknownst to each other. This is truly a story of survival in the harshest of conditions. It shows what the human mind and body can endear if one wants to survive. Some of the accounts are contradictory so you don't get the full, honest story, but it is as close as one can get. Having never read about this part of the world (New Zealand and the Aucklands) I was quite fascinated.… (more)




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