This is a quick book review of Island of the Lost – Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett.
Set in the 1860’s, Island of the Lost tells the incredible story of the schooner Graphton with it’s Captain Thomas Musgrave and crew of four who wreck on Auckland Island approx. 285 miles south of New Zealand.
At the same time during a raging storm a second ship, Invercauld, wrecks at the other end of the island (about 20 miles away from the first wreck); 19 crew members including Captain George Dalgarno survive.
Both groups found themselves stranded on the same isolated and uninhabited island, both having to endure the same poor weather conditions, the same lack of food with many of the same resources. Yet, the tale of the two groups could not be more different.
The crew from the Graphton under the leadership of Captain Musgrave, and with the ingenutity of the crew build a proper shelter both strong and warm enough to survive a south sea winter. They forage and hunt food enough to keep themselves alive and once they came to the realization that nobody was coming to save them, built themselves a new boat on the frame of their old dingy and sailed to safety. In the process, they build a forge, manufacturing their own charcoal and tools and even set up regular schooling in the evenings to teach each other their native languages and for two of the crew, how to read and write. This crew demonstrates the perfect example of group survival and is a testament to the basic human desire to survive and thrive. Twenty months after wrecking – almost 2 years – the complete crew of the Graphton stood together safely on the shores of New Zealand in the port town of Invercargill.
The fate of the crew of the Invercauld was far different. Captain Dalgarno, failing to demonstrate any leadership skills, goes into a listless stupor and allows his men to fall upon one another in fights, divide into two groups and finally descend into cannibalism. The first mate orders the men around only to further his own chances of survival. The gross apathy and selfishness of the mate and captain is shown time and time again from laying down and refusing to move to ordering the cabin boys to fetch water and food until they too, succumbing to cold and hunger, die. Of the crew of 19 that survived the original wreck, only three lived long enough to be rescued almost exactly a year after going aground.
This book is a based on historical records and several survivors’ journals. It appears to be well researched with an excellent “Author’s Note” where author Joan Druett explains the various intricacies of historical research and the special problems associated with this particular historical study.
This is a wonderful story, well told, and deserves to be on the shelf of every sailor or armchair sailor. It is an ideal book for those long cold winter evenings when the boat is up on the hard, the cold wind is whistling through the eves and the memories of warm summer days have faded. Indeed a well founded tale is welcome anytime and this book would be a welcome diversion any season.
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