Spring 2011 | Volume 61, Issue 1
The only known shipwreck of a 19th-century whaler is found 500 miles northwest of Hawaii
“Lightning never struck in the same place twice,” an overly confident George Pollard told a midshipman in November 1822 after assuming captaincy of his second command, the whale ship Two Brothers, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Pollard’s earlier exploits were legendary: a sperm whale had rammed and sunk the whale ship under his command, 1,000 miles west of the Galápagos Islands. He and the crew of the Essex had drifted the North Pacific for 95 days and resorted to cannibalism. The incident would inspire Herman Melville to write Moby Dick in 1851.
On February 11, 1823, a squall near the French Frigate Shoals atoll 500 miles northwest of Hawaii dashed the Two Brothers on a reef and sank it. A nearby whaler rescued the survivors. Pollard spent the rest of his days as an obscure night watchman on Nantucket.
Pollard’s bad luck has proved, however, a boon for archaeologists and historians. This February, Kelly Gleason, the lead maritime archaeologist at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM), and her colleagues announced the discovery of the wreck in 15 feet of water within the 140,000-square-mile marine conservation area.
“When we started pulling up harpoon tips, cast iron cooking pots, and ceramics, all dated from the 1820s,” she says, “we knew we had found something exceptional.” In fact, no other 19th-century Nantucket whaling shipwrecks have ever been recovered. “Ships’ logs and ship images can only reveal so much about whalers,” Gleason notes. “Artifacts from the Two Brothers could provide us with insights into daily life onboard these vessels.” As excavation proceeds, the artifacts will be displayed at the PMNM Discovery Center in Hilo, Hawaii. For more information, visit www.papahanaumokuakea.gov .