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Party at the end of the world

  • Feb 8, 2008
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I was reminded of the Jimmy Buffett song about a party "at the end of the world" on the southern tip of South America. Wrong continent, wrong hemisphere, but these shipwrecked parties certainly must have felt they were indeed at the end of the world.

This is a shipwreck account of not just one, but a pair of shipwrecked crews on the Auckland Islands south of New Zealand in 1864-1865. Amazingly, with the crews separated by 20 miles of rugged mountains, seaside cliffs and impenetrable inlets, the two crews on the north and south ends of the Island chain never crossed paths, each learning about the other only after being rescued and publishing accounts of their adventures.

Druett's tale, retold from these accounts, is a cautionary tale of leadership and responsibility. The five men shipwrecked on the southern end of the island all survived through good leadership, work ethic, and camaraderie, while only three of 19 shipwrecked on the northern end survived. The northern group was broken up by officers who either broke down mentally or continued to try to command obedience imperiously on land.

The account of the southern shipwreck survivors was treated as a real-life Robinson Crusoe when published, and indeed their exploits at building a cabin, providing food, and finally making the tools and materials needed to upfit their small boat into a ship fit (barely) to sail to safety are quite entertaining and amazing.

Also of interest in Druett's account are the brief accounts of other shipwrecks before and after 1865, and of aborted colonization and farming attempts on the islands. The Aucklands are now protected environmental preserves, returned to the sea lions and birds who have always really owned it anyway. May they party in peace at the end of the world.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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In early 1864, heading back to Australia after a failed mining expedition, the crew of theGraftonencountered a violent storm and found themselves shipwrecked in the Auckland Islands, off the coast of New Zealand. Druett, a maritime historian (In the Wake of Madness), draws upon the journals of the ship's captain, Thomas Musgrave, and prospector François Raynal to reveal how the crew pulled together and made the best of their circumstances for nearly two years. By contrast, when theInvercauldran aground on the other side of the island months later—beyond an impassable mountain range, and hence unaware they were not alone—the surviving sailors quickly began eating their dead crewmates out of desperation. Soon, only three remained, the ineffectual captain and another officer being kept alive by a resourceful seaman. Druett tells the two stories in strict chronological order, allowing readers to become familiar with theGraftonparty before weaving theInvercauldsurvivors into the narrative. She zeroes in on the salient details of their ordeals, identifying the plants that kept the castaways from contracting scurvy or sketching out an improvised recipe for soap with equal aplomb. This is a fine addition to the genre of survival tales likeEnduranceorIn the Heart of the Sea.(Jul. 20)
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ISBN-10: 1565124081
ISBN-13: 978-1565124080
Author: Joan Druett
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
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