Experts say they’ve found hard evidence of the ship Two Brothers 600 miles (970 kilometers) from Honolulu (map). If confirmed, the discovery would be the first of a wrecked whaler from Nantucket (map), Massachusetts—the birthplace of the U.S. whaling industry….
Two Brothers was captained by George Pollard, Jr. The Nantucket native had the dubious distinction of commanding two whaling ships and losing both.
Pollard’s first ship, the Essex, sank in 1820 after being rammed by a sperm whale—an incident that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Adrift at sea in small whaleboats for more than three months, the starving crew of the Essex resorted to cannibalism. Before being rescued by another ship, Pollard helped execute and eat his 18-year-old cousin, who had drawn a bad lot.
Despite the Essex tragedy, Pollard was offered another captaincy soon after, this time of the Two Brothers.
In the early 19th century, whaling voyages often took two years or more. The Two Brothers set sail from Nantucket in November 1821. By winter 1822, the ship had rounded the tip of South America. The crew was on its way to newly discovered whaling grounds near Japan when tragedy struck in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Before departing, Pollard had said he believed “lightning never strikes in the same place twice,” according to Gleason. Yet on the night of February 11, 1823, the Two Brothers hit a shallow reef and quickly broke apart in the heavy surf.
The ship’s crew was rescued, but Pollard’s career as a whaling captain was over…
The Telltale Harpoon?
The Two Brothers remained lost until 2008, when maritime archaeologists participating in a NOAA expedition in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands discovered a large early 19th-century anchor in the shallow waters of French Frigate Shoals.
The team suspected from the beginning that the wreckage belonged to the Two Brothers, but they lacked strong evidence until 2009, when more artifacts, including the tip of a whaling harpoon, were discovered.
“A whaling harpoon is an exciting artifact to discover at a shipwreck site,” said Gleason, who is leading the Two Brothers archaeological survey.
“The technology of the whaling harpoon changed a great deal over the course of the 19th century, so you can match a whaling harpoon to a specific time period and place of origin.”
Also, “blacksmiths would have also etched the name of a ship on the harpoon, because if a harpooned whale got away, they wanted to make sure whoever caught it next knew that the whale was already claimed.”