In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Summary and Analysis of Chapter 13: Homecoming


Valparaiso, Chile was in the midst of a revolution; having secured independence from Spain, they were now bearing down on Royalists in Lima. In virtually any other moment of recent Chilean history, Chase's story would have captivated the city. The acting American consul arranged to have them under the supervision of his surgeon, Dr. Leonard Osborn.

The crew of the Constellation heard their story and was so moved that each sailor donated a dollar toward their assistance. The governor had heard rumors that the men were not survivors of a wreck, but rather practicers of bloody mutiny. He was assured by Chase's story, though, and he allowed them to roam freely around the city as soon as they were able.

Pollard and Ramsdell were able to locate their comrades by sheer coincidence when the whaleship that rescued them ran into the one that had recently dropped off Chase's boat in Valparaiso. Three months after their separation, they met once again, having lost nine men among their boats and eleven in total. A few days later, the men were offered passage home, but Pollard was deemed too weak. He left two months afterward.

The commander of the Constellation made arrangements to rescue Chappel, Weeks, and Wright from Ducie Island, which he soon discovered was the wrong island by examining Pollard and Chase's maps. When they fired their gun at the edge of Henderson Island, the three men were just sitting down to eat a tropic bird. They had managed to survive on the depleted ecosystem, but needed water badly. The spring had never reemerged from the shoreline, always covered by the high tide. Having drank the blood of the tropic birds, they found no release for their thirst and were quickly falling into psychic disrepair when they heard the sound of thunder. Of course, it wasn't thunder, but the sound of a firing gun on the Constellation.

The crew could not land a boat because the conditions were too dangerous. Chappel, the only one who could swim, jumped in, just skin and bones, and went back and forth over the coral to retrieve his mates and bring them to the boat to safety. They retrieved the letters that Pollard had left in a box on a tree.

Years later, a British navy fleet would come across the abandoned Essex boat, littered with human bones, and make the connection. And just before the men arrived back in Nantucket, the letter arrived telling of the horror of their story. People were overcome with emotion despite their great Quaker stoicism and wept in the streets. When the first ship arrived, Chase, Lawrence, and Nickerson were already presumed dead, so the sight of these three men was astounding, especially for Chase's wife, who gave him a new fourteen-month-old daughter to hold.

Obed Macy, the Nantucket historian, did not mention this disaster in his journal, and neither did any of Nantucket's newspapers. They wanted to hear from Pollard first. When he finally did arrive, there was a bone-chilling silence accompanying him. Gideon Folger and Sons subjected him to a lengthy interview about what had happened; as a first-time captain, he knew his neck was on the line.

He also had to answer to Coffin's mother. She didn't take his final words nor Pollard's own words very well at all. Though Pollard could not be blamed, it was a cultural embarrassment that the public had difficulty answering to. Nevertheless, Pollard was offered command of the Two Brothers.

Chase went on to write, or rather have ghost-written, his account of the disaster. His friend who had attended Harvard College desired to help him out. What stood out about his narrative was that only two deaths occurred in his presence, the other nine being left to a brief summation at the end of the book. In fact, much of the disturbing and morally problematic content was left offstage, making In the Heart of the Sea necessary in order to right the many concealed facts of the true story of the Essex. Pollard had his own account ghost-written, and Nickerson's account surfaced 163 years later.

When Pollard finally went off to sea again, his company included none other than Nickerson and Ramsdell.


It seems that these sailors' biggest enemy had always been probabilities. Instead of surviving on the bounty of the freshwater spring as they had expected back on the island, they were effectively back in the 'desolate region', scavenging for food that barely existed anymore. On the other hand, the probability of survival had been extremely low the whole time, and amazingly every group of men had at least two survivors make it back to civilization.

Tying in the status of Chile's political revolution puts this story in context not only with 19th century America, but also with the world. They were saved by a ship from London in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, brought to a country that had just claimed independence from Spain, and were on their way to Nantucket. The morals learned by these sailors were morals of the 19th century: the dangers of xenophobia, the necessity of understanding modern technology, and the great motivating factor of communion.