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The Week in Books: Island of the Lost

Another fantastic Oyster find, I devoured Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the End of the World by Joan Druett this past week.  It’s a true story about two simultaneous shipwrecks on Auckland Island in the 1860’s (though they never met each other, being on opposite ends with a mountain range in between them).

Auckland Islands is an archipelago south of New Zealand, so they are sub-antarctic.  The main inhabitants are seals, during their mating season, and when the calves are very young.  There are also some edible roots, and some mussels and other bits of seafood.  So really, it’s not a place where you want to be shipwrecked.

The first shipwreck, the Grafton, was in stark contrast to the second, which arrived about 8 months later.  The first was made up of five men who excelled in teamwork and problem solving.  One of them, a Frenchman named Francois Raynal, actually managed to build a forge with stuff they salvaged from the wreck, and was able to make a mold for nails.  They were shipwrecked in summer, so had some time to build a cozy cabin with a fireplace, make some nice beds, use seal blood for making ink to write journals, and use salt they salvaged to salt meat enough to last them through winter.  They had a lifeboat they could use for hunting, worked amazingly really well together, and managed to thrive in their environment, coming up with one plan after another for escape.

The second, the Invercauld, had 25 men and wrecked on the other side of the mountain.  Six of them died right away, leaving them with 19.  They wound up splintering apart into groups, one of which may have resorted to cannibalism.  The captain completely lost touch with reality, and had a pretty major freakout. The officers pulled rank on the regular sailors, one of whom seemed to be the only one with any brains in the bunch.   It was a complete contrast with the first group, which had such a strong bond.  This group was losing people left and right, and not seeming to come up with any ways to make shelter or find food.

Their story was gripping.  I figured they had to have figured out a way to get off, or be rescued, because the story talks about testimony later on, but I had to keep reading to find out the way they escaped.  It was fascinating reading about the strength of humanity when pushed up against the wall.