September 4, 2000.
Further Ironies - The Fate of Captain Pollard of the Essex
It was Captain Pollard with whom Owen Coffin's mother had entrusted her son (Pollard's cousin). But once ashore, it was Pollard who had to tell her that her son was dead and that he, Pollard, had been party not only to killing him but eating him as well-a thing for which she never forgave Pollard. The rest of Nantucket did, however, for most of them were probably far enough removed from the tragedy to imagaine with more generosity the awful circumstances of the open-boat voyage. But Owen Coffin's mother had lost her son, and Pollard was, after all, still alive. He lived in her town. Sometimes he stood before her. It was the nourishment of her son's flesh that had sustained Pollard and brought him home. It was because Pollard and the others wanted that nourishment that her own son had been killed and would never come home.
It was Captain Pollard who, having enjoyed the universal praise of the people of the Nantucket (for his extraordinary open boat voyage) obtained a second command almost at once-the whaleship Two Brothers. Three months later he sailed from Nantucket on another Pacific whale voyage. But due to errors in dead reckoning, he ran the Two Brothers onto a reef and lost it as well. (In another stroke of irony, the loss occurred within but a few days sail of where Pollard had lost the Essex.) Again Pollard and his crew had to take to whaleboats and again two Essex crew members were with him: young Thomas Nickerson, the cabin boy who had endured 89 days in Chase's boat (and who also, much later in his life, wrote an account of the Essex tragedy), and Charles Ramsdell, the sailor found by the Dauphin in the whaleboat with Pollard, gnawing on the bones of their comrades after their 94-day, open boat journey.
This time, however, they were luckier and were picked up in a few hours.
Although Nickerson, the cabin boy, prospered in later years, as first mate and finally as captain of several commands, Pollard, the hero, having lost a second ship was considered "an unlucky captain" (even though the loss of the Essex could not possibly be considered to be his fault). This entirely superstitious judgement ended his career, and he spent the rest of his life as a night watchman on Nantucket. When Herman Mellville came to Nantucket and met Pollard he remarked about their meeting; "To the islanders he was a nobody-to me, the most impressive man, tho' wholly unassuming even humble-that I ever encountered.
© 2000 - Roger Payne