Lost Ships and Lonely Seas by Ralph D. Paine, The Century Co. 1921
I spied this treasure years ago during a tour of Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel, CA. Of course I was searching through every volume on every shelf around the house, dying to know just what Jeffers considered a worthy read. And there it was: tucked between a couple of classics and totally unexpected. What’s this? Lost Ships and Lonely Seas? Why had I not heard of that before? Oh, I wanted to step beyond the velvet rope for that one!
“Do you mind if I step across and have a look…”
“Yes I do,” came the frosty reply. Which…is why the man was a docent (whatever that is), and always would be the rest of his life.
I wrote the marvelous title down on the back of a Tor House brochure. It wasn’t hard to locate a beautiful copy at Dave Hess’ great store, The Bookman https://orange.ebookman.com/ Wouldn’t you know he’d have it? And now it’s one of my treasures.
Not that it’s any kind of ‘masterpiece’ really. The author’s style is dated and florid and heavy at times. But the content! Seventeen long-forgotten wrecks and tragedies at sea!
My favorite is The Wreck of the Blenden Hall, an East Indiaman, en route from England to Bombay. In 1812, the ship set forth with a full crew of common, everyday sailors and quite a collection of socially prominent individuals: a Commodore’s wife, coming to join her husband; an Army Major and some of his officers; a Navy Lieutenant; a doctor and half a dozen military surgeons; moguls and masters and rulers of the earth.
The ship went down in the East Atlantic, having run aground in a fog off one of the islands of Tristan da Cunha, a little trio of barren volcanic rocks literally thousands of miles from everywhere.
Eighty survivors made it to shore (according to Paine anyway), where they were forced to stay for four long months. They had no food but penguin’s eggs and seal meat. Fresh water was dangerously scarce and, for several days, they had no fire, until flint and steel were found, at last, in a surgeon’s medical satchel. I’ll let you read how it all turned out, but there was one aspect of this great tragedy that is…well…pardon me for this, but I would want to call it “funny” if it weren’t so catastrophic! And so very telling…
In the midst of this desperate fight for survival in the sand, when each and every person, surely, had to do his part, a kind of class warfare erupted. The officers and prestigious passengers, considering themselves superior, began ordering the sailors around, expecting them to do all the menial work, as if everyone were still on board. The sailors, of course, now relieved of their ship, revolted. The shipwreck had leveled the world in their eyes! They vowed to no longer do anyone’s bidding and not to lift a finger to help anyone who didn’t do his (or her) share of the work.
Well, the officers used their rank to threaten them. The passengers kept offering them money for their services; but none of it had the slightest effect. And so our castaways found themselves on the brink of a small civil war, when they so desperately needed to care for each other. The author concludes: “In such a situation as this, when one man was just as good as another, the doctrines of caste and rank should surely have been discarded.”
Oh yes it should have, I said to myself as I finished the episode. And how like the souls-on-board this world of ours today…that is being driven through the fog toward the rocks up ahead!
“Therefore, let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each of you esteem the others as better than yourself.” Philippians 2:3