Boon Island Three Centuries after the Nottingham Galley Wreck

My recent contact with Stephen Erickson, co-author of Boon Island: A True Story of Mutiny, Shipwreck, and Cannibalism, inspired me to re-read Roberts’ Boon Island. I hope, in the near future, to compare Roberts’ novel to Kirkland’s recent work on the account of the Nottingham.  Until then, a refresher of Roberts’ account was in order. 

One thing that stands out to the reader is the barren and rugged conditions of the island. Shipwrecked for 24 days that spanned December and January, the castaways encountered frigid cold, thick ice, and snow on an island devoid of any shelter in the form of vegetation or land forms. Roberts does a great job in describing the harsh conditions the men encountered, but if you’re like me, I need to see where they wrecked. Thankfully, for those who do not live near Maine (like me), Stephen Erickson has allowed me to post pictures of his visit to Boon Island. Enjoy the following pictures, and hopefully they’ll make Roberts’ novel come alive the next time you read it.

Disclaimer: The photos are the property of Stephen Erickson and are posted by the written permission of Stephen Erickson. These pictures may not be copied in any form nor used for any purpose for personal gain (monetary, notoriety, etc.) If you want to use any picture, please contact me and I will notify Stephen Erickson.

According to Erickson, this is perhaps the spot where the crew hauled wreckage to shore and possibly where Cooky - the ship's cook - died.

According to Erickson, this is perhaps the spot where the crew hauled wreckage to shore and possibly where Cooky – the ship’s cook – died.

Boon Island Landing. Notice the seals laying on the rocks. The castaways longed to catch a seal for a meal, but could not.  Miles Whitworth, the character who narrates the story, tells of how he saw two seals playing with a floating object, and "then they abandoned it, and lay offshore, rising high in the water, puffing out their whiskers and watching us from round staring eyes. I would have given anything I ever hoped to own if I could have got my hands on one of those seals, though I well knew I could never had held him" (120).

Boon Island Landing. Notice the seals laying on the rocks. The castaways longed to catch a seal for a meal, but could not.
Miles Whitworth, the character who narrates the story, tells of how he saw two seals playing with a floating object, and “then they abandoned it, and lay offshore, rising high in the water, puffing out their whiskers and watching us from round staring eyes. I would have given anything I ever hoped to own if I could have got my hands on one of those seals, though I well knew I could never had held him” (120).

Here Stephen stands at the point of the islands where the castaways saw sail coming out the Piscataqua. They waved their arms and yelled, but to no avail. According to Miles Whitworth, "they might have been fishermen or coasting schooners, but at least they were vessels-the first sign of a sail we had seen; and to me, who had felt sure that no fishermen would venture out of port at this season of the year, they were a sight that sent through me a choking surge of hope." The ships would eventually slip beyond the horizon, leaving the men to return to their endless task of picking oakum (140-41).

Here Stephen stands at the point of the islands where the castaways saw sail coming out the Piscataqua. They waved their arms and yelled, but to no avail. According to Miles Whitworth, “they might have been fishermen or coasting schooners, but at least they were vessels-the first sign of a sail we had seen; and to me, who had felt sure that no fishermen would venture out of port at this season of the year, they were a sight that sent through me a choking surge of hope.” The ships would eventually slip beyond the horizon, leaving the men to return to their endless task of picking oakum (140-41).

Notice how uneven the island is. There was no flat area on the island; rather, it was full of crags and sharp rocks. The men constantly were slipping and falling on ice-covered rocks.

Notice how uneven the island is. There was no flat area on the island; rather, it was full of crags and sharp rocks. The men constantly were slipping and falling on ice-covered rocks.

The island had an abundance of seaweed that covered the rocks. The seaweed served as a source of sustenance for the men and as a hazard as they walked the island.

The island had an abundance of seaweed that covered the rocks. The seaweed served as a source of sustenance for the men and as a hazard as they walked the island.

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Notice the seagulls in the distance. Langman, the antagonist in Roberts' novel and the First Mate of the Nottingham, caught a seagull by using seaweed as camouflage. This was the only time the castaways were able to eat one of the animals that visited the island. The did so, however, without the luxury of roasting the meat over a fire (163-67).

Notice the seagulls in the distance. Langman, the antagonist in Roberts’ novel and the First Mate of the Nottingham, caught a seagull by using seaweed as camouflage. This was the only time the castaways were able to eat one of the animals that visited the island. The did so, however, without the luxury of roasting the meat over a fire (163-67).

A closer shot of the seagulls. When the men chopped up Chips for meat (after he died), they hid much of the meet in deep crevices and covered it in three feet of seaweed to keep the gulls from stealing their precious food.

A closer shot of the seagulls. When the men chopped up Chips for meat (after he died), they hid much of the meet in deep crevices and covered it in three feet of seaweed to keep the gulls from stealing their precious food.

If you look closely, the two dark spots in the water are seals bobbing in the ocean.  A sight that became all too familiar for the castaways.

If you look closely, the two dark spots in the water are seals bobbing in the ocean. A sight that became all too familiar for the castaways.

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Today a lighthouse stands atop the highest point of Boon Island. The castaways would have loved to have such shelter from the bone-numbing cold, bitter winds, snow, and ice. (The person in the photo is Stephen Erickson.)

Today a lighthouse stands atop the highest point of Boon Island. The castaways would have loved to have such shelter from the bone-numbing cold, bitter winds, snow, and ice. (The person in the photo is Stephen Erickson.)

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A New “Boon Island”

After over a half year, we have a post!  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, but I can finally say that my dissertation is complete! I submitted my defense draft on Monday and am now awaiting my oral defense. Lord willing, I’ll be graduating in May!  What does that mean for this site? I can hopefully devote more time to it than I have in the recent past!

Kindle Edition, "Boon Island," from Amazon.com

Kindle Edition, “Boon Island,” from Amazon.com

Since I’ve been gone, I received an email from Stephen Erickson, co-author of Boon Island: A True Story of Mutiny, Shipwreck, and Cannibalism (Globe Pequot, 2012). Along with Andrew Vietze, Erickson writes about the shipwreck of the Nottingham Galley on Boon Island, the same event that was the subject of Kenneth Roberts’ own Boon Island. Here is the blurb on the back jacket (courtesy of Amazon.com):

 

The wreck of the Nottingham Galley on Boon Island and the resultant rumors of insurance fraud, mutiny, treason, and cannibalism was one of the most sensational stories of the early eighteenth century. Shortly after departing England with Captain John Deane at the helm, his brother Jasper and another investor aboard, and an inexperienced crew, the ship encountered French privateers on her way to Ireland, where she then lingered for weeks picking up cargo. They eventually headed into the North Atlantic and then found themselves shipwrecked on the notorious Boon Island, just off the New England coast. Captain Deane offered one version of the events that led them to the barren rock off the coast of Maine; his crew proposed another. In the hands of skilled storytellers Andrew Vietze and Stephen Erickson, this becomes a historical adventure that reveals mysteries that endure to this day.

I can’t wait to read this recent account of the Nottingham Galley and see how it compares and contrasts with Roberts’ account.  Stephen Erickson has kindly agreed to do a Q&A with me about the book – something that I plan on posting to this website soon.

In the meantime, for you Kenneth Roberts fans and for those who love history, purchase this book and read!  Feel free to email me your thoughts on the book as well.   It looks as if I’ll need to refresh myself on Roberts’ book as I wait on Erickson’s book.

Much thanks to Stephen Erickson for reaching out to this website!

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