Brian Dennehy Helps Kick Off Morgan Restoration
Help Support the Morgan Restoration: Donate Now
Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy read two excerpts to a crowd of more than 200 at the Charles W. Morgan restoration kick-off celebration September 27, 2008. The first was a short passage taken directly from the diary of Charles W. Morgan on the day the whaling vessel was launched. The second excerpt told a dramatic story about the Morgan crew surviving a potential cannibalistic attack.
The words of Charles W. Morgan, owner, from his personal diary, Wednesday, July 21st, 1841
A fine warm day - but very dry. This morning at 10 o'clock, my elegant new ship was launched beautifully from Messrs. Hillman's yard - and in the presence of about half the town and a great show of ladies.
She looks beautifully on the water - she was copper bottomed on the stocks.
She is to be commanded by Captain Thomas A. Norton.
The following account was written by Nelson Cole Haley, harpooner on the Charles W. Morgan.
The ship had not seen any wind for days and was drifting through the South Pacific near Sydenham Island (in modern Kiribati), known as home to the most dangerous cannibals in the region. The island was barred by a coral reef, towards which the Morgan was drifting. As the ship neared the reef, the island natives launched scores of canoes and sped towards the Morgan, intending to trap her on the reef.
It was about time, now, to make preparation for keeping the natives from boarding the ship. All was according to orders, and when the first canoes came close alongside and attempted to make fast to the ship, over the side came the bright gleaming spades and lances, with their sharp edges close to their hands reaching out, which caused them to shove off with shouts of fear and eyes sticking out like crabs'. They paddled out on each side of us, forming a cluster of canoes twice the length of the ship and at least five or six deep. They were jabbering and gesticulating with a din and uproar that made things hum. There must have been at least five hundred persons. The Captain gave orders not to kill any if it could be helped.
Now and then a native would shake his fist at us. Sometimes one would brandish a short saw-like sword. They jeered at the Captain, made faces and signs of cutting his head off, and pointed to the island, as much as to say, "When you strike there, off will come your head." Now and then someone would raise up and yell out a lot of lingo, gesticulating rapidly, and after winding up their harangue, would with the most indecent insults take their seat in the canoe. By this time the Old Man was overrunning with rage. He sung out for someone to pass him up the shotgun that was loaded with double-B shot. Taking this in place of the musket, he swore to make it warm for the next fellow that attempted that insult again.
It was not long after that, before a canoe shoved out again and commenced the same harangue. This time the orator was a large dignified-looking chap. When he turned around in the canoe to go through the final act, as the others had done, Chesterfield could have been no more precise about it than he. To give his bow, backwards, more effect, he had placed a hand on each side of his person. As he bowed very low to give it all the effect possible, no clothes obstructed the shining mark. The Captain raised the gun to his shoulder, taking sure aim at the bull's eye, and pulled the trigger. The next instant, the native, with the same dignity as in all his former motions, went headfirst into the water and that was the last seen of him.
A commotion could be seen amongst the canoes. Some six or eight on each side of the ship separated out from the others and commenced paddling towards the ship. Four or five in each canoe dropped their paddles like so many fools, caught hold of the chain plates and moldings with their fingers and tried to climb up the ship's sides, which were bristling with steel. Confusion reigned among them as they tumbled back into the canoes and overboard, many of them bleeding from the cuts received on their bodies, arms, and heads. None were killed outright but some could be seen hanging partly over in the canoes as they paddled away.
We had now drifted in close enough to see the bottom under the ship and had neared the reef. The critical moment was on us. The natives now commenced to shout in a most infernal manner, rising up in their canoes, tossing up their paddles in the air and swinging them around like war clubs. No mistaking, the motions meant they would soon be beating out our brains, as the ship would soon strike and we would be at their mercy.
The suspense for the last half-hour had been so great that no loud word had been spoken. The Old Man walked the poop deck with nervous steps, now and then gazing over the side down into the water, then towards the shore on which crowds of men, women, and children could be seen waiting.
The Mate in the bows suddenly caused every man's heart to jump by singing out to the Captain and pointing at the same time ahead: "Here is a patch of coral right across our bows just under water. The ship can never get over it."
"How far are we from it?" asked the Captain. "Only about three ship's lengths," replied the Mate.
This was apparently our final resting place. The Natives thoughts so too, for those on shore could now be heard joining their caterwauling to those in the canoes, and they were dancing up and down with delight. But we had hardly made up our minds that there was no show for the ship when we all took notice that she commenced to turn around and to drift almost at right angles seaward from her former course; and in less than ten minutes we swept by the obstruction, all clear by fifteen or twenty feet. In half an hour we were in water a mile deep, by the look of it.
When we saw all danger past, did we not yell in derision to those natives, who had stopped their clatter on seeing the ship pass what they made sure would be her doom! The guns and pistols were all fired off. At the same time three cheers were given, as they turned and paddled ashore. With all sails swelling out from yards and clews, there was the merry rippling swash of the water under the bows as the old Charles W. Morgan sped away from her peril. A lucky ship indeed!