Monday, June 9, 2014

Attention to Details

I am almost finished reading Moby Dick. A long book, but worth the read. I came upon Chapter 110 the other evening, entitled "Decanter". It begins with principal character Ishmael telling the story of the first major English whaling family to sponsor voyages in 1775. Of course he says that Americans were whaling at least 50 years before that. Anyway, the family was Samuel Enderbys and Sons, and he mentions their ship the "Amelia", being the first to round Cape Horn and hunt in the South Seas. Then he mentions another of their ships, the "Syren", commanded by a Nantucketer, first to go into the waters near Japan for the same purpose.  Enderby's company, the Southern Fishery, was registered in London and in Boston.

And here, I stopped, thinking for a moment about the film Master and Commander, when Capt. Aubrey disguises his ship the "Surprise" into a whaler in order to confuse the French frigate headed their way. Ah-ha! I thought. 
The scene depicts the Surprise crew painting out the letters S U R P R I S E on the stern, in favor of the name S Y R E N!
Mr. Patrick O'Brian, author of the M&C series, probably read Moby Dick as well as researched English naval history, including not only military vessels, but whalers! All great story tellers do their research, even to the smallest details.
The Syren sailed on 1819 in August, commanded by Capt. Frederick Coffin, of Nantucket, MA. The ship returned from Japan on April 22, 1822 with a cargo of 346 tons of sperm oil!

By the way, in O'Brian's "Far Side of the World", the voyage of the Amelia is interjected into the story. This is why I have loved reading O'Brian. He maneuvers his characters among real events. It help to flesh out real history in a way that is provocative and exciting, rather than the dry accounts we used to get in history class.  

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