Introduction by William Vaughan is a veritable guide to reading for seamen. On January 20, 1793, Woodard, an English officer, “sailed as chief-mate in the American ship Enterprise, captain Hubbard, from Batavia, bound to Manila” (p. 2). In seeking provisions, Woodard in a small rowing boat with sail, and with five other sailors, was soon separated from his ship with no water, food, or compass. After other misadventures they fought with some Malays who killed one of their men and then stole the boat, leaving five men stranded and fleeing into the jungle. The Narrative is the rest of the story, plus a series of appendices telling other shipwreck tales.
p. xviii-xix: It may not be deemed perhaps out of line of my object, to recommend the perusal of two books that contain much practical as well as scientifical information, to those who frequent the sea, and who wish to rise in their profession.
The first is Robinson Crusoe; which, although a fiction, is founded upon a true story of Selkirk. It shows a great knowledge of nature… . When Mr. Moore, the late secretary of the Society of Arts and Manufacture, when asked which was the best book on farming, he answered,—“ Robinson Crusoe: and that it was translated into more languages, and had done more good in giving conduct to life, than most books.”—It may be said with much truth and justice, that it has been the cause of making many seamen, and good seamen; and of calling into activity all the powers and resources of mind and body; and will be for ever read with amusement and instruction.
The second book should be every young man’s companion who wishes to make the sea his profession, and promotion in that line his object. It is Robertson’s Navigation, which is justly esteemed the seaman’s library.
To these may be added Hutchinson’s Marine Architecture and Seamanship; which contains instructions, derived from long experience, for the management of a ship in a great variety of difficult and dangerous situations. It is a very valuable book, and contains knowledge, entertainment, and science, drawn from experience and practical observations… The seaman who makes himself master of these two books, cannot fail of rising in his profession.
p. xxi: Misfortunes, if rightly applied, may prove useful sources of knowledge. Books containing the histories of accidents and shipwrecks have now become numerous; and are so dispersed, as to want some of their most prominent points drawn more to a kind of focus, that may serve for examples to direct the conduct of men who have neither leisure to read, nor purse to procure them.
p. xxvi-xxvii, on Captain Kennedy’s recommendation that men in open boats suggest they soak clothes in salt water twice daily in salt water and not wring them out: … he imputed the preservation of his own life, and the lives of six others who survived their hardships of hunger, thirst, and cold, to this precaution; and that he took the hint from a treatise of Dr. Lind’s, which, he says, should be read by all sea-faring men.
p. xxxiv: The effects of hunger and thirst are greatly overcome, when the apprehensions about them are banished: and we find that captains; Inglefield, Bligh, and Woodard, always discouraged despondency; and by giving other pursuits to the human mind, men were frequently diverted from gloomy objects; and when thus roused, they have often been strong enough to surmount the greatest difficulties. We often see men with courage braving danger in battles and enterprises, and risking life to save a life or a wreck; but when self-wrecked, until roused, they are often apt to sink into despondency, from the want of labour and self-exertion. He used no exercise, slept but little, and spent most of the night in reading.
p. 157-236: Appendix. Advertisement. This Appendix only professes to give short abstracts of some remarkable cases applicable to the object of this collection, to show the frequency and extent of abstinence, and the importance of perseverance and subordination in moments of distress. [There are 22 numbered appendices, followed on p. 237-51 by “A List of a Number of Accidents, Shipwrecks, and Escapes….]
p. 166-67, Appendix. (No. II.), a riveting account of the process of selection of a candidate for suicide and cannibalization when all provisions were exhausted from the shipwrecked boat. This Appendix is an extract from the Calcutta Gazette of 8th July, 1802, describing the “suffering of some deserters” from the island of St. Helena. It includes an account of eating shoes for nourishment, but does not seem to indicate why M’Kinnon wished to be the first to die.
“ ‘On the 5th [July], about eleven, M’Kinnon proposed, that it would be better to cast lots for one of us to die, in order to save the rest; to which we consented. The lots were made—William Parr, being sick two days before with the spotted fever, was excluded. He wrote the numbers out, and put them in a hat, which we drew out blindfolded, and put them in our pockets. Parr then asked whose lot it was to die—none of us knowing what number we had in our pockets—each one praying to God that it might be his lot. It was agreed that No. 5 should die, and the lots being unfolded—M’Kinnon’s was No. 5.
“ ‘We had agreed, that he whose lot it was should bleed himself to death; for which purpose we had provided ourselves with nails sharpened, which we got from the boat. M’Kinnon with one of them cut himself in three places in his foot, and wrist, and praying God to forgive him, died in about a quarter of an hour.
“ ‘ Before he was quite cold, Brighouse with one of those nails cut a piece of flesh off his thigh, and hung it up, leaving his body in the boat. About three hours after, we all ate of it—only a very small bit. This piece lasted us until the 7th … .
p. 169: “In attending to the above narrative, as simple as it is affecting, we cannot help noticing the justice of Providence. So strikingly exemplified in the melancholy fate of M’Kinnon, the deluder of these unhappy men, and the victim of his own illegal and disgraceful scheme. May his fate prove a memento to soldiers and sailors, and a useful, though awful, lesson to the encouragers and abettors of desertion!”
p. 227-28, Appendix. (No. XX), an account of a young man, suffering from indigestion “resolved to cure himself by indigestion,” in effect starving himself to death”: He had undertaken in his retirement to copy the Bible in short-hand, with short arguments prefixed to each chapter. He showed to the doctor the work executed nearly as far as the Second Book of Kings, and that he had made some improvements in short-hand writing. [He died a month later.]
p. 252: Books Useful to Seamen
Hutchinson’s Marine Architecture and Seamanship.
Lind on Warm Climates, and Diseases of Seamen.