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It's time to learn the real story behind Moby Dick. Hold on to your hat's, it's horrific, and it includes cannibalism.

Many of us have either read Herman Melville's novel, Moby Dick or have watched any of the many movies inspired by the book. The truth, though, is that the original story is far darker and tragic than many of us know.

It was by the 1830s that the United States had become the most prolific whale-hunting nation on Earth, and Nantucket was prospering from the highly-lucrative industry. From this tiny area off the east coast of the USA, that whaling ships would set out on voyages that would last for years at a time. These ships would travel thousands of miles, rounding Cape Horn in South America into the endless waters of the Pacific ocean, or heading further south to the icy waters of the Antarctic.

But, before then, there was a legendary story of sailors on the hunt for Sperm whales that grasped people's imagination. It was 1819, and 24-year-old George Pollard was given the captaincy of the whaling ship, the Essex. He had spent the four previous years on the vessel as second and first mate, and now he was in charge.

They departed from Nantucket on 12 August but, four days later, they encountered a storm in the Gulf and the ship suffered a knockdown, that's when it tilts 90 degrees on its side. Eventually, the ballast righted the vessel, but some of the sails were torn, they had lost two of her five whaleboats, and another was severely damaged.

Instead of turning back as he had planned, Pollard's first mate convinced him to sail to the Azores near Spain to get new whaleboats there. This would prove fruitless, and they were forced along the coast of West Africa until they finally found a replacement.

Eventually, with enough boats to continue their hunt, Pollard headed towards South America. They caught their first whale as they travelled along the east coast of South America, but this would be their only catch for months. Eventually, once they had finally rounded Cape Horn and were heading north towards Chile, they snagged another 11 whales.

But Pollard wasn't happy and wanted to go searching in an area called Offshore Ground. After a stop in Ecuador, they decided to sail to the Galapagos Islands before heading off to their intended fishing grounds. 

This is where things start to go badly. First, they captured 180 tortoises for food. They weren't killed immediately though, they were left to wander around the deck. Then, one of the crew members set fire to a place called Charles Island, destroying the entire ecosystem.

A few days later, in the middle of the Pacific, they spot a whale, launch their whaleboats and go hunting. While most of the crew were away, the young cabin boy who was on lookout duty, spotted another massive whale, apparently 85-feet long, close by.

Suddenly, this giant of the deep jetted towards the Essex, ramming into her port side. It is said that this was the first time ever that a whale had attacked a vessel. The whale then bumped the underside of the ship, swam away looking stunned but, before the remaining crew could spear the animal, it swam off a couple of hundred feet before turning around.

Charging forward once again, the unbelievably large whale slammed into the Essex on the port bow, forcing the ship backwards, flooding and capsizing the 238-ton vessel.

The crew manage to scramble, grasping navigational equipment, into the remaining whaleboat before the ship disappeared below the waves. The entire ordeal lasted just ten minutes, and, with Captain Pollard and the other crew two miles away, they didn't even see it capsize.

When the three whaleboats finally came together, the captain ordered his men to salvage as much as they could from the floating debris, especially food, water and equipment. Two hogs and a few tortoises managed to swim to the crafts and were hauled on board.

Once everything had settled, it was time to take stock. The closest islands were the Marquesas, 1200-miles away, but they couldn't sail there because they were populated by cannibals. The next set of islands, the Society Islands, were the destination of choice for Pollard but, once again, his first mate convinced him otherwise. Instead, they set off for the coast of South America.

The crew were divided up between the three boats, each boat received 200 pounds of hard biscuit, 65 gallons of water, and two Galapagos tortoises. Unfortunately, the vessels were at the mercy of the elements and, without sails to help them along, progress was slow. They rationed each person to just one biscuit and one cup of water a day in the hopes that it would last them two months.

Ten days into their rudderless journey, and with one boat already damaged from before the Essex sunk, the captain's small vessel was attacked, unbelievably, by a killer whale. Again, this was unheard of.

Thanks to the wind, by day 17, they had been pushed further away from South America. By now, they had drifted closer to the Society Islands, but the thought of cannibals was enough to turn away. The men were suffering from dehydration, forced to drink their own urine. They couldn't even speak as their mouths were dried shut.

Another gust of wind set them on a trajectory that would take them to Henderson Island. A green blot in an endless sea of blue. Just days away from death, the island was their only hope of survival. They found a small freshwater stream and managed to hydrate, but the island proved to be fruitless and, within a week, they had eaten all of the bird's eggs and fish they could find.

A couple of days later, and feeling better, the crew of the Essex decided to try their luck on the open ocean once again. However, one man from each of the boats remained behind on the island. These three men thought their chances of survival were higher on this small patch of land, especially considering one of them was suffering from tuberculosis.

Back on the boats, Captain Pollard was hoping to reach Easter Island with a bit of luck, but 44 days after the Essex sank, they were nowhere near, and his second mate died. He was buried at sea.

A few days later, one of the boats got separated and drifted off. Another of the crew died and was also buried at sea. On that same day, another crew member on one of the other boats also passed away. This time, though, with rations depleted and the survivors deathly ill, they decided to eat him.

On the captain's boat, there were four members left, who had all managed to survive but, starving, one of the crew suggested murder. They put pieces of paper of varying lengths into a hat, and the person who drew the short straw would be shot, butchered and eaten.

On day 78, yet another crewman perished, but this was the first time the members of this particular boat had to consider eating him. They did, even though he had started turning green and rotting.

Eventually, after 82 days, the first of the three whaleboats, carrying just three of the original six crew was rescued by a ship a few hundred miles from land.

A few days later, 300 miles south of their friends who had already been rescued, the captain and one other man were also rescued by a ship. They had been sucking the marrow from the bones of the shipmates to stay alive.

Months later, the third boat washed up on a remote island hundreds of miles to the north, with all crew members dead. The three who stayed back on Henderson Island were rescued, though, leaving just eight of the original 20 crew alive. At least seven of the dead had been eaten by their mates.

This story of the Essex, Captain Pollard and his crew is one of hardship and despair. In the video below, YouTuber, Ask A Mortician, goes into great detail of the trials and tribulations. It's a fascinating story, no wonder Moby Dick has been such an incredible success.

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