Death on the Ice
8 journalers for this copy...
Since the big seal-hunts have become such a sensitive topic in recent years, it's sometimes difficult to read about the sealing industry early in the last century without considerable bias - rather like reading Moby Dick now, and feeling more sympathy for the whales than for the humans! I think I've managed to acquire enough double-think to blend an appreciation of the trials of the people who risk life and limb to wrest a living from dangerous jobs such as whaling or sealing with my own conservationist sensibility, but at times it's a bit of a stretch, as when the author describes the method of seal-killing and the fact that since the valuable cargo consisted of fur and fat, so most of the meat was abandoned on the ice...
That said, I found this account riveting and mind-boggling - and quite informative. It goes into the history of the Newfoundland sealing industry up to that time, including concerns about the ill-treatment of the sealing men, and details the working conditions, which were appalling and very dangerous. The first casualty of the hunt documented here was a man who slipped on the greasy, bloody deck and fell through a hatch, breaking his back and suffering internal injuries.
But that was only the beginning. The significant part of this story has to do with the combination of errors, misjudgements, and bad luck that resulted in 132 men from two different ships being abandoned on the ice for two days and nights, with each ship's crew believing that their men must be on the other ship. The lack of radios and the ignorance of the effect of a steel-built ship on compasses were factors, but there were many fundamental oversights and negligence that are hard to explain away.
The stranded men were in a truly difficult situation, as they had not gone out with any expectation of having to spend the night on the ice - no shelter, no supplies, and many without even heavy clothing, as the work of sealing generally kept them plenty warm without it. And while survival in the Arctic under those circumstances is challenging enough, these men all knew - knew! - that their ships were nearby, possibly within easy walking distance, but in the rising storm and darkness, and in the absence of reliable compasses and any prolonged signals from the ships to indicate their position, they couldn't find them... And when they did see ships - their own or others - the ships either didn't see them or assumed they had their own ship to return to, and sailed on by. The accounts of what they went through are intense, and rival those I've read in polar-exploration books such as The Worst Journey in the World.
Two days later, when the captains of the ships involved realized what had happened and went looking for the lost men, two-thirds of the men were dead, some found huddled together, frozen solid; others, reported by survivors as having lost their minds and walked into the sea, would never be found. Many of the survivors had severe frostbite. The resulting investigation was a huge media sensation at the time, though - as often happens in such cases - the courts sought a scapegoat, and the results of it all were such as to infuriate the survivors at the time, and the reader today!
A fascinating account. Recommended. [Some information online here.]
The book is a trade paperback weighing about 9 ounces. I'll accommodate domestic-only (and other) mailing preferences as best I can; if I get enough participants who are willing to handle the necessary postage/customs-forms requirements, I'll make it an international ray. Please post a reply in the forum thread or PM me if you'd like to participate, and include any mailing restrictions you may have.
When you receive the book, please journal it, and PM the next person in line for their address so you'll have it ready when you've finished the book.
Note: even if you've sent books to that person before, please PM them before mailing this one, to confirm that the address is correct and that they're able to take on a book ray at this time.Try and read the book promptly - ideally, within a month of receiving it. If you expect to take longer, you can request to be put at the end of the list. If you find you're swamped with other books when the person before you contacts you about the bookring, you can ask to be skipped, and then let me know whether you'd like to be moved down the list or dropped entirely. If you receive the book and find it's taking longer than you'd planned to get through it, I'd appreciate an update in its journal entries or on your profile, just to let me and the other participants know you haven't forgotten it.
When you're ready to pass the book along, please add your comments about the book and indicate where you're sending it, either through a journal entry or through the controlled-release-note option. [If you make controlled release notes with your country/state/city as the location, the book will have a lovely map of its travels by the time it gets home.]
If you find that you're having problems contacting the next person in line, or don't think you can manage to mail the book as originally agreed, please let me know; I'll be glad to try to work something out!
Participants, in mailing order:
azuki [FL - USA]
nicolesinger [NC - USA]
hyphen8 [HI - USA]
snufkin81 [South Africa]
I'm sending this to BCer azuki in Florida to kick off the book ray. Hope you enjoy it!
It's a terrible tragedy... although I will still say, leave the poor seals alone!!
I do wish that there is more detail of its aftermath. I wonder what happen to Wes, and about the lives of those who survived.
I will send this on as soon as I hear from nicole.
Thanks, GoryDetails, for making this available, and thanks, azuki, for passing it on.
It seems unbelievable, and yet... though the technology has changed, I suspect it would be easy to find examples of similar callousness in some companies today.
I'm glad that as many survived as did, and I'm glad the survivors had a chance to tell their tale.
Thanks, GoryDetails, for sharing this book. I've put it in the mail to ajsmom today, and I'll make a release note next.
I'm sorry to be mailing this two days later than planned. The relative I was staying with passed away late Saturday afternoon. I did arrive home (late) Sunday night, but was not up to going to the post office until today.
I sent it off this morning to ajsmom, as requested. It's probably not a book to enjoy, but I hope you find it is enlightening and fascinating as I did. I'm glad I got to be a part of this book's journey.
Very early on in the book, I remarked to my husband that it was another great meteorological catastrophe, much like "The Perfect Storm" (which we both read). There were also huge human errors, but there obviously would have been fewer fatalities if the great storm hadn't come up.
A fascinating account of an event I'd never heard of. Thank you for the ring, Gory - I will be recommending it to others. I will contact Hyphen8 now and get this book on its' way asap.
This book was fascinating, but not easy to read. I have some issues with seal-hunting; for starters, the vulnerability of the newborn pups, the waste of leaving the stripped carcasses behind, and the sheer scale of it all. I remember the big save the seals campaign in the 1980s, so I knew how the baby seals were killed, but I'd never read the details before.
Regardless of what these men were doing and what I might think of it, their living and working conditions were brutal. Our lives today may be over-regulated at times, but this story seems to show the abuses that can happen when an industry is basically unregulated. For example, the bit about the radio being taken out of the Newfoundland - it was clear from the outset that having no radio could be a major factor in the disaster, but the fact that the ship's radio was *removed* prior to the 1914 sealing season because it was too expensive just drives me nuts.
I won't forget the descriptions of the men freezing to death virtually in mid-step for a long time. Just reading about it made me cold..and it never freezes here.
I have snufkin81's address and this book will be going out again soon.
This book is on its way to South Africa to continue the ray.
Free your books - help spread the words!
I thought this book would take me a week or two to get through considering the unpleasant subject matter, but I found that once I started I just had to keep going to the end and I finished it in a few days. It is a harrowing, ghastly read, but so well written that it draws you right in. I don't think I'll forget the image of bodies frozen on the ice very soon; to think that it could all have been prevented by a single wireless!
Reading this sent me through the whole spectrum of emotions - anger, disgust, sadness, relief, admiration. People like Arthur Mouland, Jessie Collins and Cecil Mouland, who just refused to give up or let the people around them give up, are true heroes. That anyone at all survived is truly amazing and thanks to them.
I would have liked to know more about what happened to the individuals afterwards. Did any of the sealers ever go back to the ice? (I guess part of the tragedy is that most of them probably didn't have much choice if they wanted to provide for their families.) Did Wes Kean carry on sailing? What was the relationship like between Abe Kean and his sons after the disaster?
I found a very short Canadian documentary about the disaster, using Cassie Brown's research, on Youtube. It's quite slow and it doesn't have any more information than the book, but it uses Cecil Mouland's interview with Cassie Brown, and it's interesting to hear him speak about it. (It's in two parts - be sure to watch both!)
Thank you all so much for your patience! Thank you GoryDetails for giving me the opportunity to read and learn about an event I would probably otherwise never have known about. I have just PMed ETMadrid for her address.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
This is a very careful reconstruction of the events that led up to the disaster. Like azuki and snufkin81 I would have liked there to be something about what became of the survivors.
It jars massively with the content of the book (and only mentions sheepskin), but you might want to have a look at a film made inside the factory where I live.
Lastly, I'll just add that on Friday 13th it made me feel a little uncomfortable as airborne, half way between London and Toulouse, I read about the looming tragedy being brought about perhaps because the ships had left port on Friday 13th... I was glad to land safely, and even gladder to get back home safely on the return trip. I'm not superstitious, else I'd not have been travelling in the first place, but it was a bit spooky to read that just at that moment!
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES: