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Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season Putnam Adult 1St Edition edition Peter Nichols


31st January 2012 History Books 36 Comments

“Peter Nichols has crafted a terrifyingly relevant historical narrative…A terrific read.”
-Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In The Heart of the Sea


In 1871, America’s last fleet of whaling ships was destroyed in an arctic ice storm. Miraculously, 1,218 men, women and children survived, but the disaster was catastrophic at home.

Oil and Ice is the story of one fateful whaling season that illuminates the unprecedented rise and devastating fall of America’s first oil economy, and the fate of today’s petroleum industry.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

Starred Review. Chronicling the downfall of the vast whaling industry developed in New England over the 18th and 19th centuries, author Nichols (A Voyage for Madmen) presents both an illuminating portrait of Quaker life and industry, and a heart-pounding tale of danger on the open sea. Nichols has a rich understanding of the whale oil (“oyl”) industry, and recreates the atmosphere of whaling voyages and villages, particularly wealthy New Bedford, Mass., in sensuous detail: “Emissions of greasy particulate settled over the town like a glaze and gave it the permanent odor of burnt flesh and fat.” A collection of ships’ logbooks and letters from whaling captains give character to the phenomenal victories and challenges the seamen-and their family-faced. There is a lot to admire in the whalers; their captains “were master mariners and navigators, among the canniest and most skillful in human history,” and their task enormous. Although death and loss were common in the hunt, the 1871 season recounted here marked the beginning of the end for the oyl industry, a major disaster in which an entire fleet was caught in a diabolical arctic weather system.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season










  • 36 responses to "Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season Putnam Adult 1St Edition edition Peter Nichols"

  • PaulTheZombie
    10:33 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Little did I know that when I signed up for the Final Voyage I would become so knowledgeable about not only the whaling industry itself but the times, histories, peoples, religions & MOST Unexpectantly – the cautionary messages that it speaks of parallel to own times.
    The book opens 1871 near the Artic Circle with 32 whaling ships; an entire fleet with 1,218 men, women and children, that are frozen in/destroyed by storms/winter. The fleet carried food for no more than a season’s cruise, and this season was almost over. The outcome was looking like death by starvation & cold unless the captains and men could act fast with the right plan. What led to this tragic moment was all but predicable, an accident waiting to happen, but if did not, the industry was, ironically, already being frozen out of the world market place by the new sources of oil(rock) being captained by the likes John D. Rockefeller.
    The most pleasant surprise for me was the author’s fine scholarship/writings concerning his rich diary sources including Eliza Williams, whose fly-on-the-bulkhead observations that were all new to her, copious pages full of minute details that made for some of the most vivid and accurate descriptions to come down the pike in a long while. The many other diary sources were also as rich, especially in their honest emotions, they had the calibur & effect of the Ken Burns Civil War PBS series/ detailed- wonderfully heartfelt.
    The Quaker history alone spun my previous perceptions a completer 180 degrees. The building of the Whale ships where the master carpenters would spend considerable time in the woods looking at vast numbers of trees, observing their aspect to the sun and prevailing winds and the winter cold, all of which affected the density of the cellulose, checking the health of the bark, examining the crooks and boughs that would make the knees that would knit together deck & hull. Well, you get the picture, its another world and your in it, in detail. As the Whale ship is building up, the story is building up, and you the reader, are measuring up to become a first rate whaler yourself. So sign up for the voyage. There are many surprises worth the journey. But most importantly, as you read, think in parallel to our times, and I think you will find, a theme of purpose: that our times will not mirror those of the Final Voyage, we don’t have rock oil as a replacement energy.
    In conclusion, I found my passage/reading the Final Voyage – A WHALE OF A TALE!

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED !!!!!

  • Ripel
    12:26 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    When I was a kid I lived in the city of Punta Arenas (Chile), in a neighbourhood known as Fitzroy. I didn’t know much about this name until I read “The voyage of the Beagle” by Darwin a few years ago, and truth is the book really made an impression on me. But I was eager also to know more about captain Robert Fitzroy and especially the years he spent in the southest part of my country, surveying all the islands and having contact with the natives of this zone, either Yaghan, Ona or Alacalufe.

    The life of Robert Fitzroy is so interesting and fascinating. In his first voyage he took three natives back to England and they spent two years there until the second voyage, where these natives were brought back to their “countries” and also was the moment for Darwin to accompany Fitzroy as a naturalist. The story of these yaghans, the descriptions of its life and customs, the time spent in England and how they were put back with his people make this story worthy of admiration, worthy for a PBS/BBC documentary. One of these indians lived in Navarino Island, a place my mother lived in the 1960s, in the little Chilean city of Puerto Williams — another reason for reading this book. I can only recommend all the readers to travel to the south of Chile, you can go to Punta Arenas and from there to know the Magellan Strait, cross to Tierra del Fuego and even go to Navarine island and to know the Beagle Channel … those are just captivating and precious landscapes., you won’t be regretted.

    In my opinion, Fitzroy should be known more in my country, he is part of it, and this book or another biography is for sure a pleasant reading. This book is precious, commendable for lovers of exploration and the reading is fluid. I wish I could take a course in “creative writing” with this author.

  • TrafficWarden
    12:50 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Peter Nichols’s “Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season” arrived in the mail today in early afternoon. I had not intended on reading it immediately, as I was already deep into something else, but I took a quick look at the first few pages. Which turned into reading the first chapter which stretched into reading the first few chapters. Which became reading the whole book before suppertime. I think it safe to say that I found it compelling.

    Although the centerpiece of Nichols’ narrative is the disastrous year of 1871 when a fleet of 32 American whaling ships was lost in the Arctic Ocean when unexpected weather conditions failed to clear a needed path through the ice, the scope of his book is much broader, covering the rise and fall of the American whaling industry from the 17th century to the 1890s, and providing a vivid portrait of the manifold dangers and hardships involved. Along the way he examines schisms among the Quakers (a dominant force among Nantucket and New Bedford whaling families), Jewish candle manufacturers of Newport, Rhode Island, and the rise of such competing technologies as petroleum. And as might be expected for a book of the current era, he delves into the ecological impact of whaling and even the disastrous development of “walrusing” (as a profitable sideshow) upon Arctic native peoples, and Nichols draws sharp parallels to the oil industry of our modern era.

    Nichols’s narrative acquires particular force through its concentration upon the fortunes of the Howland brothers’ whaling concern which in a remarkably short time went from abundant affluence to utter ruin. He draws heavily upon diaries, letters, and memoirs to give his narrative a remarkable immediacy, and explaining the economic and cultural role of whaling in mid-19th century America.

    All in all, a fascinating volume, certain to engage the interest of its readers.

  • John Baxter
    15:45 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    More than an adventure story about one disastrous whaling season, Fatal Voyage traces the origins of New Bedford, the ascetic Quaker underpinnings that strongly influenced whaling culture, and the ever-increasing lengths to which whalers would go to hold on to the only way of life many of them had ever known. Arctic disasters or not, whaling was doomed as soon as oil was discovered in Pennsylvania. This was a fascinating peek into a little-known religious community and the lives of men at sea.
    The museum at Mystic Seaport is crammed with scrimshaw and whalebone products fashioned by bored and lonely sailors. Nichol’s portraits of these sailors and the conditions under which they served for years at a time add poignancy to these objects and fill me with awe at the delicacy of feeling that can exist even under such circumstances.

  • nedendir
    17:11 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    History is seldom so readable. Splicing straight-up history of whaling in general, Nantucket and New Bedford, and 18th/19th century industry in between whaling voyages as told directly by participants (from well-chosen excepts of journals & letters), every page is intensely interesting and evocative. The author takes great pains to convey the world view of the time and succeeds brilliantly.

    I came away with very strong impressions of the circumstances and technology that led to Massachusetts becoming the center of what was then one of the world’s great and important industries. I also came with new perspectives on religion and unintended consequences. That may sound a bit cryptic, but I guarantee that once you’ve read this book you will probably have a very different view of Quakers than the benign image taught in the schools!

    Final Voyage may be read as a cautionary tale in many respects. In particular, by portraying just how rapidly an industry can come to dominate a region, its culture, and infrastructure – and then as quickly collapse – obvious parallels can be drawn to the current hard economic times. Along the same lines, the environmental impact of whaling as a major industry is clearly portrayed as staggering on a global scale.

    Great reading, great history, timeliness and relevance without preaching (not even a hint). Highly recommended.

  • Satish KC
    21:52 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Interesting to read book, but the author strays from the main subject so often that the title should really be something else as details of the “Final Voyage” just doesn’t seem to be the main subject of the book. This may be a better book for someone who has never read anything about the times this book takes place, but for me it just became a bit tedious. As a book it isn’t bad. As an “adventure” book, it just isn’t that good. It certainly is not a “page-turner” that kept me up reading it at night. While it is not a terrible book, and I am glad I read it, I was also glad when I was done reading it.

  • PaulTheZombie
    23:00 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Poor Robert Fitzroy has been relegated to the footnotes section of history….oh yes, wasn’t he the captain of “The Beagle”? Yes he was, but he was much more. He was also a member of Parliament, a governor of New Zealand, and he founded the British government’s Meteorological Office. The downside of Peter Nichols’ book is he gives rather short shrift to these generally unknown aspects of Fitzroy’s career. But, when Mr. Nichols is on his home turf (the ocean, if that isn’t a non sequitur!), he sparkles. He is clearly most happy when discussing Fitzroy the “boy wonder” captain and surveyor. (Fitzroy was in his mid-twenties when he squired young Mr. Darwin around the world.) We can feel the ocean spray and smell the salt air. Not only that, but we really feel that we get to know Fitzroy. He was an excellent and brave captain. He cared about his men. He was also intelligent and charming. On the less pleasant side, he had a very thin skin, a bad temper, and was subject to bouts of depression. During five long years at sea Darwin got to see every facet of Fitzroy. Mr. Nichols is also fascinating when he writes about the four Fuegians that Fitzroy brought back to England…hoping to “civilize” them and bring them back to further spread British culture along the southern tip of South America. The second voyage of “The Beagle” with Fitzroy as captain was the voyage where Fitzroy brought the natives back home, and it was also the voyage with Darwin on board as naturalist. Fitzroy was a strong believer in phrenology, and initially had doubts about Darwin because of Darwin’s “hooded brow and large, spatulate nose.” Fortunately for science, Fitzroy was won over by Darwin’s intelligence and genial personality. Both men started the journey with a great deal of scientific curiosity and with orthodox religious beliefs. Darwin’s theories led him to atheism. Fitzroy remained very religious all his life. If it hadn’t been for Fitzroy, Darwin likely never would have come up with his theory of evolution by natural selection. The irony of this wasn’t lost on Fitzroy. Again, all this is well, even brilliantly, told by Mr. Nichols. The book loses steam when we read about the later developments in Fitzroy’s life, but the rest of this book is so good that we can forgive Mr. Nichols for not being able to maintain the high level of writing throughout. The definitive biography of Robert Fitzroy remains to be written, but this book goes a long way in bringing him off the bottom of the page.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    3:26 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    “Final Voyage” is a fascinating glimpse into a pivotal event that marked the demise of the whaling industry and the rise of our modern petroleum-based economy. Many non-historians likely have forgotten that early economies were greased with whale oil. It burned in lanterns and was used in many industrial applications where now petroleum based products are instead used. Until the discovery of oil in the middle of the 1850s there were simply few alternatives readily available and the whaling fleet based in New Bedford made that town the equivalent of today’s petro-dollar rich nations. By the dawn of the 1870s however, whales were becoming scarcer and whaling ships plied further and further afield to kill their valuable quarry. Petroleum was quickly making inroads with consumers and industry, but few know of the pivotal role that the winter of 1871 and the destruction of much of New Bedford’s whaling fleet played in forcing the abrupt transition from whale oil to petroleum. Peter Nichols seeks to retell the events that led to the transitions, particularly the harrowing story of those 33 ships from New Bedford caught up in the Artic disaster.

    In a sense “Final Voyage” is a bit like the television show “Dangerous Catch” in print; it chronicles the fleet caught in the treacherous Bering Sea off Alaska as summer abruptly ends, the weather turns suddenly and abruptly harsh, trapping the fleet in ice, which slowly entombs them and crushes them. Nichols draws on previously unpublished resources and a wealth of primary and secondary sources to retell not just the rise and fall of the whaling industry in New Bedford, but the tale of the fleet’s destruction. While the tale of the fleet is quite harrowing and horrible most of the book instead focuses on New Bedford’s rise and fall, making the title a bit deceptive. Rather unintentionally “Final Voyage” also becomes a cautionary tale that all of earth’s natural resources are finite and should be carefully managed to avoid rapid depletion and that human greed often has sudden and unanticipated consequences. Don’t expect this to be a harrowing account of life and death like Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by John Krakauer; but if you are aware it’s a broader story with larger lessons you will be rather richly rewarded.

  • Markoc
    5:54 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Fitzroy and Darwin. How these brave men were marked by adventure and discovery. A fascinating story of the unknown territories and the isolation they suffered on their travels. Nichols describes their solitude and madness, tangled with beautiful narrative. Very entretaining.

  • John Baxter
    8:49 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    People are complaining that the title of this book is misleading. I think they are confusing this with the author’s name and have read other works by him, which were more straight-forward adventure stories. The title of this book is ‘Oil and Ice: A Story of Arctic Disaster and the Rise and Fall of America’s Last Whaling Dynasty’. The book is about quite few different disasters, culminating in a final large disaster and a decisive final blow to the whaling industry. It is also an all-inclusive historical overview of America’s whaling industry, from it’s very first beginnings in Quaker society. It is exactly what the title says it will be.

    Now that that’s out of my system, I loved this book. It’s great because it’ll certainly hold your attention while you’re reading it, and you can read it front to back, but you can also put it down for a while and pick it back up without losing anything. The author does jump around, but not in a distracting way. He would often mention something that I’d think to myself “I’d like to know more about that” and then go on a tangent into further detail. This style worked very well for me. It’s a lot like how I read articles on Wikipedia (and yes I make sure to back-check the citations…) where I’ll read a main article, then click around to 20 other articles within it before finishing the main entry.

    The parallels and connectivity drawn between the whale oil industry and the emerging petroleum oil industry is something I haven’t encountered before. It was very interesting and timely, pointing to the probable similar demise of our current petroleum-based society.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this quick read. Great to take on buses, trains, etc. I recommend it.

  • nedendir
    10:15 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    The author recounts the tale of the disastrous whaling season of 1870-1 amidst a history of the rise and fall of the whaling industry as seen from the perspective of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

    From my perspective, Nichols gets plus points for many aspects of this work: he is great at setting the stage for his disaster story, so that the reader is not simply overwhelmed with a tragedy, but sees exactly where the hubris that caused it came from; he is strong on providing detail not only of the conventionally portrayed economic aspects of the whaling industry, but also does an excellent job of sketching out the worldview of its participants and their wives; he effectively integrates whaling as an economic activity in the rise and fall of other New England and world industry; and the story is generally well-told on the popular level–he presents a lot more information than the typical popular history, and actually consults the work of real researchers, but he does not overwhelm or lecture/harangue the reader.

    The book loses one star in my opinion for the following reasons: the chapter-by-chapter shifting of perspective is not well done, and occasionally confuses the reader as to where she is in the narrative; and he takes an overly Weberian perspective on the Quakers as economic actors that is now dated, superficial, and generally considered inaccurate by experts. Normally I would have been more frustrated about this, but the chapters that deal with the experience and activity of whaling and sailing are so detailed and picturesque that they make up for this somewhat.

    The book definitely made me want to try to read Moby Dick again!

  • Satish KC
    14:55 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This riveting account of the loss of a huge whaling fleet off Alaska in the late 1800s makes for a rousing tale of adventure and survival at sea. The author sets up his tale well with a thorough history of the thrifty and industrious Quakers who founded the whaling industry in New England. The ships, the men, their wives and families all come to vivid life in this book. The legendary seaport of New Bedford and its important role in whaling is well documented here. The reader will learn much about the lives of the whale men and those who supported them ashore. These men men routinely brought their wives on the long voyages and their children were often born at sea. Stories of successes and tragic failures will fascinate the reader. Shipwrecks and death on far away shores were an ever present part of the lives of those in the whaling fleet. Phenomenal wealth was accrued by the whalers and their financial backers and the tales of the counting houses and shipyards of the day are very informative.

    The story of the loss of the great whaling fleet, their entrapment in the arctic ice, and the great struggle for survival by the crews is one of the great sagas of maritime history. The author’s research and presentation in this book is meticulous and I recommend this work to all maritime historians and to any reader with an interest in history and adventure as a valuable addition and resource for their book collection. The Wreck Hunters: Dive to the Wreck of the USS Bass

  • Now what?
    23:22 on February 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This was bought as a gift and I only leafed through it … The recipient was delighted and I intend to borrow the book as soon as possible. Very interesting !!

  • pop frame
    2:13 on February 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable book for those who love to read about history. I was a bit perplexed about the category of this book; from the cover one cannot tell if it is a “historical” novel or relates actual events. I am pleased to report that the tale actually occurred. It is very well written, and obviously well researched. This is not a textbook, and does not have extensive notes; rather, the author prefers to list his sources inside the text rather than via footnotes. The technique makes the book flow like a spoken oral history.

    The story tells the tale of the decline and fall of the whaling industry in New Bedford MA, and focuses around the pivotal year of 1871. The details are absolutely fascinating and the story flows extremely well. It abounds in details, yet does not go onto needless diverse paths. I was amazed to discover, for example, that for a short while the Walrus were killed for their oil. I had never read this fact. Very well done.

    The author does come across as a bit of an environmentalist, but then that is not too strange these days, and in fact I applaud the the way that he presents the story in a straight forward fashion, without judgment. Those were different days, and the actions of the people have to be understood in that light. He does draw some comparisons with the modern use (and presumed coming collapse) of oil, and here I believe I disagree with those portions. But overall, the author does an outstanding job.

    There is a lot of drama in this story, but the main reason it is unsuitable for kids is that it deals with a lot of death, and there are kids (on the whale ships) in peril. Plus, I doubt that many kids would be interested. However it would be great for teenagers of any level.

    If you like history and are interested in the arctic whaling (or just fascinated by the era of whaling in general), I highly recommend this book.

  • Markoc
    4:40 on February 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Final Voyage is a good book for what it is, but it did not turn out to be at all what I had expected or wanted. I ordered this book because the product description led me to think that it would be an incredible story of personal challenge, sacrifice, and survival in the Arctic. Don’t get me wrong, this book has hints of those dimensions, but the book is mainly about the history of the New England whaling industry and the establishment, rise, and economic fall of whaling ports like Nantuckett and New Bedford.

    The author sets the stage for the climax of the book in which a fleet of whaling ships is trapped between the encroaching ice pack and shoal waters along Alaska’s northwest shore. The setting of the stage, however, takes up what seemed like about 90% of the book, and the actual struggles and events surrounding the trapped fleet and its crews makes up the meager remains of the book.

    This book does tell the tale of the rise and fall of the square-rigger whaling industry mainly from the perspective of New England Quakers such as the Howland family. There are also references to accounts of early American religious intolerance and how those events contributed to the story.

    The author accurately points out the interplay between the twilight of the whale oil (oyl) industry and the rise of the petroleum industry, and that the whaling industry was already on its way out before this set of tragic events took place.

    As a piece of history, historical ecomonics, and even family history of the Howlands I found this to be a somewhat intruiging read, but as an historical tale of Arctic disaster and human endeavor (such as you can find in the amazing telling of the tragic events of Shakelton’s ill fated expedition in Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage) I found it sadly lacking.

    As a marine biologist I found it notable that the author took neither an apologetic nor a condemning stance on whaling itself (an emotionally charged issue among coastal nations), and perhaps for that reason this book lacked a a strong emotional dimension from which it could have benefitted.

    One other thing. I was somewhat disturbed by the author’s references to Darwinian theory to the economics of the whaling industry – that smacked of the tired old and outmoded application of Darwinism to social contexts, a.k.a. Social Darwinism of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    The mixture of a misplaced set of expectations and the author’s lack of emphasis on the actual Arctic disaster and its conclusion leads me to award only 3 stars (which according to Amazon’s scale = It’s OK).

  • Jim Levitt
    10:26 on February 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Nichols does a good job of providing historical detail without descending into excessive academic drudgery. It is readable and entertaining most of the time. The author occasionally delves too deeply into a tangential detail, but just when I began to get bored, Nichols got back on track. If you like reading about sailing and exploration of the “new world”, or are interested in Victorian era academic thought, or of course the origin of the “origin of species”, check it out.

  • Karla Shelton
    15:48 on February 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I bought this book on my travels without first having had the opportunity to review the comments by the consumers (readers) on Amazon. I enjoyed the brief history of the whaling industry and its place in New England’s rich history during the 18th and 19th centuries. I particularly enjoyed the author’s interposing in the narrative comments taken from the actual logbooks of some of the whale ships to corroborate his historical research. However, Nichols wandered from the whaling history to the religious persecution of the Quakers in New England in the 17th century to the discovery of oil in Western Pennsylvania, and the human interest story of the Howland family in New Bedford.

    The back of the book’s dust cover is very misleading and if one is anticipating this is going to be an exciting, hair-raising, spine tingling adventure of the final voyage of a 19th century whaling ship and crew on the open seas, you will be disappointed. The narrative of the incarcerated whale fleet in the Arctic Ice in 1871 doesn’t even come into focus until the 15th and 16th chapters,(the book has 18 chapters)a grand total of 20 pages!

    The book can hardly be construed as “one of the most gripping sea stories….”, “a haunting story on the grandest scale”, or “a terrifyingly relevant historical narrative”. Quotes taken from the back of the dust cover!

  • Satish KC
    20:28 on February 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This book will be best enjoyed by people who like to read history novels.

    It is a really compelling book about the whaling industry in the United States ca. 1870. At that time, the whaling industry was a multi-million dollar industry- in 1870 dollars!

    A real page-turner, this is the true history of America’s whale oil harvesting ships. When one thinks of the whaling industry, we think of New Bedford, Massachusetts and all the Widow’s Walks on the fishermen’s homes that have survived to the present day.

    However, the whalers went as far north as the arctic Sea and into present-day Alaska.Their exploits in the Bering Strait are well chronicled.

    Far north, in the arctic Seas, the whalers and their families perished helplessly as their homes were crushed by the mounting ice all around them.

    This is a very well written historical novel the pages almost turn themselves as the reader is transported back into another era.

    The book is not an easy book to read if you want to get the most out of it. To take full advantage of all the historical references, the reader will find themselves flipping back and forth throughout the book. But, even that slowing process is well wort it, for the reader will get that much more out of the book.

    This book would make a great gift for that history buff on your list.

    It is a terrific story of early America.

  • PaulTheZombie
    21:37 on February 2nd, 2012
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    Robert FitzRoy was a brilliant, fascinating and complex man. While this book focusses primarily on his role as the Captain of ‘HMS Beagle’ during two voyages (the second included Charles Darwin), it includes other aspects of his career and life.

    Mr Nichols presents the facts – especially those related to the voyages of HMS Beagle – well. While acknowledging the later differences between Darwin and FitzRoy, the facts are presented impartially. In summary, we owe a great deal to the collaboration between Darwin and FitzRoy. The fact that their complementary skills and intellects were only combined through a form of coincidental opportunities is the purest serendipity.

    Highly recommended to those who would like to know more about the events and circumstances behind Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle as well as the voyage itself.

    I am currently reading as much as I can about Robert FitzRoy, and can recommend the following two books as well:

    This is a novel about Robert Fitzroy:
    This Thing of Darkness
    This is a biography of the HMS Beagle herself:
    HMS “Beagle” (Voyages S.)

    Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  • Ripel
    23:30 on February 2nd, 2012
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    Charting a path through the Americas, Captain Robert FitzRoy crosses paths with a young Charles Darwin, an event that affects the direction of scientific study. In 1829, Capt. FitzRoy, of the HMS Beagle, sails with Capt. Phillip Parker, of the HMS Adventure, on a survey that will enable Great Britain’s complete dominance of world trade. FitzRoy has his first sighting of natives in Tierra del Fuego; he finds their primitive appearance repulsive. On their return home, FitzRoy carries four natives back to England, his specimens. It is his intention to “save” the savages, baptize them as Christians and expose them to the advantages a civilization defined by its Godliness.

    By 1831, the savages are the source of constant embarrassment and it is necessary to return them to Tierra de Fuego. Finagling a commission, ostensibly to finish the survey of the Americas, FitzRoy releases the natives to their homeland. This new commission involves an extended voyage navigating the globe and FitzRoy is concerned about the years of isolation, not one to mix with those of lesser rank. The prospect of such solitude is daunting to the young captain, haunted by the history of insanity in his family.

    Charles Darwin is a naturalist, the perfect choice as FitzRoy’s companion. Both possess astute minds and spend hours discoursing on scientific principles. While FitzRoy surveys the rugged coastline of Tierra del Fuego, Darwin roams the countryside, gathering specimens. The trip almost flounders when the overstressed FitzRoy loses his focus, but he rallies, able to continue. By the time they reach the Falklands, Darwin is writing voluminous notes on the aberrations observed on various islands, particularly the Galapagos Islands.

    Returning home, the two scientists prepare for publication. Their work is published in three volumes: King’s, FitzRoy’s and Darwin’s. Darwin’s most important work is published twenty-two years later, but in 1837, he avoids an argument with accepted theology. At this point the two friends drift apart philosophically, Darwin committed to a scientific definition of the world and FitzRoy ever more avidly Creationist.

    As Nichols chronicles the men’s lives, the once friendly scientists finally become adversarial. FitzRoy has noble aspirations, albeit fettered by his English prejudices. He never imagined his name written on the pages of history as “the man who took Darwin around the world” on his momentous adventure. FitzRoy makes important contributions as a weather forecaster, but is never appreciated in his time; his fate is sealed when he chooses the traveling companion for this fated voyage. Nichols offers a fascinating view of a remarkable voyage; he brings the seafaring world to life, the dangers, curiosities and courage of an undertaking that will dramatically alter the scientific world. Luan Gaines/2004.

  • Markoc
    1:57 on February 3rd, 2012
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    For the most part, I enjoyed reading Final Voyage: a story of arctic disaster and one fateful whaling season. I was expecting a book on whaling, and I got it… for the most part. However, author Peter Nichols took the book into a strained direction, focusing on members of The Society of Friends, commonly called Friends, or Quakers.

    “The hounding and marginalization of the early Quakers case-hardened them into the tightly knit, clannish society of mutual reliance and unyielding stubbornness that produced this seemingly impregnable plutocracy.”

    “Nantucket’s genius in the business of whaling lay in the collective pursuit of a single engrossing occupation by its inhabitants, most of whom were connected by birth and an intimacy that stretched back over many generations, and now by religion.”

    “Like the Jews of Eastern Europe, persecuted through millennia, that was left to them was trade, financial services, and medicine, and at these callings Quakers excelled. Through native ability, honesty, and energy, they became disproportionately more prosperous and influential than those who had been accorded every advantage offered by society around them.”

    There was much more. Basically, Nichols argued that religious bonds and beliefs made certain Friends successful and prosperous in the whaling business, and that those same beliefs encouraged their downfall before and after that “final voyage”. “For two centuries their family had been engaged in a compact with God to slay the Leviathan in the sea; wealth and station and power had derived from their unswerving adherence to this agreement.” I think this hypothesis was not well supported, and, quite frankly, describing and categorizing a religious group by looking at a small sample of people is always problematic. His inability to synthesize what the other 99% of Friends were doing in the United States during the same time period makes these generalizations suspect.

    Author Nichols also made numerous references to a “Darwinian” outlook. For example, he noted that “The Eskimos’ communion with their environment was, like that of the whale and the walrus, a complete adaptation. It was mutually beneficial in the classic Darwinian mode: the hunters would more often catch the weaker, slower, older animals, leaving food sources and procreation to the fittest whales.” Any social Darwinism comments are always suspect, and in this case he even got the biological mode wrong: the fittest whales are not the strongest, nor the fastest, nor the longest. They are the whales that are most successful in making copies of themselves by producing young that survive and continue to reproduce. If this is a feature of the smallest, or weakest, or even the loudest, so be it. Natural selection does not have any goal in mind.

    Enough said. This book needed more on whaling, less on Quakers. It needed more diary entries, and less speculation. It needed more on sea rescues, and salt air, and whaling harpoons, and fleshing knives, and Master and Commander stuff.

    And it needed to remind us that whales, like bison, passenger pigeons, dodos, and oil, are not an infinite resource. In that, Nichols was successful. Efficient whaling as an extractive industry had a terrible, terrible toll on all whale populations on this planet.

  • Jim Levitt
    7:43 on February 3rd, 2012
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    The subtitle is a “story of Artic Disaster and one Fateful Whaling Season.” this work is far more than that. True it is about whaling, but in a way whaling is but a small aspect of the book. Unexpectedly, I leared about the men who started it all. About their Quaker faith, and the development of New Bedford, MA. as a whaling center thar rivialed Nankucket. The book shifts between the period of the 1850′s, 60′s and 70′s to the seventeenth century to map out a family history of those who would ultimately play a role in the fateful whaleing season of 1871. The book quotes liberally from logs that were kept during that period of time, including those from the sailing wifes of the masters of these vessels. The fact that were we so many wifes went to sea with their hudbands was a fact I was not aware of, including the number of children that were born when at sea. The book is both educational, informative, and in general a very good read. Nichols is also the author of A Voyage for Madman, which is likewise worth time time to read.

  • nedendir
    9:09 on February 3rd, 2012
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    Peter Nichol’s “Final Voyage” is built around America’s whaling industry, dating from Colonial America through the first years of the 20th Century. But the whaling industry is simply framework. Within the pages of “Final Voyage” there is so much more to be found; life in Colonial America, the Quakers, the Puritans, the founding of New Bedford, the Arctic, Eskimos, Pennsylvania oil fields, the textile industry…so much American history…told in such an entertaining and easily accessible manner, even non-history buffs should enjoy the tale. By using passages from a whaler’s diary, or the journal kept by a captain’s wife, local newspaper accounts and other eyewitness accounts to this unique time in America’s history, Nichols not only informs, but thoroughly entertains.

    Basically Nichols introduces us to several generations of early American families;

    The Williams – Whaling Captain and family, much of the story is told through the journal of Eliza Williams, and her son. Both of whom accompany Captain Williams across the globe in seach of whale.

    The Howlands – Quaker businessmen who founded New Bedford and became one of the wealthiest families in early America due to whalin. They are a true rags-to riches-to rags story.

    The Rotchs – Another family whose fates rose and fell with the whaling industry, and whose story intertwines with both the Howlands and the Williams throughout history.

    Don’t go into “Final Voyage” expecting a true-life disaster story along the lines of “A Perfect Storm”. While disaster does strike the whaling industry, the story lies in the tale of men and an industry unwilling to bend to a changing world, and losing everything it had taken over 200 years create. It’s not the icy disaster that awaits the whaling fleet, but the journey it took over two centuries to reach the Bering Sea.

    I have to say I was a bit skeptical when cracking open this book. I was worried it would be a 300 page “Save the Whales” pamphlet, and questioned how informative could a 300 page history book really be when it claimed it was covering two centuries of American History?! Well the deceptively thin book is simply crammed with fascinating tales, well researched and well told. This isn’t PETA style propaganda, sure the result of 200 years of whaling is part of the tale, and the destruction to the Eskimo in no less poigniant than the loss of the buffalo to the Plains Indians, but the story is told in a straightforward manner, Nichols does not try to pass judgement on these people, he just lays out the grim facts for the reader.

    Simply put this is a fantastic tale, and so well told. If you want to get a better glimpse into the real world setting of “Moby Dick”, you couldn’t ask for a better guide than “Final Voyage”.

  • Satish KC
    13:49 on February 3rd, 2012
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    My 1940 published book was in excellent condition and arrived prior to the date that it was expected. I cannot recommend this seller too highly.

  • PaulTheZombie
    14:58 on February 3rd, 2012
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    This riveting account of the loss of a huge whaling fleet off Alaska in the late 1800s makes for a rousing tale of adventure and survival at sea. The author sets up his tale well with a thorough history of the thrifty and industrious Quakers who founded the whaling industry in New England. The ships, the men, their wives and families all come to vivid life in this book. The legendary seaport of New Bedford and its important role in whaling is well documented here. The reader will learn much about the lives of the whale men and those who supported them ashore. These men men routinely brought their wives on the long voyages and their children were often born at sea. Stories of successes and tragic failures will fascinate the reader. Shipwrecks and death on far away shores were an ever present part of the lives of those in the whaling fleet. Phenomenal wealth was accrued by the whalers and their financial backers and the tales of the counting houses and shipyards of the day are very informative.

    The story of the loss of the great whaling fleet, their entrapment in the arctic ice, and the great struggle for survival by the crews is one of the great sagas of maritime history. The author’s research and presentation in this book is meticulous and I recommend this work to all maritime historians and to any reader with an interest in history and adventure as a valuable addition and resource for their book collection. The Wreck Hunters: Dive to the Wreck of the USS Bass

  • Ripel
    16:51 on February 3rd, 2012
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    This generally sympathetic account of Robert FitzRoy and his role as the captain of the HMS Beagle during Darwin’s famous voyage is a good summer read. But anyone familiar with manic-depressive illness can’t avoid the conclusion that Nichols misses a key aspect of FitzRoy’s persona: he had bipolar disorder! It is remarkable how Nichols could so carefully document the elements of this illness in his biography of FitzRoy and yet not get it. As Nichols reports, FitzRoy had a family history of suicide, episodes of ill-considered spending (e.g., he purchased 2 ships with a crew on the vague hope that the Admirality would reimburse him), followed by severe depression (during the voyage of the Beagle, when FitzRoy gave up his command during an attack of depression, Darwin himself wondered whether there was something wrong with FitzRoy’s brain). Add to this the episodic, lifelong course, ending — in this sad case as in about 15% people with the illness even today — in suicide. Nichols would have us believe that FitzRoy slit his throat with his wife and children nearby because of his disagreements with Darwin, capped by an unfavorable notice in The Times. It is clear instead that FitzRoy had a mental illness that had barely been described in the year he died of it, but which even now continues to go undiagnosed and untreated. Nichols would have served his readers — and FitzRoy’s memory — better if he had recognized what should have been plain and considered this in his account of FitzRoy’s often erratic behavior. Nevertheless, the book should be read by anyone interested in the early days of the Theory of Natural Selection.

  • TrafficWarden
    17:15 on February 3rd, 2012
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    Only a small portion of this book concerns the so called “Final Voyage”, and, as Peter Nichols, tells it, there were other voyages after the so called final one. Instead it is (a) a history of the whaling industry, (b)the saga of the Quakers of New Bedford, in particular the Howland family (c) the effects of Whaling on the Eskimos and their culture, (d) the early history of oil exploration in Pennsylvania, and (e)even more. Thus it is far from a simple adventure yarn, it is history as viewed through the lens of a single industry and it is riveting history brilliantly told. There is so much of interest in this short book! For instance there is a chapter on the uses of whale boats by the North and the prey on Whalers by the South during the Civil War. The author has the gift of making history live. My only real complaint is that I wished maps and more illustrations had been included.

  • John Baxter
    20:10 on February 3rd, 2012
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    Like many reviewers I picked up this book in the store and read its jacket. The central theme of Final Voyage was advertised as the rescue operation of a fleet of whaling ships caught in the Arctic ice. When I actually began reading the book I found that the book centers much more on the closing years of the whaling industry as a financial powerhouse, symbolized by the disaster of the caught whaling fleet. Thus this became largely a book discussing the rise and fall of the whaling industry in New Bedford along with its colorful characters and largely Quaker roots. I found this information enlightening and ultimately enjoyed my time in the book, but feel it is not as advertised. Nichols draws the tale into a subtle anecdote for our modern oil industry and invites us to learn from history and perhaps be more versatile in our business acumen than the men portrayed here. The book is well researched with a good deal of insight into the lives of the whalemen and their families, along with the business interests and vagaries of wealth. For a tale of adventure on the icy oceans I would recommend Lansing’s book. If you’re looking for a view into the whaling world and it’s Quaker influences from New Bedford this is the one you want. Just don’t expect grand adventure to pervade.

  • Saner Rijet
    3:05 on February 4th, 2012
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    Peter Nichol’s book is a minutely detailed chronicle of how the 1871 whaling fleet’s tragic voyage took place. But there is much more. It is an insider’s account of New Bedford society, largely played out in the counting houses, general courts and whaleboats where the enterprise’s fate was decided, and based on the diaries and memoirs of those whale merchants and sailors involved.

    Peter Nichol’s picture of the whaling industry and its environs is grounded in reality, free of stereotypes and balanced in its judgment. It neither romanticizes nor condemns and thereby provides a foundation story that we can all understand.

    Quakers erected an empire based on whaling during the age of sail. It was a perilous industry: captains eager for a huge harvest routinely pushed ships beyond their limits. Accidents happened. Fortunes and ships were lost. We learn that deaths were not uncommon.

    This is an informative, clearly written and often thought-provoking book. It captures the importance of whaling in American history. Mr. Nichols asks, Would whale oil continued to become more and more valuable if oil in Pennsylvania had not been discovered? Would the high tech textile mills of New Bedford ever been built if whale herds not been devastated.

    This compelling and impressively well-researched book provides a new view of the connection between the whale oil industry, the discovery of petroleum, and the start-up and collapse of the textile enterprise in New England. It is by far the best and most detailed story New Bedford’s fight for economic survival.

    As he has shown us already in, Mr. Nichols has a talent for bringing sea adventures to the page, and he has produced a readable and enthralling account of the dangers and problems facing whalers. Through Mr. Nichol’s eyes we are able to view the contrasts to early Nantucket whaling ventures with the New Bedford fleet’s fateful 1871 voyage as they were nearly all lost to the arctic ice’s crushing grip.

    Eminently readable, “Final Voyage” is a jewel of historical reporting. Mr. Nichols is familiar with the vast number of written sources. He cooks down the private correspondence of the time in order to distill for us the personality and prejudices of those writers. For anyone who wishes to understand whaling, New Bedford commerce, and those times, this book is essential reading.

  • Satish KC
    7:46 on February 4th, 2012
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    Britain’s Royal Navy has had many figures worthy of note. Some of these have inspired good works of history, while others prompted novelists to produce stirring tales of more or less believable adventures. Captain William Bligh almost immediately comes to mind, as does Patrick O’Brian’s lengthy series on Jack Aubrey. One real figure, who should stand out for many accomplishments, has been quietly relegated to the shadows – if not scorned for holding rigid views. Robert FitzRoy, however, was a man of many parts who deserves better treatment. Peter Nichols provides that assessment in this fine biography. The title, however, gives the game away. FitzRoy’s name was overshadowed by the passenger he carried for five years, Charles Robert Darwin.

    FitzRoy’s ascent to the captaincy of HMS Beagle seemed ill-omened. His predecessor, Stokes Pringle, overwhelmed by the enormity of his assignment, put a bullet in his head, taking a dozen days to expire. The task, mapping a channel through Tierra del Fuego in an effort to smooth the path of empire, was taxing enough to make the bravest quail. The 500 kilometre strait might require sailing five times that distance to traverse it – if you made it at all. FitzRoy, although unaccountably young for the mapping job, took it over and pursued it with determination. During the survey, a whaleboat stolen by the Fuegians proved a pivotal point in his life. In attempting to recover the boat, FitzRoy abducted four of the natives, returning them to England as a means of raising them to become civilised Christians. Nichols seems sympathetic to this concept, even while knowing it was doomed to failure.

    The world knows the subsequent events: while preparing for the next voyage, FitzRoy brought on board a “companion”, Charles Darwin. Not Navy, and not the official “naturalist”, Darwin was a gentlemen who could converse with the isolated officer. As a “gentleman”, Darwin had less regard for the Fuegians than did FitzRoy, yet condemned slavery while the captain viewed the practice as a civilising force. This discussion was set aside when the pair observed the obvious effects of running water far from the sea. A Noachean Flood, or an ancient Earth? There were clashes and apologies, FitzRoy driving Darwin from his cabin, only to lure him back. The captain’s moods were an on-going topic of the ship’s officers. The dismal end of his predecessor also may have preyed on FitzRoy’s mind when the Beagle beat up the Chilean coast. He believed the mapping inadequate and wanted to return to the Strait for more surveys. Distraught, he actually resigned his command, but was talked out of it by his officers.

    At the end of the survey voyage, FitzRoy went through several roles. Unable to gain a ship, he was a Member of Parliament briefly and was sent to New Zealand as its governor. Empire building is fraught with risks and Nichols is only mildly sympathetic with FitzRoy’s disastrous role there. The new governor was shipped home after but two years. Back in England, FitzRoy’s command skills brought him to a novel task – weather forecasting. The science was just beginning and FitzRoy initiated a reporting and prediction system across the British Isles. At the height of his success at this venture, the Admiralty shut it down, even in the face of the fishing fleet’s demands to sustain it. A see-saw career if there ever was one.

    The final chapter of the Captain’s life [by which time he was a Rear Admiral] was one of fundamental challenges. Already a religious man, FitzRoy became steeped in the Bible’s words, becoming convinced it would brook no challenges. Changes observed in the natural record were manifestations of the divine, FitzRoy believed. His notions were reinforced by various commentators like Philip Gosse, who viewed the growing sciences of geology and biology with fear and loathing. In 1859, however, all those declaring Nature could be unravelled by Biblical study were directly refuted by the publication of Darwin’s opus, “On the Origin of Species”. Reason and evidence triumphed over superstition and dogma. FitzRoy was outraged, and expressed it at the famous British Association meeting the following year.

    It’s not known how much this revelation led to FitzRoy’s taking his own life, but it can hardly have been insignificant. Nichols concludes that Darwin’s work was but one symbol of a rapidly changing time. The author examines British society at this point in FitzRoy’s with a perceptive eye. Civilisation was moving forward and the author concludes FitzRoy felt left behind. The fear of social upheaval was already being overtaken by events – Darwin’s natural selection had little, if anything, to do with it, notes Nichols. It’s a worthy thesis, lacking only a more thorough analysis of its roots. We never learn of the early foundations of the captain’s thinking. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

  • Seano
    12:41 on February 4th, 2012
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    I feel as though the title of the book is a bit of a misnomer. Though nominally about a whaling ship disaster in 1871, the book is far more a history of the rise and fall of the American whaling industry. In itself this is a very readable story, and Peter Nichols writes in a casual narrative that makes easy and enjoyable reading.

    The narrative fateful 1871 trip that sailed in search of depleted whales and ended up icebound in the Arctic is woven within the story of whale oil boom that put New Bedford on the historical map. Whether it was due to lack of materials, which I suspect, or something else, the detail of the rise of the whaling industry is well-told and in-depth, but the “Final Voyage” itself feels glossed-over. There are a few bits and pieces, but it’s very impersonal and left me with the “oh yeah, I forgot about that” kind of feeling. I ended up not caring terribly much and I think that is the fault of the author trying to make a story without embellishing it but without enough to fill more than a few pages.

    I think the story might have been better told as the narrative of the whaling industry with a couple of chapters covering the “Final Voyage”. I don’t think the book would have been any less interesting for that, though it may have lacked the appeal that a disaster-oriented title and tag line give it.

    Overall a good book and a worthwhile read, but not for the reasons one might expect.

  • Ripel
    14:34 on February 4th, 2012
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    Prepare to hop in the Time Machine. This story of “Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season” is just absolutely RIVETING!! I love adventure books so much and this one goes somewhere near the top of my list. I lapped up Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. Jack London is an all-time favorite, and I’ve enjoyed real life stories from mountaineers including Thomas Horbien. There is also a bit of Sebastian Junger in this work. Peter Nichols creates an ‘edge of your seat’ experience against the backdrop of the choppy waters of the 1870s. If you happen to enjoy the Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch” — this is a must read. You will LOVE it. I give it five stars and I’m pretty picky with my stars. Buy it. You will NOT be disappointed. Oh, and buckle your seatbelt!

  • TrafficWarden
    14:59 on February 4th, 2012
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    You should be warned that this is rather less a tale of maritime disaster and Arctic suffering than it is a history of whaling in Nantucket and New Bedford, mixed with an account of the prominence of Quakers in that industry, with a focus on a couple of particular families. I suspect most readers want to get to the “good part” where the unlucky whalers get trapped in the Alaskan ice, but if so, they will be frustrated, as the author endlessly delays reaching that point.

    There’s a great deal of cutting from one locale to another and jumping back and forth in time. And way too much of “The aptly-named Sir Not-Relevant-to-this-Tale once lived near Boston, and was the grandson of So-and-So, and married the fifth cousin of What’s-Her-Face. He owned a wharf. This…is not his story.”

    My advance copy had all of two illustrations and no maps. More of the former and some of the latter would’ve substantially improved the book.

    The author did significant research, it appears, and is clearly enthusiastic about the topic, but this is a workman-like effort at best, and given the nature of the actual denouement, I think the marketing of the book is rather misleading. It’s all right for what it is–as long as you’re looking for a general survey of 19th century American whaling.

  • John Baxter
    17:54 on February 4th, 2012
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    The last thing that Robert Fitzroy, late captain of the H.M.S Beagle, late inspired leader and motivator of men, late brilliant navigator and cartographer, late natural scientist at odds with history’s greatest naturalist Charles Darwin, late member of the British Parliament, late British Governor to New Zealand soon after the founding of that colony, late Admiral in the Royal Navy, and most lately, the man most responsible for the creation of modern day weather forecasting, was to climb up out of the bed he shared with his wife and alone in front of a mirror slit his own throat. Perhaps a “dark fate”, but the path to that dark end was anything but dark. Fitzroy, born in 1805, started his career in the British Royal Navy at the age of twelve. And to prove he was no ordinary man, at a mere 23 years of age, he was given command of the Beagle after the man who started out as the expedition’s commander, a Captain Stokes, slit his own throat after endless months under the pressures of command and peering out into the drizzle and freezing rain of Tierra del Fuego. Darwin commented on the presence and leadership qualities of Fitzroy while he was on the Beagle, describing how extraordinary he was, like one of the, “great men of history”. But what makes Fitzroy interesting is that, if he was an inspired leader, even Napoleon-like, he was also flawed. And it his flaws when placed in contrast to his obvious qualities that make him interesting. After all, many thought – and even gave him the opportunity to become -another Horatio Nelson, a great scientist, or a wise and careful Governor; but he did none of those things. He did, ultimately, make a name for himself as the inventor of the “Fitzroy Barometer” and his weather forecasts (which like today were notoriously inaccurate). But that paled beside what could have been. It’s said that because he was passed up for being chosen as Chief Naval Office in the Marine Department at 60 years of age, he slit his throat; but I doubt it. It was just the straw that broke his back.

    Of course, Fitzroy was a man of his time, and in his time the church and the teachings of the church predominated the social fabric, morality, philosophy, and even the science of the day. (Ironically, even today in the United States, many might more readily accept Fitzroy’s view of the world than Darwin’s.) It was also the beginning of the Victorian Era in England with all the implicit social arrogance and condescension to other “inferior” peoples that was not present even 50 years earlier during Cook’s voyages throughout the pacific. And so one of the most interesting sub-plots of this book was the story of the three natives Fitzroy took (some say kidnapped) from their homes in Tierra del Fuego and brought them to England for “proper” instruction in civilization, meaning Christianity as then taught. The ostensible purpose of Fitzroy’s plan was to, `transfer to their relatives some rudiments of civilization’. It was a fact that two of the natives (a grown man and a twelve year old girl) after being caught having sex in the garden of the Rectory, prompted the second voyage of the Beagle for which Darwin was invited to come along: (They had to be taken out of England, and fast!) It is easy for us today – and perhaps a little too smugly as well – to criticize such gross arrogance; but given the context of his time, it’s not so difficult to understand. Interestingly, Jemmy Buttons, one of the natives taken by Fitzroy, was, many years later, said to be responsible for the murder of the captain and crew of a Missionary Ship sent to give the natives further instruction. Fitzroy knew and read about this in the London Times; Nichols doesn’t express what he might have thought; but we can imagine.

    Nichols seems to spend more text on Darwin than Fitzroy, possibly because there is simply a paucity of primary source material. For those already familiar with Darwin’s Journal or his, “Voyage of the Beagle”, much of this book is a re-hash of that. But Nichols seems to be sea-going man and he spends most of his description of Fitzroy under that context. And it is wonderful, and it is enlightening. It just doesn’t go far enough.

  • nedendir
    19:20 on February 4th, 2012
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    Nichols focus our attention on the question if Captain FitzRoy was destroyed by the thought he took Darwin on his voyage of discovery. The issue that highlights Nichols excellent book is apparently still alive today. When one touches the third rail of Fundamentalism it cuts deep for some true believers. For example, just yesterday the L A times published an article about a minister teaching elementary age children how to argue against science and the theory of evolution. He instructed them that if in a class room a teacher mentions the word “evolution, or big bang” the children were to raise their hands and ask, how do you know, where you there? And then to tell their teacher only one was there, GOD. And GOD wrote the truth of it in the bible. Imagine this still being up for debate, happening in a country that realizes it has a shortage of scientists. Some polls say 50% of Americans still believe in Creationism. You might ask, how does this relate to Mr. Nichols excellent biography of Captain Robert FitzRoy, the Captain of the H.M.S. Beagle which took Charles Darwin on his voyage to question the common notion that we are being asked today to swallow as “intelligent design”? Well FitzRoy and most of Victorian England’s thinking in the mid 1800s was unquestioning in its support of Creationism, even Darwin started from this premise. So as a backdrop to an excellent story of exploration you have a book that provides an entry level introduction to the very beginnings of a new understanding. As Nichols puts it , ” How wide was the gulf between Darwin and FitzRoy. Darwin stood at the threshold of an expansion of thought and science that would not be equaled for a hundred years…. Fitzroy in his way was no less a scientist… was stuck, deeply by prejudice and the cleaving to an old order, to a mindset a thousand and more years old, when science was subservient to religion. That order was about to be toppled, and the constructs of the Bible smashed like an old wooden bridge, weakened by rot, before the torrent of a spring flood.” You get the idea, and this quote does show Nichols gets carried away with enthusiastic language which I found part of the enjoyment of reading the book. This book would be interesting if only for the story of how FitzRoy kidnapped three natives from Tierra del Fuego, brought them to England, educated them to be Christians and then returned them to their “savage” cousins. Their story is part of FitzRoy’s story too. I recommend the book strongly for its ideas and wonderful adventure story.

  • Satish KC
    0:00 on February 5th, 2012
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    Peter Nichols’ “Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season” isn’t a bad book at all, but it’s not what the title suggests as a survival story. Instead, it’s an interesting read of the cultural history of whaling on New England and beyond, which is certainly a decent enough book. 4 stars for lack of editing and a mistitled but still good book.

    The growth of the whaling industry in the New England area and the players behind it are an integral part of understanding the political and cultural history of the region. There have been some other books that have tackled the subject, but they’re mostly academic. Nichols’ attempt to do so for the layman is actually fairly well done, and while many readers will be disappointed to find that the 1871 rescue is only a small part of the book, it’s still a worthwhile read for the main topic.

    Unfortunately, Nichols does meander away from the topic quite a bit, and Final Voyage could use a much more solid editing job and retitling. That said, still a decent read. 4 stars.

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