Nantucket Whaleship Remains Found in Hawaii

Nantucket Whaleship Remains Found in Hawaii

Trypots, blubber hooks, and other artifacts found in 2008 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 600 miles northwest of Honolulu have been authenticated as from the Nantucket whaleship “Two Brothers”, which sunk on February 11, 1823 in a shallow reef off French Frigate Shoals in water now 10 to 15 feet deep. “Two Brothers” was the second ship that sunk under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., who survived both after having reportedly said that “the lightning never struck in the same place twice.” Pollard had also commanded the whaleship Essex, sunk by a sperm whale, which story was told in “Moby Dick” and Nat Philbrick’s New York Times bestseller “In the Heart of the Sea”.

I asked Nat Philbrick for a quick comment early this morning: “Yes it is exciting. Kind of amazing that they’ve found bits and pieces from Nantucket on the other side of the planet.”

Maritime heritage archaeologists working with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries found the remains of the wreck on a reef off French Frigate Shoals, nearly six hundred miles northwest of Honolulu, in the remote Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

This is the first discovery of a wrecked whaling ship from Nantucket. All of America;s whaling ships are now gone, broken up or sunk, except one, the National Historic Landmark Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Excerpts from the mission blog written on August 24, 2008 by Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeologist:

“Our next task at French Frigate Shoals was to search for some of the other shipwrecks that have been recorded lost here. Easier said than done–looking for a shipwreck site at this large atoll is a little bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“Within minutes of the first tow, the towboarders spotted a large traditional kedge anchor in about 15 feet of water. It was big and definitely old‚Äö and didn’t look like it was simply lost in an anchorage… After snorkeling around in the area, we came across the first clue that this site was more than a lone anchor – a trypot!… The team discovered two more trypots (for a total of three), another large anchor, and hundreds of bricks scattered in pockets of the reef. As the team explored further along the shallows, we discovered hawsepipes and rigging. Just as they did on the Gledstanes discovery, the trypots and bricks clearly indicated a whaler, and examination of the anchors point toward an early 19th century date.

“Nevertheless, the identity of this unexpected find remains a mystery. What ship could this be trapped on the sea floor beneath the waves at French Frigate Shoals for so long? Only three whaling ships, all American vessels, have been reported lost at French Frigate Shoals: the South Seaman, a wrecked in 1859; the Daniel Wood, wrecked in 1867; and the Two Brothers, a Nantucket whaler wrecked in 1823.

“The maritime archaeology team collected a considerable amount of information at the site: measurements, distribution, and location of artifacts are all clues that will help us to figure out what the identity of this ship may be and how it likely came to its end. The team will take this data, the still and video images, measurements, and field notes back to shore. From there, we will search through archives, consult our peers and experts in the field, and begin to put the pieces of this shipwreck site together. … We will be patient and appreciate the journey as we discover the true story behind this unidentified whaling shipwreck site.

Archeologists working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 2009 and again in 2010 found more artifacts, 80 in all, which were used to date the ship. Kelly Gleason, the writer of the blog above, visited the Nantucket Whaling Museum for clues. Additional scholarly research provided first-hand accounts from Two Brothers crew members, including an approximate location of where the ship grounded, which matched the location of the wreckage.

The team plans to return to the shipwreck site again to look for more pieces of Nantucket whaling history. The artifacts will be displayed at the Discovery Center in Hilo, and the exhibit may travel to Nantucket.

The following photos of the Two Brothers Discovery are courtesy of NOAA/Greg McFall.

French Frigate Shoals


Blubber Hook

Blubber Hook

Cooking Pot

Cooking Pot

Ginger Jar

Ginger Jar

Grinding Stone

Sounding Lead

Spear Tip

Try Pot

Try Pot

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