More on the Wreck of the Two Brothers

More on the wreck of the Two Brothers

Earlier Story

In a firsthand account about the wreck of the Nantucket whaleship Two Brothers on the evening of February 11, 1823, boatsteerer Thomas Nickerson recalls the moment that the whaleship ran aground on French Frigate Shoals, under command of George Pollard Jr., the Nantucket captain who had survived the tragedy of the whaleship Essex. Nickerson’s account of the wreck of the Two Brothers, along with a poem about the sinking, is on display in the Essex Gallery of the Nantucket Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street. A detailed account of the incident is available online at

Nickerson’s Two Brothers Account

For the past 188 years, the wreck of the Two Brothers has been buried beneath the ocean in the shallow waters of French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. On February 11, 2011, on the 188th anniversary of the wreck, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries formally announced to the press that they had located the nationally significant wreckage in the waters of Papahnaumokuakea Marine National Monument, nearly six hundred miles northwest of Honolulu.

In the Fall 2010 issue of the NHA’s quarterly publication Historic Nantucket, an article written by NOAA’s Kelly Gleason, Ph.D., and Jason T. Raupp, Ph.D. candidate, featured the exciting discovery and the mounting evidence that the wreck site was indeed the remains of the 1823 Nantucket whaleship Two Brothers. Since that time, the NOAA team has found further evidence at the wreck site, including try-pots, harpoon heads, a grinding wheel, a blubber hook, and fragments of china that make the case that the wreck site relates to an early-nineteenth-century wreck, most likely the Two Brothers.

Ben Simons, Nantucket Historical Association’s Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator, and his colleagues at the NHA Research Library and Gosnold Collections Facility have been working closely with Gleason and hosted her on a research visit to the island last summer.

The NOAA team has looked into the original account of the uncanny events surrounding the original wreck left by Essex survivor Thomas Nickerson, and used other supporting documentary evidence in the NHA collection and elsewhere to link the material evidence of the wreck site with the events as they unfolded on February 11, 1823.

“Their work has brought this dramatic historical event back to life out of the pages of history, and offered a thrilling glimpse of Nantucket’s storied whaling past,” he continued. “Very little of the physical legacy of Nantucket whaleships remains, so the exciting prospects of marine archeology are seemingly just beginning to open new windows into the whaling past.”

At this point, the precious archeological artifacts will remain in the marine sanctuary, as they are protected by federal law. Gleason hopes that a small selection will eventually be placed on display in Hilo, Hawaii. Gleason has been invited to speak here this summer, but nothing has been confirmed. The NHA will continue to work with NOAA to discuss their plans for the future of the wreck material.

“In the meantime, we will be displaying the key material in the NHA collections, in particular Thomas Nickerson’s firsthand account and poem describing the wreck” Simons said.

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