Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe

Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe

by Gregory Gibson, Gary Tonkin, Erik A. Ronnberg

View All Available Formats & Editions

Recounting in vivid detail one of the most dramatic incidents in American nautical history, Gregory Gibson draws from a fresh source: an eyewitness account of the Globe mutiny that was lost to historians for more than 150 years. The 1824 mutiny on the whaleship Globe was one of the goriest uprisings in maritime lore, involving hatchet murders, stabbings, shootings,


Recounting in vivid detail one of the most dramatic incidents in American nautical history, Gregory Gibson draws from a fresh source: an eyewitness account of the Globe mutiny that was lost to historians for more than 150 years. The 1824 mutiny on the whaleship Globe was one of the goriest uprisings in maritime lore, involving hatchet murders, stabbings, shootings, and a shipboard lynching. At its center was Samuel Comstock, a troubled young man raised in a staunch Quaker family who harbored fantasies of establishing his own island kingdom. This riveting account of the mutiny he led encompasses the story of the sperm-oil industry, the Nantucket power brokers who controlled it, and the fledgling U.S. Navy's fateful early encounters with the tattooed islanders of the South Pacific. It is a story of grand adventure and inspired narrative sleuthing -- an altogether extraordinary tale of men and the sea.

Editorial Reviews
The 1823 uprising aboard the whaleship Globe was the bloodiest mutiny in whaling history, and its Marshall Islands sequel was even more deadly and bizarre. These much-publicized incidents captured the imagination of many 19th-century Americans, including Herman Melville, who used several accounts of the tragedy as Moby-Dick sources. In Demon of the Water, nautical historian Gregory Gibson has recaptured this gripping story using new material that would quicken the pulse of even Melville. Utilizing a recently discovered handwritten journal, Gibson presents this notorious mutiny in a new light, placing this story of hatchet murders in the context of the Nantucket whaling combines and nascent American imperialism. Nor does he neglect the force of personality. His portrayal of chief mutineer Samuel Comstock sets this seafaring monster in sharp relief.
New Yorker
In 1704 a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, was abandoned on a remote South Sea island. Rescued more than four years later, Selkirk became a celebrity, as well as the model for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Diana Souhami's Selkirk's Island separates truth from literature: although the ever-ingenious Crusoe uses the indigenous goats on his island for clothing and food, Selkirk's goats had been brought from Europe, were disrupting the local ecosystem, and were probably used by Selkirk for sexual release.

One of the most famous castaway cases of the following century is covered in two new books, Mutiny on the Globe, by Thomas Farel Heffernan, and Demon of the Waters , by Gregory Gibson. In 1824, an apparent psychopath, Samuel Comstock, engineered a savage mutiny on a whaling ship and headed for Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. His intention was to establish his own Kurtz-style kingdom; after a bizarre series of killings and desertions that claimed Comstock's life, only two crew members were left, among inhabitants who were unsure whether to trust them or not. The men became expert in the native culture, adopting the local dress and compiling a list of island vocabulary that has elicited praise from scholars of the Marshallese language.

In a shrinking world, castaways are rarer. Magellania, a posthumous novel by Jules Verne translated from the French by Benjamin Ivry, tells the story of Kaw-djer, a mysterious white man who lives among the people of Magellania (at the tip of South America). But the outside world keeps intruding. Chile and Argentina jostle for possession of Magellania, jeopardizing the isolation of a voluntary castaway who does not want to be rescued. (Leo Carey)

Publishers Weekly
In 1978, a sailor's log of apparently little value surfaced in Vevay, Ind., and the notebook was eventually discovered to have been penned in 1827 by a 17-year-old sailor named Augustus Strong, stationed aboard the Dolphin, a U.S. Navy schooner dispatched to rescue surviving members of a mutiny in the South Pacific. Using Strong's 150-page record as a primary source, Gibson (Gone Boy), a collector of rare maritime books, retells the shocking tale of the gore-drenched mutiny aboard the whaler Globe. The mutiny was led by rogue Samuel Comstock so the 21-year-old could sail to the remote Marshall Islands, where he intended to build a kingdom for himself and enlist the natives in his private army. Word of the mutiny prompted the rescue voyage of the Dolphin and Strong's personal ledger. While Gibson diligently recounts the building of the Globe and the history of Nantucket whaling as well as the life and hard work aboard a whaler the chronicling of the mutiny lacks punch and the key figures are devoid of significant character. By the time Gibson personally visits the isle of Comstock's landing and death, readers might find it difficult to share the author's interest in what comes across as a bloody though bland story. Illus. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A whaling vessel built in 1815, the Globe was 78 feet long and staffed by a crew of 21; that one of the crew members was a psychopath bent on taking over the ship, killing his shipmates, and retiring to a South Pacific island to rule the natives seems more like fiction but in January 1825 became fact. In the early chapters of this well-written narrative, Gibson (Gone Boy: A Walkabout) details the dangerous vocation of whaler in the early 1800s, and his recent discovery of a journal by a sailor aboard the navy vessel sent to rescue the survivors of the mutiny is of interest. Gibson's chapters on shipbuilding could have been omitted, as this subject is addressed elsewhere, but once the voyage is under way the real adventure begins. The scheming Samuel Comstock was slain three weeks after committing his evil deeds on the Marshall Islands, leaving his final goal of becoming king unfulfilled. Over 30 pages of notes and a 120-title bibliography attest to Gibson's impressive research on this topic. Recommended for public libraries with maritime interests. James Thorsen, Central North Carolina Regional Lib. Syst., Burlington Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Read an Excerpt

Demon of the Waters

By Gregory Gibson

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2002 Gregory Gibson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-29923-5

Chapter One

Jay Small's Big Hit

Vevay, Indiana, 1978

In 1978, a midwestern book scout made a deal that would see him through the rest of his days.

Jay Small was one of that odd, itinerant breed who made their livings haunting estate sales, thrift shops, and old ladies' attics in hopes of finding rare and valuable texts. These characters flourished in the middle years of the 20th century, when we were becoming "modern" enough, most of us, to see no value in dusty relics, and rich and smart enough, a few of us, to collect these same objects with passion and vigor. In the rare-book hierarchy, Small was the man on the ground.

He specialized in Americana, and he operated out of Indianapolis, Indiana. His beat was the central part of the Midwest - Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky - territory that had been a conduit for American westward expansion. As people had passed through, they'd left books, pamphlets, and documents behind, a record of their activities and aspirations. The choicest of his selections might move along to bigger dealers in New York. These men would peddle their wares, by now substantially marked up and with an ever-increasing accompaniment of research and documentation, to more prestigious collectors and institutions.

Small had a friend and colleague who delighted in collecting and selling the works of the most obscure authors possible for a dealer in Indiana - Russian dissidents and Victorian English poets. He was woefully ignorant of Americana. So, in the somewhat perverse way these matters often proceed, it was he who stumbled onto the richest trove of Americana either man had ever seen.

Down in the southern part of the state, in a small town named Vevay, a mysterious collector had filled two buildings full of books and antiques. When the collector died, his family realized he had left them with a major logistical problem. To solve at least part of it, they were offering to sell all the books in one whack for $15,000. Simply by being in the right place at the right time, Small's friend got an exclusive on the deal, and Small talked himself into the arrangement, fifty-fifty. As was almost inevitable, the friend, lacking his own specialized knowledge, got the worst of the split. Jay Small lived off his share for another fifteen years. If anyone knew the identity of that original genius of a collector in Vevay, the information got lost over time.

Toward the end of his days, Small befriended a younger man named John Mullins. Employed by the sanitation department in Indianapolis, Mullins found the back of a garbage truck to be an ideal perch for an apprentice book scout. He was soon bringing his trash-barrel finds to Small who, in the course of researching and evaluating them, would instruct his pupil. Mullins operated without the benefit of a college degree, but higher education has never been a requisite for good book scouts. Some of the great ones were practically illiterate. What was required - and these were qualities John Mullins possessed in abundance - was a broad view of the world and an imagination for the place of books in it.

In fact, in this capacity, the pupil eventually outstripped his teacher. Small was a knowledgeable man and he possessed an excellent reference library, but in a way he was inhibited by his knowledge. For Jay Small, a book was of no importance if he could not find it in one of his references. John Mullins instinctively knew that a book might be of greater importance if the references had not discovered it. This principle applied even more to manuscript material. Each item was unique and quintessentially of its own time and place. For just this reason, Small didn't trust any of it. For just this reason, all of it fascinated Mullins.

It so happened that one of the items Small passed along to John Mullins at the end of his life was a manuscript book of some sort. Small had never sold it, because he'd never taken the trouble to decipher its contents. It was a notebook, a typical 19th-century product, bound in stiff cardboard covered with marbled paper and a leather spine, measuring perhaps eight inches by six. Inside there were about 150 pages of writing, all in the same hand, more crabbed in some places than others, but capable of being read if you were patient and had a good light.

Mullins discovered that it had been written by a sailor aboard a naval vessel, the Dolphin, in the Pacific in 1825. The author was a midshipman named Augustus Strong. Mullins knew a little about logbooks. They tended for the most part to be perfunctory, dedicated to recording the necessary but tedious evolutions of shipboard life. This manuscript was something else entirely. It teemed with adventure - battles with savages, wrecked boats, and narrow escapes. It doubled back on itself and repeated a section twice in slightly different wording. It ended with a rescue of some sort.

To Mullins, in the Midwest, this manuscript at first seemed preposterous. How could so much have happened in the space of a few months? Was it an attempt at a novel? He went to his reference books. There he learned that Augustus Strong's ship had been sent in search of the survivors of the Globe mutiny. The mutiny and its aftermath were famous in the annals of American maritime history. After murdering the captain, three mates, and a black steward, Samuel Comstock and his three accomplices had forced their shipmates to sail to a remote Pacific island, where they intended to burn the ship and live among the natives in the manner of the Bounty mutineers. Fortunately, six of the honest crewmen, including Comstock's sixteen-year-old brother, were able to sneak back to the ship and sail her to the coast of South America. Eventually, word of the mutiny got back to the United States. Augustus Strong's ship, the Dolphin, was dispatched by the secretary of the navy to apprehend the mutineers and rescue the innocent crew members.

The manuscript Mullins had inherited from Small was a record of the voyage across the Pacific to rescue those survivors, and of the rescue itself. It also contained an account of the mutiny. It wasn't an attempt at a novel.

This was all well and good - in fact it promised to be quite good for Mullins. He realized that he was the owner of a potentially valuable item. But at this point his imagination failed him. Who, exactly, would be interested in such a thing? The question hung fire for a time, as such questions will. Then his instincts took over and served him well. He knew the manuscript would not become any less valuable with age, so he tucked it away until the proper opportunity presented itself.

And, after several years, the opportunity did indeed present itself, in the person of an antiquarian book dealer from Ohio who had known both Small and Mullins. His territory was the same as theirs, and his specialty, military history, overlapped the Americana field. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. This book dealer provided knowledge, contacts, and cash; Mullins and Small provided books to be moved up the food chain. On one of this dealer's visits to Indianapolis, Mullins showed him the journal. The dealer knew exactly what to do with it.

He called me.

He called me because we'd done business before and because he knew my checks didn't bounce and that I generally did what I said I was going to do. He also knew that, for the past twenty-five years, I had specialized in buying and selling rare books and manuscripts relating to America's maritime history. If anyone ought to know what to make of that sailor's journal, it'd be me.

Forty-eight hours later, the book was sitting on my desk, its layers of protective wrapping piled beside it. It was indeed a crew member's account of the Dolphin's rescue voyage, and it contained a narration of what the survivors had told the men aboard the Dolphin about Samuel Comstock's mutiny and about their twenty- two-month stay on Mili Atoll. The manuscript was unknown and unrecorded in the literature of the Globe mutiny - not just rare, unique.

Singularity alone didn't account for the journal's enormous charisma. I can think of no other word for how that book struck me then, sitting there in its own glow, having miraculously surfaced, like some ghost ship, with its own long-forgotten tale to tell. Nor was this merely a bleached-out hulk, worn smooth by the ages. As I leafed through the manuscript I could hear Augustus Strong's voice relating each day's events, and it was apparent that, wherever Strong was from, this was the most exciting adventure he'd ever been on.


Excerpted from Demon of the Waters by Gregory Gibson Copyright ©2002 by Gregory Gibson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >