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

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In 1871, an entire fleet of whaling ships was caught in an arctic ice storm and destroyed. Though few lives were lost, the damage would forever shape one of America's most distinctive commodities: oil.

New Bedford, Massachusetts, was fertile ground for this country's first multimillion-dollar industry. Founded by assiduous Quaker merchants seeking refuge for their austere religion, the town also lent unparalleled access to the high seas. The combination would lead to what would ...

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Overview

In 1871, an entire fleet of whaling ships was caught in an arctic ice storm and destroyed. Though few lives were lost, the damage would forever shape one of America's most distinctive commodities: oil.

New Bedford, Massachusetts, was fertile ground for this country's first multimillion-dollar industry. Founded by assiduous Quaker merchants seeking refuge for their austere religion, the town also lent unparalleled access to the high seas. The combination would lead to what would become the most successful whaling industry in America, and with it, the world's first oil hegemony. Oyl, or oil derived from whale blubber, revolutionized New England commerce. And as intrepid New Bedford whalers ventured farther into uncharted waters in search of untapped resources, the town saw incomparable wealth. But with all of the town's resources tethered to this dangerous industry and the fickle sea, success was fragile.

Final Voyage is the story of one fateful whaling season that illuminates the unprecedented rise and devastating fall of America's first oil industry. Peter Nichols deftly captures what New Bedford life was like for its Quaker inhabitants and, using a wealth of primary resources, has created a vivid picture of the evolution of whaling and how its demise was destined even before that devastating voyage.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Nichols (A Voyage for Madmen, 2001, etc.) fashions a somewhat scattershot but engaging narrative around the waning days of America's whaling industry and its crash in the Artic by 1871. The author traces the spectacular rise and fall of the Massachusetts whaling industry through the success and failure of several entrepreneurial families and merchants, particularly Quaker communities in Nantucket and New Bedford, who formed "the world's first oil hegemony." Nichols surveys the establishment of Nantucket's whaling industry thanks to the good sense and enterprise of a handful of recalcitrant Quakers in the mid-17th century. These independent-minded early settlers observed the Indians' method of capturing migratory whales on shore, before the fisheries invented deep-sea whaling voyages which essentially emptied the seas of whales by the mid-18th century and forced the hunters to prowl farther afield, in the Pacific and Arctic oceans. In his erratically organized but still fascinating tale, Nichols focuses on the vast whaling fortunes of merchants like the Howland brothers of New Bedford, who outfitted many of the fanciest whaleships of the time and sent them off to the Artic, commanded by valiant captains like Thomas Williams of the Monticello. In the spring of 1871, more than 30 whaleships were abandoned in the packed ice after they were lured by the deceptively benign seasons of past seasons. The incalculable loss spelled the end of the industry, exhausted by overhunting of whales and walrus and disrupted by the Civil War. In addition, whaling had devastated the ecosystem, causing widespread starvation among the Eskimo people. Furthermore, rock oil had been discovered in Pennsylvania, andthe cotton mills offered a more reliable, less perilous living to many former whalers. Nichols's account is packed primary voices-e.g., the diaries of Williams's wife and daughter, who accompanied him on his fateful voyages-but the historical background eventually becomes more prominent than the thrills at sea. More intelligent history than breathless sea adventure. Agent: Sloan Harris/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399156021
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author


Peter Nichols is the author of the national bestseller A Voyage for Madmen, Sea Change, Voyage to the North Star, and Evolution's Captain.

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    More than Herman Melville and Moby Dick

    Despite the title, this book is about alot more than the disaster of the 1871 arctic whaling fleet. Mr. Nichols covers the rise of New England whaling from its roots in Native American fishing, through the religious intolerance of the Puritans against the Quakers(which led to the Quakers founding their own towns and the whaling industry), through to the downfall of this "industry" when competing with the new oil industry of the mid 1800's. Alomg the way he uses several prominent whaling families to descibe the rise and fall and how these families delt with the change of their businesses; the 1871 disaster being the penultimate conclusion to the New England whalers. An extremly readable book about a vital early American industry and its downfall.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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