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The Long Voyage

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Essay i
Prose: History i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Historiography; Archaeology; Genealogy; Archives
Progress; Memory; Commemoration; Nostaliga; Time—Social Aspects; Time—Psychological Aspects; Time perception;
Ships; Boats; Shipwrecks; Salvage; Merchant Marine; Sailors; Sailing; Submarines (Ships)
Travel; Tourism; Hotels; Resorts; Seaside Resorts—Fiction; Passports;
Details
Index
Other Details
Printed : 31/12/1853
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume VIII
Magazine : No. 197
Office Book Notes
Memo-
Columns7.5
Payment-
Views : 1454

Forster records (Book 6, Chapter 3) that in the summer of 1848 Dickens was reading a 'surprising number of books of African and other travel for which he had an insatiable relish' and many of these are recalled in the following piece.


The cannibal convict (paragraph 3) was Alexander Pearce, a prisoner at Macquarie harbour, Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania), whose gruesome story, accurately related here by Dickens, appears in the 1838 Report of the Select Committee on Transportation (evidence of John Barnes, Surgeon at Maccquarie Harbour, paragraphs 353-355, and Appendix I, no. 56); see also Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia 1787-1868 (1987), pp. 220-226. Dickens's main source for the story of Fletcher Christian's son (paragraph 4) would appear to be the Reverend T. B. Murray's Pitcairn: The Island, the People and their Pastor (2nd edn [1853], p. 117ff.). Murray writes of HMS Briton's visit to Pitcairn in 1814: 'the first man who got on board ... soon proved where they were. His name, he said, was Thursday October Christian ... son of Fletcher Christian'. He quotes a letter from the captain of the Briton to a Vice-Admiral Dixon, giving Thursday's age as 'about twenty five years' and noting that his father 'fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of an Otaheitan man, within three or four years of [the mutineers] arrival on the island'. The references to saying grace and the recognition of a dog derive from another account that Dickens is imperfectly remembering, Hugh Murray's Adventures of British Seamen in the Southern Ocean (Vol. 4 of Constable's Miscellany [1826]); Murray recounts that another Pitcairn islander called Mackay,

On entering the cabin and discovering a little black terrier, was at first frightened, and ran behind one of the officers. He soon began, however, to peep over his shoulder, and said ... 'I know what it is; it is a dog. I never saw a dog before—will it bite? He was soon reassured and turning to Christian said, 'It is a pretty thing to look at, is it not?' [p. 318]

The Halsewell sailed from London on 16 November 1785 and foundered in a gale off the Isle of Purbeck on 6 January 1786; its fate is the subject of a famous painting by Turner, Loss of an East Indiaman (painted 1818; now in the Cecil Higgins Gallery, Bedford). The wreck of the Grosvenor occurred on 4 August 1782 on the coast of Pondoland, known during the 1850s as British Kaffraria and now part of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The survivors, split into two parties, attempted the 600-mile journey, including 400 miles of desert, south-west to the Dutch settlements in the Cape; they suffered terrible hardships and subsisted mainly on shellfish and the meat, eaten raw, of stranded dead whales. The Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa (Cape Town, 1972) provides the following details:

Of the 123 survivors, six eventually managed to reach the farm of Ferreira near Algoa Bay. A search party sent by order of the Governor van Rhettenberg from Swellendam rescued three white and nine Indians. Only 18 of those shipwrecked eventually reached Cape Town, from which they were repatriated. The rest either died from their privations or were murdered by the Bantu or forced to live among them. A half-caste group later found in the vicinity of the wreck [suggests] that the white wives ...possibly lived with the Bantu.

Dickens's main source for the version of the story he tells was A Narrative of the Loss of the Grosvenor (1791), written by the historical painter George Carter, who met one of the survivors nine years later. Carter lays much emphasis on the story of the child, Master Law, but mentions other children, too, among the survivors—Master Law, however, was the only one to go with one of the parties. It is from Carter that Dickens derives his zoological error: there are no tigers in Africa. Dickens seems also to have drawn for certain details on the account in Sir John Dalyell's Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea (3 vols, Edinburgh, 1812) which he had in his library. The long account of the wreck of the Halsewell is quoted verbatim from Vol. 3 of Dalyell.

Literary allusions

  • 'come like shadows...': Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 4, Sc. 1;
  • 'rising and falling ... fisherman': loosely quoted from Washington Irving's Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (rev. Edn, 1850, p. 91);
  • 'Good Samaritan': Luke, 10:30-7;
  • 'Inasmuch as ye have done it ... Me': Matthew 25:40.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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