Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World – by Joan Druett (Review)


Non-Fiction, History, Adventure

Algonquin Books; June 8, 2007
Tantor Audio; April 5, 2016

272 pages (ebook)
8hr 35m (audiobook)

Author Twitter

7 / 10 ✪

Auckland Island is a godforsaken island in the South Pacific, located 285 miles south of New Zealand. With deep inlets and soaring pillars, this rugged and mountainous isle is currently designated an Important Bird Area, and as such is uninhabited except for a transient science monitoring station. But once, the island was inhabited.

The Polynesians were the first to settle the island around 700 years ago, but by the time Europeans visited the islands they had already withdrawn. A whaling and sealing settlement upon the islands was established at Hardwicke in 1849, only to be abandoned three years later.

And then, 258 years ago, Thomas Musgrave and his crew of four aboard the schooner Grafton ran aground on the island’s southern rocks. Over the next 18 months, these four survivors remained, alone, before their eventual rescue. While the crew didn’t exactly thrive upon the islands, they lived comfortably enough, surviving the harsh and ofttimes inhospitable climate that had driven many others to an early grave.

In fact, only four months after the Grafton ran aground on the islands, the much larger Invercauld also wrecked on Auckland Island, albeit upon the island’s far northern point, amidst the cluster of the three smaller Rose, Enderby, and Ewing isles. Here, the crew of 25 (reduced to 19 by the wreck), camped in the remains of Hardwicke, before apathy, disease, and dissent drove them apart. Unlike the crew of the Grafton which remained together, those of the Invercauld splintered—as disease, dissent, starvation, and even cannibalism whittled them down. When the crew was rescued one year later, only three remained.

But of the two, it’s unclear which group experienced the greater trauma. Perhaps this is why the crew of the Invercauld, upon being rescued, neglected to search for other survivors, in doing so leaving those of the Grafton alone on the islands for a further few months before—concluding that no ship had been dispatched to find them—set out on their own in search of rescue.

It’s an incredible tale of two very different yet similar experiences. Two shipwrecks on the same island group at the same time; one that fragments and wastes away before being rescued; while the other thrives enough to survive twice as long, before constructing a skiff and sailing nearly 300 miles to safety.

So, here’s my nonfiction read for the year.

Two tales of adventure, survival, and hardship. Both of which go in very different directions. In fact, one would argue that if it wasn’t for a particular seaman on the Invercauld, the survival rate would’ve been much lower. Like, a party of one.

Like any other book of this type, Island of the Lost was written as a reconstruction of journal entries, further testimony, and newspaper articles following the crews’ rescues. Fortunately, at least one member of each crew kept a journal while stranded, and saw fit to live long enough to author books about their experiences, including Musgrave and Raynal from the Grafton and Holding and Dalgarno from the Invercauld. Although while the formers’ narratives generally match, the latter’s leave a bit to be desired (Dalgarno, as captain, took credit for everything; Holding, as a peon, was belittled, though he probably kept the other two alive). Addressing the language used in this book: it’s a bit dated. A bit flowery. And a bit long-winded (often like my reviews;). Makes perfect sense, as this was very much the style of the time. Especially among the officers. Just a note—it will take some getting used to. And even then it’s often frustrating to pick through, especially when needing to read between the lines.


Overall, I found these opposing tales of survival amazing, though they were brought down by florid language and odd pacing—often including every minuscule detail of some events while leaving others out entirely. The tale of Musgrave and Raynal being so much in-sync while those of Holding and Dalgarno often contradict one another being just another example of history being written by the victor. Or whichever victor was higher class. Robert Holding’s perspective by itself would’ve been enough of a reason to read this, or that of the Grafton crew on its own. But telling them together is a great example of those that lost it and those that kept it together. It’s a story of survival I’d very much recommend, either as a physical or audio book.

3 thoughts on “Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World – by Joan Druett (Review)

    1. Not until after they escaped! I mean, I know the island is incredibly mountainous and rugged, and also not really small, but that’s just amazing that they had no idea the other was there.

      Liked by 1 person

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