In 1864 Thomas Musgrave and François Raynal set out with a crew of three in a small schooner called Grafton from Australia. Funded by one of Musgrave’s uncles and a partner, both clothiers, they managed to buy Grafton, though provisioning the schooner was mostly a war of need over budget, with the clothiers declining to buy anchor chain that was heavy or long enough.
The goal was to search for a legendary island that was reputed to have an incredible supply of copper. Having made far less than they had hoped in the Australian gold rush Musgrave and Raynal were hoping to make their fortunes by locating, mapping, and claiming the island.
Instead, Grafton was to founder on Aukland Island, 285 miles south of New Zealand. A 20-mile long chunk of rock inhabited by sea lions and a few remnants from settlers who abandoned the island long before.
Joan Druett does a wonderful job of combining stories from conflicting diaries and memoirs of the survivors. What sifts out is an amazing story of heroism and creativity. Though the “silent partners” promised that they would notify rescuers if the schooner failed to return within four months (Musgrave had misgivings about the poor provisions) his uncle ultimately waited over a year before informing anyone that the ship was missing. Musgrave, Rayal, and crew ended up pulling pieces off the ruined Grafton and building a smaller boat to attempt to make it to New Zealand. This included creating a bellows and forge in order to make nails, nearly as miraculous as making their own cement using sand with baked and powdered sea shells to create quicklime.
Odder still, another group was stranded on the other end of the island but was rescued by a Spanish ship. The island was so craggy and mountainous that the two groups never realized they were sharing the same strip of land.
The story of the four survivors creating shelter and finding their way home would stretch the imagination as fiction. For animal lovers, there are some graphic descriptions of hunting seals and seal pups for food, Other than that it’s a great adventure history. Published in 2007 the book is available in print, Kindle, and Audible versions.