I recently discovered a book about shipwreck, murder, mutiny and survival – and it’s not a work of fiction!  Titled THE WAGER, a tale of SHIPWRECK, MUTINY and MURDER, this is a gripping read, penned by David Grann, bestselling author of the novel and recently aired tv series, Killers of the Flower Moon.

The Wager seemed doomed from the start. With a late departure into the southern ocean, the fleet, of which the Wager is just one small ship, is firstly ravaged by a plague of scurvy, effectively decimating the fleet’s numbers by some 75%. Worse still was their general ignorance of the cause, with one surgeon blaming the frigid climate rather than the simple lack of vitamins from fresh fruit and vegetables.

Upon arrival at Cape Horn, the fleet is battered by incredible storms and Wager is wrecked on a barren, desolate island in one of the most forlorn parts of the world. Despite the Captain’s attempts to maintain the Navy’s sense of discipline, the crew falls into factions, each suspicious of the next. After many months, they attempt to escape a lonely death by manufacturing a navigable vessel from the ruined longboat and parts from the wreck.

One of the key characters whose foresight and actions led to the survival of so many of the Wager’s crew was the chief Gunner, John Bulkeley. Bulkeley was a natural leader but was stuck in his station as a gunner, unable to rise to the rank of officer. This was mainly due to the socially inferior class into which he was born, and the class-conscious customs of the time.

Despite his low station, Bulkeley was literate and a writer. He kept a journal, diarising every fact and event of the ship’s journey, continuing to write throughout their time as castaways and subsequent journey to rescue and return to England. Along with his friend John Cummins, the ship’s Carpenter, they were instrumental in the remaining crew’s survival. The fact that they were able to sail away from the island, back through the Straits of Magellan, and up the coast of South America is a major maritime achievement in itself.

It was Bulkeley’s account, often in conflict with the captain’s own perspective, that was later published and prompted public support for his version of events. It may have saved him and Cummins from court martial and execution for treason.

Grann includes many excerpts from Bulkeley’s original journal, along with other commentary notably from a young Lord Byron, grandfather of the renown poet, a young midshipman who also supplied a detailed account of their ordeal.

Grann’s book is a gripping, suspenseful read and I couldn’t put it down. While still a factual account, the author applies his incredible talents to bring the story alive. Highly recommended, the book is published by Simon & Schuster, UK, and is available on Amazon and bookstores.