You’ve seen the movie Castaway and obviously now you’re a bit of an expert on how to survive on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.
You first do some recon to see if anyone else is on the island and if there’s anything to eat, like bananas conveniently dangling from trees or any wandering animals.
Nothing; it seems you’ll have to fashion a spear so that you might do some shallow water fishing.
Well, that turns out to be more difficult than you thought.
At least you managed to collect some rainwater after a shower, using a large leaf as a receptacle.
You’re also well aware that if you don’t find something head-shaped and proceed to draw eyes and a nose on it you might lose your mind.
You call him, “Rocky.”
If it’s a girl, you might call her, “Coco”
In reality, the chances of you surviving on an uninhabited island for a long time are slim.
If you got washed up without any tools you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle.
Even if you did find the most important thing, drinkable water, you’re still going to have to build a shelter, make a tool for hunting, and actually be able to hunt.
Indeed, if there is anything available to kill.
But, some people have survived, and now we will introduce you to one Captain Thomas Musgrave, a man whose story is nothing short of amazing.
He was born in England in 1832, but at the young age of 16 he set out to sail the seas for the first time.
He made a career out of this, but when his ship, the Grafton, left Australia on 12 November 1863 to go out and search for mining and sealing opportunities, his life would change forever.
A crew of just five first headed off to Campbell Island, which is part of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands.
Quite frankly, it’s in the middle of nowhere, but on that island it was believed there would be tin to mine and so off the guys went.
They had a back-up plan, too, because if tin
wasn’t found they could at least do a bit of seal-hunting and on their return sell the furs and oil.
(Sometimes life throws a curve-ball at you)
and after reaching that remote place the guys couldn’t find any tin to mine, and on top of that, it seemed the seals hadn’t turned up for the hunting party.
They couldn’t go back empty-handed since
explorations were an expensive endeavor.
They decided to head to Auckland Island and explore there.
It was a Thursday, on December 31, 1863, not a good day for a sailor.
Strong winds battered the ship; the water broke in all directions and a thick fog surrounded the vessel.
These bad conditions remained, but on New Year Day the men got sight of the island.
As they approached they saw a large number of seals, so that lifted the men’s moods, but then the bad weather again started to batter the ship.
They managed to drop both anchors but in the strong winds, heavy rain and rough seas, they couldn’t steady the ship.
At around midnight a violent gale blew the ship against rocks.
The water rushed into the ship and in no time the ocean was spilling onto the deck.
The men abandoned all hope of pumping the water out and instead gathered as many provisions as they could.
The ship was wrecked; it was a lost cause.
They did get close enough to the island to get their things and leave the ship though.
They were at least alive, but none of those five men could envision what awaited them.
With them they had some food.
They had tools, as well as a gun and gunpowder.
For a shelter they could use bits of the ship including the sails.
They got to work.
A week passed and the men hadn’t been able to get much done due to awful weather and vicious winds, but when things cleared up they got work on the shelter.
With timber from the boat as well as cloth from the sails, it wasn’t that hard to knock-up a shelter.
It helped that one of the crew members had experience in this and he at least had a combination hammer, something similar to an axe and a drill.
In time, they had a stable cabin to live in.
Soon it would have a chimney so they could have a fire in the place and let the smoke out.
It had a table, and to sleep on the men made what looked like stretchers.
Weeks passed and the provisions were running out, but those seals, they were virtually everywhere.
The men listened to them roar as they slept, which was like music to their ears.
In fact, when they woke up there’d be seals
right outside their shelter, so the closest one got it, and ended up seal meat.
Living on only seal meat wasn’t exactly the best diet and the men didn’t want to come down with scurvy, so they started looking for other food sources.
Luckily, around the island there were widgeons, which are kind of like ducks.
Those were very tasty.
The guys also found that older seals tasted horrible, but if you could get a cub that had never even been in the water it was delicious.
On eating that for the first time, Musgrave remarked, “It tastes like lamb!”
The larger seals it turned out didn’t much
like those two-legged animals taking their cubs, and on occasions they put up a fight.
They were soon scared off when the men fired a gun.
It wasn’t always seal for dinner, though.
The guys also ate a lot of fish and crabs.
As deserted islands go, it wasn’t the worst of places at times.
Nonetheless, as months passed, the men started to wonder how long it would take for an expedition to find them, or if anyone was looking for them at all.
The fact was, those guys had long been thought of as dead.
Only two months had passed when Musgrave wrote in his diary:
I am in exceedingly low spirits today, and I know that one loved one in Sydney is so also; for I have no doubt but by this time they have given me up for lost, and what is to become of my own dear wife and children?
May God, to whom only they can now look for comfort, watch over and protect them, is my constant and fervent prayer.
I shall never forgive myself for coming on this enterprise.
What could they do to pass the time?
Well, they worked on that house of theirs and with all the timber they needed they made it a pretty decent abode.
It kept out the cold, had an area for working, a kitchen area, and a warm fire.
On top of that, they had managed to keep the mosquitoes out, that had been an annoyance.
Some seal clubbing days, things didn’t always go to plan.
In fact, on one particular day a tiger seal had taken offense to the clubbing of his young friends and one of the men had to hide up a tree until the others came to his rescue.
What Musgrave would call “pitched battles” with seals would become quite a regular occurrence.
After months passed, the major battle was with misery.
The days were long and the weather was terrible, and the men lost all hope of ever leaving the island.
They played games and made their own dominoes, but there was only so much they could do to keep their spirits up.
Their spirits were lifted considerably when one of the men made a huge breakthrough.
What was that you might ask?
The answer is the man had successfully made his own “hooch”, a kind of prison beer that didn’t taste so bad.
He made this from a flower that grew all over the island, which he then fermented.
They now had beer on tap for as long as they wanted, and it also became another part of their mixed diet.
After a few months and a lot of drinks they had also taught the parrots they had to talk, which was some amusement for them.
Still, on May 15, Musgrave wrote:
Oh, my God!
How long is this to last?
Oh, release me from this bondage!
Night and morning, day and in my dreams, I offer up my prayers to Thee.
They had better fishing techniques, but then in June the seals disappeared and their main food source was gone.
The water was warmer and the seals spent most of their time in the water.
Hunting them became difficult.
Now came hunger.
Months passed and seals returned.
The men had food, but no hope of ever seeing a ship sail close to the island.
In October Musgrave wrote:
It would be impossible for me to convey to anyone an idea of my present state of mind.
I am anything but mad; if thatbwould come it would very likely afford relief.
It was that month the men realized that they had to get off the island.
Food wasn’t always available and there were periods of terrible hunger.
Their health was affected; some had been injured while out hunting and surveying.
Things weren’t looking good.
Building a ship to sail through rough waters isn’t quite as easy as the movies depict, and without an expert or even a carpenter, Musgrave wrote that the idea of just making a ship that wouldn’t sink in a second seemed
farcical to him.
Nonetheless, the men collected as many parts of the wreckage as they could and discussed how they’d build this thing.
If anything, they had time in the day to think and build.
Besides bouts of hunger, the men managed to start putting something together that looked sea-worthy.
“I hope we may succeed.
It is quite true that by energetic perseverance men may perform wonders, and our success would by no means constitute a miracle.
The men are all very sanguine, and I have no doubt but we shall be able to make something that will carry us to New Zealand.”
Sanguine means “positive”, if you didn’t
Over a year passed and there had been failed attempts to launch their home-made boat.
Some days were spent fixing that thing, others were spent in hunger and looking for grubs to eat.
Musgrave put his diary down for months, and then in Spring he picked it back up again.
The men are in what he calls a deplorable state, skinny and dressed in rags.
They face “grim starvation” at times and
almost want to gnaw on their own hands.
In June Musgrave wrote:
“We were all seized with a violent attack of dysentery about the same time.
This we have all recovered from; but I am left with rheumatic pains and cramps, which will in all probability cling to me through life.”
But it’s time to launch the boat, even though they accept there is little probability of success.
They will not survive much longer on the island, but the thought of drowning also weighs heavily on their minds.
One thing that did lift their spirits was the discovery of a cat, which stayed with them while they finished their vessel.
Launch The Boat
On 27th June they launched the boat, which was so frightening some of the men wanted to return to the island.
After attempts to sail were made, it was clear that five men were just too heavy.
It was decided that two men would be left
behind and if the others made it home they
would send out a ship to collect them.
The three finally managed to sail to Stewart
Island which was inhabited.
There they met a Captain Cross, the first human they’d seen in 18 months.
This is what Musgrave wrote:
“When we landed I could not stand, but was led up to that gentleman’s house, where something to eat was immediately prepared for us, of which I partook very sparingly; for I felt very ill and unable to eat.”
Weeks passed, but the men and Captain Cross eventually made it back to the island where they hoped the two that were left behind were still alive. This is how Musgrave described this joyous meeting:
“One of them, the cook, on seeing me, turned as pale as a ghost, and staggered up to a post, against which he leaned for support, for he was evidently on the point of fainting; while the other, George, seized my hand in both of his and gave my arm a severe shaking, crying, ‘Captain Musgrave, how are ye, how are ye’”
What’s more incredible is that four months after those men had been shipwrecked on that island, another ship had been destroyed and another group of sailors were trying to survive on another part of the island.
Both groups had no idea the other was on the island.
On that other ship only 19 of the 25 men got to shore and the others drowned.
They didn’t have the same luck and there was less to eat, and in the end only three survived when they were seen by a passing ship.
Some died of starvation; others were abandoned.
In their case, it was every man for himself, rather than the collaboration Musgrave enjoyed with his men.
One of those three survivors said things were grim and at one point two men got in a fight and one killed the other.
The next morning the winner of that fight was eating the loser.
Also check: How to survive if You get Stranded on an island
And Also: The Man That Kept Getting Pregnant