In 1863-64, two ships were wrecked on opposite ends of the same island, Auckland Island south of New Zealand. Unaware of each other’s existence, the survivors of the two wrecks offer a fascinating study of two very different societies, or of two different approaches to society.
Their story is well told in Joan Druett’s book, Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007). (Spoiler alert: If you want to read the book and don’t want to know ahead of time how the book turns out, stop reading now.)
The five men on the Grafton formed a cooperative society, based on essentially democratic lines (they elected their captain to serve as leader). They worked together, helping each other through sickness, injury, hunger and depression. They built a cabin, insulated with over 5,000 thatches, and developed hunting strategies. They formed a school, teaching each other different languages and other branches of knowledge. They made use of each other’s skills and devised an amazing number of technological achievements, from brewing beer and making cement to tanning leather for shoes. They made numerous tools, from a vegetable grater to a complete blacksmith’s forge. By working together, they managed to achieve their own rescue, and all five survived.
The second ship, the Invercauld, was wrecked some months later. Nineteen of the twenty-five crew members survived the wreck, but this group never formed a functioning society. They took little initiative, never developed any leadership structures or workable social order, and only gained shelter months later when they found some fallen-down huts built by a previous failed colony. Worse still, they split up, argued, perpetuated class divisions and failed to cooperate. Within a week, there was open talk of murder and cannibalism. When rescue finally arrived, only three of the nineteen had survived.
There was one other difference. The Grafton crew had a Bible and spent time in daily prayer and devotions. One had had a dramatic encounter, when overcome with a sense of the awesomeness of the Creator his first day at sea. The Grafton crew prayed for rescue, and their prayers were answered. None of the crew members of the Invercauld left any record of religious faith.