Island of the Lost


Joan Druett




Date Reviewed:

March 30, 2008

sland of the Lost is a book about two different groups of men who are coincidentally shipwrecked on Auckland Island, which is a remote island near Antarctica. The shipwrecks occur within a few months of each other, but the one wreck is on the southern end of the island, while the later disaster is at the north. The island is not very big, but the terrain is so rugged that neither party is aware of the existence of the other.

The first group of survivors is the five man crew of the Grafton, led by Captain Musgrave and his first mate Francois Raynal. Their ship is destroyed at the southern end of the island when their anchor chain breaks in a huge storm, washing them onto the rocks. All five sailors on board survive, but find themselves stranded on desolate and hostile shore.

The second set of castaways is the crew of the Invercauld, which wrecks on the north end of the island under the command of Captain Delgarno - nineteen men managed to make it shore.

The actions of the second group of castaways (from the Invercauld) are puzzling. True, they have just survived a scary storm and the destruction of their boat. But after the shock of the disaster wears off, none of these men can muster any energy to even leave the beach. Only Robert Holding, a seaman, has any initiative to improve his chances of survival. Captain Delgarno shows no leadership, so the nineteen men seem willing to just huddle on the beach and starve or freeze to death. In such a harsh environment, it doesn't take long for death to claim the weakest members of the party. The nineteen men are quickly diminished in number, and if not for the deeds of Holding, it is possible that they all would have died. In the end, only three men from the Invercauld survive long enough to be rescued

The crew of the Grafton is completely opposite - they immediately begin to work to salvage what they can from the wrecked ship. They cunningly construct a shelter to survive the harsh climate. They hunt for seals, fish and edible plants. The Captain reads from the bible at night. Despite the strict division between naval officers and seamen in that era, the crew of the Grafton act together to better their lives. Their resourcefulness is astounding - inventing soap, building a forge to create metal tools, and eventually, when they realize that a rescue ship is not coming, they build an ocean going craft to cross hundreds of miles of open ocean to return to New Zealand!

This is a good story of humans overcoming adversity (at least, for the crew of the Grafton). But for whatever reason, it doesn't have the same narrative drama of the books Endurance or Skeletons of the Zahara or Alive. Maybe the crew of the Grafton was too competent, their 2 year stay on the island doesn't sound like such an extreme ordeal. Nevertheless, this was an interesting book.