Bibliophile | ‘Mr Carver’s Whale’: 19th century sailors seek fortune in Albany

Mr Carver’s Whale
by Lyn Hughes
Fourth Estate

This engrossing saga begins in 1850 when the youngest Carvalhos brother receives a sea chest full of books. As Antonio unbuckles the leather strap on the sturdy sea chest on the dock of the small island of Pico, a whole new world opens up for him to explore.

The small volcanic island of Pico is one of the nine islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores and is buffeted by great Atlantic storms. The men on the island are destined to spend their lives hunting whales and the older brother Marcelinho has already started to go on the hunt.

The books had been sent to Antonio by his Aunt Palmira, his mother’s sister whose husband had been a professor of Zoological Studies at the University of Lisbon. Moving to live with his aunt in Lisbon, to be near the hospital for operations to his withered leg, opens up yet more possibilities for the young Antonio.

It would be five years before Antonio had to move back to the island, only to find that his brother was now wed to his best friend Margarida, who he himself had dreams of marrying. There was also a plague (interestingly, a bubonic plague that began in Yunnan, China before travelling the world) taking lives on the island and decimating small communities in the vicinity.

Following Antonio on the threads of history from the Azores to Newfoundland, to the recently federated Australia, this is a tale of whaling, storms and tempestuous relationships with men and women.

The whaling industry has gone from sailing ships, row boats and thrown harpoons to steam driven riggers and explosive harpoons while Antonio’s search for love, fortune and atonement ends in Albany, where the sea chest containing his precious whale bone takes pride of place in his home.

Lezly Herbert

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