By Shaun Ivory
It’s February 1891, and a ship called the Star of the East is whaling off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
According to contemporary accounts a whale was sighted and the harpoon boats launched, but one of them capsized. One man drowned and another, James Bartley, lost.
As the whale was flensed and its stomach about to be thrown overboard, someone spotted a movement; opening it
up at first revealed a trousered leg, then Bartley, still alive after enduring 15 hours in the belly of a whale.
Its digestive juices had bleached his skin a deathly white, he’d lost his hair and was almost blind.
For two weeks he was delirious and it was a month before he could recollect how he’d fallen into the mouth of the whale, and felt its huge teeth grate over him as he slid down its throat and into its stomach.
Newspapers ran descriptions of the event, with ‘personal testimony’ from Bartley. “I remember very well the moment when the whale threw me into the air. Then I was swallowed and found myself enclosed in a firm, slippery channel, whose contractions forced me continually downward. Then I found myself in a very large sac.
“By feeling about I realised I had actually been swallowed by the whale and was now in its stomach. I could still breathe, though with much difficulty. I had a feeling of insupportable heat and it seemed I was being boiled alive.”
Bartley lost consciousness and the next thing he remembered was being cared for by the crew.
“This modern-day Jonah lived 18 more years,” continues an account at the Eden Killer Whale Museum, on the coast of New South Wales (!), quoting its source as the records of the British Admiralty.
Yes… if only it were true!
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own