Any woman who stepped aboard a ship that was bound to exotic Pacific destinations must have felt a fair number of qualms, shipwreck being one of the foremost. Death by drowning was dreaded by mariners of both sexes, but being cast away on a tropical island―where, as was popularly known, free love was practiced―held particularly dire implications for a decent lady. Cannibalism was another ghastly prospect. If shipwreck should indeed happen, the best she could hope for, perhaps, was that the island where she was cast up by the sea was uninhabited.

This is a collection of true tales of women who faced unusual challenges at sea - many of them including shipwreck - and how they rose to the occasion.


In the heady climate of the nineteenth century goldrushes, “going to see the elephant” was a saying that described an exciting, often dangerous, and usually profitless adventure—something to tell one's grandchildren about.

In the spirit of Island of the Lost, the story is told of the crew of the Connecticut schooner Sarah W. Hunt. When two boats are blown out to sea, off one of the most icy and hostile islands in the sub-Antarctic ocean, the twelve men are abandoned by their skipper, left to live or die by their own wits and stamina. Six struggle ashore against unbelievable odds.

Their rescue from remote, inhospitable, uninhabited Campbell Island is a sensation that rocks the world. But no one could have expected that the court hearings that follow would become an international controversy, with repercussions that contribute to the fall of a colonial government, and reach as far as the desk of the president of the United States.


It was 1799, and French privateers lurked in the Atlantic and the Bay of Bengal. Yet Eleanor Reid, newly married and just twenty-one years old, made up her mind to sail with her husband, Captain Hugh Reid, to the Pacific, the Spice Islands and India. Danger threatened not just from the barely charted seas they would be sailing, but from the lowest deck of Captain Reid’s East Indiaman Friendship, too—from the cages of Irish rebels he was carrying to the penal colony of New South Wales. Yet, confident in her love and her husband’s seamanship, Eleanor insisted on going along.
Joan Druett, writer of many books about the sea, including the bestseller Island of the Lost, and the groundbreaking story of women under sail, Hen Frigates, embellishes Eleanor’s journal with a commentary that illuminates the strange story of a remarkable young woman.

New Zealand-based novelist and maritime historian Joan Druett is one of this generation's finest sea writers ... This book is recommended for anyone who seeks adventure at sea."
-- Quarterdeck (Editor's choice)

“A fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended.”
— Historic Naval Fiction

“In 1799, the twenty-one-year-old Eleanor Reid accepted her new husband's invitation to accompany him on a voyage from Ireland to Australia and back to England—via St. Helena, Cape Town, Sydney, Malacca, and Calcutta. She was a keen observer of the natural and social worlds, and her riveting memoir brims with insights at once worldly and intimate. I can imagine no abler guide to the remote yet cosmopolitan world through which Reid sailed than Joan Druett, whose introductory narratives provide the historical context Eleanor's Odyssey so richly deserves.”
—Lincoln Paine, award-winning author of The Sea and Civilization

“This book is two joys in one. Eleanor's tale is told so compellingly that it could be mistaken for a novel - although it isn't. Full of wise insights, it is an important addition to the study of sea history.”
– Jo Stanley, leading expert on women and the sea, and author of Bold In Her Breeches.