In 1827 youthful, vigorous John Holdsworth, newly married to his sweetheart Dolly, leaves the village of Southbourne in Kent for his next adventure at sea on board the Meteor, bound for America. He is young to be a chief mate, but all the crew, and his superiors, are impressed with his skill, knowledge and strong, kind leadership.
But well out into the Atlantic disaster strikes unexpectedly and the ship founders. The three boats are launched and capable John takes charge of one of them, containing seven people. Ten long days later, John's boat is finally spotted. Of the two remaining on board, the only one alive is John. What he has been through has changed him completely; having had no food and water for many days, and having witnessed unspeakable horrors of searing privation, he is wizened, sunken, white-haired, virtually crippled – and barely alive. Crucially, he has been so near to death that his memory is completely gone.
He is taken to Australia on board the vessel of his rescuers with no idea of his name, the name of his ship, or any clue as to his connections. It is as though his mind has sealed off the past. After five years under an assumed name as a clerk in a Sydney company, something tells him that he needs to return to England. There, in 1832, a chance meeting in a London tavern triggers a tiny rush of recognition. He starts out for Kent, little realizing what a moving train of events his regaining of memory will set in motion...
Author: William Clark Russell
Title: John Holdsworth: Chief Mate
First Published by: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle
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