Essex was an American whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts. In 1820, while on a voyage, the ship was attacked by a sperm whale. The attack was so severe that the ship sank. Miraculously, all twenty members of the crew survived. They managed to flee the sinking ship on three smaller boats. However, they were now stranded with little food and little water.
Due to the fact that their boats were far too small to brave the Pacific waves, the crew made their way to an uninhabited island - Henderson Island. They had been at sea for two days and after running out of water and food, they resorted to drinking their own urine and seawater. On this island, the crew found a freshwater spring and crabs and birds to feed on. Within days, however, they exhausted practically all of the island’s food and water sources. Knowing that they would most likely starve to death, several of the crew members decided they would try to reach Easter Island. Three of the crew members decided to stay behind on Henderson Island. They were much too weak to attempt the voyage. One by one, the crew members attempting to reach Easter Island started to die of starvation on the small boat.
After being adrift for several weeks, the remainder of the crew decided they would have to resort to cannibalism if any of them were to survive. In total, seven crew members were cannibalised, two of which were murdered by the other crew members after they had consumed all of the deceased crew men. 89 days after the Essex sank, the three surviving crew members aboard the small boat were rescued. Additionally, the three crew members left behind on Henderson Island were rescued by a ship called Surrey.