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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Jules Verne

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 A Runaway Reef

  • THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained an_ownright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Withou_etting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and derange_he public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen wer_specially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, an_aster mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country,
  • and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents,
  • were all extremely disturbed by the business.
  • In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered "an enormou_hing" at sea, a long spindle-shaped object, sometimes giving off _hosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.
  • The relevant data on this apparition, as recorded in various logbooks, agree_retty closely as to the structure of the object or creature in question, it_nprecedented speed of movement, its startling locomotive power, and th_nique vitality with which it seemed to be gifted. If it was a cetacean, i_xceeded in bulk any whale previously classified by science. No naturalist,
  • neither Cuvier nor Lacépède, neither [Professo_umeril]( nor [Professor d_uatrefages](,
  • would have accepted the existence of such a monster sight unseen—
  • specifically, unseen by their own scientific eyes.
  • Striking an average of observations taken at different times— rejecting thos_imid estimates that gave the object a length of 200 feet, and ignoring thos_xaggerated views that saw it as a mile wide and three long—you could stil_ssert that this phenomenal creature greatly exceeded the dimensions o_nything then known to ichthyologists, if it existed at all.
  • Now then, it did exist, this was an undeniable fact; and since the human min_otes on objects of wonder, you can understand the worldwide excitement cause_y this unearthly apparition. As for relegating it to the realm of fiction,
  • that charge had to be dropped.
  • In essence, on July 20, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson, from th_alcutta & Burnach Steam Navigation Co., encountered this moving mass fiv_iles off the eastern shores of Australia.
  • Captain Baker at first thought he was in the presence of an unknown reef; h_as even about to fix its exact position when two waterspouts shot out of thi_nexplicable object and sprang hissing into the air some 150 feet. So, unles_his reef was subject to the intermittent eruptions of a geyser, the Governo_igginson had fair and honest dealings with some aquatic mammal, until the_nknown, that could spurt from its blowholes waterspouts mixed with air an_team.
  • Similar events were likewise observed in Pacific seas, on July 23 of the sam_ear, by the Christopher Columbus from the West India & Pacific Stea_avigation Co. Consequently, this extraordinary cetacean could transfer itsel_rom one locality to another with startling swiftness, since within a_nterval of just three days, the Governor Higginson and the Christophe_olumbus had observed it at two positions on the charts separated by _istance of more than 700 nautical leagues.
  • Fifteen days later and 2,000 leagues farther, the Helvetia from the Compagni_ationale and the Shannon from the Royal Mail line, running on opposite tack_n that part of the Atlantic lying between the United States and Europe,
  • respectively signaled each other that the monster had been sighted in latitud_2 degrees 15' north and longitude 60 degrees 35' west of the meridian o_reenwich. From their simultaneous observations, they were able to estimat_he mammal's minimum length at more than 350 Englis_eet;[[1]](footnotes.xml#footnote_1) this was because both the Shannon and th_elvetia were of smaller dimensions, although each measured 100 meters stem t_tern. Now then, the biggest whales, those rorqual whales that frequent th_aterways of the Aleutian Islands, have never exceeded a length of 5_eters—if they reach even that.
  • One after another, reports arrived that would profoundly affect publi_pinion: new observations taken by the transatlantic liner Pereire, the Inma_ine's Etna running afoul of the monster, an official report drawn up b_fficers on the French frigate Normandy, dead-earnest reckonings obtained b_he general staff of Commodore Fitz-James aboard the Lord Clyde. I_ighthearted countries, people joked about this phenomenon, but such serious,
  • practical countries as England, America, and Germany were deeply concerned.
  • In every big city the monster was the latest rage; they sang about it in th_offee houses, they ridiculed it in the newspapers, they dramatized it in th_heaters. The tabloids found it a fine opportunity for hatching all sorts o_oaxes. In those newspapers short of copy, you saw the reappearance of ever_igantic imaginary creature, from "[Moby Dick](
  • /Moby-Dick)," that dreadful white whale from the High Arctic regions, to th_tupendous kraken whose tentacles could entwine a 500-ton craft and drag i_nto the ocean depths. They even reprinted reports from ancient times: th_iews of [Aristotle]( and
  • [Pliny]( accepting the existenc_f such monsters, then the Norwegian stories of Bishop Pontoppidan, th_arratives of Paul Egede, and finally the reports of Captain Harrington— whos_ood faith is above suspicion—in which he claims he saw, while aboard th_astilian in 1857, one of those enormous serpents that, until then, ha_requented only the seas of France's old extremist newspaper, Th_onstitutionalist.
  • An interminable debate then broke out between believers and skeptics in th_cholarly societies and scientific journals. The "monster question" inflame_ll minds. During this memorable campaign, journalists making a profession o_cience battled with those making a profession of wit, spilling waves of in_nd some of them even two or three drops of blood, since they went from se_erpents to the most offensive personal remarks.
  • For six months the war seesawed. With inexhaustible zest, the popular pres_ook potshots at feature articles from the Geographic Institute of Brazil, th_oyal Academy of Science in Berlin, the British Association, the Smithsonia_nstitution in Washington, D.C., at discussions in The Indian Archipelago, i_osmos published by Father Moigno, in Petermann'_ittheilungen,[[2]](footnotes.xml#footnote_2) and at scientific chronicles i_he great French and foreign newspapers. When the monster's detractors cited _aying by the botanist Linnaeus that "nature doesn't make leaps," witt_riters in the popular periodicals parodied it, maintaining in essence that
  • "nature doesn't make lunatics," and ordering their contemporaries never t_ive the lie to nature by believing in krakens, sea serpents, "Moby Dicks,"
  • and other all-out efforts from drunken seamen. Finally, in a much-feare_atirical journal, an article by its most popular columnist finished off th_onster for good, spurning it in the style of Hippolytus repulsing the amorou_dvances of his stepmother Phaedra, and giving the creature its quietus amid _niversal burst of laughter. Wit had defeated science.
  • During the first months of the year 1867, the question seemed to be buried,
  • and it didn't seem due for resurrection, when new facts were brought to th_ublic's attention. But now it was no longer an issue of a scientific proble_o be solved, but a quite real and serious danger to be avoided. The questio_ook an entirely new turn. The monster again became an islet, rock, or reef,
  • but a runaway reef, unfixed and elusive.
  • On March 5, 1867, the Moravian from the Montreal Ocean Co., lying during th_ight in latitude 27 degrees 30' and longitude 72 degrees 15', ran it_tarboard quarter afoul of a rock marked on no charts of these waterways.
  • Under the combined efforts of wind and 400-horsepower steam, it was travelin_t a speed of thirteen knots. Without the high quality of its hull, th_oravian would surely have split open from this collision and gone dow_ogether with those 237 passengers it was bringing back from Canada.
  • This accident happened around five o'clock in the morning, just as day wa_eginning to break. The officers on watch rushed to the craft's stern. The_xamined the ocean with the most scrupulous care. They saw nothing except _trong eddy breaking three cable lengths out, as if those sheets of water ha_een violently churned. The site's exact bearings were taken, and the Moravia_ontinued on course apparently undamaged. Had it run afoul of an underwate_ock or the wreckage of some enormous derelict ship? They were unable to say.
  • But when they examined its undersides in the service yard, they discovere_hat part of its keel had been smashed.
  • This occurrence, extremely serious in itself, might perhaps have bee_orgotten like so many others, if three weeks later it hadn't been reenacte_nder identical conditions. Only, thanks to the nationality of the shi_ictimized by this new ramming, and thanks to the reputation of the company t_hich this ship belonged, the event caused an immense uproar.
  • No one is unaware of the name of that famous English shipowner,
  • [Cunard]( In 1840 this shrew_ndustrialist founded a postal service between Liverpool and Halifax,
  • featuring three wooden ships with 400-horsepower paddle wheels and a burden o_,162 metric tons. Eight years later, the company's assets were increased b_our 650-horsepower ships at 1,820 metric tons, and in two more years, by tw_ther vessels of still greater power and tonnage. In 1853 the Cunard Co.,
  • whose mail-carrying charter had just been renewed, successively added to it_ssets the Arabia, the Persia, the China, the Scotia, the Java, and th_ussia, all ships of top speed and, after the Great Eastern, the biggest eve_o plow the seas. So in 1867 this company owned twelve ships, eight wit_addle wheels and four with propellers.
  • If I give these highly condensed details, it is so everyone can full_nderstand the importance of this maritime transportation company, known th_orld over for its shrewd management. No transoceanic navigational undertakin_as been conducted with more ability, no business dealings have been crowne_ith greater success. In twenty-six years Cunard ships have made 2,00_tlantic crossings without so much as a voyage canceled, a delay recorded, _an, a craft, or even a letter lost. Accordingly, despite strong competitio_rom France, passengers still choose the Cunard line in preference to al_thers, as can be seen in a recent survey of official documents. Given this,
  • no one will be astonished at the uproar provoked by this accident involvin_ne of its finest steamers.
  • On April 13, 1867, with a smooth sea and a moderate breeze, the Scotia lay i_ongitude 15 degrees 12' and latitude 45 degrees 37'. It was traveling at _peed of 13.43 knots under the thrust of its 1,000-horsepower engines. It_addle wheels were churning the sea with perfect steadiness. It was the_rawing 6.7 meters of water and displacing 6,624 cubic meters.
  • At 4:17 in the afternoon, during a high tea for passengers gathered in th_ain lounge, a collision occurred, scarcely noticeable on the whole, affectin_he Scotia's hull in that quarter a little astern of its port paddle wheel.
  • The Scotia hadn't run afoul of something, it had been fouled, and by a cuttin_r perforating instrument rather than a blunt one. This encounter seemed s_inor that nobody on board would have been disturbed by it, had it not bee_or the shouts of crewmen in the hold, who climbed on deck yelling:
  • "We're sinking! We're sinking!"
  • At first the passengers were quite frightened, but Captain Anderson hastene_o reassure them. In fact, there could be no immediate danger. Divided int_even compartments by watertight bulkheads, the Scotia could brave any lea_ith impunity.
  • Captain Anderson immediately made his way into the hold. He discovered tha_he fifth compartment had been invaded by the sea, and the speed of thi_nvasion proved that the leak was considerable. Fortunately this compartmen_idn't contain the boilers, because their furnaces would have been abruptl_xtinguished.
  • Captain Anderson called an immediate halt, and one of his sailors dived dow_o assess the damage. Within moments they had located a hole two meters i_idth on the steamer's underside. Such a leak could not be patched, and wit_ts paddle wheels half swamped, the Scotia had no choice but to continue it_oyage. By then it lay 300 miles from Cape Clear, and after three days o_elay that filled Liverpool with acute anxiety, it entered the company docks.
  • The engineers then proceeded to inspect the Scotia, which had been put in dr_ock. They couldn't believe their eyes. Two and a half meters below it_aterline, there gaped a symmetrical gash in the shape of an isoscele_riangle. This breach in the sheet iron was so perfectly formed, no punc_ould have done a cleaner job of it. Consequently, it must have been produce_y a perforating tool of uncommon toughness— plus, after being launched wit_rodigious power and then piercing four centimeters of sheet iron, this too_ad needed to withdraw itself by a backward motion truly inexplicable.
  • This was the last straw, and it resulted in arousing public passions all ove_gain. Indeed, from this moment on, any maritime casualty without a_stablished cause was charged to the monster's account. This outrageous anima_ad to shoulder responsibility for all derelict vessels, whose numbers ar_nfortunately considerable, since out of those 3,000 ships whose losses ar_ecorded annually at the marine insurance bureau, the figure for steam o_ailing ships supposedly lost with all hands, in the absence of any news,
  • amounts to at least 200!
  • Now then, justly or unjustly, it was the "monster" who stood accused of thei_isappearance; and since, thanks to it, travel between the various continent_ad become more and more dangerous, the public spoke up and demanded straigh_ut that, at all cost, the seas be purged of this fearsome cetacean.