Summary for The Unknown Shore

From WikiPOBia

Jump to: navigation, search

Plot summary for The Unknown Shore is a short description of the plot of The Unknown Shore.

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "The Unknown Shore"  follow.

Mr. Chaworth, a country gentleman, breaks out into a fury over breakfast at the irregular antics of his Whiggish neighbour Mr. Elwes. To escape the storm, Chaworth’s young cousin Jack (a midshipman in the Navy) goes to visit his friend Toby Barrow, Elwes’s apprentice and sometime educational guinea-pig, whom Jack finds in an unusual state of excitement; Elwes, who is planning to marry, intends to turn him adrift to please his bride. Toby is resolved to run away. Jack, who is bound for London in pursuit of an appointment on board Commodore Anson’s flagship, takes Toby with him.

In London they meet Jack’s fellow-midshipmen Keppel and Ransome. Jack tells Keppel about his disastrous attempt to interest his influential kinsman Brocas in Toby (the two almost came to blows over Toby’s radical views on politics). Toby, who has been to see the Tower lions, loses his way back and falls among thieves. The anxious Jack finally devises a scheme in conjunction with Ransome and a friend who commands a press tender. They buy two live turkeys and display them at the top of the Monument. As expected, the destitute and almost naked Toby cannot resist coming out of hiding to investigate this ornithological curiosity, and he is run down by the tender’s crew. Meanwhile, Jack has heard that Mr. Eliot, the Wager’s surgeon, is in desperate need of an assistant. Toby is thrust into a suit of clothes and hurried through the necessary interviews, and as Jack has been posted to the Wager rather than the Centurion, the two friends set out with Eliot to join their ship.

Jack takes advantage of an unscheduled delay at Portsmouth to show Toby the fleet and to instruct him, without much hope, on naval etiquette. On board the Wager, Toby is inept at first, and during the voyage he perpetrates a number of innocent outrages which cause Jack great anxiety; on the other hand he builds a good working relationship with Eliot and with the hands. Toby and Eliot supervise the process of blood-letting the entire crew. Jack, to his great relief, is called away to attend to the unloading of a store-ship. In endeavouring to cover for Midshipman Cozens, who has been at the rum and has become obstreperous, Jack quite naturally finds himself taking the whole blame and is sent to the masthead just before dinner. Toby, nothing of a topman, nonetheless struggles up towards him with a package of food. Jack, empty (for Toby has dropped his parcel at the last moment) but appreciative, sends him sliding down the preventer stays to safety.

The Wager crosses the Line with the usual ceremonies and enters upon a spell of easy sailing. Toby operates on a seaman who has accidentally stabbed himself with a fish-spear; the man, recovering, is in the midst of a long yarn of shipwreck and slavery when the Tryall creates a diversion by signalling soundings – the first hint of the approaching Brazilian coast. The squadron gathers in the Patagonian harbour of St. Julian’s to refit for the rounding of the Horn. The captain of the Pearl has died, and the resulting reorganisation brings Cheap of the Tryall aboard the Wager as her commander; he is a notorious martinet, and soon after putting to sea Toby has the ill-luck to offend him. Jack patiently explains the meaning of lee shore to Toby, with the Magellan Strait near at hand as a cogent example.

As the Wager is struggling through constant storms to make her offing westward of the Cape, scurvy takes a hold and Toby is ceaselessly at work among the sick – alone, for Eliot went aboard the Gloucester to help in an operation and the ships were scattered before he could return. Partially dismasted and by now grievously undermanned, the ship begins to toil northwards towards the appointed rendezvous, but again and again she finds the barren Chilean coast perilously close at hand, and at last she strikes. A last effort brings her aground within boat-reach of shore. Toby is unconscious after an accident in the wreck. Jack nurses him and, as he emerges from delirium, explains their position: they are on a barren island, living on shellfish and a few items salvaged from the wreck – only rum is plentiful, and discipline has collapsed in consequence; the captain is injured and half-crazed, and many men have deserted and set up an independent camp across the island. Captain Cheap shoots Cozens dead for insubordination; this quiets the disorders for a while, but the gunner stirs up a mutinous spirit among the survivors, proposing to take the longboat and sail back through the Strait. The plan is allegedly to overpower the captain and force him to accept the situation, but when the boat puts to sea Jack realises that Cheap has been left behind. By a subterfuge, Jack manages to take the ship’s barge and a few well-disposed men (including Toby) back to rejoin his captain. At last twenty starving men, in two open boats, set out northward in an attempt to reach a Spanish settlement. For two months they struggle with savage currents and cruel weather until, after losing one boat and being compelled to abandon four volunteers to fend for themselves ashore, they give up the attempt and return to their starting-point.

At last, when the men have begun to consider cannibalism, an Indian cacique (chief) comes to the island and agrees to guide the men to his home settlement, which is near Spanish territory. He is a vicious taskmaster but clearly an expert seaman. After a group of sailors has stolen the barge, the cacique takes Jack and the captain to rendezvous with another band of natives who can supply further transport. The castaways are reunited and resume their journey, partly ashore in the forest; here Jack falls behind exhausted, and Toby turns back to help him. The two friends find the others on the beach, but the Indian canoes are in the act of putting to sea and nobody (least of all the captain) will turn back to take them aboard. They find another band of Indians who treat them more harshly than ever, but at least they are fed and allowed to accompany the tribe. After some days they come up with Cheap’s party; the captain is now grievously ill. A last desperate trip in a leaking canoe brings the party to Chiloe Island: cultivated fields, kindly Christian Indians, fire, shelter and above all food.

Captain Cheap and Lieut. Hamilton of the Marines are lodged in Santiago with an exiled Scottish physician, while Jack and the others are treated as prisoners of war in Valparaiso until the governor there, not liking the responsibility, sends them to join their officers. They learn that the Centurion has wrought havoc among the Spanish merchantmen. Fortunately Anson’s humane treatment of his own captives has been so different from that of previous English visitors (mostly buccaneers) that the Spaniards remain friendly to their nominal enemies. At length the English prisoners are exchanged and sent homeward aboard a French frigate. Having run short of water and narrowly missed being captured by British cruisers in the Caribbean, the Lys finally reaches Brest. The Englishmen book a passage to Dover on a Dutch fishing-boat; her captain breaks his word and turns eastward for his home, but an English ship effects a rescue.

Thus the travellers reach England. Jack and Toby spend their last pennies on horse-hire and reach the Byrons’ London home, to find it dark and empty; Jack’s sister Isabella, who has made a good marriage, is holding a party at her husband’s house, and all the family are in attendance. Jack and Toby force their way in, ignoring the outrage of the guests. Toby carries off his particular friend Georgiana Chaworth from under the noses of two noble admirers to "talk of bats".

Personal tools