Survival Story Of The Castaway Narcisse Pelletier

Samuel Reason | August 2nd, 2019

One of the world’s most unknown survival stories is the tale of the French cabin boy Narcisse Pelletier, who was cast away in 1858 in Australia off the coast of Far North Queensland. He was aboard the trader’s vessel Saint-Paul when it was shipwrecked off the Eastern tip of New Guinea.

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The survivors found themselves on the perilous Heron Island which had no freshwater and very little supplies. They sent a party over to the neighboring Rossel Island in search of freshwater but were attacked by locals, the locals then attacked the whole party by swimming over to Heron Island. As they had firearms some of the crew were able to escape in a longboat, there were nine to twelve men aboard and accounts vary on what happened next.

They made a 12-day journey across the Coral Sea in an open boat by surviving off seabirds and drinking urine. After 1,200 kilometers they made it to the Cape York Peninsula and found freshwater, and here Pelletier was left behind. No one knows why, but historians figure he must have been weak from the lack of nourishment and wounds inflicted at Rossel Island. Perhaps the crew did not want to deal with a dying child, as he was only 14 at the time.

Three Aboriginal women found him, and then came back with their husbands. This time it seems Pelletier was lucky or maybe it was that he was alone, the Aboriginal group decided to adopt him and gave him the new name Amglo.

He lived with the Uutaalnganu speakers for the next 17 years, until he was found by the English crew of John Bell on 11 April 1875. Though the English crew of John Bell assert he was rescued, Pelletier always told the story that he was kidnapped and did not want to leave his Aboriginal family. He was unable to speak English and reported that he had left three children behind. He had many markings and cicatrices on his chest which would have held wooden plugs, his records contain some of the most detailed reports about the social organization, language, and beliefs of the Uutaalnganu speakers.

In the end, he never returned and did make his way back to France where his family met him and celebrated his return.

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