The records of the British Admiralty testify that James Bartley, an apprentice seaman on a whaler, was swallowed by a whale in February, 1891, some two hundred miles east of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. He survived the ordeal and this is his amazing tale.

 

     It was his first whaling voyage and he was aboard the whaling ship Star of the East.

The lookout spotted a huge sperm whale half a mile off the port bow and gave the cry 'There she blows!' The ship's sails were slackened and soon her small boats were lowered. A deadly race began between the Star of the East and the immense whale.

     Young James BartIey was in the first longboat to reach the side of the prey. They crept up from the rear, so near that the harpooner leaned over and rammed his weapon deep into the whale's vitals. As the stricken beast sought to free itself of the harpoon, Bartley and the other oarsmen rowed frantically to get out of reach of the massive flukes, the two-pronged tail which threshed the water to foam in the whale's agony.

     The whale sounded and eight hundred feet of heavy line streaked out of the line tub before he ended his dive. Then an ominous slacking in the line signaled the monster was going to surface. But where?

     The oarsmen readied themselves to pull for their lives. Without warning there was a splintering crash which sent the longboat spinning into the air. The whale thrashed about wildly, snapping at the men and the wreckage with its huge jaws as the water turned to a bloody froth before he sounded again.

     Another longboat picked up the survivors of this encounter, but two men were missing - one of them the young apprentice, James Bartley.

     The wind now deserted the Star of the East and for hours she lay becalmed, wallowing in a light swell.

     Shortly before sunset, the now dead whale floated to the surface a few hundred yards from the ship. In a longboat, the crew hastily fastened a line to the whale and the winch brought it to the ship's side. The hot weather climate made it imperative that the whale be cut up at once. Having no means of raising it to the deck, the men took their flensing spades and peeled off the blubber as they slipped and slid along the immense back of this giant mammal.

     Late that night, working by lantern-light, the tired crewmen removed the stomach of the whale and slowly winched it to the deck for flensing. They were startled to notice movement inside the large sack, movement that looked like something living and breathing. The captain called the ship's doctor who made an incision in the tough flesh. And out slid the doubled up missing sailor, James Bartley, as if he were suffering from severe stomach cramps. He was alive, but unconscious.

     The doctor ordered Bartley drenched with sea water, a treatment which restored his consciousness but not his reason, for he babbled incoherently.

     Confined to a cabin for several weeks and bound so he could not injure himself in his wild flounderings, Bartley gradually regained his senses. Within a month he was able to relate what had happened to him in his terrifying experience.

     Bartley said that as he was cast into the water from the long boat he saw a tremendous mouth open over him and he screamed as he was engulfed by it. He then felt sharp stabbing pains as he was swept across the teeth and then slid feet first down a slimy tube that carried him to the whale's stomach. He could breath, but the hot, fetid odor soon rendered him unconscious and the last thing he remembers was kicking as hard as he could at the soft, yielding stomach. Finally, he lapsed into unconsciousness until he again came to his senses almost a month later.

     As a result of his fifteen hours inside the whale's stomach, Bartley lost all the hair on his body and was blind for the rest of his life. His skin was bleached to an unnatural whiteness that gave the appearance of being bloodless, although he was healthy.

     James Bartley never made another trip to the sea and settled down to shore life as a cobbler in his native city of Gloucester, England. He died eighteen years after his remarkable survival and terrifying adventure.

     On his tombstone in the churchyard at Gloucester is a brief account of his experience at sea and a footnote, which says: James Bartley -1870-1909 - A Modem Jonah.

From: TRUE TALES OF TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS

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