The Wreck of the Royal Tar: Background information when reading The Last True Poets of the Sea

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Last True Poets of the Sea

by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake X
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Oct 2019, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Wreck of the Royal Tar

This article relates to The Last True Poets of the Sea

Print Review

Artist's depiction of the Royal Tar shipwreck featuring horses and people flailing in the wavesThe wreck of the Lyric and Fidelia Hathaway's swim to shore in The Last True Poets of the Sea are fictional, but there are indeed nearly one thousand shipwrecks off Maine's rocky coastline, all with stories of their own. Some involved passenger ships like the Lyric; others were military or commercial vessels. Some wrecks are visible, generally at low tide; others have been lost forever. The sites of some wrecks have been studied; others are the subject of conjecture, such as the 1635 galleon called the Angel Gabriel, rumored to lie somewhere in the Pemaquid Bay near Bristol. One of the most memorable of Maine's many shipwrecks is the disaster that struck the steamship Royal Tar in October 1836.

The Royal Tar left St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on October 21, 1836, bound for Eastport and then Portland, Maine. 93 persons, passengers and crew were onboard—as well as a traveling menagerie, a zoo of sorts, including a lion, an elephant, two camels, monkeys, exotic birds and horses. To make room for the animals, their cages and the carts that would be used to transport them on land, two of the steamship's four lifeboats were removed prior to sailing. A storm hit almost immediately, and the Royal Tar sheltered for a few days in harbors in far northern Maine. On October 25, a boiler malfunctioned, and the ship caught fire near Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Rockland. The two lifeboats were speedily filled with passengers, who made it to Isle au Haut, another nearby island. 40 people were rescued; 32 perished.

There are conflicting reports about what happened to the animals. Some say that only two horses managed to swim to shore. While some sailors in the following days claimed to have seen Mogul the elephant dead, and there are tales of elephant bones on tiny Brimstone Island, there are also stories that Mogul arrived on another island, very much alive, and wreaked havoc on a local farm until a circus hand retrieved him. This colorful story is the subject of Chris Van Dusen's delightful picture book The Circus Ship. In this version, the animals all arrive safely on the shore of an island, endear themselves to the local inhabitants, and cleverly avoid recapture by a greedy circus owner. The wreck of the Royal Tar has even been adapted into a stage musical! Kate Russell, the artistic director of a local theater, heard story after story of the shipwreck from locals while she was in Stonington, Maine. She used the combination of facts and lore to craft a musical about a little girl whose father is a member of the crew of the doomed ship; the child is inspired by Mogul the elephant to swim to shore—a bit like Fidelia in The Last True Poets of the Sea. The homespun musical is also reminiscent of Violet and Orion's musical Cousteau!, which they cobble together for the Lyric Aquarium.

As Drake's novel reminds readers, where there are shipwrecks, there are bound to be stories waiting to be unraveled from the seaweed.

The Royal Tar shipwreck, courtesy of The Tragedy of the Seas (1841) by Charles Ellms

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This article relates to The Last True Poets of the Sea. It first ran in the October 16, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    by Marie Benedict
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, notable author of previous historical fiction such ...
  • Book Jacket: To Be a Man
    To Be a Man
    by Nicole Krauss
    While, as its title hints, To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss is concerned with masculinity, it renders a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Office of Historical Corrections
    The Office of Historical Corrections
    by Danielle Evans
    In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Dutch House
    by Ann Patchett

    The Dutch House is my introduction to Ann Patchett, which, after reading it, surprises me. I had ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Fortunate Ones
    by Ed Tarkington

    An engrossing story of class, love, and loyalty for fans of Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    At the Edge of the Haight
    by Katherine Seligman

    Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Moment of Lift
by Melinda Gates
How can we summon a moment of lift for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.
Who Said...

A book is one of the most patient of all man's inventions.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

T M T C, T M T Stay T S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.