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P.E.I. author’s novel inspired by great-grandfather’s marooning

“Cat o’ nine tails or overboard, McDonough.”
 
Deirdre Kessler’s latest novel, “Darwin’s Hornpipe,” was inspired by her great-grandfather’s whaling and marooning experience.
Deirdre Kessler’s latest novel, “Darwin’s Hornpipe,” was inspired by her great-grandfather’s whaling and marooning experience. Photo by Ezra Santana.
 

Darwin's Hornpipe by Deirdre Kessler

 

William McDonough was sailing aboard the whaling ship Morning Star off the coast of Ecuador when it happened.

The ship’s captain was poisoned and taken to the shore to receive medical care.

McDonough and several crew members protected the wheel while seven others aboard the ship took a long boat full of supplies and fled.

Upon returning to the Morning Star, the captain accused McDonough and his Ecuadorian friend of participating in the mutiny.

McDonough’s friend was flogged to death with a cat o’ nine tails, a type of whip with nine knotted cords attached to a handle.

Nearing the Galápagos archipelago, the captain turned to McDonough.

“Cat o’ nine tails or overboard, McDonough.”

McDonough chose to be thrown overboard.

He swam to Charles Island and was rescued three weeks later by another passing ship.

The story of William “Bill” McDonough inspired his great-granddaughter Deirdre Kessler’s latest novel, “Darwin’s Hornpipe.”

“Darwin’s Hornpipe” tells the story of Irish immigrant William “Will” McDonough, who sailed aboard the whaler Morning Star, was accused of mutiny and thrown overboard.
“Darwin’s Hornpipe” tells the story of Irish immigrant William “Will” McDonough, who sailed aboard the whaler Morning Star, was accused of mutiny and thrown overboard. Photo by Ezra Santana.

“My mother and grandmother were both really good storytellers and my mother knew this– her grandfather– knew this Bill McDonough very well, so I could hear his voice in her telling. And my grandmother it was her father, so they all knew the stories,” said Kessler.

Kessler was a sessional professor at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), teaching creative writing, children’s literature and a course on L.M. Montgomery.

As a child, she loved the story and rebellious spirit of her great-grandfather, but couldn’t let go of the donkey he had eaten in Charles Island.

Kessler spent years wondering how she could tell McDonough’s story.

“When I finally decided I could just make it up… use the good parts, the dramatic parts of the real-life great-grandfather and, of course, I decided in my story the donkey lives.”

She spoke with her family and they agreed that she could turn it into fiction.

“Darwin’s Hornpipe” tells the story of Irish immigrant William “Will” McDonough, who sailed aboard the whaler Morning Star, was accused of mutiny and thrown overboard.

He swam to a small island in the Galápagos archipelago and was marooned. After his rescue, he sought justice for his friend Rafael, who was co-accused of mutiny and flogged.

Kessler’s love of reading was always encouraged by her mother and grandmother, who would often read to her.

“So, reading and stories were always part of what was deeply exciting in my life.”

Although she wrote poetry during the summers when she taught at an elementary school, Kessler still felt like she didn’t have time to work on a book.

“One year, I heard myself whining like ‘I wanna write… I always wanted to write.’ And so, I decided to take a leave of absence from my job and go camp out and just write.”

After one year, she decided to quit her job and take freelance writing assignments.

“I thought if I don’t do it, I will just be a whiner.”

Kessler has since published poetry collections, as well as children and adult literature. She’s currently getting ready to send a new poetry collection manuscript to a publisher.

 
“As I re-entered the world, I understood again how close death is to life. How quickly oblivion can overtake a human. How seductive is the crossing of the River Lethe.”
 

Darwin’s Hornpipe | Deirdre Kessler | 192 pp. | Penumbra Press | CA$19.99

 

“So begins Deirdre Kessler’s novel, Darwin’s Hornpipe. After being accused of mutiny aboard the Morning Star, a whaling barque, Will McDonough does a jig on the Union Jack and is thrown overboard. He swims to an island in the Galápagos archipelago and is marooned. After his rescue, he seeks justice for Rafael , his Cofán-Ecuadorean friend who was co-accused by the barque’s captain and succumbs to a cruel flogging. A parallel narrative follows Will’s soulmate, Nixie Austin, whose missives to him depict her trek overland with a dog and companion donkeys from the California gold fields to Prince Edward Island, where she and Will eventually reunite. Set during the American Civil War, Kessler’s Darwin’s Hornpipe is loosely based on her great-grandfather’s actual whaling ship experience: he, too, was wrongly accused of mutiny and thrown overboard near one of the islands in the Galápagos archipelago.”

 

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Hey, thanks for stopping by!

My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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Thanks! See you soon~

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