Benjamin Morrell

Benjamin Morrell (July 5, 1795 – 1838 or 1839?) was an American sea captain, explorer and trader who made a number of voyages, mainly to the Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and the Pacific Islands. In a ghost-written memoir, A Narrative of Four Voyages, which describes his sea-going life between 1823 and 1832, Morrell included numerous claims of discovery and achievement, many of which have been disputed by geographers and historians, and in some cases have been proved false. He ended his career as a fugitive, having wrecked his ship and misappropriated parts of the salvaged cargo.

Benjamin Morrell
1832 engraving of Benjamin Morrell
Born(1795-07-05)July 5, 1795
Rye, Westchester County, New York[1]
Died1839 (aged 4344)
OccupationSea captain
Spouse(s)Abby Jane, née Wood
ChildrenSon, William Morrell
Parent(s)Benjamin Morrell Sr, mother's name unknown

Morrell had an eventful early career, running away to sea at the age of 17 and being twice captured and imprisoned by the British during the War of 1812. He subsequently sailed before the mast for several years before being appointed as chief mate, and later as captain, of the New York sealer Wasp. In 1823 he took Wasp for an extended voyage into subantarctic waters, and on his return made unsubstantiated claims to have travelled beyond 70 °S and to have sighted new coastlines in the area now known as the Weddell Sea. His subsequent voyages mainly centered on the Pacific, where he attempted to develop trading relations with the indigenous populations. Although Morrell wrote of the enormous potential wealth to be obtained from the Pacific trade, his endeavours were, in the main, commercially unprofitable.

Despite his reputation among his contemporaries for untruth and fantasy, Morrell has been defended by some later commentators who, while questioning his general reliability, maintain that not all his life was fraud and exaggeration. They believe that aside from the bombast and boastful tone of the account that carries his name, there is evidence that he carried out useful work, such his discovery of large-scale guano deposits which led to the development of a full-scale industry. He is believed to have died in 1838 or 1839, in Mozambique; there is, however, evidence to suggest that this death might have been staged, and that he lived on in exile, possibly in South America.

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