Lessons in Leadership – Shipwrecked in 1864

[Number 6 in a series]

A group shipwrecked on an island is a classic scenario for studying how people interact and cope with adversity. In this case, we are going to look at two real-life examples and how leadership made the difference. The following is from the Survival Common Sense Blog:

Only a fool would deliberately put himself into a disaster or emergency situation to test his reactions, so the best we can do is read and try to learn from other people’s experiences. Island of the Lost can teach you something about different human reactions to essentially the same disaster.

Auckland Island is a godforsaken place 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places on earth.

In 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew of four wrecked on the southern end of the island. With little more than their bare hands, the men built a cabin, and a forge to make their own tools. They remained civilized through the darkest times, and managed to build a boat and effect their own escape.

Incredibly, at the same time the Invercauld falls apart on the other side of the island and its crew of 19 arrive on shore under the same dismal circumstances. The men fight and split up, some die of starvation, and others resort to cannibalism.

Why the difference? Musgrave’s crew followed the concepts of survival common sense to a tee. Upon being shipwrecked, they inventoried their tools, put their survival priorities in order, made a plan to be rescued, and got busy carrying out that plan.

The Ivercauld group, on the other hand, reacted as most people would. They struggled with denial, were disorganized, and never figured out what to do next. They had no real purpose or goal and their inability to focus and work together soon made a bad situation worse.

Island of the Lost takes two real-life disasters, and shows what happens when radically-different survival philosophies are applied. This book is fascinating reading, and reinforces the idea that you can will yourself to live.

Here we have two groups of men who start out with virtually identical circumstances. With Captain Musgrave providing the leadership and direction, his group remains civilized men, they work together to build and survive and then rescue themselves. With the crew of the Ivercauld, there is no natural leadership and apparently none came forth. As a result, they were disorganized, fought among themselves, degenerated into little more than beasts, and then they died. There are few examples where the need for good strong leadership is more clearly shown than this.

Lessons Learned:

  • Work with what you have, even if it is little more than hope.
  • Have a goal in mind. People need something to work for so that they are pulling in the same direction.
  • Even in the most dire and primitive circumstances, civility and discipline must be maintained.

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Confederate Colonel and The Southern Agrarian blogs. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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