Poor memories, brazen egos, and outright lies have characterized the accounts of the three-year, round-the-world journey of Capt. John Voss and his first mate, newspaperman N.K. Luxton.
But that’s a situation author and historian John MacFarlane intends to set right when he comes to the Sooke Region Museum for an illustrated talk on the incredible voyage.
MacFarlane will describe how Voss and Luxton set out from Victoria in a yacht fashioned from dugout canoe and how their story made them the 1901 equivalent of today’s rock stars.
“They would arrive at a port and thousands of people would come out to see the pair,” MacFarlane said.
“Newspapers tracked their progress, and they were very famous around the world.”
Unfortunately, the books written by the pair after the voyage were full of inaccuracies.
“Voss’s book has been in print for 110 years, and I always took it to be the gospel truth,” MacFarlane said. “It wasn’t until I started researching that I found what had been written wasn’t at all accurate.”
MacFarlane has uncovered evidence Voss, whose English was imperfect, had relied on a ghostwriter for his book and may never have read the manuscript.
So MacFarlane took it upon himself to sift fact from fiction, critically comparing Voss’s and Luxton’s accounts against library materials, archives, museums and other sources from around the world.
“Make no mistake about it, (the journey) was an incredible accomplishment. They set out in what was a pretty poorly designed yacht, without electronic navigation equipment or a motor. It was an amazing feat,” MacFarlane said.
“But the tales of cannibals and murder probably never happened. The real story of what happened has never really been told.”
MacFarlane came by his interest in the Voss journey quite honestly. As the past director of Victoria’s Maritime Museum, he would see Voss’s yacht, Tillicum, which was on display in the museum, every day.
“It never ceased to amaze me that this little boat carried these men around the globe,” he recalled.
MacFarlane’s research and work on the project has spanned three decades and now MacFarlane is ready to tell the real story of the voyage of the Tillicum.
He’ll be at the Sooke Region Museum on Nov. 17 between 2 and 4 p.m.
His book, Around the World in a Dugout Canoe, will be available for sale and autograph. It’s all part of the museum’s speaker series and it’s provided free of charge, although museum donations are welcome.
MacFarlane is also a driving force behind Nauticapedia.ca, a website dedicated to maritime history.