James Bartley

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James Bartley (1856?-died c.1902) is the central figure in a late nineteenth-century urban legend according to which he was swallowed whole by a sperm whale.

The story as reported is that during a whaling expedition off the Falkland Islands, Bartley's boat was attacked by the whale and he landed inside the whale's mouth. He survived the ordeal and was carved out of the stomach by his peers when they, not knowing he was inside, caught and began skinning the whale because of the hot weather which would have rotted the whale meat. It was said that he was in the whale for 15 hours and it was also said that his skin had been bleached by the gastric juices, and that he was blind the rest of his life. He was, however, supposed to have returned to work within three weeks in some accounts. He died 11 or more years later and his tombstone in Ireland says "James Bartley- a modern day Jonah"[1][2]

The ship usually mentioned is The Star of the East; a British ship by the same name existed and sailed during the time in which the incident allegedly occurred, but the real "Star of the East" was not a whaling vessel and its crew list did not include a "James Bartley".[3]

The French scientist, de Parville, published a report of the alleged incident in the Paris Journal des Débats in 1914. More recently the facts have been carefully investigated by historian Edward Davis.

Julian Barnes references the event in his novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, as did Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End. Clive Cussler also refers to the James Bartley story in his novel Medusa. James Bartley was also mentioned in the 1965 "Jonah and the Whale" episode of the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea television series.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Gunston, "The man who lived in a whale", Sunday Mail, May 12, 1985, page 15
  2. ^ Swallowed by a Whale
  3. ^ "Have any real-life Jonahs been swallowed by whales and lived?" from The Straight Dope, September 14, 2001

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