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Was Sailor James Bartley a Jonah? Did He Survive Being Swallowed by a Whale?

Published by Ted55 in Offbeat
July 2nd, 2011

Is the story of James Bartley the truth or just another sea yarn?

 

We all know the story of Jonah and the whale. But was it a whale? The Bible describes it simply as a big fish. This story has been laughed at for centuries. But Jesus believed in the tale and referred to it. That’s enough for me. Could God create a special fish which could hold the body of a man? It depends on what kind of God you want. Is it a little “god” or a big “God”? Surely A God who could create the universe and all the animals that live on earth could fashion the big fish in Jonah. He could also allow a virgin birth and have his son raise folks from the dead. No problem! a piece of cake!

But was there ever another Jonah? James Bartley, a British sailor, claimed he was swallowed by a whale and survived. According to his story, he was on the Star of the East off the Falkland Islands ( February, 1891) on a whale hunt. When a whale was spotted, Bartley, was there to aid in the kill. He was thrown overboard and wound up being swallowed by the whale. The fish was finally taken and brought on board. The next day while slicing it up, the sailors found the missing Bartley in the belly of the whale. His skin was wrinkled and discolored but after a day or so, he did recover. Once he told his story ashore, the newspapers got hold of it and it went world wide. But there were dissenters. The captain of the Star of the East claimed there never was a sailor named James Bartley on board his ship. Bartley retired from the sea and became a cobbler. Historians claim the tale was nothing more than a yarn that got out of hand. But if you visit the churchyard at Gloucester in England, you will find a tombstone on which is written: James Bartley–1870–1909–A Modern Jonah!

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  1. Roland Scales
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I grew up in Gloucestershire, both my father and I worked in Gloucester, and although I have had a longstanding interest in the local history and folkways of the county I have never, at any time heard of, or read about any association of Bartley the Swallowee with the City. There are plenty of notable epitaphs on gravestones in the area;

    Two sweetur babes you nare did see
    Than God Amity gave to we
    But they were ortaken with agur fits
    Now here they lys as dead as nits

    is one example (from Dymock) as is the following, from St. Mary’s parish church, Cheltenham:

    IN MEMORY OF JOHN HIGGS, DIED 1825

    HERE LIES JOHN HIGGS
    A FAMOUS MAN FOR KILLING PIGS
    FOR KILLING PIGS WAS HIS DELIGHT
    BOTH MORNING , AFTERNOON AND NIGHT.
    BOTH HEATS AND COLD HE DID ENDURE
    WHICH NO PHYSICIAN COULD E’ER CURE
    HIS KNIFE IS LAID, HIS WORK IS DONE,
    I HOPE TO HEAVEN HIS SOUL IS GONE

    I have no knowledge of Bartley’s grave or epitaph, though, and although I’m familiar with such stories as “the Campden Wonder” and “the Ruardene Bears”, I have never heard of the Bartley account having any connection with Gloucestershire.

    As for Gloucester, there are no fewer than 14 parishes in and around the City, excluding the Cathedral. So where is Bartley buried?

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