On March 24, 1865, a balloon carrying five persons escaping from Richmond, capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, falls into the sea. Caught in a storm, the balloon had flown some seven thousand miles in five days. The five passengers are Captain Cyrus Harding, an engineer in General Grant’s army; his black servant, Nebuchadnezzar, known as Neb; Gideon Spilett, a reporter; Jack Pencroft, a sailor; and Herbert Brown, the fifteen-year-old orphan son of one of Pencroft’s former sea captains.
The balloon falls near an uncharted island, and Harding, together with his dog, Top, is washed overboard. Once its load is lightened, the balloon then deposits the other travelers on the shore of the island. The next morning, Neb looks for his “master” while the others explore the island. The next day, Herbert, Pencroft, and Spilett take stock of their resources, which consist of the clothes they wear, a notebook, and a watch. They suddenly hear Top barking. The dog leads them to Captain Harding, who, having been unconscious, is at a loss to explain how he arrived at a place more than a mile away from the shore.
When Harding gets stronger, the group decides to consider themselves colonists rather than castaways, and they call their new home Lincoln Island. Harding finds on the island samples of iron, pyrite, clay, lime, coal, and other useful minerals. The colonists make bricks, which they use to construct an oven in which to make pottery. From Top’s collar, they are able to make two knives, which enable them to cut bows and arrows. Eventually, they make iron and steel tools.
Under the brilliant direction of Harding, who seems to know a great deal about everything, the colonists work constantly to improve their lot. After discovering a cave within a cliff wall, they plan to make this their permanent residence; they call it Granite House. They make a rope ladder up the side of the cliff to the door of the cavern, which they equip with brick walls, furniture, and candles made from seal fat.
One day, Pencroft finds washed up on the beach a large chest containing many useful items, including books, clothes, instruments, and weapons. On another occasion, the colonists return to Granite House to find that their home has been invaded by orangutans, who suddenly become terrified by something and begin to flee. The colonists kill all but one, which they domesticate and call Jup.
The colony prospers. They domesticate various animals, use a stream to power an elevator to Granite House, and make glass windows. They build a boat designed by Harding and name it the Bonadventure. As they are sailing it, they find a bottle with a message, saying that there is a castaway on nearby Tabor Island. Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert sail to Tabor Island, where Herbert is attacked by a strange wild man. Pencroft and Spilett succeed in capturing him and take him...
(The entire section is 1192 words.)