On the 2nd of February, 1873, the "Pilgrim," a tight little craft of 400 tons burden, lay in lat. 43° 57', S. and long. 165° 19', W. She was a schooner, the property of James W. Weldon, a wealthy Californian ship-owner who had fitted her out at San Francisco, expressly for the whale fisheries in the southern seas.
James Weldon was accustomed every season to send his whalers both to the Arctic regions beyond Bchring Straits, and to the Antarctic Ocean below Tasmania and Cape Horn; and the "Pilgrim," although one of the smallest, was one of the best-going vessels of its class; her sailing powers were splendid, and her rigging was so adroitly adapted that with a very small crew she might venture without risk within sight of the impenetrable ice-fields of the southern hemisphere: under skilful guidance she could dauntlessly thread her way amongst the drifting ice-bergs that, lessened though they were by perpetual shocks and undermined by warm currents, made their way northwards as far as the parallel of New Zealand or the Cape of Good Hope, to a latitude corresponding to which in the northern hemisphere they are never seen, having already melted away in the depths of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Dick Sands (sometimes Dick Sand), fifteen years old, serves on the Pilgrim, a whaling ship. They haven't had much success recently, so they are heading home. Mrs. Weldon, the wife of the owner, requests passage home, and of course receives it. With her comes her little boy Jack, his nanny Nan, and Cousin Benedict, who is an amateur entomologist. Coming across a shipwreck, they pick up four black survivors (Tom, Acteon, Austin, Bat, and Hercules) and a lively dog named Dingo, who has a puzzling habit of taking Jack's blocks and repeatedly spelling out SV. Dingo also shows a violent dislike for the Portuguese cook, Negoro, which is strange, because the dog is extremely friendly with everyone else. A freak whaling accident wipes out all of the crew except Dick and Negoro, and Dick must try to get Mrs. Weldon and the others home, despite his inexperience. The journey takes them to Africa to face the evils of the slave trade, and only Dick's quick thinking -- with some ingenious help at times from both Hercules and Dingo -- will get them through. It is a trip to try the mettle of Dick Sands, the Boy Captain. The book starts out slowly but has some excellent parts in the second half.