The Shark Attack that Shook the 1700s
How a few gruesome minutes in Havana Harbor changed the life of a fourteen-year-old orphan, upended the art world, and transformed the way humans think about sharks.
Illustrations by Damien Jay
The men on the boat saw the shark first. It was swimming about 200 yards from the shore, where the boat was anchored, and it was bearing down on a fourteen-year-old boy.
There wasn’t enough time to warn Brook Watson. The shark bit into his calf and dragged him underwater. The sailors paddled out to the spot where it had happened, hoping Watson would break the surface. He didn’t. It took two minutes for them to spot his body 100 yards away, and they rushed toward him, but the shark took him again before they arrived.
One of the sailors grabbed a harpoon and moved to the boat’s bow. Watson reappeared after another two minutes, his foot gone below the ankle, blood streaming into the water. The shark wasn’t far behind, moving in for a third time, twisting through the water, opening its mouth wide. On the boat, the sailor raised his harpoon.
The shark went in for the kill. The sailor plunged the spear into the water.
That moment, suspended in time, is immortal.