Captain Alexander "Alex" McLean and Captain Daniel "Dan"McLean – The Real Life Sea Wolves

by John M. MacFarlane 2016

Captain Alex McLean

Captain Alexander "Alex" McLean (Source of image unknown.)

Said to have been the real life models for Jack London’s "Sea Worlf" the MacLean Brothers were tough prominent sealing Captains who ruthlessly exploited the seal resources on the Pacific coast. They had many enemies in very tough dangerous business considered by seamen in those days as reserved for the toughest mariners who would do whatever was necessary in pursuit of quick money returns.

Alex McLean was born at Sydney Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia in 1859. He was the brother of Captain Daniel McLean. He began his career in the Atlantic in 1873. He came to the Pacific in the steamer Santa Clara as Second Officer in 1880. He was first officer on the Sir James Douglas and later on the Beaver. He served in various capacities in the BC steamers Gertrude, Western Slope, Pacific Slope. He began sealing in 1883 from San Francisco on the schooner San Diego with his brother. He commanded the Favorite in partnership with Captain William Spring. He took the schooner Mary Ellen for two seasons, leaving her to go with the J. Hamilton Lewis which was seized by a Russian man-of-war. After his release he went north with the Rose Sparks and in 1894 he took out the Bonanza from San Francisco. He is said to have been one of the models for Jack London's "Sea Wolf." He was found drowned in False Creek in Vancouver in 1914.

Captain Dan McLean

Captain Daniel "Dan" McLean (Source of image unknown.)

Daniel McLean was a Master Mariner. He was one of the models for Jack London's Sea Wolf. He was born at Sydney Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia in 1851 where he began his marine career. He sailed out of New York as a Mate on deep sea ships arriving in the Pacific about 1880. He prospected from the seven ton sloop Flyaway up the coast of BC and Alaska discovering a coal mine later owned by the Alaska Commercial Company. With his brother Alex in 1883 he took the schooner San Diego from San Francisco to seal, sealing the skins in Victoria. The following year, in the schooner Mary Ellen, he broke sealing records and again in 1885 and 1886. He brought the schooner Triumph out from Halifax in 1886. In 1890 he sailed the Edward E. Webster.

The personal character of the novel’s antagonist "Wolf Larsen" was attributed to a real sailor London had known, Captain Alex MacLean. According to London himself, "much of the Sea Wolf is imaginary development, but the basis is Alexander McLean". Captain Alex MacLean, or "McLean", was born May 15, 1858 in East Bay, Nova Scotia. He did sail mostly in the Pacific North West with his brother, Captain Dan MacLean. MacLean was at one time the Sheriff of Nome, Alaska. The MacLean Captains maintained their ties to Cape Breton Island despite having spent much of their lives sailing the Pacific Coast and do have living descendants.

The novel Sea–Wolf is a 1904 psychological adventure novel by American novelist Jack London about a literary critic, survivor of an ocean collision who comes under the dominance of Wolf Larsen, the powerful and amoral sea captain who rescues him.

Wolf is not the character Larsen’s real given name. His genuine given name is never stated. Dialogue heavily implies that he is called "Wolf" because of his nature and viciousness, and, for similar reasons, his brother is called "Death".


To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2016) Captain Alexander "Alex": McLean and Captain Daniel McLean – The Real Sea Wolves. Nauticapedia.ca 2016. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Real_Sea_Wolf.php

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