« AnteriorContinuar »
passage whatever, but more especially one that all are not familiarly acquainted with, the utmost precaution was taken, by keeping the leads going in both chains, men looking out at the mast-heads, yardarms and bowsprit-end ; the Captain, master, and officer of the watch, on whom the charge of the ship, at such a time, more particularly devolves, having been vigilantly on deck during the whole of the previous night, and this morning. Steering under all these guarded circumstances, the soundings exactly corresponding with the charts, and following the express line prescribed by all concurring directions, to clear every danger, (and the last of this sort between us and England), the ship, at about half past seven in the morning, struck, with a horrid crash, on a sudden reef of rocks, and remained immoveable.'
It was soon found that all attempts to get her off would be followed by immediate destruction; and nothing remained to be done, but to as much as was possible of the wreck. Even in these first scenes, we think the points of contrast are sufficiently striking; but the most remarkable are yet to be stated.
When the French frigate struck, she had on board six boats of various capacities, all of which, however, were not sufficient to contain the crew and passengers; and a raft was constructed. The scene which took place, when the signal was given for the men to quit the wreck, was most dreadful. All scrambled out of it, without order or precaution. The first who reached the boats, refused to share their chance of safety with their fellowsufferers--though there was still ample room for more. Some, who apprehended that a plot had been formed to abandon them in the vessel, flew to arms. Captain Chaumareys stole out of a port-hole into his own boat, leaving a great part of his crew to shift for themselves in the ship. No one would give the least assistance to his companions; but all were occupied in making false representations of each other's situation, in order to create an undue share of pity for themselves. At length, however, they put to sea, their intention being to steer for the sandy coast of the Desert, there to land, and thence to proceed with a carayan to the island of St Louis.
The raft had been constructed without the least foresight or intelligence. It was about 65 feet long, and 25 broad; but the only part of it which could be depended upon, was the middle; and that was so small, that fifteen persons could not lie down upon
it. Those who stood upon the floor were in constant danger of slipping through between the planks; and the sea flowed in on all sides. When the 150 passengers, destined to be its burden, were on board, they stood like a solid parallelogram, without a possibility of moving; and they were up to their waists in water.' The plan originally adopted was, that as much pro
visions as possible should be put upon this raft; that it should be taken in tow by the six boats; and that, at stated intervals, their crews should come on board of it to receive their rations. As they were about to leave the ship, Mr Correard inquired, whether all the necessary articles had been put on board, such as charts, instruments, seastore, &c., and was assured, by an officer, that he himself had seen that nothing was wanting.
And who is to command us?' 'I am to command you, swered he, “and will be with you in a moment.' The officer, however, with these words the last in his mouth, went on board one of the boats, and returned no more.
This desperate squadron had only proceeded about two leagues, when a faulty, if not treacherous manoeuvre, broke the tow-line which joined the Captain's boat to the rest; and this became the signal to all to let loose their cables. The weather was calm. The coast was known to be but 12 or 15 leagues distant; and land was, in fact, discovered by the boats on the very evening of the day on which they abandoned the raft. They were not, therefore, driven to this measure by any new perils; and the cry of Nous les abandonnons !' which resounded through the line, was the yell of a spontaneous and instinctive impulse of cowardice, perfidy, and cruelty; and, dreadful to relate, the impulse was as unanimous as it was diabolical.
The raft then, such as we have described it, was left to the mercy of the waves; and as, one after another, the boats disappeared, despair became general. Not one of the promised articles, no provisions, except a very few casks of wine, and some spoilt biscuit, sufficient for one single meal, were to be found. A small pocket compass, which chance had discovered, and which was their last guide in a trackless ocean, fell between the beams into the sea, and was lost. As the crew had taken no nourishment since morning, some wine and biscuit were distributed; and this day, the first of thirteen which they passed upon the raft, was the last on which they tasted any solid food-except such as nature shudders at. One sentiment, however, kept alive their hopes, and animated their courage; and that sentiment was, the ardent wish to be revenged of those who had treacherously abandoned them. It was in this mood, that their hearts and prayers, as our authors ingeniously say, were lifted up, in piety, to heaven!
The first night was stormy; and the waves, which had free access, committed dreadful ravages, and threatened worse. When day appeared, twelve miserable creatures were found crushed to death, between the openings of the raft, and several more were missing; though the number could not be ascertained, as many of the soldiers had taken the billets of the dead, in order to obtain two, or even three rations of food. The second night was still more dreadful, and many were washed off into the sea; although the crew had so crowded together, that some were smothered by the mere pressure. To sooth their last moments, the soldiers drank immoderately; and, in their fury, attempted to cut the cables, which held together the spars and beams of the raft. A general conflict ensued, between those who attacked, and those who defended it. Many of the former were killed ; and one, who affected to rest himself upon the side, but who, in fact, was treacherously cutting the ropes, was thrown into the sea.
Another, whom Mr Correard had snatched from the waves, turned traitor a second time, as soon as he had recovered his senses; but he too was killed. At length the revolted, who were chiefly soldiers, being repulsed, they threw themselves upon their knees, and, with the utmost abjectness, implored mercy. At midnight, however, they rebelled again. Those who had no arms fought with their teeth; and thus it was, that many severe wounds were inflicted. One man, in particular, was most wantonly and dreadfully bitten above the heel, while his companions were beating him on the head with their carabines, previously to their throwing him into the sea. The raft was strewed with dead bodies, after innumerable instances of treachery and cruelty; and from 60 to 65 perished that night. The force and courage of the strongest began to yield to their misfortunes; and even the most resolute laboured under mental derangement. In the conflict, the revolted had thrown two casks of wine, and all the remaining water, into the sea; and it became necessary to diminish each man's allowance.
A day of comparative tranquillity now succeeded. The sur, vivors erected their mast again, which had been wantonly cut down in the battle of the night; and endeavoured to catch some fish, but in vain. Then it was, that they were reduced to the last resource, the most repugnant to human nature;-and the bodies of their dead companions became their sustenance. A third night followed, which was interrupted only by the plaintive cries of wretches, exposed to every kind of suffering, ten or twelve of whom died of want, and awfully foretold the fate of the remainder. The following day was fine. Some flying fish were caught in the raft; which, mixed up with human flesh, afforded one scanty meal.
A new insurrection, still for the insane purpose of destroying the raft, broke out on the fourth night; and this too was marked by perfidy, and terminated in blood. Most of the rebels were thrown into the sea. The fifth morning mustered but 30 men alive; and these, in the most wretched state, sick and
wounded, and the skin of the lower extremities corroded by the salt water. Two soldiers were detected, drinking the wine of the only remaining cask; and were instantly thrown into the sea, according to a law. which had been enacted among themselves, to that effect. One boy died. There remained therefore 27. Of these, but 15 appeared capable of outliving their present fatigue. A council of war, presided by the most horrid despair, was held; and it was resolved, that, as the weak consumed a part of the common store, without hope of surviving, they should be thrown into the sea. This sentence was immediately put in execution !--and all the arms on board, which now filled their minds with horror, were, with the exception of a single sabre, committed to the deep.
In such a situation, distress and misery increase with a very accelerated ratio; and, even after the desperate measure of destroying their companions, and eating the most nauseous aliments, the surviving fifteen could not hope for more than a few days existence. A butterfly lighted on their sail the ninth day; and, though is was held to be the harbinger of good, many a greedy eye was cast upon it. Some seafowl also appeared; but it was not possible to catch any of them. The misery of the survivers increased with a rapidity which cannot be described ; and they even stole from each other little goblets of urine, * which had been set to cool in the sea water, and which was now considered as a luxury. The most trifling article of food, a lemon, a small bottle of spirituous dentifrice, a little garlick, became causes of contention; and every daily distribution of wine awakened a spirit of selfishness and ferocity, which common sufferings and common interest could not subdue into more social feelings.
Three days more passed over in inexpressible anguish, when they constructed a smaller and more manageable raft, in the hope of directing it to the shore; but, upon trial, it was found to be insufficient. On the 17th, the masts of a brig were seen; which, after exciting all the vicissitudes of hope and fear, proved to be the Argus sent out in quest of the Medusa. donc à des François,'exclaimed they, 'que nous devons notre salut !' And, pray, to whom did they owe their disasters ? The inhabitants of the raft were all received on board the Argus, where they were again very near perishing, from a fire which broke out in the night.
* Mr Savigny made two physiological observations on this subject, which are not without interest. The urine of some was much more agreeable (suave) than that of others; and, in all cases, this beverage proved an instantaneous and powerful diuretic.
The six boats, after their treacherous exploit of cutting the cables, made all the way they could for the coast of Africa, which they reached in safety; and, after many dangers and fatigues among the Moors, through which we cannot follow them, the survivers of the different crews arrived at St Louis. The conduct of all was marked by the same characteristics as those which we have seen on the raft; and, though their sufferings did not provoke them to the same horrible enormities, it is easy to recognise in them the same spirit of selfishness, cowardice and perfidy.--Having now conducted the French sufferers to a place of safety, and handed them over to their friends and countrymen, we must return to the English.
As soon as all hope of saving the Alceste was given up, the boats were hoisted out, and a raft was constructed ; and the Embassy, which of course was the first object of interest, was carried to the island, where it was with some difficulty landed. Every hand was at work on board the frigate, to save all that could be saved; but, as very little provisions had as yet been obtained from her, Lord Amherst assembled his people, and told them, that a gill of water, with half a gill of rum, was to be the daily allowance of himself, and all. The boats could not contain half of the crew; and it was resolved, that as the season was favourable, the Embassy should proceed to Batavia, where vessels might be despatched to convey away the remainder of the crew from the island where all had now been landed. Two hundred men, and one woman, were left behind; and Captain Maxwell, after stationing a party to dig a well, removed their quarters to the top of a hill, where the air was cooler. Every hand was employed. Some were busied in searching out a spot for an encampment. Others carried up the hill, the little store of provisions, over which a strict guard was set. All began to suffer much from thirst. A bottle of muddy water was at length obtained from the well; and the rush toward it was so great, in the first moment, that it was found adviseable to place sentries. Every drop of rain was collected, and bathing was used. On the 20th, Captain Maxweil assembled his non, and stated to them, that they were still subject to the Navy laws, and that he was resolved to enforce the strictest discipline; but that all must submit to the greatest privations. On the 21st, a party which had been left to clear the ship, was surrounded by the Malay proas well armed; and had only time to save themselves by flight. An immediate attack was expected on the island; and the same apprehension kept them on the alert, during the remainder of their stay. It was at this moment, that the British fortitude shone in its best lustre. The most regular discipline, as in a