The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May 1, 1934.)
Wreck of the Grafton Musgrave — An Epic of the Sea
The ‘Grafton Musgrave,’ from Sydney, was wrecked January 3, 1864, in one of the islets of the Auckland Islands; the master and two of the crew arrived at Port Adventure (Stewart Island) last month in a small boat of their own building.” —Lloyd's List, Oct. 17, 1865.
Such is the brief record behind which lies an adventure which rivals that of Alexander Selkirk, whom Daniel Defoe immortalised under the illustrious name of “Robinson Crusoe,” and to which a pair of blacksmith's bellows, a pair of boots made of tanned sealskin, and a needle made of bone from the wing of an albatross bear mute witness in the Melbourne Museum.
The “Grafton” left Sydney for the Campbell Islands on 12th Nov., 1863, with a small party intending to search there for a reported reef of argentiferous tin; and in the event of their non-success to proceed to the Auckland Islands for the purpose of studying the prospects for opening up a trade in seals.
The members of the party were five in number, and they represented five nationalities. The captain of the vessel was Thomas Musgrave, an American, and his mate, who was also in charge of the expedition, was a Frenchman named Raynal. Of the crew, one George Harris was an Englishman; the other, Alick Mclaren, a Norwegian; while the cook, Henry Folgee, was a Portuguese. Almost too strange for fiction—but this story, as the children say, is “all true.”
In the early morning of 3rd January, 1864, the vessel was wrecked in a storm off the Auckland Islands, and her crew found themselves marooned on these inhospitable shores. Thereafter, for almost twenty months they were forced to defend themselves against the rigour of the climate by building a shelter and manufacturing clothes; to protect themselves from famine, by hunting and fishing; and to maintain order amongst themselves, by establishing a little hierarchy, with a chosen leader whom they bound themselves to obey. They were, in fact, a little League of Nations of five, though they had in common the ability of speaking the same language—English. Yet each did his part so faithfully and well that they were able, by resolute will and persevering effort, to effect for themselves a happy deliverance.
Marooned as they were on such a bleak spot, their first thoughts were ones of despair. Raynal, who had been ill during the latter part of the voyage, was perhaps gloomiest of all, and then an oft used maxim came to his mind with a new, impressive, luminous meaning: “Help thyself and Heaven will help thee.” He resolved to combat and drive away despair, so that from then on he is the real Crusoe whose tinkering, tailoring and cobbling ingenuity inspired his companions in their efforts to regain civilisation.
Like Crusoe of old, they were able to save many things from the wreck; and like him, too, they moved from the preliminary cavern to a roomy cavern of their own building. Food was always a problem, and more than once they were reduced almost to starvation. Seals were their staple diet, though the taste for the rank flesh had to be acquired only through dire necessity. Primitive snares secured them an occasional bird, and fish were often, though not always, caught from the rocks.
Always they lived in hopes of a rescue party coming for them, but as the months dragged on and no help appeared, they began to realise their hopes of salvation lay with themselves, and not with their business partners in Sydney who had apparently abandoned them. They resolved on the desperate project of building a boat to make the attempt of reaching New Zealand, 400 miles to the northward. For this purpose the bellows, now in the Melbourne Museum, were manufactured by the Frenchman, Raynal, to forge the necessary tools from the metal taken from the wreck.
Their first attempt at boat building was a failure, but nothing daunted, they set to again and began to equip the small boat they had saved from the “Grafton” by raising the gunwales, adding a false keel, and decking it over. The finished article was even then only seventeen feet long, six feet wide, and three feet deep; so small that only three could venture in her while the other two were to remain behind until a boat should be sent for them if the hazardous undertaking were successful.
On the morning of 19th July, Musgrave, Raynal and Mclaren, set sail, leaving behind them the Englishman Harris and the Portuguese cook Folgee (or Forgés). Misfortune still dogged the determined adventurers, and for four days they battled against storms and heavy seas—four days of endless struggle with the elements, soaked, without sleep, and weak with exhaustion and privation. On the morning of the fifth day they sighted Stewart Island, and one day later, on the 24th July, they entered Port Adventure. Here willing hands were lent to aid the sufferers, and two days later they were brought over to Invercargill by Captain Cross, of the “Flying Scud.”
The people of Invercargill were not slow either in lending their support. Mr. Collyer, of the Princess Hotel, put them up free of charge. Dr. Innes attended them with assiduous care and refused any remuneration other than thanks, while Mr. John Macpherson was later destined to render, them greater service.
The day after their arrival, Captain Musgrave had waited upon the officials of the Province, and also of the Government, to place before them, according to maritime law, the particulars of the loss of his ship, and at the same time to ask them to despatch a vessel to the rescue of their two companions. The Government, however, could not see its way clear to despatch a vessel at that particular time. Mr. Macpherson immediately called a meeting of the residents, and a public subscription was opened. By night a sum of #40 was raised, made up of eight donations of #5 each, and by next day this was increased to #100, when the “Flying Scud,” though small, being the only vessel available, was chartered to make the voyage. Musgrave returned with her as pilot. The two remaining Crusoes were rescued in almost a starving condition, their food supply having failed for a time so that they were reduced to using mice and berries.
The men eventually returned to their homes, Musgrave visiting London, where his journal was published by Lockwood's in 1866, and Raynal to France, where he published a record of his adventures, “Les Naufrages des Auckland Iles,” from a translation of which the above narrative is reproduced.