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Wrecked on a Reef

Appendix — I. — Narrative of the Wreck of the "Invercauld Among the Auckland Islands, — By Captain Dalgarno.*

Narrative of the Wreck of the "Invercauld Among the Auckland Islands,
By Captain Dalgarno.*

We set out from Melbourne for Valparaiso, February 21st, 1864, on board the Invercauld, a ship of 1100 tons. Our crew consisted of twenty-five, officers and men. We had no passengers.

On the evening of the 3rd of March we sighted the Auckland group, about twenty miles distant. The fog, which at nightfall grew denser and denser in the vicinity of the land, had prevented us from seeing them sooner. Suddenly the north-west breeze, which had hitherto favoured us, was replaced by a dead calm, always of evil augury in those regions. It lasted only a few hours, but during these we were at the mercy of the strong currents which render the approach to the Aucklands so very dangerous. Imperceptibly they carried us close inshore.

The rapid fall of the barometer disquieted me greatly. Soon after sunset the sky was overcast with thick black clouds, which indicated bad weather. Towards midnight a violent gale broke out all at once from the south-west, and placed us in a very critical position. We were then close to the coast, bound in that quarter by immense cliffs, against whose base the great billows of the Pacific shatter themselves in fury.

We crowded on the ship all the sail she could carry; but, in spite of all our efforts, I soon saw that she was destined to perish on the rocks. And at two o'clock in the morning a frightful shock sent both our masts by the board. The fatal moment had arrived. The Invercauld had struck upon a page 202reef near a lofty cliff. Close at hand a little cove, where the rocks were less elevated, attracted all our attention. It was useless to think of saving the vessel, which was soon dashed into fragments by the breakers.

I succeeded in swimming to the little cove, while I clung to the rocks with all my remaining strength. Some of my crew, who had got there before me, helped me to escape from my dangerous position, and to reach the shore. From time to time some other unfortunate, succoured in the same manner, was added to our little band. When evening came, we counted our number; we were nineteen. Some of us were wounded; others more or less grievously bruised.

Traversing the shore, which was strewn with wreck, we were not long in discovering the six men of our crew who had not answered to the roll-call. They had perished during the night. We stripped them of their clothes, which had become to us a very precious thing. Having no means of burying them, we were forced to leave them where they lay; the birds of prey would soon devour their bodies.

Searching among the wreck, we found some pieces of salt pork, and a little biscuit; but the latter, saturated with sea-water, was almost uneatable. However, we thought it prudent to take it with us.

After a little refreshment, we scaled the cliffs, and on the opposite slope caught sight of a harbour, which I supposed to be Port Ross, or Sarah's Bosom.

I was not deceived. Descending to it, we remained there for some days; but finding scarcely any kind of provision, we divided into several bands to explore the island.

From that time I have never again seen any one of those who ventured in search of more favourable quarters. It is probable that they perished, spent with fatigue, and from want of food.

My mate and four of the crew remained with me at Port Ross.

I found in one of my pockets a few matches, in a small metal box; but the sea-water had made its way inside, and I had to wait until they were dry before I could make use of them. Meantime, we suffered greatly from cold, our clothes being soaked with water. At last we succeeded in lighting a fire, and in warming ourselves.

Sleeping under the trunks of trees like wild beasts, we remained several months at Port Ross, where we lived as best we could on limpets or other shell-fish, as well as on the few fish we caught occasionally among the rocks at low-water. We thought ourselves very fortunate when we fell in with a sea-lion, which we killed with cudgels, cut from the trees with our pocket-knives. Unfortunately, these amphibians were very rare.

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With their skins, which we took care to dry, and some branches of trees, we constructed a kind of periagua, in which we crossed the narrow strait separating Auckland Island from Enderby Island. On the latter we found a quantity of rabbits; naturalised there, without doubt, by the colonists of the Enderby settlement in 1848. We established ourselves on the island, and hunted these animals, which furnished us with the means of prolonging our existence.

Of the four sailors who remained with me, three died at short intervals, one after the other; and of our little company only one seaman, the mate, and myself survived. After their decease, they were buried at the head of a creek, on the sea-shore, where we had found a breadth of sand in which it was easy for us to inter them.

Gradually we collected a sufficient number of seal sldns to construct with them a little hut, like the cabins of the Eskimos; but it protected us very imperfectly against the continual rains and the severity of that frightful climate.

From time to time we crossed the strait in our little canoe, and visited Port Ross, to see if we could find a sea-lion, or any fresh traces of our missing companions.

In this way twelve months passed by. One day, during an excursion to Port Ross, we saw a ship entering. The Spanish flag floated at her masthead. She cast anchor in Lawrie Cove.

A more agreeable spectacle was never offered to our gaze. Uttering a cry of delight, we launched the periagua, which we had hauled up on the shore, and seizing our paddles, rowed vigorously towards her.

They perceived us from the ship. The peculiarity of our equipment had attracted the attention of the crew, whom we could see grouped in the forecastle, attentively examining us. The officers in the stern-quarters were also observing us, with the assistance of a telescope.

A moment afterwards we stood on the vessel's deck, where we were received by the captain, and questioned upon the circumstances which had plunged us in so lamentable a situation. We told him our story. The officers and crew were assembled around us; but only the former were sufficiently acquainted with English to understand us.

Our narrative, however, was soon translated to those who could not speak our tongue, and from that moment we were welcomed by all with marks of the warmest sympathy.

The captain immediately gave orders that our wants should be attended to, and the utmost rivalry was displayed in endeavouring to be the first to execute them. Our companion, the seaman, found a place among his page 204forecastle equals, who lavished upon him every attention which could invigorate his energies and recruit his strength.

As for the mate and myself, the captain offered us the hospitality of the cabin, where, during the whole time we remained together, he and his officers treated us with much regard, and showed us the most cordial friendship.

This act of humanity, which was mingled with so much benevolence and so much generosity, on the part of those who were not our fellow-countrymen, will never be effaced from my memory: I have no dream, no more precious recollection in all my life.

This ship was a Spanish brig on her way from China to Valparaiso. She was old, and having encountered much bad weather, leaked considerably. For more than two weeks the crew had not left the pumps, and were worn with the fatigue. The captain had thought of putting into Port Ross, wliere he hoped to find some of Messrs. Enderby's settlers; not knowing that this fishing establishment had been long broken up.

Once in the roadstead, the ship made no more water, and the crew were able to enjoy several days repose; after which, having weighed anchor, we crowded on all our canvas, and steered for Valparaiso, where we landed a few weeks later.

Soon afterwards, I took my passage on board the mail-packet to return to England, where, thank God, I arrived some days ago; but with my health so completely broken up, that I fear I shall be compelled to abandon for ever my profession.

* We have been unable to trace the newspaper which Dalgarno's narrative appeared. We translate it, therefore, from the French version.