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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter I — Object of our Expedition - The Schooner "Grafton" - our Departure

"Half-Buried Under the Mass of Stone and Earth"

"Half-Buried Under the Mass of Stone and Earth"

Chapter I
Object of our Expedition - The Schooner "Grafton" - our Departure.

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It was in 1863. I was at Sydney, having fully recovered from the effects of the accident described in the foregoing pages, but discouraged by the scantily-rewarded fatigue of the wild rough life I had lived for eleven years in the goldfields, and cherishing but one desire, that of revisiting France and my family. I had fully made up my mind to quit Australia, and was already meditating my departure, when a proposition suddenly brought before me changed all my plans, and involved me in new hazards.

One of my friends, Charles Sarpy, whom I had formerly known in France, and whom I had found settled in Sydney, where, in partnership with another trader, he was carrying on business as a draper, communicated to me a project which he had thought of, and which neither he nor his associate had entrusted to any one but myself. And he added, that if I would take part in it, he was resolved to carry it into execution. This was what be said: -

He had good grounds for believing in the existence a mine of argentiferous tin in Campbell Island, which lies to the south of New Zealand, in the great South Pacific Ocean. He thought that this island, which not very large, might be easily explored, and he relied for a successful result on the experience I had had in mining. His notion was, that I should set out at the commencement of the fine season, in a small bark, to visit the island, where, if I did not discover the mine, I should find at all events, he assured me, a great quantity of seals, whose oil and skin would be of considerable value. Under any circumstances, we could found there an establishment for the prosecution of one or the other industry, or of both, if there should be occasion.

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In case of success, I was to expedite my return to Sydney — first, that I might lose no time in obtaining from the Australian government a concession of the island for commercial purposes; and, second, that I might set out again with the men and necessary supplies before the coming on of the bad season. Afterwards, I was to remain in the island and direct the works as "administrator of the colony."

But whatever the result, said Sarpy, in conclusion, of what importance to me were a few months — two or three at the utmost — to add to my long years of absence?

Knowing Sarpy's character, and how easily his enthusiasm was excited, I asked permission to reflect upon his proposition. I devoted the rest of the day to its consideration. Great as was my desire to see my family and fatherland after a weary exile of seventeen years, the hope of finally realising a considerable fortune proved too beguiling. And, moreover, I was in the right: if the enterprise failed, I should be delayed only three months; while, if I secured the success on which we plumed ourselves, I should return home a year, or, perhaps, two years later, but with a brilliant position. These considerations prevailed, and I resolved to accept my friend's offer.

On the following morning I announced my decision to the two partners, but I begged them to observe that, having long retired from a seafaring life, I would not, on this occasion, undertake the command of the vessel, preferring to occupy a secondary rank while the expedition was at sea; that, for the rest, after I had founded the settlement whose control I was to undertake, it would be necessary that some one should be appointed to sail to and fro between Sydney and Campbell Island, to bring us provisions and carry away our products. I thought it advisable, therefore, at the outset, to select some individual in whom the fullest confidence could be placed, and who, for our better security, would join us in our enterprise.

M. Sarpy and his partner were of my opinion, and we therefore took into our councils Mr. Thomas Musgrave, an experienced mariner. He was an American, about thirty years old, who had taken up his residence in Sydney, with his family, near his uncle, M. Sarpy's partner.

Captain Thomas Musgrave was a very good officer, an excellent navigator, who had made several voyages between Sydney and New Zealand, and, consequently, was well acquainted with the Australian waters. We proposed to him that he should take command of the ship which we required for the prosecution of our enterprise, not as a subordinate engaged by us, but as an associate, to receive one-fourth of our profits. As he was unemployed, he eagerly accepted the offer, and next day he and I went in search of a suitable craft. We were three weeks, however, in finding page 27one which met our views.

The Grafton was a small schooner, not of much length in the keel, but capable, through her breadth of beam, of carrying seventy-five to eighty tons of merchandise, without being overloaded. She had made several voyages between Sydney and Newcastle,* having been employed in the transport of coal, the working of which forms the principal industry of the latter port, situated on the same coast as Sydney, but about seventy miles to the north-east.

At the bottom of her hold, the Grafton carried about fifteen tons of ballast, composed chiefly of old iron; above this was a solid deck, which, while keeping the ballast in its place, enabled the coal to be more easily loaded and unloaded. The ballast was sufficient to steady the schooner, when she returned empty to Newcastle, whither she usually made a voyage weekly.

Nevertheless, for our expedition, in which we should probably encounter violent gales and heavy seas, we thought it desirable to add another ten tons' weight of ballast (blocks of sandstone, which is very common at Sydney), besides twenty casks, which we stowed away carefully in the hold, after filling them with fresh water. They were intended to receive seals' oil; it being our design to employ the crew in collecting a certain quantity, as also a supply of the skins of these animals, to defray as far as possible the expense of this first voyage, while I, on my part, was occupied in exploring the island, and searching for the tin-mine.

We intended also, if we had time, to survey the Macquarrie and Green Islands, as well as the Auckland group, to assure ourselves of the presence of seals in those parts, that we might afterwards hunt them there, if need arose.

After having embarked an ample supply of provisions for four months, and engaged two seamen and a cook — the latter would not only be useful as a domestic, but, at need, assist in the ship's navigation — Musgrave and I took leave of our associates.

In this last interview, we settled an important point: as we were going to navigate a dangerous sea, where storms were of continual occurrence, and to enter into little-known ports, indicated very vaguely on the ordinary charts, the only ones we had, it was of no use disguising from ourselves the fact that we should be exposed to several hazards, and especially to the risk of shipwreck. Such being the case, assistance must be sent to us as quickly page 28as possible. If, then, we did not return in four months at the latest, our friends undertook to send in search of us; and if their own resources were insufficient to equip a vessel, they would solicit the assistance of the government of New South Wales. The latter, we did not doubt, would dispatch one of the war-vessels on the station, or would adopt such other measures as it might think suitable to ascertain our fate.

Our associates having entered into this engagement, Musgrave went to take leave of his wife and children, while I repaired on board the Grafton, to superintend the preparations for getting under sail. An hour afterwards, Musgrave had rejoined me; we weighed anchor; and with hearts full of hope, made sail for Campbell Island. It was the 12th of November 1863.

I may note here — for the fact is not without importance — that I carried with me an excellent double-barrelled rifle, which, for many years, had been my faithful travelling-companion. I had intended at first to leave it at Sydney, but I bethought myself that I should undoubtedly have occasion to amuse myself with shooting wild ducks in the islands I was about to visit. I also took with me about two pounds of gunpowder, a dozen pounds of lead, and some caps. Little did I think how useful this weapon and these munitions were hereafter to prove.

* Newcastle, a sea-port of New South Wales, named after the great coal-emporium of the north of England. Lat. 32° 56' S.; long. 151° 44' 15" E.