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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter XXI. — Storms and Famine - Land! - We Disembark at Port Adventure -Our Removal to Invercargill

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Chapter XXI.
Storms and Famine - Land! - We Disembark at Port Adventure -Our Removal to Invercargill.

About eleven o'clock a.m. we were sailing between the two promontories which form the entrance of Port Carnley. As soon as we were out at sea, a keen wind, coming up straight from the ice-fields of the Pole, swelled the sail of our boat, which began to bound like a sea-bird over the waters of the Pacific.

Keeping in-shore, we found ourselves about three in the afternoon to the north of the Auckland group, and we passed without accident the line of reefs which forms, in that quarter, a barrier of more than ordinary danger. Beyond this point, making allowance for the currents, which in these seas have a tendency to force you eastward, we steered N.N.W., so that New Zealand lay directly to the north of our actual position.

We were making six knots an hour. The wind was favourable: we knew that at that season it would not fail to blow much stronger, but we hoped to reach our destination before the gales began. The distance we had to traverse was about a hundred leagues; with a good breeze we ought to run that distance in fifty or at the utmost, sixty hours.

Our bark, though small and frail for such a voyage, behaved gallantly. We had named her the Rescue, and she justified her name. She took in rather more water through her seams than was agreeable — a circumstance which compelled one of us to pump almost continually, while the other two were steering or hauling the sails — but in all other respects she showed herself so seaworthy as to fill us with confidence.

Unfortunately, towards evening the weather changed; the wind increased, and very soon gathered into a hurricane. The surface of the sea was covered with enormous billows; they raised us upon their huge backs page 177to sink under us immediately, and plunge us into the depths of their shifting abysses. Our course continued to be a series of ascents and descents, of upheavals and depressions, until we were almost dizzy. Though all of us were inured to a sea-life, we felt the attacks of sea-sickness — that unendurable malady which crushes one's whole being, which dissolves all one's energies. It was impossible to think of food; we could do no more than swallow a few mouthfuls of water.

Night came on: the hurricane, stronger and ever stronger, brought with it showers of biting hail and snow, to increase the horrors of our situation. We had again to take in sail, although we had already taken in two reefs.

The following day was no better. Nevertheless, after fasting for thirty hours we could eat a little; but the pieces of roast seal we had brought with us, and which had been cooked for several days, had turned rank in their sail-cloth bags, and were so seriously bad that we were unable to touch them, and threw them into the sea.

By six p.m. the sea had grown too dangerous for us to venture any longer to keep before the wind. The monstrous waves broke around us with a terrible din, and besprinkled us with their phosphorescent foam; we were forced to bring-to, so as to receive them as much as possible on the bow of the boat, whose sides would otherwise have been beaten in.

We had not been half-an-hour in this situation when a billow, rearing its crest suddenly above us, fell full upon our little craft, enveloped her in its mass, and rolled it to and fro like a cork, or, rather, spinning it round and round like a top. A threefold cry of agony pealed across the waves, and rose above their clamour. We thought our last moment had come. And, in truth, we must have perished, had we not been fastened in our sail-cloth cases.

The breaker having passed, the weight of the ballast, which had not been displaced, brought the keel back to its normal position, and our vessel righted. We were half-suffocated; but soon, finding ourselves in the air, and breathing with expanded lungs, recovered our senses.

"July 21st. Bad weather; the storm continued. Between two squalls, we hoisted sail, and made a little progress. The night was terrible; between ten and eleven o'clock we were, as on the evening preceding, seized and tossed about by the waves, at two different times in the space of half-an-hour."

Even the fourth day did not terminate our misfortunes. It is true that no new accident occurred, but we were in a deplorable condition, soaked by page 178
"A Billow Fell Full Upon Our Little Craft"

"A Billow Fell Full Upon Our Little Craft"

page 179the sea-water, which had penetrated our clothes, and whose corrosive action made itself painfully felt, frozen with the cold, overcome by fatigue — for we had not closed our eyes a single moment — and, above all, exhausted by want of food, the water we drank only cheating our hunger. One of our severest punishments was, perhaps, to interrogate the horizon incessantly, looking towards the north, and piercing it with feverishly anxious glances, in the hope, always and always, of sighting land, and yet never seeing aught but the ocean stretching all around us its tumultuous waves.

In spite of all mishaps, I did not cease to keep my journal. I had a few leaves of paper folded in the shape of a book, and a bit of lead pencil. During the day, if the rain ceased for a moment, and at night, by the light of a lamp suspended in the hold, which was several times overturned and extinguished, I noted down my observations, the state of the weather, and the progress we made.

At length, on the morning of the fifth day (July 23rd), we saw land! Stewart Island, the smallest and southern-most of the three islands which compose the archipelago of New Zealand, lay some miles in front of us. We were in such a condition of suffering and depression that we experienced nothing more than an emotion of joy, rapid and fugitive as a flash of lightning. Moreover, the wind had suddenly fallen, we made no way, and the sea, still greatly perturbed and agitated, tossed us hither and thither at the mercy of its currents. It is true that we had our oars, but we had no longer the strength to make use of them; we saw ourselves on the point of drifting out to sea, and perishing in sight of port.

Fortunately, in the evening a light breeze came up from the south; immediately we set all sail, and drew near the coast, but owing to the darkness we could not land, and had to pass a fifth night upon the sea.

At daybreak we united all our efforts to loosen sail anew, and at eleven in the morning we entered Port Adventure. It was the 24th of July 1865.

At first we saw around us nothing but desert shores; there was no sign of the presence of man. The swell which entered the port, and which flowed back violently after being broken on the shore, compelled us to beat to windward: we advanced slowly, and with great difficulty: our hands were swollen and scarred by the double effect of the cold and the salt water; we could not seize the ropes without experiencing the sharpest pains; and we were too weak to continue our manoeuvre. A few hours more, and nothing would remain for us but to lie down on the deck of the boat and await the coming of death.

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At length, on doubling a headland, we caught sight of a small creek, fringed with huts and gardens. This long-desired spectacle drew from us a feeble cry of joy.

Truly it was a charming picture, the ideal of a happy and tranquil life. On the shore a white man was walking, and caressing from time to time a large Newfoundland dog which trotted by his side. On the threshold of one of the huts a group of Maories, in various attitudes, were conversing and gesticulating. Some dusky females, attended by their children, were spreading nets on a palisade to dry them.

As we contemplated this scene with rapture, the dog suddenly caught sight of us, and began to bark. The white man turned his head in our direction, and made a gesture of astonishment at the sight of our craft, and the phantom-like creatures on board of it. He hastened down to the beach, to the point for which we were steering, the natives — men, women, and children — quickly following him.

A few moments, and our boat touched the shore. The crowd surrounded it. The feverish energy which had supported us in our desperate struggle abandoned us. Alick swooned. It was with the utmost difficulty that Musgrave and I could falter out any answers to the questions addressed to us.

They assisted us out of the boat, supporting us with their arms, for our limbs refused to bear us, and conducted us to the residence of the European, situated about a hundred yards from the beach. We walked in silence; but, for my part, an immense joy, a profound gratitude, filled my heart.

We reached the wished-for spot, and crossed the little garden in whose centre stood the house of our host. In its rear we could perceive a large fenced enclosure, encircled with young fruit-trees on each side, and with vegetables, principally potatoes, in the middle. Everything breathed peace, and ease, and happiness. The simple sight of so much comfort was enough to console and reinvigorate us.

I shall never forget the cordial welcome we received in this happy abode. Mr. Cross — while his wife, with touching eagerness, was engaged in preparing for us a hot-water bath — questioned us respecting our adventures, and in a few words made known to us that he himself, an Englishman by birth, and a sailor by profession, was the only white man resident at Port Adventure. He had married a young native woman, gentle and affectionate, who had already borne him several children. After his marriage he had ceased to go to sea, and had established himself in this page 181
"They Assisted us out of the Boat, Supporting US With Their Arms"

"They Assisted us out of the Boat, Supporting US With Their Arms"

page 182place, where he lived happily. He occupied his time in the cultivation of his little estate, which engaged his attention more particularly "at seed-time and harvest;" his friends and neighbours, the Maoris, when not at work on their own account, came to his assistance, being paid in gunpowder, rum, tobacco, and the like. The rest of the year, having much time at his disposal, and being anxious to utilise it, he occupied in fishing. He was owner of a small cutter of about fifteen or sixteen tons, which he had named the Flying Scud, and on board of which he went fishing for oysters and the different kinds of fish which abounded on the coasts of Stewart Island: then he sailed to find a market for them and for other produce to Invercargill, a town situated at the southern extremity of the central island of the New Zealand group, on the further side of Faveaux Strait, and about forty miles from Port Adventure.

While, after our bath, we were investing ourselves, to our great satisfaction, in dry clean clothes, lent to us by our host, in place of our own miserable rags, saturated with sea-water and stiffened by the salt which had crystallised upon them, Mrs. Cross made ready a repast whose delicious odour kindled in us instantaneously a ferocious appetite. In a brief while we were seated round a table loaded with pork cutlets fried, a dish of fish, a pyramid of smoking potatoes, whose cracked peel displayed the floury substance within, and bread — bread all warm and fresh from the oven! What covetous glances we flung at this splendid feast! For my part, I felt as if I could devour the whole. I was mistaken. Our stomachs, weakened by a prolonged fast, were very quickly satisfied, and, notwithstanding the pressing entreaties of our host and hostess, we were content with a few mouthfuls. And these we had scarcely eaten, before a profound and irresistible sleep fell upon us.

I did not wake until the expiry of four and twenty hours. Where was I? In the delightful doze with which for a few moments I indulged myself, I felt tossed, or balanced, as it were, on the bosom of the waves. I opened my eyes: looking around me, I recognised the between-decks of a ship, and thought it a continuation of a dream. My comrades, still asleep, were stretched upon a mattress at my side. Decidedly I was not dreaming.

Collecting my somewhat confused ideas, I arose, and while I was looking for the cabin door, my companions in their turn awoke. As surprised as I was to find themselves in such a place, they sprang up precipitately, and accompanied me on deck, where the mystery was soon explained.

We were on board the Flying Scud, which, with all sails set, was just entering Faveaux Strait. The Rescue, moored by a cable, was following the page 183cutter. A young Maori was at the helm, and Mr. Cross was pacing the deck of his little vessel.

As soon as he perceived us, he came aft, and made many friendly inquiries respecting our health. I confessed that, as far as I was concerned, I was sensible of no other ill than that of hunger, and that I was much more eager to satisfy my appetite than my curiosity. "That I anticipated," he remarked: "let us go below." And we descended into the cabin, where he quickly put upon the table an ample supply of provisions, which his wife had prepared for our behoof before our departure.

After our meal, to which this time we did full honour — not, however, without some regard to moderation — we rejoined our host upon deck. "Now," said he, "I will explain to you how you happen to be here; at which I acknowledge you have a right to be surprised. I thought it best, for your own interests, to take you at once to Invercargill, where you would obtain the medical assistance so absolutely necessary, which is wholly wanting at Port Adventure, and where you would also be able to take the proper measures for the deliverance of the two comrades you have left at Auckland. I was myself obliged to visit Invercargill today, where business will detain me for some time; otherwise I should not have so hurried on this voyage. I should have liked to consult you, but it was indispensable I should start very early in the morning to reach the mouth of New River at high water, on account of the bar we have to cross. With the aid of some natives, therefore, I had you carried on board my cutter; a proceeding which, I may tell you, in no wise disturbed the jolly sleep you were enjoying. I hope you will forgive the unceremonious way in which I have acted, since it was done with a good intention."

We heartily thanked our host, who had treated us with too much kindness for us to suppose that he was in a hurry to free himself from our presence, and whose conduct, moreover, perfectly accorded with our wishes.

The cutter soon crossed Faveaux Strait, and prepared to enter New River, at whose mouth a line of breakers indicated a dangerous passage. Though the time of high water had passed, Mr. Cross resolved on attempting the bar rather than wait a whole day, and took the helm in his own hand to direct the cutter's movements. Suddenly the Flying Scud grazed her keel: she had just touched the sandy bottom. At the same moment a breaking wave struck her amidships, and nearly capsized her. Fortunately she had so much way upon her that before a second wave could overtake her she had crossed the bar, and was in deep water.

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But such was not the case with the unfortunate Rescue. The shock had broken the cable which attached her to the cutter: carried away by the current, she was driven against the rocks, where the breakers dashed her into fragments. Thus, in a few seconds, was destroyed, under our eyes, the work which had cost so much labour, and to which we owed our deliverance. No one will be astonished that I was unable to regard the scene without tears.

We continued our ascent of the river, and an hour later arrived at the quay of Invercargill.