Wrecked on a Reef
Chapter XXII. — Musgrave Returns to the Aucklands, and Brings Back our Two Companions - Narrative of His Voyage - The Dead Body at Port Ross
Musgrave Returns to the Aucklands, and Brings Back our Two Companions - Narrative of His Voyage - The Dead Body at Port Ross.
It was not long, I can assure the reader, before our story was spread over the whole town; and as soon as it was known, a large number of the inhabitants came to see us, and express their sympathy. Each was eager to offer his services. We accepted the hospitality of Mr. Colyer, one of the leading men of the place, who set apart three rooms in his house for our accommodation. Doctor Innes came to see us, and, refusing to accept any other remuneration than our thanks, lavished upon us the most assiduous care.
The illness which had seized me at the beginning of our unfortunate voyage, and which nearly cost me my life at Campbell Island, had left my limbs a little swollen. From that time, and especially during the last months of our sojourn in the Aucklands, the various labours which had occupied me — particularly those of the forge, compelling me to keep nearly always in an upright position — had not contributed to relieve them. Finally, the five days and nights which we had spent in the boat, soaked, frozen, reduced to an almost complete immobility, had increased the evil. I could hardly move a step without supporting myself on a stout staff.
Musgrave and Alick, who were of a very robust constitution, and had suffered less, needed but a little rest to recover all their former strength.
The day after our arrival at Invercargill, Musgrave waited on the government officials of the province, to make before them, according to the provisions of maritime law, his formal declaration respecting the wreck of the Grafton, and at the same time to ask them to send immediate assistance to the two companions we had left behind at Auckland.page 186
We had not the least doubt that our petition would be complied with; but we were mistaken. They refused to do right at Musgrave's request. The reply was, that the government could not just then dispatch a ship; that they would take the matter into consideration at a later date — in fact, as soon as they could. At a later date! and meanwhile our unfortunate comrades perhaps would fall a prey to the torments of famine; would be counting the hours, the days: and despair would seize upon them. Later meant — too late!
Then one of the leading men of the town, Mr. Macpherson, of Scotch origin, feeling assured that his generous sentiments would find an echo in the hearts of his fellow-citizens, called a public meeting, at which a subscription list was immediately opened. By the next day a sufficient sum was collected to defray the cost of an expedition to the Aucklands.
Unfortunately, at the moment there were no other vessels in the river than the Flying Scud, and a few fishing-boats, of smaller size, and inferior in sailing qualities. Several schooners were expected, but when they arrived they would occupy a certain time in unloading before they could undertake a voyage — and how could one reconcile one's-self to such delays?
It was therefore decided by the committee which had been appointed at the public meeting, after a deliberation in which we were invited to take a part, that though the Flying Scud was of small size for the heavy sea she would have to navigate, yet she was so well built, and possessed such excellent sailing qualities, that she might safely be equipped and despatched to the Aucklands. She was therefore provisioned for two months, and supplied not only with food, but clothing, woollen coverlets, drugs, and everything else that was considered necessary.
Mr. Cross was a practical seaman, perfectly well able to handle his cutter so long as he did not lose sight of land, but not enough of a mariner, as he was the first to acknowledge, to manoeuvre a vessel in the open sea. An experienced officer, it was evident, must accompany him. This promised to be a serious difficulty, for no such person could be found.
No person except Musgrave, who, in these circumstances, gave proof of a courage and a devotion of which few men would have been capable. He had scarcely recovered from his fatigue, he was suffering from an abscess which had gathered under his arm, yet he offered to pilot the little vessel, and hasten to the deliverance of the two poor captives.
Obeying a sentiment of humanity, this noble heart kept down his ardent desire to revisit his beloved family, and though but just escaped from the clutches of Death, was willing to confront it anew, in accomplishing what he conceived to be a sacred duty! No other word than heroism is worthy page 187to describe or qualify such conduct, and I feel a real joy in employing it here.
Five days after our disembarkation, I grasped my friend's hand, and penetrated by an emotion I could hardly restrain, I saw him set out again for the Aucklands, on board the Flying Scud, in the midst of the acclamations of an enthusiastic crowd, who had accompanied him to the quay.
Two weeks, three weeks passed by. Supported on one side by Alick, who gave me his arm, and on the other steadying myself with my cane, I spent the greater part of every day upon the quay, where, with the assistance of a telescope, we examined every white speck upon the horizon, in the hope of recognising the Flying Scud, and every evening we returned sadder of heart to our generous host, Mr. Collyer.
A month passed, then another fortnight, then the seventh week. This extraordinary delay filled us with the greatest anxiety. There had been much bad weather: had any misfortune happened to the little bark and our brave friends? The inhabitants of Invercargill shared our fears; those who had displayed the greatest zeal in the business bitterly regretted that Musgrave had been allowed to follow his generous impulse. Many spoke already of organising a second expedition for the purpose of inquiring into the fate of the first.
They had begun to take the necessary steps, when one morning the semaphore situated on a cliff at the mouth of New River signalled that a cutter was in sight. It drew near; it was the Flying Scud!
The good news spread throughout the town. To the gloom which weighed upon every mind succeeded an universal joy; and the crowd, as on the day of departure, rushed en masse to the shore, to witness the arrival of the little craft, and to salute with cheers of welcome the return of our courageous friend.
Here he is! He lands! George and Harry are with him!
Never, never shall I forget the mighty joy which we felt on meeting, all five in safety and good health, in this hospitable land. We threw ourselves in our excitement into each other's arms. We could utter but one word: "Saved! saved!"
The crowd would have carried Musgrave on their shoulders triumphantly, but, as modest as he was brave, he resisted their importunity, and accompanied by a numerous cortège, we repaired to Mr. Collyer's residence, where, in the evening, he held a réunion. Besides our host's page 188family, Mr. Cross, my four companions and myself, he had invited a number of the leading citizens of Invercargill.
We were all impatient to hear from Musgrave the details of his voyage, and he favoured us with the following narrative:
You will recollect that we set sail with a favourable breeze blowing from the north-west; but we had scarcely got under weigh before the wind, veering first to the west, and then to the south, blew dead against us. We were compelled to put into Port Adventure, where we were detained for upwards of a week.
At length we again lifted our anchor, and sailed merrily along until the group of the Snares was visible on the horizon. Then a new hurricane arose, and we were compelled to put back. Owing to a deviation of the compass on board the Flying Scud, we lost our direct course, and when we ought to have reached Stewart Island, we found ourselves sixty miles distant. The sun having for a moment allowed his disc to be seen through a less dense fog than usual, I was able, with the aid of the sextant, to determine pretty accurately our position. I steered for the east, and ran into Paterson's Inlet, a long sheet of water, which forms a capital port on the eastern coast of Stewart Island. There I provided myself with a compass, lent to me by Mr. Lawrie, a Scotchman settled in those parts, who builds and sells boats to the surrounding fishermen. I made the acquaintance of a very remarkable person, Toby, a Maori, whom his compatriots regarded as their leader, and to whom they ascribed the sovereignty of Stewart and Roebuck Islands. This copper-complexioned savage, with his athletic figure, is of a very gentle disposition, and a man of singular intelligence. He prefers to reside in Roebuck Island, the smaller of the two, because he takes a pleasure in the society of the missionaries who, some years since, founded there an establishment, consisting of a parsonage, a chapel, and a school. Though he was forty-five years old, he learned English, and could speak it readily. He understood the superiority of these Europeans, and how advantageous it was for him and his race to treat them with respect, to preserve in their midst this little group of good, peaceable, virtuous men, learned in the arts and sciences, and representatives of a civilisation whose wide range went beyond him, but before which he bowed himself with a frank admiration.
During the five days the bad weather delayed us at Paterson's Inlet, Toby, though accustomed to live in savage freedom in the heart of the forests, sought our company. He frequently came to see us on board the cutter, or in the evening at Mr. Lawrie's. He listened to our conversation page 189with sustained attention; sometimes he joined in it, and I was struck with the justice of his remarks, which were always expressed in a figurative and picturesque style.
Knowing the object of my voyage, he gave me some valuable information. He told me that formerly he had gone to the Snares to hunt seals, and assured me that on the eastern coast of the largest of the group was a little creek, where a small craft like ours might at need find an excellent shelter. If we should be again overtaken by bad weather, we should find there about midway a harbour of refuge, and should escape the necessity of pulling back all the way to Stewart Island.
As soon as the second hurricane subsided, we were further delayed, sometimes by a dead calm, sometimes by a southern wind. But on the twentieth day after our departure from Invercargill, the wind, shifting round to the north, enabled us to make sail for the Aucklands. On the twenty-second day we crossed the line of reef which borders the group on the north-east, and keeping along the coast steered for Port Carnley. In the course of our voyage we thought we detected a light cloud of smoke on the side of a mountain impending over the cliffs of the shore. I feared for a moment that George and Harry, after having abandoned the hut, had ventured to this remote point, where it would be difficult for us to find them. But perhaps we were mistaken. What we had supposed to be smoke might be a shred of mist clinging to some escarpment of the mountain.
Our entry into Carnley Bay was a desperate struggle against the wind, a positive combat, lasting not less than three hours. Strong gusts, loaded with sleet and hail, lashed and lacerated our faces. We kept the cutter close-reefed up to the wind, and nobly did she display her sailing qualities. She flew before the wind with marvellous rapidity. Her bow threw up rainbows and sheaves of foam which dazzled and bespattered us. We were all on deck, each man at his post; myself at the bow, ready to give the order to put about for another tack. Mr. Cross was at the helm, and the two sailors who composed our crew stood ready, halyards in hand, to loose the sails if too heavy a gust of wind threatened to carry away the mast, which bent like a reed, or to capsize the cutter, which at times was nearly thrown on her side. At length, exhausted with fatigue, we reached Camp Cove, and happy were we to cast anchor in the tranquil waters of the creek.
Next morning, the wind having subsided, we moored the cutter in Shipwreck Bay, opposite the wreck of the old Grafton. After doubling Point Raynal, we caught sight of the hut. A small thread of smoke issued from its chimney. The spectacle delivered us from all our apprehensions; our comrades were alive, and had not quitted Epigwait.page 190
We lowered the small boat of the cutter; Mr. Cross and I took our places in it, and a few strokes of our oars carried us to the beach. Harry was the first to perceive us. He raised his arms towards heaven, uttered a cry to call his comrade, and fell to the earth in a swoon. George darted out of the hut, saw us in his turn, and ran towards us.
"My dear captain! my dear Musgrave!" he repeated; "how happy I am!"
And he seemed never weary of shaking hands with me. His eyes were filled with tears. Evidently he experienced a kind of struggle between his physical feebleness and his excitement: the question was which should overcome the other. (Was it not so, George?)
The brave lad, however, soon recovered himself and aided me in recovering Harry, who still remained insensible, though Mr. Cross sprinkled his face with fresh water, brought in his oil-skin cap from the neighbouring brook. Our efforts were for a long time fruitless: at length Harry heaved a sigh, opened his eyes, and recovered his speech. But the shock was so great that for some days afterwards he continued in a very weak condition.
A few moments later we were all on board the cutter, and under weigh for Camp Cove, where in half-an-hour we tranquilly cast anchor.
It was a pleasure, I assure you, to see our two poor comrades, who during the trip had put on their new clothes, keenly attack the biscuit and potatoes prepared by the cook of the cutter for the evening meal. When they were satisfied, they began to talk. They told us they were as amazed as they were delighted to see us, since they had given us up for lost: immediately after the departure of the Rescue a terrible hurricane had arisen, and it was impossible, they thought, that we could have escaped foundering. As for themselves, having lost all hope of deliverance, they had fallen into a deep melancholy; never had they suffered so much; their minds, overwrought by grief, suggested to them the most extreme resolutions.
Here George suddenly arose, and interrupted Musgrave.
"He has not told you all," cried he, blushing up to the roots of his hair. "We quarrelled, and one day we fought. We resolved to separate, and each to live on his own side of the island. But it was my fault, I confess, and I deeply regret what passed."
"Not so; that is not right," said Harry, springing up in his turn, and grasping his friend's hand; "I was angry, and it was I who began the dispute."page 191 page 192
The Englishman maintained that he was the only person in error; the Portuguese denied this, and persisted in accusing himself: it was evident these two great generous-minded children were on the point of a fresh quarrel to prove that each of them was the first to have done wrong! We all burst out laughing, and then, somewhat confused, they reseated themselves, and allowed Musgrave to continue his narrative.
Eager to return to Invercargill, he said, we raised anchor on the following day, though the weather was not very favourable. At nightfall, the wind having freshened, and the barometer sinking, we thought it prudent to put into Port Ross, or "Sarah's Bosom." Nor was I sorry for the opportunity of visiting this bay. Long and narrow, it stretches southwards for seven or eight miles, then turns off abruptly at a right angle towards the west. It was in this latter channel, to which Captain Lawrie has given his name, as Lawrie's Harbour, that we dropped anchor.
Next day we explored the coast, and fell in with the remains of the settlement founded there some seventeen years ago by the Messrs. Enderby of London, and in two years abandoned. In the midst of a coppice, at no great distance from the shore, we saw a number of wrecked and shattered huts. Each stands, or stood, in the centre of a small enclosure, designed for a garden, and surrounded by a ruined palisade. Among the parasitical plants which had invaded the soil, we distinguished some representatives of our vegetable species, whose seeds, I presume, had been brought from Europe by the colonists. These poor plants, in so ungenial a climate, had completely degenerated. They had returned to their native wildness: were hard, leathery, flavourless, the succulent pulp being almost entirely converted into ligneous fibres.
In traversing these ruins, we arrived in front of a hut less dilapidated than the others; the thatched roof appeared to have fallen in a little. Hardly had we entered it before we recoiled with fright, or rather with horror. In a corner of the interior lay a dead body. It was that of a man, who must have been dead for some months.Overcoming our first emotion of repugnance, we approached it. It was lying on a platform of planks, evidently procured from the hull of a ship; these were supported on logs, and covered with a layer of moss. The arms stretched by the side of the body, and the fingers of the hands straight and untwisted, were indications of a peaceful and apparently resigned departure. One leg hung a little out of the bed, the other was extended full length upon it. A shoe was upon the left foot; the right, probably wounded, was wrapped up in a bandage. The dress was that of a sailor; moreover, page 193 page 194several garments, one of which was an oil-cloth overcoat, were thrown upon the body to serve as coverlets.
On the ground, near the bed, lay a small heap of limpet-shells; and still nearer, a couple of glass bottles, one full of fresh water, the other empty.
Finally, on the bed itself, within reach of one of the hands, we found a slate, on which a few lines had been written. Upon it was the nail with which they had been traced. We attempted to decipher the writing, but could not succeed; the rains and wind had rendered it illegible; or perhaps it had been scrawled by the trembling hand of a dying man. A single word was tolerably plain, the name of James, forming a part of the signature; the other, completing it, answered, in the form and number of the strokes, to that of Rigth, but we could not say so with any certainty. I brought away the slate, and will show it to you.
How did this corpse come there? We could answer the question only by vague conjectures. That a ship had been wrecked at Port Ross, or in the neighbourhood, was hardly doubtful. Perhaps the crew, with the exception of this one man, had been drowned: this would account for the clothes, which the survivor had probably collected, and heaped upon his bed for the sake of warmth. Or several unfortunate castaways might have reached the shore, and, finding no means of sustenance at Port Ross, had advanced into the island: the smoke which we had perceived, or which we thought we had perceived, on the mountain-side, might be, perhaps, a sign of their presence. One of them, wounded in the foot, had remained behind alone; he had taken refuge in one of the huts, whose roof was not yet shattered; incapable of hunting the seals, he had lived for a while on shell-fish, and at length had perished of hunger.
Looking at this poor abandoned corpse, we felt a deep compassion. Our thoughts naturally dwelt on what might have been our own fate. We were unwilling to leave it unburied. Next day we dug a grave, and reverently interred it; and, after saying a few prayers over its last resting-place, we planted there a wooden cross.
Afterwards we collected in various places huge piles of green wood, to which we set fire, in the hope that their wreathing clouds of smoke would attract the attention of any castaways who might be lingering in the isle; but there was no result. Yet I am not convinced that the island is uninhabited; we were unable to explore it sufficiently, and I confess the doubt torments me. The thought that some poor wretch should be left upon it to suffer what we suffered pursues me incessantly.page 195
At length, the wind shifting to the south, we weighed anchor, and on the forty-ninth day after our departure from Invercargill, shaken, as you have seen, by a very heavy sea, we entered New River.