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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter XXIII. — Departure for Sydney - We Put Into Port Chalmers - The Mystery of Port Ross is Explained - I Return to France

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Chapter XXIII.
Departure for Sydney - We Put Into Port Chalmers - The Mystery of Port Ross is Explained - I Return to France

The day after his return to Invercargill, Musgrave made his official report to the government of the province, who this time thought fit to send a ship to explore the Aucklands. They telegraphed instructions to Otago to equip without delay the steamer Southland, which then lay at anchor in that port. But this expedition lingered so long that it was anticipated, as we shall hereafter see, by another despatched from Melbourne.

In the morning, Musgrave took me on board the flying Scud; he had something to show me, he said, something to excite my surprise. And I was, in truth, not only surprised, but delighted, to see my old forge-bellows, which my excellent friend had brought away with him. Its construction had cost me great labour; and was it not, in a great measure, the means of our deliverance? We carried it ashore, where it was visited and examined by all the inhabitants of Invercargill — never did bellows receive so much honour!

I had now but a single desire — that of returning to my family and my country, to rest among my own familiar faces after so many adventures, so many fatigues. It happened that the schooner Swordfish, belonging to Mr. Macpherson, and commanded by Captain Rapp, had just unloaded her cargo, and was getting ready to leave Invercargill on her return voyage to Melbourne. Mr. Macpherson most kindly offered us a passage on board his ship: we hastened to accept it, or at least Alick, Harry, and I did, for George preferred to remain in New Zealand, with the intention of visiting the gold-fields that had been recently discovered. As for Musgrave, he preferred a steamer which was about to start for Melbourne from Port Bluff, near New River; its captain, one of his old friends, pressed him to sail in her.

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I set out, therefore, in the Swordfish, with Harry and Alick. The voyage, particularly at the outset, was most unfortunate. It ought to have been accomplished in a fortnight; it lasted three months. As we sailed out of Faveaux Strait, we were assailed by a very violent west wind, which compelled us to retrace our course, and take refuge at Port William, situated to the north of Stewart Island. We were detained a week. On again beating out to sea, we met with the same ill luck, and had to put back before a second hurricane. The sailors thought the schooner enchanted; they began to mutter about the Jonah whose presence on board unchained the tempest, and proposed to rid themselves of him — not by throwing him into the sea, but by depositing him on shore. Our third attempt to leave the strait was the most disastrous of all. A heavy wave crushed in two of our hatchways, deluged the cabin, and flung the schooner on her beam ends. She would have heeled over had I not cut, at the moment, the main sheet. We were forced to put into Port Chalmers to repair — a work which occupied upwards of a month.

Towards the end of my stay in this port I was very agreeably employed. One day we saw the steam-corvette Victoria arrive in the roads. Musgrave was on board. It appeared that, more fortunate than I, he had reached Melbourne in a week. After embracing his wife and children, who warned of his arrival, had met him at Sydney, he had hastened to announce to the government agents his discovery of the dead body at Port Ross, and the possible existence on the island of human beings. They had decided immediately to dispatch to the Aucklands the colonial steam-corvette Victoria, commanded by Captain Norman, of the Royal Navy. The colonies of New South Wales and Brisbane agreed to assist in the good work by contributing towards the cost of the expedition. The corvette was ordered to visit also Campbell, Antipodes, and Bounty Islands, and pick up any persons whom maritime disasters might have cast away upon them.

They proposed to Musgrave that he should accompany Captain Norman as pilot. As I have said, his only means of supporting himself and family was by pursuing his old seafaring life; moreover, he felt it a special duty to discharge this useful mission, and therefore he gladly accepted it.

A week after his return home he again set out for the Aucklands, but this time on board a first-class vessel, commanded by excellent officers, manoeuvred by a numerous crew, and provided with the double resource of canvas and steam to encounter the dangers of the voyage. They occupied three weeks in minutely visiting the three islands of the group, but discovered nothing to indicate the presence of shipwrecked fugitives on either of them. The exploration of Campbell, Bounty, and Antipodes Islands was equally page 198without result. Captain Norman then determined on returning to Melbourne; but, in passing, he put into Port Chalmers to take on board a fresh supply of coal.

Curiously enough, it fell to my lot to enlighten Musgrave in reference to the dead body found at Port Ross. Chance furnished me with an explanation of the mystery. On the previous evening the English mail had arrived at Dunedin, the capital of the province of Otago, situated near Port Chalmers. I bought for myself an English newspaper, and, turning over its pages, I fell upon an article entitled "Narrative of the Wreck of the Invercauld on the Auckland Islands, by Captain Dalgarno." I read this history with the liveliest emotion. The substance of it was as follows:

The Invercauld was a ship of 1100 tons, with a crew of twenty-five men, including the master and the chief mate.

She sailed from Melbourne on the 21st of February 1864, bound for Valparaiso. At two o'clock a.m., on the 3rd of March, a gale drove her upon the rocks which fringe the north coast of Auckland Island, and she went to pieces. The two officers and seventeen sailors succeeded in reaching the shore; six men perished among the rocks. The castaways, having climbed up the cliff, and descended the opposite declivity, gained the shore of Port Ross. They remained there for some days; but finding no means of sustenance, divided into several companies, and scattered themselves over the whole island. Captain Dalgarno, who remained at Port Ross with his mate and four seamen, never again saw any of those who had separated from him. He supposed that they perished, exhausted with fatigue and famine.

As for himself and his five companions, they lived for several months on shell-fish and fish, thinking themselves exceedingly fortunate when they fell in with a sea-lion.

They slept, like wild beasts, under the trunks of trees. After a while, with dried seal-skins and branches of trees they constructed a periagua, crossed the strait, and established themselves on Enderby Island, where they found a large number of rabbits, imported there undoubtedly by the Enderby settlers; these furnished them with the means of prolonging their existence.

Three of the sailors, however, succumbed to their trials, and the captain was left with two companions only. They erected a small cabin or hut of seal-skins, resembling those of the Eskimos. At intervals they crossed the strait, and returned to Port Ross, in the hope of falling in with the sea-lions; or rather, of discovering some trace of their lost companions.

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In this manner twelve months passed by. But, at last, a Spanish brig, on her way from China to Chili, entered the bay to seek shelter. The three castaways, sick and attenuated, were taken on board, and carried to Valparaiso, whence Captain Dalgarno returned to England.

After reading this narrative, I came to the conclusion that the unfortunate James Rigth (for that such was his name I ascertained by consulting the marine register at Melbourne) was one of those who had separated at first from Captain Dalgarno. A short time after the departure of the latter in the Spanish brig, he had undoubtedly returned to the bay, in the hope of rejoining his captain; having, in all probability, seen the rest of his companions perish miserably in some far-off recess of the island. His foot sore with excessive fatigue, or injured by a fall, he was incapable of providing any longer for his daily food, and in his lonely despair had lain himself down in quiet expectancy of death, after writing his melancholy story on the slate found by his side.

These deplorable events transpired between the month of March 1864 and the same month in 1865. Thus, while we were lingering on the shore of Port Carnley, the other castaways were wandering about the northern part of the island. So near one another, and yet ignorant of one another's presence; separated as we were by precipitous mountains, shrouded in mists, and impassable!

And we who had bewailed our lot, how happy were we compared with those poor wretches! We had sustained life, and had all been saved; while out of the nineteen who escaped from the wreck of the Invercauld, sixteen had fallen victims to their sufferings, and three only had survived!

At the end of a week the Victoria departed, and we ourselves quitted Port Charmers in the Swordfish. This time, our voyage was fair and favourable. We arrived at Melbourne a few days only after the corvette.

Still in a weak and suffering condition, I was compelled to sojourn there while receiving medical assistance. I met again with Musgrave, happy in the bosom of his family. He had obtained employment in the shipping-office, which enabled him to live at home. I have since learned that, having lost his eldest son, drowned in the waters of the bay, he has abandoned Australia, and joined his aged parents in America. There the whole family are occupied in the cultivation of a large estate, situated near the sources of the Missouri, which has become of great value, owing to the proximity of one of those new cities whose development is so rapid in that marvellous country.

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Alick continued his seafaring life. A month after our arrival at Melbourne, he embarked as a sailor on board an English clipper, and set out for Liverpool.

Harry went to one of his uncles, who was settled about two hundred miles from Sydney, in the interior, and kept a large sheep-station. He is settled near him, and assists him in his occupation. He has said farewell to the sea, which, in truth, had never been propitious to him.

Of George I have heard nothing more. I do not know whether he still resides in New Zealand, and if he has succeeded in his new trade of gold-digger.

As for myself, when I had recruited my strength I quitted Melbourne, carrying with me the most agreeable recollection of the generous attentions lavished upon me, during my stay there, by its inhabitants. They showed a strong desire to become possessors of my pair of bellows, which I had not parted with. I gave it to them, as well as a pair of seal-skin shoes, and some little implements manufactured by me during our captivity at Auckland Island. These modest objects have "risen in the world": they now figure, as curiosities, in the Melbourne Museum.

Having arrived at Sydney, I waited upon our partners. With respect to them, I had not only a personal resentment to satisfy, but an act of justice to accomplish. I reproached them in severe terms for the indifference with which they had abandoned us, with their guilty forgetfulness of their solemn engagements. The reader may be sure that they were not wanting in excuses; the impossibility under which they had laboured, owing to heavy losses, of fitting out a second expedition; and the failure of their applications to Commodore Wiseman, who then commanded the squadron on the Australian station. I know that, in fact, they did address themselves to him, but it was not until after a delay of thirteen months; and he had replied to them, with more logic than humanity, that it was then too late, and that after so long a period it was impossible we should be still alive.

I waited until the season was favourable for rounding Cape Horn. At last, on the 6th of April 1867, I sailed from Sydney on board the John Masterman, bound for London; and on the 22nd of August, after a delightful voyage, too beautiful for my taste, and much too long, I entered the Thames. A few days later, and with a heart overflowing with joy, I landed in France; I trod my native soil. Twenty years had elapsed since I last saw it!