Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter II. — My Comrades - a Tempest - We Arrive at Campbell Island

page 29

Chapter II.
My Comrades - a Tempest - We Arrive at Campbell Island.

The last words of the pilot on quitting us were: "God speed you, gentlemen; and take care — we shall soon have a southerly burst." And, in fact, about an hour afterwards, we saw the storm approaching, black and menacing, and hardly had time to make the schooner all snug to receive it. In a moment it stripped us of our head-gear; hats and caps went flying away to windward. But the first vehement outbreak over, the breeze moderated, and it blew from the south all night and the next day.

While this inauspicious wind opposes our progress, and compels us to beat to windward, I ask the reader's permission to present to him the comrades of my voyage, whom the following narrative will frequently bring upon the scene.

I have already spoken of Thomas Musgrave, our captain, whose qualities as an excellent sailor, joined to those — not less conspicuous, and for us not less valuable — of a man of good heart and clear intelligence, I shall have frequent occasion to recognise.

George Harris, one of our little crew, was an Englishman, about twenty years old, simple even to naïveté, as brave as he was stalwart, already knowing something of his profession, and not without a certain amount of education. Musgrave had chosen him to share his watch.

The other seaman, Alexander Maclaren — familiarly called Alick — shared my watch. He was a Norwegian, about twenty-eight years of age, of a taciturn character, seldom smiling, able neither to read nor write, but obedient, civil, and a complete sailor.

Henry Forgès, our cook — familiarly named Harry — was a Portuguese, twenty-three years old, small of stature, thick-built, and very ugly. This ugliness arose from a disease — a species of leprosy — which had eaten page 30away the most prominent portion of his face, nothing remaining of his nose but a scar.

This young man's history is curious. Having begun life, at the age of thirteen, as a cabin-boy on board an American whaling-ship — which had touched at the Azores, his native country — he had followed a seafaring career for many years. But when he was taken ill, finding himself ill-treated by his companions, who either fled from him or repulsed him with horror, he eagerly solicited his captain to put him ashore on one of the islands of Polynesia. His request was complied with, and he was landed on one of the Navigators' group.* These islands, situated about fifteen hundred leagues from Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian continent, are inhabited by savages still addicted to cannibalism. There he remained for a long period, and was cured of his malady. Weary at length of savage life, and yearning to quit a place where he was to a certain extent a prisoner, he earnestly prayed for a speedy deliverance.

Unknown to the natives, he had planted on an eminence near the seashore some signal, which from time to time he secretly visited. One morning he discovered a ship drawing towards the island.

The captain having distinguished with his telescope a white man hoisting signals of distress, ordered a boat to be launched and sent on shore to carry him off. Suddenly he saw this white man spring into the sea, and swim vigorously to meet the advancing boat; but his astonishment subsided when he caught sight of a band of natives rushing towards the beach, probably in pursuit of the European. Having arrived on the beach, some of the savages hurled their javelins at him, one of which struck his shoulder, and nearly arrested his flight; while others, armed with spears and clubs, dashed into the waves, and continued the pursuit swimming. At this spectacle, the rowers redoubled their efforts, and were fortunate enough to reach the poor fugitive in time to save him from his enemies when they were within a few fathoms of him. Exhausted by his emotions, and by the agony of his wound, he was dragged on board, and securely seated in the boat. A few blows from handspikes and oars soon dispersed the disappointed savages; who, on witnessing their victim's escape, hastened to regain the shore, venting cries of furious rage.

Harry, after having been employed as cook's mate on board the ship which had saved him, was landed at Sydney, where we engaged him for our expedition.

page 31
"Others, Armed with Spears and Clubs, Dashed Into the Waves"

"Others, Armed with Spears and Clubs, Dashed Into the Waves"

page 32

Thus, then, we were five in number, and all of different nationalities — an American, an Englishman, a Norwegian, a Portuguese, and (myself) a Frenchman. However, as we all knew the English language, which was the only one used among us, we understood each other perfectly.

My comrades were accustomed to the sea; but I was the only one who had led a pioneer's life for long years in an uncivilised region like the interior of Australia; a rude school, in which we learn to rely upon ourselves, to earn everything by our own industry, and to struggle incessantly against a nature still virgin and unconquered. If the difficulties with which we are called upon to measure ourselves are not of a description to inspire our pride, we acquire there, not the less, a manly confidence in our own resources, which prepares us to encounter every danger with calm composure.

The reader will soon see what reason I had to felicitate myself on the adventures through which I had passed. I then perceived that I had not paid too dearly for an experience which was so useful to myself— and also, I believe I may say, to my companions — in the exceptional conditions it was our misfortune to undergo.

I resume my narrative, copying, as I wrote them day by day, a few passages from my journal.

"Friday, November 13. — The wind continues to blow from the south, but is very light.

"November 14. — Breeze moderate, from the north. The weather is beautiful; and the schooner, making her five knots an hour, glides, without any perceptible movement, over the surface of a sea as smooth as a lake.

"November 15, 2 a.m.— Calm. In the south the sky seems threatening; it is bright overhead. The barometer, however, is sinking. A positive rain of meteors, from N.N.W. to S.S.E., began to fall at midnight, and has continued until daybreak — a splendid spectacle! At six o'clock the wind, veering round to the south, has compelled us to beat up.

"November 16. Wind N.N.E., increasing gradually in force. The ship's head is kept to the S.E. On board all goes well.

"November 17. As on the previous day, but the wind growing in violence.

"November 18. Sudden squall from the west. The sea rolls heavily. All the small sails are taken in, and two reefs in the main-top-sail. The schooner's position at noon is 40° 16' S. lat., and 152° 26' E. long, (from the meridian of Paris).

"10 p.m. The wind violent; the sea very heavy. The waves dash on board page 33of us every moment, and the water penetrates everywhere; for the deck of our little craft is not very closely caulked. Our hammocks are thoroughly soaked.

"10.30 p.m. The sky is literally black; one can see but a narrow line of horizon illuminated by the phosphorescence of a troubled sea. The clouds, which are very low, sweep over us with dizzy swiftness. Every moment they are furrowed by vivid lightnings. The rain — icy rain — lashes and smites us. At intervals the thunder mingles its formidable voice in the thousand ominous sounds with which the seas and winds furiously deaden us.

"I was keeping my watch. I saw Musgrave in the cabin, seated near the table, with his head resting on his arms. I took the rudder from the hands of Alick, who had been steering since our watch began.

"It is eleven o'clock. Dazzled by the lightning-flashes, which succeed one another uninterruptedly, I can scarcely distinguish the compass in the binnacle. Suddenly I am struck down, and at the same time hurled forward to a considerable distance by a violent shock. An immense wave has broken over the schooner, carried away a portion of her bulwark, and shifted the position of her ballast. The ship is thrown on one side, without any possibility of righting herself. A good deal bruised, and drenched with saltwater, I rise to my feet, and hasten to seize anew the rudder. Musgrave rushes on deck; Alick is at his side; and the two others, emerging from the forecastle-cabin, join them. These four with some difficulty take in the main-top-sail; while the schooner, slowly at first, but afterwards with rapidity, acknowledges her helm, which I have driven hard up to windward. Now she leaps over the waves like a maniac, and flies before the tempest, at the rate of seven knots an hour, without a rag of canvas displayed, and leaning over on her broadside.

"Musgrave then takes the helm, and remains alone upon the deck; while I descend into the hold through the forecastle-hatchway, followed by my men, carrying lanterns. What a spectacle! Everything is upset and in disorder. Stones, casks, and bags of salt lie together to starboard, which now represents the bottom of the ship. Fortunately, the fifteen tons of iron, held firmly together by the temporary deck, have not moved; otherwise, it would have been all over with us and the Grafton, which must infallibly have foundered.

"All the remainder of the night we were occupied in setting things in their places, and re-establishing order in the hold; and at daybreak, spent with fatigue, we regained the deck, where we found Musgrave wet to the skin, his face pale, his hands almost frozen to the rudder by the cold, but nevertheless alert and vigilant. George took his place. Unable to kindle a page 34fire — for the waves had deluged everything — each of us took a stiff dram of brandy to give us warmth. Then the schooner was once more brought-to.

"Our first care after this was to sound the hold with the pumps; but we found very little depth of water. We were agreeably surprised to see that if the schooner took in a little water in bad weather through the seams of the deck, by way of compensation her hull was almost as impervious as the sides of a bottle.

"During the two hours that George remains at the helm, Alick and the cook, as well as Musgrave and I, throw ourselves in our wet clothes on our wet hammocks, where, sleeping with one eye open, we attempt to enjoy a little rest.

"Without, the storm raged with continual violence.

"November 20. Still lying-to. The wind blows only in occasional gusts. The sea, though still very high, is beginning to subside. The barometer rises.

"November 21, 4 a.m. We have again set all our canvas but the ship, not being sufficiently steady, rocks to and fro on the still agitated surface of the sea.

"8 a.m. Huzza! At length we have something warm for breakfast — the first time for three successive days.

"Noon. The wind has become regular. All our sails are set. We are steering to S.S.E., and have taken solar observations, which fix our position in 39° 8' S. Lat., and 154°6' E. long, (meridian of Paris). Hence, during the continuance of the storm, we have drifted upwards hundred and fifty miles.

"From the 21st to the 27th, fair weather; the sky generally cloudy. All well on board. Whales are frequently seen.

"November 28. The sky is completely covered; the appearance of the weather threatening. The barometer is sinking.

"At six in the morning we were surprised by a gale blowing up from the E.S.E., which compelled us for nearly an hour to scud before the wind; after which we again brought-to.

"For two days the sun has not been visible, and we have been unable to take any observations.

"November 29. This time the storm has not been of long duration, nor was it so violent as its predecessor. The weather is moderating; long intervals occur between each gust. The wind is growing more regular, and the sea subsiding. We have put out our canvas, and are steering E.S.E.

"Noon. The sun has reappeared. We have taken an observation, and find page 35that we are in 52° 6' S. lat., and 159° 20' E. long.

"November 30. At a quarter past noon, having climbed to the main-top, I caught sight of land at a distance of about thirty-five miles.

"4 p.m. A thick fog rising from the ocean envelops the land in an impenetrable shroud. It is so dense that we cannot distinguish a single object from one end of the ship to the other. Prudence induces us to take in some of our sail, to keep out in the open, so as to run no risk of driving among the reefs during the night, which is fast approaching.

"December 1, 7 a.m. The fog has cleared, but we cannot see the land. We go about, and resume our course towards Campbell Island.

"December 2, 8 a.m. Made Port Abraham's Bosom, on the south-east shore of the island.

"11 a.m. Dropped anchor in five fathoms water, at the head of the bay."

* The Navigators' Islands; so called by Captain Cook from the skill of their inhabitants in managing canoes.