[Transcriber's Note: The spelling inconsistencies of the original are retained in this etext.]
NARRATIVE OF A VOYAGE TO SENEGAL IN 1816.
No person can read this Interesting Narrative without being deeply affected by the perils and misfortunes to which the small remnant of persons, who were saved from this deplorable Shipwreck, were exposed. Of one hundred and fifty persons embarked upon the raft, and left to their fate, only fifteen remained alive thirteen days afterwards; but of these fifteen, so miraculously saved, life constituted the sole possession, being literally stripped of every thing. At Paris, some benevolent individuals have recently opened a subscription for their relief. Should any persons, in this country, feel disposed to contribute to this humane object, Mr. Colburn will feel great pleasure in becoming the medium for transmitting their subscriptions to the unfortunate sufferers.
NARRATIVE OF A VOYAGE TO SENEGAL IN 1816;
UNDERTAKEN BY ORDER OF THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT, COMPRISING AN ACCOUNT OF THE Shipwreck of the Medusa, THE SUFFERINGS OF THE CREW, AND THE VARIOUS OCCURRENCES ON BOARD THE RAFT, IN THE DESERT OF ZAARA, AT ST. LOUIS, AND AT THE CAMP OF DACCARD. TO WHICH ARE SUBJOINED OBSERVATIONS RESPECTING THE AGRICULTURE OF THE WESTERN COAST OF AFRICA, FROM CAPE BLANCO TO THE MOUTH OF THE GAMBIA. BY J.B. HENRY SAVIGNY, AND ALEXANDER CORREARD.
ILLUSTRATED WITH THE NOTES OF M. BREDIF AND EMBELLISHED WITH A PLAN OF THE RAFT, AND A PORTRAIT OF KING ZAIDE.
At the moment that we publish a Second Edition of our Narrative, we learn that Mr. Sevigny [A] is going to publish a pretended Account, by Mr. Richefort, an auxiliary Ex-Officer of the French Marine.
Our readers will not have forgotten a certain pretended sea-officer who was partly the cause of our misfortunes, and who, when on board the Medusa, gave such unhappy advice to the captain, who still more unhappily, followed it too closely; well; this ex-officer, this fatal auxiliary, who conducted the frigate upon the bank of Arguin, is no other than Mr. Richefort!
Having gone on board the governor's boat, he remained a stranger to the disasters which he had partly caused, and consequently, knew nothing of what passed, either upon the raft, or on board the boats which stranded, or in the desert.
We make no farther remarks; the public will judge of his account and ours.
CORREARD AND SAVIGNY.
[A] This Mr. Sevigny must not be confounded with Mr. Savigny, one of the authors of this narrative.
This Mr. Sevigny is one of the directors of an anonymous company, which one of the King's Ministers has recommended in the following manner:
"The keeper of the seals has informed the magistrates, that an anonymous company, which had formed itself under the name of the Colonial Philanthropic Society of Senegambia, and which announced the project of procuring for all those who should confide in it, colonial establishments on the coasts near Cape Verd, has received no authority from the government, and that, on the steps which it has taken, to obtain such authority, it has been found that it was not in a condition to fulfil its promises, which, therefore, were a kind of snare, for those whom they might have seduced. It has been, consequently, prohibited from making any enterprise, or any expedition. The agents of this Society having no other object than to deceive the public credulity, must be denounced to his Majesty's Attorney-General, who will take against them the measures prescribed by the law."
(Journal des Debats, Novembre 24, 1817.)
The annals of the marine, record no example of a shipwreck so terrible as that of the Medusa frigate. Two of the unfortunate crew, who have miraculously escaped from the catastrophe, impose upon themselves the painful and delicate task, of describing all the circumstances which attended it.
It was in the midst of the most cruel sufferings that we took the solemn resolution, to make known, to the civilized world, all the details of our unhappy adventure, if heaven permitted us again to see our dear country. We should believe that we failed in our duty to ourselves, and to our fellow citizens, if we left buried in oblivion facts which the public must be desirous to know. All the details of the events at which we were not present, have been communicated to us by respectable persons, who have warranted their authenticity. We shall, besides, advance nothing which cannot be proved.
Here, we hear some voices ask, what right we have to make known to the government, men who are, perhaps, guilty, but whom their places, and their rank, entitle to more respect. They are ready to make it a crime in us, that we have dared to say, that officers of the marine had abandoned us. But what interest, we ask, in our turn, should cause a fatal indulgence to be claimed for those, who have failed in their duties; while the destruction of a hundred and fifty wretches, left to the most cruel fate, scarcely excited a murmur of disapprobation? Are we still in those times, when men and things were sacrificed to the caprices of favour? Are the resources and the dignities of the State, still the exclusive patrimony of a privileged class? and are there other titles to places and honours, besides merit and talents?
Let us venture to advance another truth, a truth useful to the Minister himself. There exists among the officers of the Marine, an intractable esprit de corps, a pretended point of honour, equally false and arrogant, which leads them to consider as an insult to the whole navy, the discovery of one guilty individual. This inadmissible principle, which is useful only to insignificance, to intrigue, to people the least worthy to call on the name of honour, has the most ruinous consequences for the State, and the public service. By this, incapacity and baseness are always covered with a guilty veil, which they dare to attempt to render sacred; by this, the favours of government are bestowed at random, upon persons, who impose upon it the strange obligation of being perpetually in the dark respecting them. Under the protection of this obligation of officious silence, hitherto seconded by the slavery of the press, men without talents survive every revolution, exhibit in every antichamber their privileged incapacity, and braving public opinion, even that of their comrades, who are the first victims of a foolish and arrogant prejudice, which deceives them, shew themselves more eager to monopolise favours and honours, in proportion as they are less able to render themselves worthy of them.
We shall believe that we have deserved well of our government, if our faithful narrative can make it sensible how much its confidence is abused. Just, besides, and not animated by passion, it is with real pleasure that we shall make those known, who, by their conduct in our shipwreck, have acquired a right to general esteem. Others will doubtless complain of the severity of our accusing language; but honest men will grant us their approbation. If we hear it said, that our frankness may have been useful to our country, this success will be, at once, our justification and our recompence.
We have questioned, concerning the nautical details, several gentlemen of the navy who were on board; we confess, however, that on comparing their accounts, we have observed that they did not always entirely agree; but we have taken those facts which had the most witnesses in their favour. We shall be sometimes obliged to record cruel truths; they will, however, be directed only to those, whose unskilfulness, or pusillanimity have caused these dreadful events. We venture to affirm, that the numerous observations, which we have collected, will give to our work all the accuracy rigorously required in so interesting a narrative.
We must observe to our readers that it has been impossible for us to avoid the use of naval terms, which will, perhaps, give a great degree of roughness to our narrative, but we hope that the public who are always indulgent, will be so on this occasion, to two unfortunate men, who pretend only to make them acquainted with the truth, and not to give them a superior work. Besides, as we in a manner, submit these events, to the judgment of the gentlemen of the French Navy, it was necessary to make use of the technical terms, that they might be able to understand us.
This second edition is enriched with notes, which will give the reader interesting details on many points, which in the former we could only slightly touch upon. He will have nothing more to desire, particularly respecting the march in the desert after the stranding of the long-boat.
These notes begin with the moment that the frigate stranded, and terminate with the arrival at St. Louis.
They were communicated to us by Mr. Landry, an officer of the Royal University, Professor Emeritus of the Academy of Paris, and at present at the head of a school or Academy, in the Rue Cerisaye, No. 2, quarter of the Arsenal, at Paris. He has had the kindness to extract them for us from a narrative, written by his nephew, Mr. Bredif, Engineer of Mines, belonging to the expedition to Senegal.
The Narrator sent this account to his family above a year ago, addressing it to his sister. The reader will, therefore, not be surprised at the tone of simplicity which prevails in this recital. Mr. Landry would not take away any part for fear of injuring the truth of the circumstances, by meddling with it. If Mr. Bredif, is always placed in the fore-ground, that is not surprising; in a sister, a brother is the principal object which she cannot lose sight of for a moment.
He who loves to observe men, in all the circumstances, in which they may be placed, will easily judge, after what Mr. Bredif did or felt, what may have been done or felt by the sharers in the same misfortunes, who are, besides, never forgotten.
Mr. Bredif is now in the interior of Africa, employed upon the Mission which the government has entrusted to him; the last accounts from him are of the 14th of October, 1817. The manner in which he knows how to give an account of the facts which he has observed, and still more the courage, the prudence, and humanity, which he displayed in the disaster of the Medusa, and in all that followed it, give reason to hope, and this hope cannot be deceived, that be will duly execute his Mission, and render himself worthy of his Majesty's favours.
NARRATIVE OF A VOYAGE TO SENEGAL.
The French settlements, situated on the western coast of Africa, from Cape Blanco to the mouth of the river Gambia, have been alternately possessed by France and England, and have remained definitively in the hands of the French, whose ancestors laid the foundations of them previously to the fourteenth century, when they discovered this country.
The English made themselves masters in 1758 of the Isle of St Louis, the seat of the general government of all the settlements which the French have on that part of the coast; we recovered it twenty years after, in 1779 and our possessions were again confirmed to us by the treaty of peace between France and England, concluded on the 3d of September, 1783. In 1808, our possessions fell again into the power of the English, less by the superiority of their arms, than by the treachery of some individuals unworthy of bearing the name of Frenchmen. They were finally restored to us by the treaties of peace of 1814, and 1815, which confirmed that of 1783 in its whole extent.
The stipulations of this treaty regulate the respective rights of the two nations on the Western coast of Africa; they fix the possessions of France as follows:—from Cape Blanco situated in longitude 19 deg. 30', and latitude 20 deg. 55' 30", to the mouth of the river Gambia in longitude 19 deg. 9', and latitude 13 deg.; they guarantee this property exclusively to our country, and only permit the English to trade together with the French, for gum, from the river St. John to Fort Portendick inclusive, on condition, that they shall not form establishments of any kind whatsoever in this river, or upon any point of this coast. Only it is said, that the possession of the factory of Albreda, situated at the month of the river Gambia, and that of fort James, are confirmed to England.
The rights of the two nations being thus regulated, France thought of resuming her possessions and the enjoyment of her rights. The minister of the marine after having long meditated, and taken two years to prepare an expedition of four vessels, at last gave orders that it should sail for Senegal. The following is a list of the persons who composed the expedition.
A Colonel, to command in chief for the king on the whole coast from Cape Blanco to the mouth of the river Gambia, and charged with the superior direction of the administration... 1
A Lieutenant-Colonel, (chef de bataillon) commandant of Goree....................................................... 1
A Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the African battalion, composed of three companies of 84 men each.................. 253
A Lieutenant of Artillery, inspector of the powder magazines and batteries, and commanding ten workmen of his arm........ 11
A Commissary, inspector of the marine, chief of the administration.............................................. 1
Four Store-keepers.......................................... 4
Six Clerks.................................................. 6
Four Scouts (guetteurs)..................................... 4
Two Cures................................................... 2
Two Schoolmasters (instituteurs)............................ 2
Two Writers (greffiers, they supply the place of the notaries and even of the mayors)............................ 2
Two Hospital Directors...................................... 2
Two Apothecaries............................................ 2
Five Surgeons............................................... 5
Two Port Captains........................................... 2
Three Pilots................................................ 3
A Gardener.................................................. 1
Eighteen Women.............................................. 18
Eight Children.............................................. 8
Four Bakers................................................. 4
Farther for an intended expedition into the country of Galam.
An Engineer of mines........................................ 1
A Geographical Engineer..................................... 1
A Naturalist (cultivateur naturaliste)...................... 1
Farther for an expedition which was to seek upon Cape Verd, or in its neighbourhood for a spot proper for the foundation of a colony.
A Physician................................................. 1
An Agriculturist for European productions................... 1
An Agriculturist for colonial productions................... 1
Two Geographical Engineers.................................. 2
A Naturalist................................................ 1
An officer of the marine.................................... 1
Twenty workmen.............................................. 20
Three Women................................................. 3
This expedition consisted therefore of 365 persons, of whom about 240 were embarked on board the Medusa frigate.
NARRATIVE, &c. &c.
On the 17th of June, 1816, at seven in the morning, the expedition for Senegal sailed from the roads of the Island of Aix, under the command of Captain Chaumareys; the vessels composing it were the Medusa frigate of 44 guns, Captain Chaumareys; the Echo corvette, Captain Cornet de Venancourt; the flute La Loire, commanded by Lieutenant Giquel Destouches; and the Argus brig, commanded by Lieutenant Parnajon. The wind was northerly, blowing a fresh breeze; we carried all our sails; but had hardly cleared the port when the wind scanted a little, and we tacked to double the Tower of Chassiron, which is placed at the extremity of the Isle of Oleron. After having plied to windward the whole day, in the evening about five o'clock, the Loire being unable to stem the currents which were at that time contrary, and hindered her from entering the passes, desired leave to cast anchor; M. de Chaumareys granted it, and ordered the whole squadron to anchor. We were then half a league from the Isle of Rhe, within what is called the "Pertuis d'Antioche." We cast anchor the first, and all the other vessels came and placed themselves near us. The Loire being a dull sailer, was the last which came to an anchor. The weather was fine: the wind N.W. and consequently too near to allow us to double Chassiron, with a contrary current. At seven in the evening, at the beginning of the ebb, we weighed anchor, and hoisted our sails; all the other vessels did the same: the signal to get under way had been given them a few minutes before. At night we found ourselves between the lights of Chassiron and La Baleine. A few moments sufficed to double them; we were scarcely clear, when the wind became almost calm; the vessels no longer obeyed the helm, the sky grew dark, the sea was very hollow, in short every thing announced a storm; the wind threatened to blow from the west, and consequently to become contrary; it was variable and squally; towards ten o'clock it was perceived that we were running directly upon a danger, called Les Roches Bonnes. We tacked to escape certain destruction; between eleven and twelve at night, a storm arose in the north, and brought on wind from that quarter; we were then able to advance; the clouds dispersed, and the next day the weather was very fine, with a breeze from the N.E. but very faint; for some days we made but very little progress.
On the 21st or 22d we doubled Cape Finisterre; beyond this point which bounds the Gulph of Gascony, the Loire and the Argus parted company; these vessels sailing very ill, it was impossible for them to keep up with the frigate, which to enable them to do so, would have been obliged to take in her top-gallant sails and studding sails.
The Echo alone was in sight, but at a great distance, and carrying a press of sail not to lose sight of us. The frigate was so much a better sailer than the corvette, that with a small quantity of sail, she not only kept up with her, but even got a-head of her in a surprising manner; the wind had freshened and we were going at the rate of nine knots.
An unfortunate accident disturbed the pleasure we felt at being so favoured by the wind; a sailor lad 15 years of age, fell into the sea, through one of the fore port-holes, on the larboard side; a great many persons were at the time, on the poop and the breast work, looking at the gambols of the porpoises. The exclamations of pleasure at beholding the sports of these animals, were succeeded by cries of pity; for some moments the unfortunate youth held by the end of a rope, which he caught hold of in his fall; but the rapidity with which the frigate sailed, soon forced him to let go; a signal was made to acquaint the Echo with this accident; that vessel was at a considerable distance, and we were going to fire a gun to second the signal, but there was not one loaded, however we threw out the life buoy. The sails were clewed up, and the ship hove to. This manoeuvre was long; we should have come to the wind, as soon as they cried, "a man overboard," it is true that somebody cried aloud from the poop, that he was saved; and a sailor had indeed caught him by the arm, but he had been obliged to let him go, because he would have been pulled overboard himself: a boat was however let down; it was a six-oared barge in which there were only three men: it was all in vain; and after having looked for some time, the boat came on board again without having found even the buoy. If the unfortunate youth, who seemed to swim pretty well, had strength to reach it, he doubtless perished on it, after having experienced the most cruel sufferings. The ship was trimmed, and we resumed our course.
The Echo rejoined us, and for some time she kept within hail; but we soon lost her. On the 26th, we plied to windward during the night, fearing lest we should strike on the eight rocks, which are situated the most Northerly, in 34 deg. 45', Latitude, and the most Southerly in latitude, 34 deg. 30', so that the extent of this danger is about five leagues from North to South and about four leagues from East to West: the most southerly rock is distant about forty leagues to the North, 5 deg. East, from the East point of Madeira.
On the 27th, in the morning we expected to see the island of Madeira, we however proceeded to no purpose till noon, at which hour we made an observation to ascertain our situation. The solar observation made us East, and West of Porto Santo; we continued on the same tack, and in the evening at sunset, the man at the mast head discovered, land. This error in the arrival, was at least thirty leagues in the East. It was attributed to the currents of the straits of Gibraltar; if this error really arises from the currents of the strait, it merits the attention of vessels which frequent these seas. The whole night we proceeded with few sails up; at midnight we tacked, in order not to approach too near to the land.[A1]
The next morning at day break we saw very distinctly the islands of Madeira Porto Santo; on the larboard, were those called Desert; Madeira was at least twelve leagues off: sailing before the wind we made nine knots, and in a few hours we were very near it. For a considerable time we ran along the coast of the island at a small distance from shore: we passed before the principal towns, Funchal and Do Sob.[A2]
Madeira appears like an amphitheatre; the country houses which cover it seem to be in a very good taste, and give it a charming appearance. All these delightful habitations are surrounded by fine gardens, and fields covered with orange and lemon trees, which when the wind blows from the shore, diffuse for full half a league in the open sea, the most agreeable perfume. The hills are covered with vineyards, bordered with banian trees: in short every thing is combined to render Madeira one of the most beautiful islands of Africa. Its soil is only a vegetable sand, mixed with an ash, which gives it astonishing fertility; it shews every where nothing but the remains of a volcanised earth, the colour of which is that of the element, by which it was long consumed. Funchal, the capital town of the islands is situated in long. 19 deg.. 20'. 30." in lat. 32 deg. 37'. 40". This town is far from handsome, the streets are narrow and the houses in general ill built: the highest part of the island is the Pic de Ruvio, which rises about two hundred metres above the level of the sea. The population of Madeira is from 85,000 to 90,000, inhabitants as we are assured by a person worthy of credit, who has resided for some time in that fine colony.
We sailed in this manner along the coast of Madeira, because the intention of the commander was to send a boat on shore for refreshments; but being surprised by a calm under the land, we were afraid of approaching too near, lest we should not be able to stem the strong currents which set towards it. A gentle breeze arising, enabled us to get out to sea, where the wind became favorable, and pretty brisk; it was resolved that the boat should not go on shore: and we resumed our course going at eight knots. We had remained three hours opposite Funchal bay. At nightfall Madeira was in full sight: the next morning at sun-rise we saw the islands called Salvages, and in the evening we descried the Pico of Teneriffe, on the island of that name. This lofty mountain, behind which the sun had just set, presented a sight truly magnificent; its summit seemed to be crowned with fire: its elevation above the level of the sea, is 3711 metres; it is situated in lat. 28 deg. 17' and in long. 19 deg.. Several persons on board affirmed that they saw the Pico at eight o'clock in the morning; and yet we were at least thirty leagues distant from it; the sky it is true, was extremely clear.
The commander resolved to send a boat to St. Croix, one of the principal towns in the island, to fetch fruits, and some filtering stones, which are made in that town; they are only a kind of mortar, made of the volcanic stone of the country. In consequence, during the whole night we made short tacks; the next morning we coasted the island, at the distance of two musket shot, and passed under the guns of a little fort, called Fort Francais. One of our companions leaped for joy, at the sight of this little fort, which was raised in haste by a few Frenchmen, when the English, under Admiral Nelson, attempted to take possession of the Colony. It was there, said he, that a numerous fleet, commanded by one of the bravest Admirals of the English navy, failed before a handful of French, who covered themselves with glory and saved Teneriffe; the Admiral was obliged to take flight, after having lost an arm in the contest, which was long and obstinate.
Having doubled a point which extends into the sea, we entered the bay, at the bottom of which is the town of St. Croix. The appearance of Teneriffe is majestic: the whole island is composed of mountains, which are extremely high, and crowned with rocks terrifying from their size, which on the north side, seem to rise perpendicularly above the surface of the ocean, and to threaten every moment to crush by their fall, the vessels which pass near their base. Above them all rises the Pico, the summit of which is lost in the clouds. We did not perceive that the Pic was constantly covered with snow as some voyagers affirm, nor that it vomits forth lava of melted metal; for when we observed it, its summit seemed intirely destitute of snow and of volcanic eruptions. At the foot of the mountain, and up to a certain elevation excavations filled with sulphur are observed; and in its neighbourhood several of the sepulchral caverns of the Guanches, the ancient inhabitants of the island.
Towards noon the Echo corvette, which had parted company, rejoined us, and passed under the stern of the frigate: she was ordered to imitate our manoeuvres, which she instantly did; she did not send any boat on shore. Thus united, we lay to together in the bay of St. Croix. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the boat having returned on board we directed our course for Senegal. They had bought in the town some earthen jars of a large size, precious wines, oranges, lemons, banian figs, and vegetables of all kinds.
Several unfortunate Frenchmen were on the island who had been long prisoners of war; they lived upon what the Spaniards chose to give them. They had been restored to liberty on the conclusion of peace, and waited only for a favorable opportunity to return to France. Their entreaties to the officer who commanded the boat were useless; he had the cruelty to refuse to restore them to their country and their families. In this boat there was another officer M. Laperere, who strongly insisted on bringing away these unfortunate persons; his entreaties could not move him who commanded the boat.
The depravity of morals at St. Croix is extreme; so much so that when the women heard that some Frenchmen were arrived in the town, they placed themselves at their doors, and when they passed, urged them to enter. All this is usually done in the presence of the husbands, who have no right to oppose it, because the Holy Inquisition will have it so, and because the monks who are very numerous in the island take care that this custom is observed. They possess the art of blinding the husbands, by means of the prestiges of religion, which they abuse in the highest degree; they cure them of their jealousy, to which they are much inclined, by assuring them that their passion, which they call ridiculous, or conjugal mania, is nothing but the persecution of Satan which torments them, and from which they alone are able to deliver them, by inspiring their dear consorts with some religious sentiments. These abuses are almost inevitable in a burning climate, where the passion of love is often stronger than reason, and sometimes breaks through the barriers which religion attempts to oppose to it: this depravity of morals must therefore be attributed to inflamed passions, and not to abuses facilitated by a religion so sublime as ours.
The Island of Teneriffe is not equal to that of Madeira: one cannot even compare their agricultural productions, on account of the great difference of their soils: but in a commercial view, Teneriffe has the advantage of Madeira. Its geographical position in the middle of the Canaries, enables it to carry on an extensive trade, while Madeira is confined to the sale and exchange of its wines for articles of European manufacture.
The soil of Teneriffe is much drier; a great part of it is too volcanic to be used for agriculture: every part of it however, which is capable of producing anything is very well cultivated, which should seem to prove, that the Spaniards of this country are naturally much less indolent than they have been represented.[A3]
When we were in the open sea we had favorable winds from the N.N.E.
In the night of the 29th of June the frigate caught fire between decks, by the negligence of the master baker; but being discovered in time, the fire was extinguished. In the following night the same accident was repeated; but this time it was necessary, in order to stop the progress of the fire, to pull down the oven which was rebuilt the next day.
On the 1st of July we descried Cape Bayados, situated in latitude 26 deg. 12' 30", and in longitude 16 deg. 47'. We then saw the skirts of the immense desert of Zaara, and we thought we perceived the mouth of the river St. John [A4], which is very little known. We passed the tropic at ten o'clock in the morning; the usual ceremony was there performed with a certain pomp; the jokes of the sailors amused us for some moments; we were far from thinking of the cruel event which was soon to deprive of their lives a third of the persons who were on board the frigate. This custom of tropical baptism is strange enough; the chief object of it, is, to procure the sailors some money.
From St. Croix, we had constantly steered to the S.S.W. During the ceremony at the tropic we doubled Cape Barbas, situated in lat. 22 deg. 6', and long. 19 deg. 8': two officers suddenly had the course changed, without informing the captain; this led to a pretty warm dispute, which however had no serious consequences. These two officers affirmed that we were running upon a group of rocks, and that we were already very near to the breakers. We had sailed the whole morning in the Gulph of St. Cyprian, the bottom of which is strewed with rocks, so that at low water, brigantines cannot frequent these seas, as we were told at Senegal by M. Valentin, senior, who is perfectly acquainted with this whole coast, and could not conceive how the frigate could have passed amidst all these reefs without striking. The shore was within half a cannon shot, and we clearly saw enormous rocks over which the sea broke violently. If it had fallen calm, there is no doubt but the strong currents which set, in-shore, would have infallibly carried us into danger.
In the evening we thought we descried Cape Blanco[A5], and according to the instructions given by the Navy Office, we steered W.S.W. During a part of the night the Echo, with which we had constantly kept company since we left Madeira, burnt several charges of powder and hung a lanthorn at the mizen-mast; her signals were not answered in the same manner; only a lanthorn was hung for a few moments to the fore-mast; it went out soon after, and was not replaced by another light. M. Savigny was on deck where he remained a part of the night: he had full opportunity to perceive the negligence of the officer of the watch, who did not even deign to answer the signals made by the Echo[A6]. Why, in the neighbourhood of so formidable a danger, not compare the points of the two ships, as is usual when vessels sail in company? The captain of the frigate was not even informed of the signals of the corvette. At eleven o'clock, she bore off the larboard bow; and soon after he perceived that the direction of her course made a pretty large angle with ours, and that it tended to cross us passing a-head; he soon perceived her on the starboard: it is affirmed that her journal states that she sailed the whole night W.S.W. ours does the same. We must necessarily have hauled to the larboard, or she to the starboard, since at day-break the corvette was no longer in sight.
At sea a vessel may easily be perceived at the distance of six leagues. From midnight till six in the morning, she must have gained above six leagues of us, which is not to be imagined, for she sailed much slower than we and stopped every two hours to take soundings. To explain this separation we must necessarily admit either that the frigate steered more south, or the corvette more west, if the two vessels had run on the same tack it would be impossible to explain it.
Every two hours the frigate brought-to, to sound; every half hour the lead was cast without lowering the sails; we were always upon shallows, and stood out to sea, to find a greater quantity of water: at length about six o'clock in the morning we had above a hundred fathoms; we then stood-to the S.S.E.; this course made almost a right angle with that which we had followed in the night: it bore directly in-shore, the approach to which, in this place, is rendered terrible by a very long reef, called Arguin, which according to instructions we had on board extends above thirty leagues in breadth. According to the instructions given by the Minister of the Marine, this danger is avoided by running only twenty-two leagues in the open sea; it is true they recommend not to approach the shore but with the greatest precaution, and with the sounding line in the hand: the other ships of the expedition which sailed according to those instructions all arrived at St. Louis without any accident, which is a certain proof of their exactness. Besides it is said, that one must make W.S.W., when one has discerned Cape Blanco; and it is probable we had not got sight of it in the evening, as was supposed. We therefore had an uncertain point of departure; hence the error which was so fatal to us.
According to my Comrade Correard, we cannot pass over in silence, a scene which took place in the morning. The Captain was deceived in the most singular manner; about five or six o'clock he was called up; some persons who were on deck persuaded him that a great cloud which was in the direction of Cape Blanco and in truth very near it, was that Cape itself. My companion in misfortune, who sees clearly, and who knows how to distinguish between a rock and a cloud, because he has seen enough of them in the Alps, where he was born, told those gentlemen that it was only a cape of vapour; he was answered that the instructions which the minister had given to the captain prescribed to him to make this cape; but that we had passed it above ten leagues; that at this moment the question was, to make the captain believe that the instructions of the minister had been punctually followed, and that they desired to persuade him, which was not difficult, that this cloud was the Cape. Many have deposed, as we have been told, that Cape Blanco, had been seen in the evening of the 1st of July: we venture to affirm that that rock was not seen at all.
After this pretended reconnaissance of the 2d July, if we were persuaded that we had seen that Cape, we should have steered west, to double the bank of Arguin; the danger once passed, the course should have been again directed to the south which is the route to Senegal; but he who for some days past had guided the course of the ship, thought proper to persuade the captain, to take immediately the southerly course, and to steer for Portendic. We are ignorant of the reasons which induced the commander of the frigate to give his confidence to a man who did not belong to the staff. He was an ex-officer of the marine, who had just left an English prison, where he had been for ten years; he certainly had not acquired there knowledge superior to that of the officers on board, whom this mark of deference could not but offend. M. de Chaumareys, while we were doubling Cape Barbas, presided at the farce performed in passing the Tropic, while he who had gained his confidence, was walking up and down the deck of the frigate, coolly observing the numerous dangers, spread along the coast. Several persons remonstrated against this management of the vessel, particularly Mr. Picard the greffier of Senegal, who had struck upon the bank of Arguin eight years before; this enlightened man declared at that time that we were running into danger.
As soon as the sun's altitude was observed to ascertain our position, we saw, on the quarter deck, Mr. Maudet, ensign of the watch, working the day's work, (making out the reckoning) upon a chicken coop; this officer who knows all the duties of his profession, affirmed that we were on the edge of the reef; he communicated this to the person who for some days past had given his counsel to the commander respecting the course to be steered; he received for answer; never mind, we are in eighty fathoms.
If our course during the night had partly averted all our dangers, that which was taken in the morning led us into them again. Mr. Maudet, convinced that we were upon the reef, took upon him, to have soundings taken; the colour of the water was intirely changed, which was observed even by those who were the least used to recognise the depth of the sea, by the appearance of the water; we even thought that we saw sand roll amid the little waves that rose; numerous sea weeds were seen by the ship's side, and a great many fish were caught. All these facts proved indubitably that we were on shallow water: in fact the lead announced only eighteen fathoms; the officer of the watch immediately informed the captain, who gave orders to come a little more to the wind; we were going before the wind the studding sails on the larboard; these sails were immediately lowered; the lead was again cast, and showed six fathoms; the captain gave orders to haul the wind as close as possible, but unhappily it was too late.[A7][B1]
The frigate luffing, almost immediately gave a heel; it proceeded a moment longer; gave a second and then a third; it stopped at a place where the sounding line showed only a depth of five metres sixty centimetres, and it was the time of high water.
Unhappily we were in the season of the high tides, which was the most unfavorable time for us because they were going to decline, and we ran a ground just when the water was at the highest; for the rest, the tides do not much differ in these seas; at the time of full moon they do not rise more than fifty centimetres more than usual; in the spring tides the water does not rise above one hundred and twenty centimetres on the reef. We have already said that when we grounded, the sounding line marked only five metres, and sixty centimetres; and at low water it marked, four metres sixty centimetres, the frigate therefore saved by a metre: however, as soon as we had stranded, the boats which went out to sound, met with places deeper than that, where we struck, and many others not so deep; which made us suppose that the reef is very uneven and covered with little elevations. All the different manoeuvres which had been performed since the moment when we found ourselves in eighteen fathoms, to that in which we struck, succeeded each other with extraordinary rapidity: not above ten minutes passed. Several persons have assured us that, if the ship had come entirely to the wind, when we were in eighteen fathoms, the frigate might perhaps have got clean, for she did not run wholly aground till she got to the west part of the reef, and upon its edge.
We stranded on the 2d of July, at a quarter after three p.m. in 19 deg. 36' north latitude, and 19 deg. 45' west longitude. This event spread the most profound consternation; if in the midst of this disorder, there were any men who remained collected enough to make observations, they must have been struck with the extraordinary changes impressed on every countenance; some persons were not to be recognised. Here you might see features become shrunk and hideous; there a countenance which had assumed a yellow and even a greenish hue, some men seemed thunderstruck and chained down to their places, without strength to move. When they had recovered from the stupefaction, with which they were at first seized, numbers gave themselves up to excess of despair; while others uttered imprecations upon those whose ignorance had been so fatal to us. An officer going upon deck, immediately after the accident, spoke with energy to him, who, as we have already said, had directed for some days the course of the ship, and said to him, "See, Sir, to what your obstinacy has brought us; I had warned you of it." Two women alone seemed insensible to this disaster; they were the wife and daughter of the governor. What a shocking contrast! men who for twenty or twenty-five years, had been exposed to a thousand dangers, were, profoundly affected, while Madame and Mademoiselle Chemals, appeared insensible, and as if unconcerned in these events.
As soon as the frigate stranded, the sails were hastily lowered, the top gallant masts got down, the top masts lowered, and every thing necessary arranged to get her off the reef. After numerous efforts, night being come, they were suspended to give some repose to the crew, who had displayed extreme activity. The next day, the third, the top masts were got down, the yards lowered, and they heaved at the capstern upon an anchor which had been fixed the evening before, at a cable's length a-stern of the frigate. This operation was fruitless; for the anchor, which was too weak, could not make sufficient resistance and gave way: a bower anchor was then used, which, after infinite pains, was carried out to a considerable distance, to a place where there was only a depth of five metres sixty centimetres; in order to carry it so far, it was fixed behind a boat, under which was placed a number of empty barrels fastened together because the boat was not able to carry so considerable a weight. The sea ran very high, and the current was extremely strong.
This boat, when it reached the spot where it was to cast the anchor, could not place it in the proper position to make the flukes fix in the sand, for one of the extremities already touched the bottom, while the other was still put of the water: being thus ill fixed, it could not answer the purpose intended; when they began to heave upon it, it made very little resistance, and would have been dragged on board again if they had continued to work at the capstern. In the course of the day, we staved several water butts which were in the hold, and pumped immediately, the top masts, except the small one which could not be got down, were thrown into the sea; the yards, the boom, and all the pieces of wood which afterwards composed.
If the loss of the vessel was certain, it was proper to secure the escape of the crew: a council was called, at which the governor of Senegal gave the plan of a raft, capable, it was said, of carrying two hundred men, with provisions. It was necessary to have recourse to an expedient of this nature, because our six boats were judged to be incapable of taking on board four hundred men, which was our number. The provisions were to be deposited on the raft, and at the hours of meals, the crews of the boats would have come to receive their rations: we were to reach all together the sandy coast of the desert, and there furnished with arms and ammunition, which were to be taken in by the boats before we left the frigate, we were to form a caravan, and proceed to the Island of St. Louis. The events which happened in the sequel, proved that this plan was perfectly well laid, and that it might have been crowned with success: unhappily these decisions were traced upon a loose sand, which was dispersed by the breath of egotism.
In the evening another anchor was cast, at a pretty considerable distance from the frigate: just before high water, we began to work at the capstern, but in vain. The work was put off till the next morning's tide; during all this time, the operations were performed with the greatest difficulty; the sea was hollow, the winds strong, the boats which had to go to a distance either to sound or fix: anchors, could not attain their object, without the greatest efforts; rapid currents, added to the difficulties. If the weather had not been so extremely unfavorable to us, perhaps the frigate might have been got afloat the next day, for it had been resolved to carry out very long warps, but the violence of the wind, and the sea, baffled these arrangements which nothing but a calm could favor. The weather was bad during the whole night; about four or five o'clock, at the morning tide, all our efforts to raise her were still fruitless; we began to despair of even being able to save her from this danger; the boats were repaired, and the construction of the raft diligently prosecuted: during the day of the 4. several barrels of flour were thrown into the sea, some water casks staved; some barrels of powder, intended as articles to trade with Segenal, were also got overboard.
In the evening, a few minutes before high water, the labours at the capstern recommenced; this time the anchors did not deceive our expectations; for, after a few moments labour, the frigate moved on the larboard; this motion was effected by means of an anchor fixed on the north west; the stream cable which was bent to its ring, came by the head of the ship and tended to make it swing; while another much stronger one, the cable of which passed through one of the stern ports, tended to prevent it from running a-head, by supporting its quarters the motions of which were commanded by means of this force. This first success gave us great hopes; we worked with ardor.
After some further efforts, the Medusa began to swing sensibly; we redoubled our efforts, she swung intirely and then had her head turned, to the open sea. She was almost afloat, only her stern touched a little; the work could not be continued, because the anchor was too near, and it would have been hove up. If a warp had been carried out in the open sea, by continuing to haul upon it, the frigate would have been got wholly afloat that evening. All the things which had been thrown overboard had lightened her, by twenty or thirty centimetres at the most, her draught of water might certainly have been lessened still more; but it was not done because the Governor of Senegal objected to throwing the barrels of flour into the sea, alledging that the greatest scarcity prevailed in the European factories. These considerations, however, should not have caused it to be overlooked that we had on board fourteen twenty-four pounders, and that it would have been easy to throw them overboard, and send them even to a considerable distance from the frigate, by means of the yard tackle; besides, the flour barrels might have been carefully fastened together, and when we were once out of danger, it would have been easy for us to remove them. This plan might have been executed without any fear of doing much damage to the flour, which when it is plunged in the water forms round the inside of the barrel a pretty thick crust, in consequence of the moisture, so that the interior is preserved from injury: this method was indeed attempted, but it was given up, because the means employed were insufficient. More care should have been used, and all the difficulties would have been conquered; only half measures were adopted, and in all the manoeuvres great want of decision prevailed.[B2]
If the frigate had been lightened as soon as we struck, perhaps she might have been saved. The weather, however, as we have already said, was almost always unfavourable, and often hindered the operations.
Some persons expected to see the frigate got afloat the next day, and their joy shewed that they were fully persuaded of it: there were indeed some probabilities, but they were very slight; for the vessel had been merely got out of its bed. We had hardly succeeded in changing its place to a distance of about two hundred metres, when the sea began to ebb: the frigate rested on the sand, which obliged us to suspend for ever our last operations. If it had been possible to hold her this night to two or three cables more in the open sea, still lightening her, perhaps, we repeat it, she might have been placed out of danger.
At night the sky became cloudy, the winds came from the sea, and blew violently. The sea ran high, and the frigate began to heel with more and more violence, every moment we expected to see her bulge; consternation again spread, and we soon felt the cruel certainty that she was irrecoverably lost.[B3] She bulged in the middle of the night, the keel broke in two, the helm was unship'd, and held to the stern only by the chains, which caused it to do dreadful damage; it produced the effect of a strong horizontal ram, which violently impelled by the waves, continually struck the poop of the ship; the whole back part of the captain's cabin was beat in, the water entered in an alarming manner. About eleven o'clock there was a kind of mutiny, which was afterwards checked by the presence of the governor and the officers; it was excited by some soldiers, who persuaded their comrades that it was intended to abandon them on board the frigate, while the crew escaped in the boats; these alarms were excited by the imprudence of a young man; some soldiers had already taken their arms, and had ranged themselves on the deck, all the avenues to which they occupied.
The raft, impelled by the strength of the current and of the sea, broke the cable which fastened it to the frigate and began to drive; those who beheld this accident announced it by their cries, and a boat was immediately sent after it, which brought it back. This was a distressing night for us all; agitated by the idea that our frigate was totally lost, and alarmed by the violent shocks which it received from the waves, we were unable to take a moment's repose.
At day-break, on the 5th, there were two metres seventy centimetres water in the hold, and the pumps could no longer work with effect: it was decided we ought to quit the vessel as soon as possible. The frigate, it was said, threatened to upset; a childish fear, doubtless; but, what particularly made it absolutely necessary to abandon her, was, that the water had already penetrated between decks. A quantity of biscuit was hastily taken from the store-room; wine and fresh water were also got out; these provisions were intended to be placed in the boats and on the raft. To preserve the biscuit from the salt water it was put into strong iron hooped barrels, which were perfectly fit for the purpose. We are ignorant why these provisions, so carefully prepared were not embarked either on the raft or in the boats; the precipitation with which we embarked was the cause of this negligence, so that some boats did not save above twenty-four pounds of biscuit, a small cask of water and very little wine: the rest was abandoned on the deck of the frigate or thrown into the sea during the tumult of the evacuation. The raft alone had a pretty large quantity of wine, but not a single barrel of biscuit, and if any was put upon it, it was thrown off by the soldiers when they placed themselves upon it. To avoid confusion, there was made, the day before, a list of the persons who were to embark, assigning to every one the post he was to occupy; but no attention was paid to this wise arrangement; every one took the means which he thought the most favorable to reach the shore; those who executed the orders which they had received to place themselves on the raft, had certainly reason to repent it. Mr. Savigny was unfortunately of this number; he might have stopped on board a boat, but an invincible attachment to his duty made him forget the danger of the part which was allotted him.
At length, the moment when we were to abandon the frigate arrived. First, the soldiers were embarked, who were almost all placed upon the raft: they wanted to take their muskets and some cartridges: this was formally opposed. They left them on the deck, and preserved only their sabres: some few, however, saved their carbines, and, almost all the officers, their fowling pieces and pistols. In all, we were about one hundred and forty-seven or one hundred and fifty; such is pretty nearly the account of the persons who embarked on this fatal machine, one hundred and twenty soldiers, including the officers of the army, twenty-nine men, sailors and passengers, and one woman. The barge, commanded by a lieutenant, on board of which were the governor and his family, took in thirty-five persons in all: this large fourteen-oared vessel, could certainly have carried a larger number: besides the people, there were three trunks; another fourteen-oared boat took in forty-two persons; the captain's barge took twenty-eight; the long boat, though in a very bad condition, destitute of oars, took in, however, eighty-eight; an eight-oared boat which was to be left at Senegal, for the service of the port, took twenty-five sailors; the smallest of the boats had fifteen persons on board; among whom were the interesting family of Mr. Picard, of whom we have spoken above: it was composed of three young ladies, his wife, and four young children. All these numbers added together, form a total of three hundred and ninety-seven persons; there were on board the frigate, near four hundred sailors and soldiers: thus it appears that several poor wretches were abandoned; when the Medusa was again found, fifty-two days after, it was ascertained that the number of those, who had been abandoned, was seventeen; which proves to us, that there were more than one hundred and forty seven of us on the raft, and that it is more correct to fix the number of the men at a hundred and fifty. It is said, that when the last boat, which was the long boat, left the frigate, several men refused to embark in her; the others were too much intoxicated to think of their safety. A man of the name of Dales, one of the seventeen who remained on board the frigate, deposed in the council, that fourteen men had left the long boat, because they did not think it capable of carrying so many, and that he, with two others hid themselves, that they might not be compelled to go on board. We are ignorant of the depositions of his two companions.
What a sight was it to behold a multitude of wretches, who all wanted to escape death, and all sought to save themselves, either in the boats or upon the rafts! The frigate's ladder was insufficient for so many: some threw themselves from the vessels, trusting to the end of a rope, which was scarcely able to bear a man's weight; some fell into the sea, and were recovered; what is surprising is, that amidst all this confusion, there was not a single serious accident.
Though in so terrible a situation, on our fatal raft, we cast our eyes upon the frigate, and deeply regretted this fine vessel, which, a few days before, seemed to command the waves, which it cut through with astonishing rapidity. The masts, which had supported immense sails, no longer existed, the barricade was entirely destroyed: the vessel itself was cast on the larboard quarter.
All the boats, after they had sheered off, proceeded in different manners, as we shall afterwards relate; but the men on board, when they reached the shore, had to contend with a thousand causes of destruction. We will first exactly relate all the operations that were executed till the moment when the raft was abandoned.
About seven o'clock, the signal for departure was given; four of the boats stood out to sea, the raft was still along side of the frigate, where it was moored: the captain's barge was under the bowsprit and the barge near our machine, on which it had just embarked some men. At length we were ordered to depart; but whether from a presentiment of what was to happen to us, or whether Mr. Correard entertained just fears, which the event proved to be but too well founded, he would not depart, till he had convinced himself that our raft was provided with all the necessary instruments and charts, to navigate with some degree of safety in case bad weather should oblige the boats to separate from us. As it was impossible to move upon the raft, because we were so crowded together he thought it the easiest to call to Mr. —— who immediately answered to his call. Coming to the larboard, he asked what we wanted? The following questions were then put to him: "Are we in a condition to depart? Have we instruments and charts?" Yes, yes, replied he, "I have provided you with every thing that can be necessary for you." He was then asked, what naval officer was to come and command us? he answered: "It is I; in a moment I shall be with you." After saying this he disappeared, and went on board one of the boats.
How is it possible that a French sea officer should be guilty of such bad faith to his unhappy countrymen, who placed all their confidence in him?
At last, the barge came to the head of the frigate, and the governor caused himself to be let down in an arm chair; it then threw a tow rope to our raft, and we stood off with this one boat; the second boat then gave a tow line to the first; the Senegal boat came afterwards, and did the same; there remained three boats, the captain's, which was still at the head of the frigate, on board of which last there were above eighty men, who uttered cries of despair, when they saw the boats and the raft stand off. The three boats which towed us, soon brought us to a distance from the vessel; they had a good wind, and the sailors rowed like men who were resolved to save themselves from the imminent danger which threatened us. The long-boat, and the pinnace were at some distance, and attempted to return on board; lastly, M. De Chaumareys embarked in his barge, by one of the ropes a-head: some sailors threw themselves into it, and loosened the ropes, by which it was lashed to the frigate. Immediately the cries of the people who remained on board redoubled, and an officer of the troops even took up a carbine to fire at the captain: but was prevented. We soon saw that this man was not equal to his duty; from the manner in which he abandoned his people. We regretted that the arm of the officer had been withheld when he wished to prevent the captain's design; but, our regret was unavailing; the mischief was done; it was irreparable; he had no idea of repairing it, and he could not return on board, for he was sure to meet there with that death, which he sought to avoid, at the expence of honor.
M. de Chaumareys, however, went on board the long-boat, and gave order that it should take in the men who remained on board the frigate.[B4] Some persons belonging to this boat have informed us, that they were told there were, at the most, about twenty who could not embark; but, the long-boat, destitute of oars, attempted, to no purpose, to get back to the frigate; a boat tried, without success, to tow it; it could not attain the object, till it sent the pinnace to fetch some long ropes, one end of which was lashed to the frigate, and the other brought on board the long-boat, which was thus towed to the larboard side of the ship. Lieutenant Espiau, who commanded this large boat, was surprised at finding above sixty soldiers and sailors, instead of twenty. This officer went on board with Mr. Bredif, engineer of mines, who tried to recall to their reason, those whose intellectual faculties had been impaired by the presence of danger. Mr. Espiau, embarked with proper order, the men who were on the deck; seventeen only as we have said, refused; some fearing that the boat would founder before she could reach the raft, and the other boats, which left it more and more behind; some others, because they were too much intoxicated as we have stated, to think of their safety.[B5] The fears of the former, (and they are probably those who, according to the deposition of Dales, returned on board the frigate) were founded on the bad condition of the long-boat, which let in the water on every side. After promising the men who persisted in remaining, that assistance should be sent them, as soon as the others arrived at Senegal, the long-boat stood off to join the little division. Before he left the frigate, Mr. Espiau had the grand national flag hoisted.[A8]
When this boat left the frigate to join us, we were, at least, a league and a half distant; the captain's barge had come some time before to take the towrope, and was at the head of the line; the smallest of the boats (the pinnace) did not take the towline; it preceded the little division, probably to take soundings.
As soon as all the boats had taken their post, cries of "Vive le Roi!" were a thousand times repeated by the men upon the raft, and a little white flag was hoisted at the top of a musket. Such was the order of the boats and the raft. The chiefs of the little division which was to conduct us to the land, had sworn not to abandon us: we are far from accusing all those gentlemen of having violated the laws of honor; but a series of circumstances obliged them to renounce the generous plan which they had formed to save us, or to perish with us. These circumstances deserve to be scrupulously examined; but our pen, guided by truth, must not fear to record facts which truth itself dictates. It is true they are of so strange a nature, that it is unpleasant to make them known. It is painful to us, to have to recount such events: we have to shew to what a degree the imagination of man is susceptible of being struck by the presence of danger, so as to make him even forget the duties which honour imposes on him. We, doubtless, admit that in forsaking the raft, the minds of those who did so, were greatly agitated, and that the desire of withdrawing themselves from danger, made them forget that a hundred and fifty unfortunate men were going to be abandoned to the most cruel sufferings. We shall relate the facts as we observed them, and as they have been communicated to us, by some of our companions in misfortune.
Before we proceed, we will describe the construction of this raft, to which a hundred and fifty persons were entrusted.
It was composed of the top-masts of the frigate, yards, fishes, boom, &c. These different pieces joined together by very strong ropes, were perfectly solid; the two principal pieces were two top-masts, which were placed at the extremity of the two sides; four other masts, two of which were of the same length and strength as the first, joined two by two, at the center of the machine, added to its solidity. The other pieces were placed within these four first but were not equal to them in length. Boards were nailed on this first foundation, and formed a kind of parapet, which would have been of great service to us if it had been higher. To render our raft still more solid, long pieces of wood had been placed across, which projected at least three metres: on the sides, there was a kind of railing, but it was not above forty centimetres in height: it would have been easy to add some crotches to it, which would have formed a breast-work of sufficient height; but it was not done, probably because those who had the machine built, were not to be exposed upon it. To the ends of the top-masts, two top-gallant yards were lashed, the farther ends of which were bound by a very strong cord, and thus formed the front part of the raft. The angular space, formed by the two yards, was filled with pieces of wood laid across, and planks ill adjusted. This fore part, which was at least two metres in length, had very little solidity, and was continually submerged. The hinder part did not terminate in a point like the fore part, but a considerable length of this part was not more solid, so that in fact, there was only the center which was really to be depended upon: an example will enable the reader to judge of its dimensions. When we were no more than fifteen in it, we had not space enough to lie down, and yet we were extremely close together. The raft, from one extremity, to the other was at least twenty metres in length, and about seven in breadth; this length might induce one to think, at the first sight, that it was able to carry two hundred men, but we soon had cruel proofs of its weakness. It was without sails or mast. As we left the frigate they threw us the fore-top-gallant and the main-top-gallant sails; but they did it with such precipitation, that, some persons who were at their post, were in danger of being wounded by the fall of these sails, which were bent to the yards. They did not give us any ropes to set up our mast.
There was on board the raft a great quantity of barrels of flour, which had been deposited there the preceding day, not to serve for provisions during the passage, from the frigate to the coast, but because the raft, formed of the barrels, not having succeeded, they were deposited on the machine, that they might not be carried away by the sea, there were also six barrels of wine and two small casks of water, which had been put there for the use of the people.
Scarcely fifty men had got upon the raft, when it sunk at least seventy centimetres under water; so that to facilitate the embarkation of the other soldiers it was necessary to throw into the sea all the flour barrels, which lifted by the waves, began to float and were violently driven against the men who were at their post; if they had been fixed, perhaps some of them might have been saved: as it was, we saved only the wine and the water, because several persons united to preserve them, and had much difficulty to hinder them from being thrown into the sea like the flour barrels. The raft, lightened by throwing away these barrels, was able to receive more men; we were at length a hundred and fifty. The machine was submerged at least a metre: we were so crowded together that it was impossible to take a single step; at the back and the front, we were in water up to the middle. At the moment that we were; putting off, from the frigate, a bag with twenty-five pounds of biscuit was thrown us, which fell into the sea; we got it up with difficulty; it was converted into a paste, but we preserved it in that condition. Several considerate persons fastened the casks of wine and water to the cross pieces of the raft, and we kept a strict watch over them. Thus we have faithfully described the nature of our situation when we put off from the vessel.
The Commander of the raft was named Coudin who was, what is called in the French marine an Aspirant of the first class. Some days before our departure from the roads of the Isle of Aix, he had received a severe contusion on the fore part of the right leg, which was not approaching to its cure, when we stranded and wholly incapacitated him from moving. One of his comrades, moved by his situation, offered to take his place, but Mr. Coudin, though wounded, preferred repairing to the dangerous post which was assigned him, because he was the oldest officer of his class on board. He was hardly on board the raft, when the sea water so increased the pain in his leg, that he nearly fainted; we gave notice of his situation to the nearest boat, we were answered that a boat would come and fetch this officer. I do not know whether the order was given, but it is certain that Mr. Coudin was obliged to remain on the fatal raft.
The long-boat, which we have been forced to lose sight of for a moment, in order to give these necessary details, at length rallied; it was, as we have stated, the last that left the frigate. The lieutenant who commanded her, justly fearing that he should not be able to keep the sea, in a crazy boat destitute of oars, badly rigged, and making much water, ran along-side of the first boat, begging it to take in some men; they refused. This long boat was to leave us some ropes to fix our mast; which an instant before had been hauled to us, by the first boat, which we had before us: we do not know what reason hindered it from leaving us these ropes, but it passed on, and ran along-side the second boat, which equally refused to take any body on board. The officer, who commanded the long-boat, seeing that they refused to take any of his men, and falling more and more under the wind, because his sails were badly trimmed, and the currents drove him, made up to the third-boat, commanded by a sub-lieutenant named Maudet; this officer, commanding a slight boat which the day before had a plank beat in, by one of the cross pieces of the raft, (an accident which had been remedied by covering the hole with a large piece of lead,) and being besides heavily laden, in order to avoid the shock of the long-boat, which might have been fatal to him, was forced to let loose the tow-rope, which held him to the barge, and thus broke in two the line formed by the boats before the craft, by separating himself from it with the captains boat which was at the head: when the captain and Mr. Maudet had disengaged themselves they hauled the wind, and then put about to come and take their post; Mr. Maudet even hailed M. de Chaumareys, "Captain take your towrope again," he received for answer, yes my friend. Two boats were still at their post, but before the other two were able to rejoin them, the barge separated itself; the officer who commanded it, expressed himself as follows respecting his thus abandoning us. "The towrope was not let go from my boat, but from that behind me." This second desertion was the forerunner of another still more cruel; for the officer who commanded the last boat in which was the governor, after having towed us alone, for a moment, caused the rope to be loosened which held it to the raft. When the towropes were let go, we were two leagues from the frigate; the breeze came from the sea, which was as favorable as could be desired. This last tow-rope did not break, as the governor has tried to persuade the minister of the marine, and several persons who escaped from the raft. Walking on the terrace of a French merchant at Senegal, in the presence of Messrs. Savigny and Coudin, the governor explained the affair as follows: "Some men were on the front of the raft, at the place where the tow-rope was fixed; which they pulled so as to draw the boat nearer to them; they had already pulled several fathoms of it to them, but a wave coming, gave a violent shock; these men were obliged to let go; the boats then proceeded more rapidly, till the rope was stretched; at the moment when the boats effected this tension the effort was such, that the rope broke." This manner of explaining this last desertion is very adroit, and might easily deceive those who were not on the spot, but it is not possible for us to accede to it, since we could even name the person who loosened it.
Some persons belonging to the other boats have assured us, that all the boats were coming to resume their post, when a cry of "we forsake them," was heard: we have this fact from many of our companions in misfortune. The whole line was thrown into disorder, and no measures were taken to remedy it: it is probable, that if one of the first officers had set the example, order would have been restored; but every one was left to himself; hence there was no concert in the little division; every one thought of escaping from personal danger.
Let us here do justice to the courage of Mr. Clanet, pay-master of the frigate, who was on board the governor's boat; if he had been listened to, this tow-rope would not have been let go; every moment an officer who was in the governor's boat cried out aloud, "shall I let go?" Mr. Clanet opposed it, answering with firmness, "No no!" Some persons joined him, but could obtain nothing, the tow-rope was let go: we considered it as certain, that the commander of the other boats, on seeing the chief of the expedition courageously devote himself, would have come and resumed their posts: but it may be said that each individual boat was abandoned by all the others: there was wanting, on this occasion, a man of great coolness: and ought not this man to have been found among the chief officers? How shall their conduct be justified? There are, certainly, some reasons to be alledged. Impartial judges of events, we will describe them, not as unhappy victims of the consequences of this desertion, but as men free from all personal resentment, and who listen only to the voice of truth.
The raft, drawn by all the boats united, dragged them a little back; it is true that we just had the ebb, and the currents set from shore. To be in the open sea with undecked vessels, might well inspire some apprehensions: but, in a few hours, the currents would change and favor us; we ought to have waited for this moment, which would have infallibly demonstrated the possibility of drawing us to the coast, which was not above twelve or fifteen leagues distant: this is so true that the boats discovered the coast, the same evening, before sunset. Perhaps they would have been forced to forsake us the second night after our departure, if indeed more than thirty-six hours had been required to tow us to land; for the weather was very bad; but we should then have been very near to the coast, and it would have been very easy to save us: at least we should have had only the elements to accuse!—We are persuaded that a short time would have sufficed to tow us within sight of land, for, the evening of our being deserted, the raft was precisely in the direction which the boats had followed between the frigates and the coast, and, at least, five leagues from the former. The next morning, at daybreak, we could no longer see the Medusa.[A9]
At the first moment we did not really believe that we had been so cruelly abandoned. We imagined that the boats had let loose, because they had perceived a vessel, and hastened towards it to ask assistance. The long-boat was pretty near us to leeward on the starboard. She lowered her foresail half way down: her manoeuvre made us think that she was going to take the first tow-rope: she remained so a moment, lowered her foresail entirely, setup her main-mast, hoisted her sails, and followed the rest of the division. Some men in this boat, seeing that the others deserted us, threatened to fire upon them, but were stopped by Lieutenant Espiau. Many persons have assured us that it was the intention of this officer to come and take the tow-rope; but his crew opposed it; had he done so, he would certainly have acted with great imprudence. His efforts would have been of little use to us, and his devotedness would but have increased the number of victims.[B6] As soon as this boat was gone, we had no doubt but that we were abandoned; yet we were not fully convinced of it till the boats had disappeared.
It was now that we had need of all our courage, which, however, forsook us more than once: we really believed that we were sacrificed, and with one accord, we cried that this desertion was premeditated. We all swore to revenge ourselves if we had the good fortune to reach the shore, and there is no doubt but that, if we could have overtaken, the next day, those who had fled in the boats, an obstinate combat would have taken place between, them and us.
It was then that some persons who had been marked out for the boats, deeply regretted that they had preferred the raft, because duty and honor had pointed out this post to them. We could mention some persons: for example, Mr. Correard, among others, was to go in one of the boats; but twelve of the workmen, whom we commanded, had been set down for the raft; he thought that in his quality of commander of engineers, it was his duty not to separate from the majority of those who had been confided to him, and who had promised to follow him wherever the exigencies of the service might require; from that moment his fate became inseparable from theirs, and he exerted himself to the utmost to obtain the governor's permission to have his men embarked in the same boat as himself; but seeing that he could obtain nothing to ameliorate the fate of these brave men, he told the governor that he was incapable of committing an act of baseness: that since he would not put his workmen in the same boat with him, he begged him to allow him to go on the raft with them, which was granted.
Several military officers imitated their example; only two of those who were to command the troops did not think fit to place themselves upon the raft, the equipment of which, in truth, could not inspire much confidence.
One of them, Captain Beiniere, placed himself in the long-boat with 36 of his soldiers. We had been told that these troops had been charged to superintend the proceedings of the other boats, and to fire upon those who should attempt to abandon the raft. It is true, as we have seen above, that some brave soldiers listening, perhaps, more to the voice of humanity and French honor, than to the strict maxims of discipline, were desirous of employing their arms against those who basely abandoned us, but, that their will and their actions were paralized by the passive obedience which they owed to their officers, who opposed this resolution.
The other, Mr. Danglas, a lieutenant, who had lately left the gardes-du-corps, had at first embarked with us upon the raft, where his post was assigned him, but when he saw the danger which he incurred on this unstable machine, he made haste to quit it, on the pretext that he had forgotten something on board the frigate, and did not return. It was he whom we saw, armed with a carbine, threaten to fire on the barge of the governor, when it began to move from the frigate. This movement, and some other actions which were taken for madness, nearly cost him his life; for while he was thus giving himself up to a kind of extravagance, the captain took flight, and abandoned him on board the frigate with the sixty-three men whom he left there. When M. Danglas saw himself treated in this manner, he gave marks of the most furious despair. They were obliged to hinder him from attempting his own life. With loud cries he invoked death, which he believed inevitable in the midst of perils so imminent. It is certain that if Mr. Espiau, who had his long-boat already full, had not returned to take from on board the frigate, the forty-six men, among whom, was Mr. Danglas, he and all his companions would not, perhaps, have experienced a better fate than the seventeen who were finally left on board the Medusa.
After the disappearance of the boats, the consternation was extreme: all the terrors of thirst and famine arose before our imaginations, and we had besides to contend with a perfidious element, which already covered the half of our bodies: when recovered from their stupefaction, the sailors and soldiers gave themselves up to despair; all saw inevitable destruction before them, and gave vent in lamentations to the gloomy thoughts which agitated them. All we said did not at first avail to calm their fears, in which we however participated, but which a greater degree of strength of mind enabled us to dissemble. At last, a firm countenance and consoling words succeeded in calming them by degrees, but could not wholly dispel the terror with which they were struck; for according to the judicious reflection, made after reading our deplorable story, by Mr. Jay, whose authority we quote with pleasure, "To support extreme misfortunes, and what is worthy of remark, to bear great fatigues, moral energy is much more necessary than corporeal strength, nay, than the habit of privations and hard labour. On this narrow theatre where so many sufferings are united, where the most cruel extremes of hunger and thirst are experienced, strong and indefatigable men who have been brought up to the most laborious professions, sink in succession under the weight of the common destiny, while men of a weak constitution, and not inured to fatigue, find in their minds the strength which their bodies want, endure with courage unheard-of trials, and issue victorious from their struggle with the most horrible afflictions. It is to the education they have received, to the exercise of their intellectual faculties, that they owe this astonishing superiority and their deliverance," When tranquillity was a little restored, we began to look upon the raft for the charts, the compass and the anchor, which we presumed had been placed there, from what had been said to us at the time we quitted the frigate. These highly necessary articles had not been put upon our machine. The want of a compass in particular, greatly alarmed us, and we uttered cries of rage and vengeance. Mr. Correard then recollected, that he had seen one in the hands of one of the chief workmen under his command, and enquired of this man about it: "Yes, yes," said he, "I have it with me." This news transported us with joy, and we thought that our safety depended on this feeble resource. This little compass was about the size of a crown-piece, and far from correct. He who has not been exposed to events, in which his existence was in imminent peril, can form but a faint idea of the value which one then sets upon the most common and simple objects, with what avidity one seizes the slightest means, that are capable of softening the rigour of the fate with which one has to contend. This compass was given to the commander of the raft; but an accident deprived us of it for ever: it fell, and was lost between the pieces of wood which composed our machine: we had kept it only for a few hours; after this loss, we had nothing to guide us but the rising and setting of the sun.
We had all left the frigate without taking any food: hunger began to be severely felt; we mixed our biscuit-paste (which had fallen into the sea) with a little wine, and we distributed it thus prepared: such was our first meal, and the best we had the whole time we were on the raft.
An order, according to numbers, was fixed for the distribution of our miserable provisions. The ration of wine was fixed at three quarters a day: we shall say no more of the biscuit: the first distribution consumed it entirely. The day passed over pretty quietly: we conversed on the means which we should employ to save ourselves; we spoke of it as a certainty, which animated our courage: and we kept up that of the soldiers, by cherishing the hope of being soon able to revenge ourselves upon those who had so basely abandoned us. This hope of vengeance inspired us all equally, and we uttered a thousand imprecations against those who had left us a prey to so many misfortunes and dangers. The officer who commanded, the raft being unable to move, Mr. Savigny took on himself the care of setting up the mast; he caused the pole of one of the frigate's masts to be cut in two; we employed the main-top-gallant sail; the mast was kept up by the rope which had served to tow us, of which we made shrouds and stays: it was fixed on the anterior third of the raft. The sail trimmed very well, but the effect of it was of very little use to us; it served only when the wind came from behind, and to make the raft preserve this direction it was necessary to trim the sail, as if the wind came athwart. We think that the cross position which our raft always retained, may be attributed to the too great length of the pieces of wood which projected on each side.
In the evening, our hearts and our prayers, with the impulse natural to the unfortunate, were directed towards heaven; we invoked it with fervour, and we derived from our prayers the advantage of hoping in our safety: one must have experienced cruel situations, to imagine what a soothing charm, in the midst of misfortune, is afforded by the sublime idea of a God, the protector of the unfortunate. One consoling idea still pleased our imaginations; we presumed that the little division had sailed for the Isle of Arguin, and that after having landed there a part of its people, would return to our assistance: this idea, which we tried to inspire into our soldiers and sailors, checked their clamours. The night came, and our hopes were not yet fulfilled: the wind freshened, the sea rose considerably. What a dreadful night! Nothing but the idea of seeing the boats the next day, gave some consolation to our people; who being most of them unused to the motion of a vessel, at every shock of the sea, fell upon each other. Mr. Savigny, assisted by some persons, who, in the midst of this disorder, still retained their presence of mind, fastened some ropes to the pieces of the raft: the men took hold of them, and by means of this support, were better able to resist the force of the waves: some were obliged to fasten themselves. In the middle of the night the weather was very bad; very heavy waves rolled upon us, and often threw us down with great violence; the cries of the people were mingled with the roaring of the billows; a dreadful sea lifted us every moment from the raft, and threatened to carry us away. This scene was rendered still more awful by the horrors of a very dark night; for some moments we thought that we saw fires at a distance. We had taken the precaution to hang, at the top of the mast, some gun-powder and pistols, with which we had provided ourselves on board the frigate: we made signals by burning a great many charges of powder; we even fired some pistol-shot, but it seems that these fires were only an illusion of the eyesight, or perhaps they were nothing but the dashing of the breakers.
This whole night we contended against death, holding fast by the ropes which were strongly fastened. Rolled by the waves from the back to the front, and from the front to the back, and sometimes precipitated into the sea, suspended between life and death, lamenting our misfortune, certain to perish, yet still struggling for a fragment of existence with the cruel element which threatened to swallow us up. Such was our situation till day-break; every moment were heard the lamentable cries of the soldiers and sailors; they prepared themselves for death; they bid farewell to each other, imploring the protection of Heaven, and addressing fervent prayers to God: all made vows to him, notwithstanding the certainty that they should never be able to fulfil them. Dreadful situation! How is it possible to form an idea of it, which is not below the truth!
About seven o'clock, in the morning, the sea fell a little, the wind blew with less fury; but what a sight presented itself to our view! Ten or twelve unhappy wretches, having their lower extremities entangled in the openings between the pieces of the raft, had not been able to disengage themselves, and had lost their lives; several others had been carried off by the violence of the sea. At the hour of repast we took fresh numbers, in order to leave no break in the series: we missed twenty men: we will not affirm that this number is very exact, for we found that some soldiers, in order to have more than their ration, took two, and even three numbers. We were so many persons crowded together, that it was absolutely impossible to prevent these abuses.
Amidst these horrors, an affecting scene of filial piety forced us to shed tears: two young men raised and recognised, for their father, an unfortunate man who was stretched senseless under the feet of the people; at first, they thought he was dead, and their despair expressed itself by the most affecting lamentations; it was perceived, however, that this almost inanimate body still had breath; we lavished on him all the assistance in our power; he recovered by degrees, and was restored to life and to the prayers of his sons, who held him fast embraced in their arms. While the rights of nature resumed their empire in this affecting episode of our sad adventures, we had soon the afflicting sight of a melancholy contrast. Two young lads, and a baker, did not fear to seek death, by throwing themselves into the sea, after having taken leave of their companions in misfortune. Already the faculties of our men were singularly impaired; some fancied they saw the land; others, vessels which were coming to save us; all announced to us by their cries these fallacious visions.
We deplored the loss of our unhappy companions; we did not presage, at this moment, the still more terrible scene which was to take place the following night; far from that, we enjoyed a degree of satisfaction, so fully were we persuaded that the boats would come to our relief. The day was fine, and the most perfect tranquillity prevailed on our raft. The evening came, and the boats did not appear. Despondency began again to seize all our people, and a mutinous spirit manifested itself by cries of fury; the voice of the officers was wholly disregarded. When the night came, the sky was covered with thick clouds; the wind, which during the day had been rather high, now became furious, and agitated the sea, which, in an instant, grew very rough.
If the preceding night had been terrible, this was still more horrible. Mountains of water covered us every moment, and broke, with violence, in the midst of us; very happily we had the wind behind us, and the fury of the waves was a little checked by the rapidity of our progress; we drove towards the land. From the violence of the sea, the men passed rapidly from the back to the front of the raft, we were obliged to keep in the centre, the most solid part of the raft; those who could not get there, almost all perished. Before and behind the waves dashed with fury, and carried off the men in spite of all their resistance. At the centre, the crowd was such that some poor men were stifled by the weight of their comrades, who fell upon them every moment; the officers kept themselves at the foot of the little mast, obliged, every instant, to avoid the waves, to call to those who surrounded them to go on the one or the other side, for the waves which came upon us, nearly athwart, gave our raft a position almost perpendicular, so that, in order to counterbalance it, we were obliged to run to that side which was raised up by the sea.[A10]