Narratives of Shipwrecks of the Royal Navy; between 1793 and 1849
by William O. S. Gilly
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Compiled Principally from Official Documents in the Admiralty



With a Preface by

WILLIAM STEPHEN GILLY, D.D. Vicar of Norham and Canon of Durham

London: John W. Parker, West Strand









Some time ago a friend suggested that a selection of the most interesting naval shipwrecks might be made from the official documents of the Admiralty, in illustration of the discipline and heroism displayed by British seamen under the most trying circumstances of danger: permission to search the records was accordingly asked, and most kindly granted by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and the present volume is the result.

The Author is well aware that the task of preparing these materials for publication might have fallen into better hands; and whilst he gratefully acknowledges his obligations to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, for allowing him to have access to their Records, he desires also to express his most cordial thanks for the assistance he has received from those friends, who have kindly revised and improved his pages as they passed through the press. Without such aid, his own literary inexperience would have left the work more defective than it is. He is especially indebted to some naval friends for correcting his errors in the use of nautical terms and descriptions.

A list of all the shipwrecks that have occurred in the Royal Navy since the year 1793 has been appended to this volume, in the hope that it may be useful as a table of reference. The ships are classed, first, under the initial letter of their names; and secondly, they are arranged in chronological order as regards the time of their wreck.



At the request of my son, the Author of this volume, I have undertaken to write the Preface, and to say a few words on the very peculiar and noble traits of character, which distinguish the British seaman on all trying occasions, and especially in the terrible hour of shipwreck.

Many circumstances have combined to make me take a warm interest in all that concerns the navy. In early life, having passed several months in a line-of-battle ship during the war with France, I was an eye-witness of scenes and events, which called forth some of those qualities that are illustrated in the following pages. For the restoration of my health, in the year 1811, I was advised to try the effects of sea air and a change of climate, and was glad to accept the opportunity offered me, by the captain of an eighty-gun ship, to take a cruise with him off the southern parts of the French coast.

On one occasion, in a severe tempest in the Bay of Biscay, a flash of lightning struck the ship and set her on fire. The calmness with which orders were given and obeyed, and the rapidity with which the fire was extinguished, without the least hurry or confusion, made a deep impression on me. This was afterwards increased by the conduct of the crew in a severe gale of wind, when it was necessary to navigate one of the narrow channels, by which the squadron that blockaded Rochelle and Rochfort was frequently endangered. The vessel had to pass between two rocks, so near that a biscuit could have been thrown from the deck on either. An old quarter-master was at the wheel; the captain stood by to con and to direct his steering. At one fearful crisis, every blast threatened to shiver a sail, or to carry away a spar, and a single false movement of the helmsman, or the slightest want of steadiness or of obedience on the part of any man on duty, would have been fatal to the life of every one on board.

As they drifted on their path There was silence deep as death, And the boldest held his breath For a time.

When the danger was over, the captain thanked the officers and men for their conduct, and gave a snuff-box with five guineas in it to the quarter-master, in admiration of his steady head and iron nerves.

I mention these incidents in my early experience as a sort of apology for a landsman's presumption, in venturing to write this Preface to a series of nautical details. In after years, the death of a dear brother, a lieutenant in the navy, who lost his life in a generous attempt to save a vessel from shipwreck on the coast of Sussex, moved me to a still deeper concern for those whose employment is 'in the great waters.'

My early observation of the hazards of a sailor's career, and my brother's sudden call to his last account, in the awful perils of a storm at sea, taught me to reflect with painful solemnity on the many thousand instances, in which our naval protectors are summoned in a moment, prepared or unprepared, to stand before the throne of the Eternal. Often have I asked myself and others, Can nothing be done to elevate the hopes, and to place the fortitude of these men on a firmer foundation than that of mere animal courage, or the instinct of discipline? The present is an opportunity of pleading for the sailor which I should be sorry to lose, and of suggesting something, which may establish his good conduct on a basis more durable, and more certain, than even the well-known courage and discipline of a British tar.

I shall begin by noticing the extraordinary displays of self-possession, self-devotion, and endurance, which shed lustre on our naval service; and I will close my remarks with hints for the improvement of these noble qualities.

The intrepidity and mental resources of a brave man are more discernible in the hour of patient suffering, than in that of daring action: and the contents of this volume form a record of heroic doings and endurances, which exhibits the British seaman as a true specimen of the national character. Duty is his watchword, and the leading principle by which he is governed. Nelson knew the spirits he had to deal with, when he hoisted the memorable signal, 'England expects every man to do his duty.' He was well aware that the men who could patiently and calmly face the toil and danger of a blockading fleet, day and night, on the stormy waves of the Bay of Biscay, or on the lee shores of the Mediterranean, such as his fleet had had to encounter, wanted no other stimulus, in the presence of the enemy, than that which he so confidently applied. Napoleon found to his cost, on the field of Waterloo, that the word Glory had no longer any power to launch his battalions successfully against troops, who had learnt in the British school of duty and obedience to confront death, not only in the impetuous battle-charge, but in the more trying season of long endurance in the Lines of Torres Vedras. Men who can wait, and bear and forbear, and remain steadily at their post under every provocation to leave it, are invincible opponents. The cool determination which resisted the onset, and withstood the furious rush of the French Guards, was part and parcel of the same character which made heroes of the comrades of Nelson. To obey implicitly, and to feel that no quality is superior to that of obedience,—to wait for your commander's word,—to keep order,—to preserve presence of mind,—to consider yourself one of many, who are to follow the same rule, and to act in unison with each other,—to regulate your movements according to the demands of the common safety,—to consider your honour to be as much at stake in submitting to a command to remain stationary and not to stir, as to dash forward,—these are the peculiarities, which constitute the substantial excellence of the national character; and the shipwrecks of the Royal Navy illustrate this national character even more than the battles of the Nile and of Trafalgar. The perils of a shipwreck are so much beyond those of a battle, that the loss of life, when the St. George, the Defence, and the Hero, were wrecked in the North Seas, in 1811, was far greater than that on the part of the English in any naval action of late years. In order to place the qualities of obedience and endurance—so characteristic of the British seaman—in the strongest light, and to show by contrast that the possession of them is the greatest security in danger, whilst the want of them ensures destruction, I commend the following statement to the attention of all who shall read this volume.

In the year 1816 two stately vessels were sailing on the ocean, in all the pride of perfect equipment and of glorious enterprise. The one was an English frigate, the Alceste, having on board our ambassador to China; the other was a French frigate, the Medusa, taking out the suite of a governor for one of the colonies of France on the coast of Africa. The importance of the mission on which each ship was despatched, and the value of the freight, would seem to assure us that the Alceste and the Medusa were officered and manned by the best crews that could be selected. Two nations, rivals in science and civilization, who had lately been contending for the empire of the world, and in the course of that contest had exhibited the most heroic examples of promptitude and courage, were nautically represented, we may suppose, by the elite who walked the decks of the Alceste and the Medusa. If any calamity should happen to either, it could not be attributed to a failure of that brilliant gallantry, which the English and French had equally displayed on the most trying occasions.

But a calamity of the most fearful nature did befal both, out of which the Alceste's crew were delivered with life and honour untouched, when that of the Medusa sank under a catastrophe, which has become a proverb and a bye-word to mariners. Both ships were wrecked. For an account of the good conduct, of the calm and resolute endurance, and of the admirable discipline to which, under Providence, the preservation of the crew of the Alceste is to be attributed, see pages 204-226 of this volume. A total relaxation of discipline, an absence of all order, precaution, and presence of mind, and a contemptible disregard of everything and of everybody but self, in the hour of common danger, filled up the full measure of horrors poured out upon the guilty crew of the Medusa. She struck on a sand-bank under circumstances which admitted of the hope of saving all on board. The shore was at no great distance, and the weather was not so boisterous as to threaten the speedy destruction of the ship when the accident first happened.

There were six boats of different dimensions available to take off a portion of the passengers and crew: there was time and there was opportunity for the construction of a raft to receive the remainder. But the scene of confusion began among officers and men at the crisis, when an ordinary exercise of forethought and composure would have been the preservation of all. Every man was left to shift for himself, and every man did shift for himself, in that selfish or bewildered manner which increased the general disaster. The captain was not among the last, but among the first to scramble into a boat; and the boats pushed off from the sides of the frigate, before they had taken in as many as each was capable of holding. Reproaches, recrimination, and scuffling took the place of order and of the word of command, both in the ship and in the boats, when tranquillity and order were indispensable for the common safety.

When the raft had received the miserable remnant, one hundred and fifty in number, for whom the boats had no room, or would make no room, it was found, when it was too late to correct the evil, that this last refuge of a despairing and disorderly multitude had been put together with so little care and skill, and was so ill provided with necessaries, that the planking was insecure; there was not space enough for protection from the waves, and charts, instruments, spars, sails, and stores were all deficient. A few casks of wine and some biscuits, enough for a single meal only, were all the provision made for their sustenance. The rush and scramble from the wreck had been accomplished with so little attention to discipline, that the raft had not a single naval officer to take charge of her. At first, the boats took the raft in tow, but in a short time, though the sea was calm and the coast was known to be within fifteen leagues, the boats cast off the tow-lines: and in not one of the six was there a sufficient sense of duty, or of humanity left, to induce the crew to remain by the floating planks—the forlorn hope of one hundred and fifty of their comrades and fellow-countrymen! Nay, it is related by the narrators of the wreck of the Medusa, that the atrocious cry resounded from one boat to another, 'Nous les abandonnons!'—'we leave them to their fate,'—until one by one all the tow-lines were cast off. During the long interval of seventeen days, the raft struggled with the waves. A small pocket compass was the only guide of the unhappy men, who lost even this in one of the reckless quarrels, which ensued every hour for a better place on the raft or a morsel of biscuit. On the first night twelve men were jammed between the timbers, and died under the agonies of crushed and mangled limbs. On the second night more were drowned, and some were smothered by the pressure towards the centre of the raft. Common suffering, instead of softening, hardened the hearts of the survivors against each other. Some of them drank wine till they were in a frenzy of intoxication, and attempted to cut the ropes which kept the raft together. A general fight ensued, many were killed, and many were cast into the sea during the struggle; and thus perished from sixty to sixty-five. On the third day portions of the bodies of the dead were devoured by some of the survivors. On the fourth night another quarrel and another fight, with more bloodshed, broke out. On the fifth morning, thirty only out of the one hundred and fifty were alive. Two of these were flung to the waves for stealing wine: a boy died, and twenty-seven remained, not to comfort and to assist each other, but to hold a council of destruction, and to determine who should be victims for the preservation of the rest. At this hideous council twelve were pronounced too weak to outlive much more suffering, and that they might not needlessly consume any part of the remaining stock of provisions, such as it was, (flying fish mixed with human flesh.) these twelve helpless wretches were deliberately thrown into the sea. The fifteen, who thus provided for their own safety by the sacrifice of their weaker comrades, were rescued on the seventeenth day after the wreck by a brig, sent out in quest of the wreck of the Medusa by the six boats, which reached the shore in safety, and which might have been the means of saving all on the raft, had not the crews been totally lost to every sentiment of generosity and humanity, when they cast off the tow-lines.

In fact, from the very first of the calamity which befel the Medusa, discipline, presence of mind, and every generous feeling, were at an end: and the abandonment of the ship and of the raft, the terrible loss of Life, the cannibalism, the cruelty, the sufferings, and all the disgraceful and inhuman proceedings, which have branded the modern Medusa with a name of infamy worse than that of the Gorgon,—the monster after which she was called,—originated in the want of that order and prompt obedience, which the pages of this volume are intended to record, to the honour of British seamen.

In the history of no less than forty shipwrecks narrated in this memorial of naval heroism,—of passive heroism, the most difficult to be exercised of all sorts of heroism,—there are very few instances of misconduct, and none resembling that on board the Medusa.

This contrast is marked and stated, not in an invidious spirit towards the French, but because there is no example on record, which furnishes such a comparison between the safety which depends on cool and orderly behaviour in the season of peril, and the terrible catastrophe which is hastened and aggravated by want of firmness, and confusion.

'It is impossible,' said a writer in the Quarterly Review, of October, 1817, 'not to be struck with the extraordinary difference of conduct in the officers and crew of the Medusa and the Alceste, wrecked nearly about the same time. In the one case, all the people were kept together in a perfect state of discipline and subordination, and brought safely home from the opposite side of the globe; in the other, every one seems to have been left to shift for himself, and the greater part perished in the horrible way we have seen.'[1]

I have brought the comparison between the two wrecks again under notice to show, that as certainly as discipline and good order tend to insure safety on perilous occasions, so, inevitably, do confusion and want of discipline lead to destruction. In the one case, intrepidity and obedience prompted expedients and resources: in the other case, consternation was followed by despair, and despair aggravated the catastrophe with tenfold horrors.

It is not to be concealed, that occasional instances of insubordination and pusillanimity have occurred in the British navy. Some such appear in this narrative, and they invariably have produced their own punishment, by leading always to disaster, and often to death; and they serve as beacons to point out the fatal consequences of misconduct, under circumstances either of drunkenness, disobedience, panic, selfishness, or confusion.

The selfish cowardice, noticed in page 94, on the part of the men in charge of the jolly-boat of the Athenienne, and of some of the crew of the launch of the Boreas, (see p. 136,) and the tumult, intoxication, and desertion of the majority of the crew of the Penelope, which were followed by the prolonged sufferings and painful deaths of the culprits, (see pp. 200-204,) are but a few dark spots in the shipwrecks of the Royal Navy, to set off by contrast the many bright pages, which describe innumerable traits of character that do honour to human nature.

As a direction to some of these noble traits, every one of which will make the reader warm to the name of a British sailor: and, if he be one himself, will bring the blood from his heart to his face in a glow of emulation and honest pride,—I ask him to turn for examples of perfect discipline to pages 13, 23, 63, 70, 71, 75, 110, 173, 188, 194, 216, 223, 229, 231, 268, 269, 278, 279, 280. Here he will behold the portraits of men on the brink of destruction, steady, 'as if they were moving from one ship to another in any of the Queen's ports,' and unmoved by images of death under the most appalling forms; and he will say, 'Lo! these are triumphs of order and subordination, and examples of such resolute defiance of the terrors of the last enemy, when covered with the shadow of death, that no exploits in battle can exhibit fortitude that will compare with them.'

For instances of generous thought for others, of self-devotion and of disregard of personal safety, I refer the reader to pages 58, 59, 67, 68, 69, 96, 128, 129, 169, 186, 190, 194, 231, 234, 269, 270.

In the long list of heroes, which these references to examples of indomitable courage and unhesitating self-devotion will unfold, it is almost wrong to mark out one more than another for observation, and yet the following stand so prominently forward in the front rank of heroism, that it is impossible to refrain from noticing them. Captain Lydiard sacrificed his life in his desperate endeavour to rescue a boy from the wreck of the Anson, (pp. 128, 129.) Captain Temple, of the Crescent, and more than two hundred of his crew, displayed a noble disregard of themselves, when they permitted the jolly-boat, their own last hope of escape, to take off as many as it would hold, and leave them to perish. There was no rushing, no struggling, to get away from the sinking ship, but with orderly care they helped the boat to push off, bade her God speed, and calmly waited their fate, (p. 153.) The resolution of Captain Bertram, of the Persian, to brave the danger of taking some men off a raft into his over-crowded gig, was generously followed by the crews of the other boats, who threw their clothing and provisions overboard to make room for the additional weight, (p. 191.)

I may refer also to the magnanimous contest between Captain Baker, of the Drake, and his officers and men, each insisting on being the last to make his way from the ship to a rock (p. 231), and which ended in Captain Baker refusing to stir until he had seen every man clear of the wreck. A second struggle for precedency in glorious self-devotion took place, when the same commander declared, that all his crew should pass from the rock to the mainland, by help of a line, before he himself would consult his own safety, (p. 234.) The rope broke, and the last means of communication between the rock and the shore was severed, while the captain of the Drake and three of his companions were waiting their turn to escape. They met their fate with intrepid composure, (p. 235.) Lieutenant Smith, of the Magpie, offered another memorable example, when his schooner was upset in a squall, and he took to his boat with seven men. The boat capsized, and while the struggling crew were endeavouring to right her, they were attacked by sharks. The lieutenant himself had both his legs bitten off; but when his body was convulsed with agony, his mind retained and exercised all its energies, and his last words were expressive of dying consideration for others. 'Tell the admiral, if you survive,' said he, to a lad named Wilson, 'that my men have done their duty, and that no blame is attached to them. I have but one favour to ask, and that is, that he will promote Meldrum to be a gunner,' (p. 270.) And richly did Meldrum deserve the distinction. When all in the boat had perished but himself and another, a brig hove in sight, but did not seem to notice the speck on the ocean. Meldrum sprang overboard, and swam towards the ship, and was thus the means of saving his companion's life as well as his own.

In a volume like this, 'the dangers of the seas' come before the reader in such rapid succession, that he has scarcely time to think of the many other awful perils and sufferings, besides those of wind and storm, which put the mariner's fortitude to the test. The narratives in pages 2, 3, 9, 36, 69, 70, 113, 115, present to view the horrors of a ship on fire.

In pages 12, 169, 171, 196, 226, 242, we learn something of the terrible consequences of being exposed to fogs and mist, ice and snow. In page 27, we have a vivid picture of a combination of these terrors; and in pages 217, 268, the most appalling of all the dangers a sailor has to encounter is brought in view.

We will hope that the rigours and perils of the blockade system, which occasioned so fearful a loss of life at different periods of the late war, but especially in the disastrous year 1811, are at end for ever. From page 154 to 159, and from 168 to 186, the accounts of the loss of life in the Baltic and North Seas alone occur in fearful succession; and the magnanimity with which hundreds, nay, thousands of our bravest officers and men met death on that most perilous of all services, has rendered the names of British blockading ships memorable in the annals of hardship, hardihood, and suffering. Many invaluable lives perished from the inclemency of the weather; men were frozen to death at their posts. It is recorded of one devoted officer, Lieutenant Topping, that rushing on deck in anxiety for his ship, without giving himself time to put on his clothes, 'in fifteen minutes he fell upon the deck a corpse, stricken by the piercing blast and driving snow,' (p. 169.)

In page 174, we read of the bodies of the dead, victims to the cold and tempest, piled up by the survivors in rows one above another, on the deck of the St. George, to serve as a shelter against the violence of the waves and weather. 'In the fourth row lay the bodies of the Admiral and his friend Captain Guion;' and out of a crew of 750, seven only were saved.

The Defence, the consort of the St. George, was cast away in the same storm: out of her complement of 600, six was the small remnant of survivors. This ship might probably have escaped, but her gallant captain (Atkins) said, 'I will never desert my admiral in the hour of danger and distress,' (p. 175.)

An instance of obedience and discipline, worthy of particular mention, occurred before the St. George went down. A few men asked leave to attempt to reach the shore in the yawl. Permission was at first granted, but afterwards withdrawn, and the men returned to their posts without a murmur. 'As if Providence had rewarded their implicit obedience and reliance upon their officers,' says the narrative (p. 173), 'two of these men were of the few (seven) that were saved.'

The question now arises, to what are we to attribute the extraordinary display of cool determination manifested by British seamen, in such trials of nerve as are described in the following pages? The series of shipwrecks extends from 1793 to 1847, a period of fifty-four years; and tragic scenes are described, many of them far exceeding the imaginary terrors of fiction, and all of them equal in horror to anything that the Drama, Romance, or Poetry has attempted to delineate.

We rise from the perusal with scarcely any other impression upon our minds than that of wonder and admiration, at the extraordinary self-command exercised when death was staring every man in the face. Doubtless there are some instances of misbehaviour, and of lack of firmness: it could not be otherwise. 'When the stormy wind ariseth, and they are carried up to the heaven and down again to the deep, their soul melteth because of their trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.' But such examples are so few in the British navy, that we have little on this score wherewith to reproach our seamen.

To what, then, are we to attribute the manly bearing of British seamen, when the planks of their ship tremble under their feet, and the waves are yawning to swallow them up!

First.—To the early training which almost all our youth receive, in one way or other. It begins at school. The first principles of generosity, as of obedience and order, are taught in our schools: whether in the national and parochial schools, or at Westminster, Eton, and Harrow, and other schools of a higher order, where in his very games the boy learns to exercise presence of mind, daring, and self-command. In our streets and play-grounds, where the humblest or the proudest are at their sports, the germ of the manly spirit is discernible in emulous contention as to who shall bear and forbear, remain at his post, give and take, with most patience and good-humour.

Foreigners have allowed that there is nothing like an English school to discipline a lad for the high places, or rough places, of after-life; and that our mixed schools of every grade are the seminaries, where one learns to lead, and another to follow, in the path of honour and duty.

Secondly.—To the habit which prevails so universally in this country, of giving place to those to whom deference is due, and of looking up to those, who are above us in station, with ungrudging respect and confidence. This goes with the man into all the walks of life. Some attribute it to the aristocratic feeling, which is said to be stronger in England than elsewhere: but it maybe more justly traced to that good sense, which is at work in all orders of our people, and which understands when to obey and to hearken. In the seaman it displays itself in a predisposition to regard his officer as one worthy of his confidence, and whom it is his safety as well as duty to obey in the hour of danger. And this confidence is justified by the almost unfailing manner, in which the officer shows himself deserving of the trust reposed in him, and takes the lead in the very front of danger, and exhibits in moments of doubt and difficulty all the resources of a cool and collected mind, at the very juncture when life and death depend upon his composure.

The leadership to which a British tar is accustomed, and which ever responds to his own confiding spirit, is one of the primary causes of his endurance and daring. His officer is the first to advance, the foremost to encounter, the last to hesitate, and the most willing to take more than his share of danger and of suffering; and this inspires the men with an emulation to do likewise.

Conduct such as that displayed by the captains and officers of the Queen Charlotte (pp. 37 and 41), of the Hindostan (p. 71), of the Athenienne (p. 96), of the Anson (p. 128), of the Daedalus (p. 189), could not fail of producing a sort of instinctive effect upon a ship's crew. Under the command of officers who never flinch from their duty, who share their last biscuit with the lowest cabin-boy, and who will not move from the vessel when it is sinking under them, until every other man has taken his seat in the boat, or planted his foot on the raft that is to carry him from the wreck, where can be the quailing heart or the unready hand?

Thirdly.—The blockading service has had much to do in training our seamen for passive heroism and enduring fortitude. During the long war with France, it was a service wherein all those qualities were called into action, which are of most value in sudden emergencies. Vigilance, promptitude, patience, and endurance, were tried to the utmost in the course of those wintry months, and tempestuous seasons, when single ships, squadrons, and fleets were cruising off the enemy's coast, and every man on board was perpetually exposed to something that put his temper or his nerves to the test. Then was the time to learn when to keep a sharp look-out, to be on the alert in handling the gear of a vessel, to respond to the word of command at the instant, to do things at the right point of time, to hold life at a moment's purchase, and to stare death in the face without flinching. It was a hard and rigorous school; but if proficiency in readiness and fortitude was to be attained anywhere, it was in the blockading service, and there the heart of oak was tried, and the seaman was trained for the exercise of that discipline, of which this Record of Naval Shipwrecks presents so complete a picture.

But we will hope that the principal cause, to which we may ascribe the good conduct of our sailors in the trying hour, when there seems to be a span only between life and death, is the religious feeling which they bring with them to their ship from their homes, whether from the cabin on the sea-shore, or the cottage on the hill-side. The scene described in page 115, and the anecdote of the poor boy, in whose hand was found an open Bible when his corpse was cast on shore, show the power of religious feeling in the soul of the sailor. It may be a very imperfect feeling, but the sailor has it; and even in its imperfection it has a strong hold on his mind. From the first outbreak of the Revolution; the French sailor entered the service of his country as a volunteer or a conscript, embued with infidel notions: or to say the least, with the religious indifference which had become so common in France. Not so the English sailor. He was not one of the fools to say in his heart. 'There is no God!' It is not easy to define the nature of that awe which fills the mind of a religions mariner; but most certainly those 'who see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep,' face danger more steadily, under the solemn belief that there is a ruling power to control the waters, and to say to the winds, 'Peace! be still.' They are predisposed to 'cry unto the Lord in their trouble,' and to implore Him to 'make the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof may be still:' and this fear of God, which is before their eyes, has its influence in making them willing to adopt every expedient proposed to them by their officers for their common safety. Under this higher impulse, the spirit of obedience works in them more confidingly; and humbled before the Supreme Power, they are prepared to yield submission to every intellect superior to their own. Now if there be a feeling of this kind already at work for good in the minds of our seamen, it is of the utmost importance to strengthen it,[2] to give it a sure direction, and to make it run in a deeper and a broader channel, by all the appliances of instruction and education.

To the credit of the official Boards, under whose administrative authority provision is made for the religious and educational improvement of men and boys in the Navy, very much has been done lately to secure this great object. Within my own memory few seamen could read, still fewer could write, but now the majority of them can do both, and they respond largely to the instruction they receive, by their intelligence and good conduct. There is no more imposing sight than that of the crew of a man-of-war, when assembled for divine service; and if the chaplain be a clergyman, who applies himself zealously to his duties, he has a congregation before him, who show by their attentive looks, that they are under the power of religious impressions. Almost all ships commanded by post-captains have chaplains and naval instructors, and where there is no chaplain, the commanding officer is expected to read prayers on Sundays. In port the crews of the Queen's ships have the opportunity of observing the sacred day, either on board the flag-ship, the ordinary, or in the dockyard chapel. I believe every ship in the navy is provided with a library; and first, second, third, fourth, and fifth-rates have schoolmasters. To men and boys desirous of entering the service, the preference is given to those who can read and write; and an admirable regulation has lately been adopted, which will contribute further to advance our navy in the intellectual scale. Boys are entered as naval apprentices, to the number of one hundred each, at Devonport, Portsmouth, Sheerness, and Cork. They remain for one year on board the flag-ship, under a systematic course of education, and are then drafted into sea-going ships. The happy effects produced by mental cultivation were felt in an especial degree, when the Discovery ships, under Captain, now Sir Edward Parry, were blocked up with ice, and had to pass so many dismal days and nights in the Polar Sea. A school was established both in the Hecla and Fury, under able superintendence; and men, whose time would have hung heavily during their icy imprisonment, were kept in good humour and cheerfulness by the intellectual occupations in which they were engaged. Captain Parry's remarks in attestation of the moral effect produced by this means, and on the uninterrupted good order which prevailed among his men, are cited in page 243 of this work.

It would add greatly to the intellectual and spiritual improvement of our seamen, if a Chaplain-general were appointed to take the oversight of the religious instruction, and an Examiner to direct the secular instruction, of the Navy. The former should exercise authority similar to that of an archdeacon, and the functions of the latter should resemble those of her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools. The impulse given to parochial education by the latter is beyond all calculation; and the difference of ecclesiastical discipline in a diocese, where there are active archdeacons and where there are not, is a matter of well ascertained fact.

The duties of a chaplain-general[3] should be to visit the naval posts, and to go on board the Queen's ships, (especially before they are despatched on foreign service,) for the purpose of reporting and advising. He should look out for and recommend competent chaplains,—consult with admirals and captains on the best mode of securing the regular performance of the sacred offices,—make inquiry into the state of the ship-libraries, keep them well supplied with religious books and tracts, and direct observation generally to the spiritual wants of ships and ports. He would thus be of infinite use in making religion an object of more and more thoughtfulness to those, who take an interest in the comfort and good conduct of the Navy: two things which always go together.

If an Inspector of all the naval schools and schoolmasters were appointed (Professor Mosely has now the inspection of the Dockyard Schools,) he should consider it to be part of his office to look to the libraries, and to recommend elementary books. His periodical examinations would be likely to stir up the same spirit of emulation on board ship, which has been the result in our towns and villages, where the schools are visited by persons appointed by the Committee of Privy Council on Education. I am satisfied with throwing out these suggestions without dwelling further upon them, under the persuasion that every practical hint of the kind will be well considered, and acted upon (if it commend itself to their judgment,) by those who preside over naval affairs, and who have at heart the mental improvement of our seamen.

I have another suggestion to make, which is meant not for those only, who are officially interested in the condition of the navy, but for all who love and value it. The merchant service, the fisheries, and the coasting trade are the nurseries of the navy. Every shipmate and every boatman on the sea and on the river ought, therefore, to come in for a share of our sympathy, because he belongs to a class to which the Queen's ships must look for a supply of men. But none are exposed to more trials than they, and especially in the larger ports. Many of them come home from a voyage of danger and deprivation, full of excitement, and become victims of plunder and temptation; and the man who last week was impressed, by the perils of the tempest, with the terrors of the Lord, and was inclined to fear God and to serve him, is waylaid by unfeeling wretches, who first entice him into scenes of profligacy and blasphemy, and then cast him off, robbed of his money, seared in his conscience, and in a miserable condition of soul and body. Many benevolent efforts have been made to protect and fortify some of those who are thus beset, and to reclaim such as are not utterly lost; and associations have been formed for the purpose of affording temporary relief and instruction to seamen, who might otherwise become outcasts, and perish in want and ignorance. I allude to such institutions as the 'Sailor's Home,' or 'Destitute Sailor's Asylum,' in London, for the reception of seamen who have squandered or have been despoiled of their earnings after their return from a foreign voyage, or who are disabled for employment by illness, age, or accident. There is also. 'The Floating Chapel,' opened to invite and enable mariners to avail themselves of the opportunity of attending Divine service, (under the Thames Church Missionary Society,) which moves from one thickly populated sailors' locality to another. The establishment of a district church and minister in a large sea-port parish, like that of St. Mary's, Devonport, to relieve the necessities of a district crowded with mariners, and rife with all the snares and temptations which entrap a sailor, and endanger his bodily and spiritual safety, is another undertaking worthy of notice.

Institutions like these must depend principally on public and voluntary support. There is much need for them in all our principal sea-ports; for who require them more than the men who are perpetually exposed to the double shipwreck of body and soul? The members of these and similar institutions are instrumental in preserving some from ruin—in restoring others to character and employment, to usefulness, to self-estimation, and to religious feeling; and in making both our merchant and naval service an example to the world of subordination and patient endurance.

The promoters of these institutions are not satisfied with providing a remedy for the evil which exists, but they do much to prevent the ills of irreligion and immorality, by supplying seamen with instructive and devotional books, and by employing agents to go among them and to tell them where the offices of religion are performed. The countenance which admirals and captains, prelates and lords of the Admiralty, have given to them, are the best warrant for their necessity and usefulness. A short notice of 'The Swan' and its Tender, will not be thought out of place in this volume.

'The Swan' is a large cutter of about 140 tons. On her bows she bears an inscription which describes her as 'The Thames Church.' She conveys a clergyman and a floating sanctuary from one pool in the river to another, to carry the Word of God to those who do not seek for it themselves. Hers is a missionary voyage. She is freighted with Bibles and Testaments and Prayer-books, and religious tracts. She runs alongside colliers, outward-bound vessels, and emigrant ships especially, that the services, the consolation, and the instruction of the Church may be offered as a parting gift to those, who are taking a last leave of their native shores, and are saying farewell to weeping friends and kindred.

There is also a Tender, called 'The Little Thames Church,' which sails lower down the river, as occasion may require, fraught on the same holy errand. One extract from the last Report of the 'Thames Church Mission Society,' which is patronized by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of London and Winchester, will suffice to explain the nature of her mission.

'Sunday, February 24, Long Reach. Morning service. The congregation was 128 seamen. Afternoon, Bible class, 62. Evening service, 132,—total 322. One of the captains observed that there was a great change for the better, which he was rejoiced to see: 'For,' said he, 'about four years ago I attended a service, and found that I was the only sailor that had come from the fleet; but this morning so crowded was the church, that I had some difficulty in getting a seat.''

It is by means such as these, which as a Christian nation we are bound to provide, that we might hope, not only to keep alive, but to improve the noble spirit which distinguishes the British Navy.

The discipline which now prevails would be established on the highest principle of obedience and action. The endurance, which now bears suffering with fortitude, would learn to submit to severer trials under the sanction of a higher teaching, and patience would have her perfect work. The courage and steadiness of a brave crew would receive an accession of energy from the hope that is set before them. The allegiance, which they owe to their Sovereign, would be strengthened by a sense of the more sacred duty which they owe to Him, by whom kings reign and rulers govern: and committing themselves habitually to the protection of Providence, they would face deprivation, fatigue, and danger with unshaken composure.—with a hand for any toil, and a heart for any fate.


Durham, Oct. 28, 1850.


[1] See also an elaborate article on the same subject in the Edinburgh Review, September, 1818. No. 60.

[2] In September, 1849, five colliers were wrecked off the Gunfleet Sands. The crews were saved, and the following extract from the Ipswich Express, copied into the Times of the 12th of December, contains a proof of the strong hold which religious awe has on the minds of seamen:—'Yesterday (Monday) afternoon, the united crews, amounting to about thirty men, had a free passage to Ipswich by the River Queen. The scene on board was of the most extraordinary and affecting description. The rough, weather-beaten seamen, who had gone through the perils of that night with undaunted courage, were, in the review of it, completely overwhelmed with gratitude to God for His mercy in granting them deliverance. For the most part they were in the fore cabin of the steamer, and at one time all would be on their knees in devout prayer and thanksgiving to God, then a suitable hymn would be read, and the voices of those who had been saved from the yawning ocean would presently sound it forth in solemn thanks to God. From port to port they were entirely occupied in these devotional exercises, and the effect of them, and indeed the whole scene, upon several hardy sons of ocean who were on board, will never be forgotten.'

[3] His duties would be similar to those described in the following letter from a clergyman in one of the colonies, though more general in their extent:—'My own duties are pretty much those you would suppose. I visit the emigrant ships immediately on their coming into port, and am often on board before they drop anchor. I then inquire for the members of the Church of England, and for such others as may require the services of a Church of England clergyman; and having assembled them together, inquire as to the occurrences on the voyage, whether they have had schools, and a regular Sunday or daily service, whether there are children to be baptized, and a thousand other matters of a like nature, which it would be but tiring you to detail. We then appoint an hour for holding a thanksgiving service for their preservation from the perils of the sea, and their safe arrival in the colony. This service consists in the proper service for the day, with a short sermon suited to the occasion.'


Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean—roll! Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain; Man marks the earth, with ruin—his control Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain A shadow of man's ravage, save his own, When, for a moment, like a drop of rain, He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan, Without a grave, unknell'd, uncoffin'd, and unknown.

BYRON'S Childe Harold.

In the Preface to this work it has been stated that it is not our intention to give a detailed account of every wreck that has happened in the Royal Navy from the year 1793, to the present time, but only of a few of those which appear to be most interesting. We therefore pass over the first two years, giving only a catalogue of the wrecks that occurred during that time; because the calamities that befel the British Navy in 1793 and 1794 were but slight in comparison with those of a later date. The first loss that we have to record is that of the BOYNE, of 98 guns, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Peyton, and commanded by Captain George Grey. This ship took fire as she lay at anchor at Spithead, on the 1st of May, 1795.

The origin of the fire has never been correctly ascertained; but it is supposed that some of the lighted paper from the cartridges of the marines, as they were exercising and firing on the windward side of the poop, flew through the quarter gallery into the admiral's cabin, and set fire to the papers or other inflammable materials that were lying there. Be this as it may, the flames burst through the poop before the fire was discovered, and, notwithstanding the united efforts of both officers and men, they soon wrapt the vessel in a blaze fore and aft.

Upon the discovery of the fire, all the boats from the different ships put out to the Boyne's assistance, and the crew, with the exception of eleven, were saved.

The Boyne's guns, being loaded, went off as they became heated, and much injury would have been done to the shipping and those on board, had not the Port-Admiral, Sir William Parker, made signals for the vessels most in danger to get under weigh. As it was, two men were killed, and one wounded on board the Queen Charlotte.

About half-past one in the afternoon, the burning ship parted from her cables, and blew up with a dreadful explosion. At the time of the accident, Admiral Peyton and Captain Grey were attending a court martial in Portsmouth Harbour.


The next catastrophe which we have to describe, was of a far more appalling nature, and one which long threw a gloom over the inhabitants of Plymouth and the neighbourhood.

The AMPHION frigate had been obliged to put into Plymouth for repairs, and, on the 22nd Sept., 1796, was lying alongside of a sheer-hulk taking in her bowsprit, within a few yards of the dockyard jetty. The ship, being on the eve of sailing, was crowded with more than an hundred men, women, and children, above her usual complement. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon that a violent shock, like an earthquake, was felt at Stonehouse and Plymouth. The sky towards the dock appeared red, as if from fire, and in a moment the streets were crowded with the inhabitants, each asking his neighbour what had occurred. When the confusion had somewhat abated, it was announced that the Amphion had blown up, and then every one hastened to the dock, where a most heartrending scene presented itself. Strewed in all directions were pieces of broken timber, spars, and rigging, whilst the deck of the hulk, to which the frigate had been lashed was red with blood, and covered with mangled limbs and lifeless trunks, all blackened with powder. The frigate had been originally manned from Plymouth; and as the mutilated forms were collected together and carried to the hospital, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters flocked to the gates, in their anxiety to discover if their relatives were numbered amongst the dying or the dead.

From the suddenness of the catastrophe, no accurate account can of course be given; but the following particulars were collected from the survivors.

The captain, Israel Pellew, was at dinner in his cabin, with Captain Swaffield of the Overyssel, a Dutch 64, and the first lieutenant of the Amphion, when in an instant they were all violently thrown against the carlings of the upper deck. Captain Pellew had sufficient presence of mind to rush to the cabin window before a second explosion followed, by which he was blown into the water; he was soon, however, picked up by a boat, and was found to have sustained but little injury.

The first lieutenant, who followed his example, escaped in a similar manner. Unfortunately, Captain Swaffield perished, in all probability having been stunned either by the first blow he received against the carlings, or by coming in contact with some part of the hulk. His body was found a month afterwards, with the skull fractured, apparently crushed between the sides of the two vessels.

At the moment of the explosion, the sentinel at the cabin door was looking at his watch, when it was dashed from his hands and he was stunned: he knew nothing more until he found himself safe on shore, and comparatively unhurt. The escape of the boatswain was also very remarkable; he was standing on the cathead, directing the men in rigging out the jib-boom, when he felt himself suddenly carried off his feet into the air: he then fell into the sea senseless; and on recovering his consciousness, he found that he had got entangled amongst the rigging, and that his arm was broken. He contrived to extricate himself, though with some difficulty, and he was soon picked up by a boat, without further injury.

The preservation of a child was no less singular: in the terror of the moment, the mother had grasped it in her arms, but, horrible to relate, the lower part of her body was blown to pieces, whilst the upper part remained unhurt, and it was discovered with the arms still clasping the living child to the lifeless bosom.

Till then we had not wept— But well our gushing hearts might say, That there a Mother slept! For her pale arms a babe had prest With such a wreathing grasp, The fire had pass'd o'er that fond breast, Yet not undone the clasp. Deep in her bosom lay his head, With half-shut violet eye— He had known little of her dread, Nought of her agony. Oh! human love, whose yearning heart, Through all things vainly true, So stamps upon thy mortal part Its passionate adieu: Surely thou hast another lot, There is some home for thee, Where thou shalt rest, rememb'ring not The moaning of the sea.—MRS. HEMANS.

The exact complement of the Amphion was 215, but from the crowded state of her decks at the time of the accident, it is supposed that 300, out of 310 or 312 persons, perished with the ship.

The captain, two lieutenants, a boatswain, three or four seamen, a marine, one woman, and the child were all that were saved.

The cause of this unfortunate event was never clearly known; but it was conjectured that the gunner might have let fall some powder near the fore-magazine, which accidentally igniting, had communicated with the magazine itself. The gunner had been suspected of stealing the powder, and on that day he is said to have been intoxicated, and was probably less careful than usual. He was amongst the numbers who perished.


The loss of the TRIBUNE frigate, in November of the following year, is too interesting to be omitted.

At about eight o'clock on the morning of the 16th of November, 1797, the harbour of Halifax was discovered, and as a strong wind blew from the east-south-east, Captain Scory Barker proposed to the master to lie to, until a pilot came on board. The master replied that there was no necessity for such a measure, as the wind was favourable, and he was perfectly well acquainted with the passage. The captain confiding in this assurance, went below, and the master took charge of the ship.

Towards noon they approached so near the Thrum Cape shoals, that the master became alarmed and sent for Mr. Galvin, one of the master's mates. The message was scarcely delivered, before the man in the main-chains sung out, 'By the mark five.' In a few minutes after the ship struck.

Signals of distress were immediately made, and as speedily answered by the military posts, and the ships in the harbour.

Some boats put out from the harbour to the assistance of the Tribune, and Mr. Rackum, boatswain of the Ordinary, succeeded in reaching her in a boat from the dockyard, but all the other boats were forced to put back,—the wind was blowing so hard directly against them.

The ship continued to beat until eight o'clock, P.M., when all the guns having been thrown overboard (except one, retained for signals), and all means taken to lighten her, she began to heave, and in about an hour after she swung off the shoal,—not, however, without having lost her rudder.

She was then found to have seven feet of water in the hold; the chain pumps were instantly manned, and every exertion made to save the vessel. At first these efforts seemed to be successful, but by ten o'clock the gale had increased to a frightful violence, and the water was gaining on them so fast that little hope remained. The ship was driving rapidly towards the rocky coast, against which she must have been dashed to pieces had she kept afloat a few minutes longer, but she gave a lurch and went down, rose again for an instant, and with another lurch sank, and all was over,—and there were nearly two hundred and fifty human beings struggling with the waves.

Of all the crew twelve only were saved.

Mr. Galvin, the master's mate, was below, directing the working of the pumps, when the ship went down; he was washed up the hatchway, and thence into the sea; he then struck out for the shrouds, but was seized by three of his drowning comrades. To extricate himself from their grasp, he dived for a few seconds, which caused them to let go their hold. He reached the shrouds, which were crowded with people, and then climbed to the main-top. Ten men had taken refuge in the foretop, and about a hundred persons altogether are supposed by Mr. Galvin to have been clinging to the shrouds, tops, and other parts of the rigging; but the long November night, the intense cold, and the fierce gale, finished the work that the waves had left undone; and one by one the poor creatures let go their hold, frozen or exhausted, and dropped into the foaming sea.

About forty persons were clinging to the mainmast when it fell over, and all were lost, except Mr. Galvin and nine others, who had strength enough left to enable them to gain the top, which rested on the mainyard, being fortunately sustained by a part of the rigging. But of the ten who regained the main-top, four only, including Mr. Galvin, survived the night. Of the ten in the foretop, six perished, three from exhaustion, and three were washed way.

Here we cannot refrain from relating an instance of the coolness which is so often characteristic of the British sailor. Amongst those who survived in the foretop were two seamen, Robert Dunlap, and Daniel Munroe; the latter disappeared in the night, and his companion concluded that he had been washed away with the others. About two hours, however, after he had been missed, Munroe, to the surprise of Dunlap, thrust his head through the lubber's hole. Dunlap asked where he had been.

'Been.' said Munroe; 'I've been cruizing, d'ye see, in search of a better berth.'

After swimming about the wreck for a considerable time, he had returned to the fore-shrouds, and crawling in at the cat-harpings, had been sleeping there more than an hour.

When the morning dawned, there were only eight men still alive on the rigging, and no effort was made to rescue them until about eleven o'clock, A.M., when a boy of thirteen years of age put out alone, in a small skiff from Herring Cove, to their assistance, thus setting a noble example of humanity and heroism to older and more experienced men, who should have been leaders, and not followers, on such an occasion. With great courage and skill, and at the peril of his life, he reached the wreck, and backing his skiff close to the foretop, carried off two of the people. Upon this occasion, also, a noble instance of the magnanimity of the true British tar was displayed.

Munroe and Dunlap, who, during the night, had preserved their strength and spirits, and had done everything in their power to sustain their less fortunate comrades, refused to quit the wreck until the other two men, who were so exhausted as to be unable to make any effort for their own safety, were taken on shore. They accordingly lifted them into the skiff, and the gallant boy rowed them off in triumph to the Cove, and deposited them in safety in the nearest cottage.

He again put off in his skiff, but this time all his efforts were unavailing, and he was obliged to return. His gallant example, however, had the effect of inducing others to make the attempt, and the six survivors were conveyed to the shore in large boats.


Before concluding this chapter, we will briefly relate another catastrophe, somewhat similar to that of the Amphion, but which affords a still more remarkable instance of the preservation of four individuals, from one of whom the following particulars were ascertained:——

It appears that the RESISTANCE, of 44 guns, Captain Edward Pakenham, had anchored in the Straits of Banca, on the 23rd of July, 1798. Between three and four o'clock in the morning of the 24th, the ship was struck by lightning: the electric fluid must have penetrated and set fire to some part of the vessel near to the magazine, as she blew up with a fearful violence a few moments after the flash. Thomas Scott, a seaman, one of the few survivors, stated that he was lying asleep on the starboard side of the quarter-deck, when being suddenly awakened by a bright blaze, and the sensation of scorching heat, he found his hair and clothes were on fire. A tremendous explosion immediately followed, and he became insensible. He supposed that some minutes must have elapsed before he recovered, when he found himself, with many of his comrades, struggling in the waves amongst pieces of the wreck. The Resistance had sunk, but the hammock netting was just above water on the starboard side, and with much difficulty Scott and the other survivors contrived to reach it. When they were able to look around them, they found that twelve men alone remained of a crew of above three hundred, including the marines. The calmness of the weather enabled the unfortunate sufferers to construct a raft with the pieces of timber that were floating about; but most of the men were so much bruised and burnt as to be unable to assist in the work. The raft was finished about one o'clock, P.M., but in a very rough and insecure manner. Part of the mainsail attached to the mast of the jolly-boat served them for a sail, and they committed themselves to the care of Providence upon this frail raft, and made for the nearest shore, which was the low land of Sumatra, about three leagues distant.

About seven o'clock in the evening, a gale sprung up, the sea ran high, and the lashings of the raft began to give way, the planks which formed the platform were washed off, and in a short time the mast and sail were also carried away. An anchor-stock which formed part of the raft had separated, and was floating away; but although it was at some distance, Scott proposed to swim for it, and encouraging three others to follow his example, they all reached it in safety. In about an hour afterwards they lost sight of their companions on the raft, and never saw them more. The four men upon the anchor-stock gained the shore, and they then fell into the hands of the Malays.

Thomas Scott was twice sold as a slave, but was at length released, at the request of Major Taylor, the governor of Malacca, who, hearing that four British seamen were captives at Lingan, sent to the Sultan to beg his assistance in procuring their liberty. Thomas Scott returned with Major Taylor's messenger to Malacca, from whence he sailed to England: the other three men had been previously released by the Sultan's orders, and conveyed to Penang.


On Monday, January the 28th, 1799, His Majesty's frigate Proserpine, 28 guns, commanded by Captain James Wallis, sailed from Yarmouth to Cuxhaven. She had on board the Hon. Thomas Grenville, who was the bearer of important despatches for the Court of Berlin. On Wednesday, the 30th, the ship was off Heligoland, and there took in a pilot for the Elbe. The day being fine, with a fair wind from the N.N.E., the Proserpine's course was steered for the Red Buoy, where she anchored for the night. It was then perceived that the two other buoys at the entrance of the river had been removed: a consultation was therefore held with the pilots, in the presence of Mr. Grenville, as to the practicability of proceeding up the river in the absence of the buoys. The Heligoland pilot, and the two belonging to the ship, were unanimous in declaring that there was not the slightest difficulty or danger in ascending the river; they professed the most perfect knowledge of the passage, and assured Captain Wallis they had no fear of carrying the vessel to Cuxhaven provided only he would proceed between half ebb and half flood tide; for in that case they should be able to see the sands and to recognise their marks.

The next morning (31st), the Proserpine was got under weigh, and proceeded up the river, having the Prince of Wales packet, which had accompanied her from Yarmouth, standing on ahead.

At four o'clock in the afternoon, when they were within four miles of Cuxhaven, the weather became very thick, and some snow fell, so that Captain Wallis was obliged to anchor.

At nine o'clock, P.M., the wind changed to east by south, blowing a violent gale, accompanied by a heavy fall of snow, which made it impossible to see beyond a few feet from the ship; and what was still worse, the tide and the wind brought such large masses of ice against the ship, that, with all hands upon deck, it was with the greatest difficulty they prevented the cables being cut, and were able to preserve their station till daylight.

By eight o'clock next morning, the flood tide had carried up most of the ice, and left a passage clear below the ship, while all above it was blocked tip. The Prince of Wales packet had gone on shore during the night; and, warned by her fate, Captain Wallis determined to retreat out of the Elbe. Mr. Grenville was very anxious to be put on shore as speedily as possible, his mission being of much importance; but the river was so completely blocked up above them, that there seemed no possibility of effecting a landing at Cuxhaven: Captain Wallis therefore got his ship under weigh, and stood out to sea, intending to land Mr. Grenville on the nearest part of the coast of Jutland, if it were practicable.

The pilots were congratulating the captain on the frigate's getting safely out of the river, and clear of the sands, and the people had been allowed to go to breakfast, on the supposition that all danger was past, when the vessel struck upon Scharborn Sand, with Newark Island bearing south by east, at half-past nine o'clock, A.M.

As it was blowing a very strong gale of wind, the Proserpine struck with great force, though she carried no other canvass than her foretopmast stay-sail. Upon sounding there was found to be only ten feet of water under the fore part of her keel.

The boats were immediately lowered to carry out an anchor, but the ice was returning upon them so fast that this was found impossible, and the boats were hoisted on board again. All hands were then employed to shore the ship up, and make her heel towards the bank, to prevent her falling into the stream, which would have been certain destruction. Happily this object was effected; for as the tide ebbed, she lay towards the bank.

The next tide, however, brought down such huge masses of ice that the shores were carried away—the copper was torn from the starboard quarter, and the rudder cut in two, the lower part lying on the ice under the counter.

Notwithstanding all these disasters, Captain Wallis still hoped to get the ship off at high water, and to effect this, they proceeded to lighten her by throwing most of her guns and part of her stores overboard, all of which were borne up on the ice. One party was employed in hoisting out the provisions, another in starting the casks of wine and spirits; and such were the good discipline and right feeling of the men, that not one instance of intoxication occurred.

At ten o'clock on Friday night, they abandoned all hope of saving the vessel; it was then high water, yet the heavy gale from the south-east so kept back the tide, that upon sounding, they found three feet less water than there had been in the morning, when the ship first struck.

The situation of the crew was dreadful. When the tide ebbed, they expected every moment that the ship would be driven to pieces by the ice. The cold was intense, and the darkness such that it was almost impossible to distinguish one another upon deck; and the snow, falling very thick, was driven against their faces by the wind, and froze upon them as it fell.

There was no possibility of keeping up warmth and circulation in their bodies, for the frozen snow and ice made the deck so slippery they could scarcely stand, much less walk about quickly, and all they could do was, to try to screen themselves as much as possible from the pitiless blast. Thus the night was spent in anxious fears for the future, and dread of immediate destruction. But morning came at last, though with little comfort to the sufferers, for the wind had increased, the ice was up to the cabin windows, the stern-post was found to be broken in two, and the ship otherwise seriously damaged.

In this state they could not long remain. Mr. Grenville and some of the officers proposed to Captain Wallis that the crew should make an attempt to get over the ice to Newark Island, as the only means of preserving their lives.[4] At first, Captain Wallis was inclined to reject the proposal; he saw all the danger attending such an attempt; and it appeared to him, that they could scarcely expect to succeed in crossing the ice through a dense fog and heavy snow-storm, without any knowledge of the way, without a guide, and exhausted as they were by mental and bodily suffering, and benumbed with cold.

On the other hand, he confessed that the plan presented a hope of safety, and that it was their only hope. The ship's company were unanimous in wishing to adopt it, and therefore Captain Wallis finally consented.

The people then set heartily to work to consider the difficulties of the undertaking, and the best means of meeting them. It was determined that they should be divided into four companies, each headed by an officer; that the strongest of the men should carry planks, to be laid down in the most dangerous places by way of assistance to the less able and active of the party; and that others should hold a long line of extended rope, to be instantly available in case of any one falling between the blocks of ice.

When all these measures were decided upon, and every man had provided himself with what was most essential for his safety and sustenance, they began their perilous journey at half-past one o'clock, P.M. By three o'clock, every one had left the ship, except Captain Wallis, and he then followed the party, accompanied by Lieutenant Ridley, of the Marines.

To describe the dangers and difficulties the crew of the Proserpine had to encounter is almost impossible. The snow was still falling heavily, driving against their faces, and adhering to their hair and eyebrows, where in a few minutes it became solid pieces of ice. Sometimes they had to clamber over huge blocks of ice, and at other times were obliged to plunge through snow and water reaching to their middle.

As the wind blew from the direction in which they were proceeding, the large flakes of snow were driven into their eyes, and prevented them from seeing many yards in advance. This caused them to deviate from their proper course, and to travel in a direction which, if continued, would have carried them off the shoal and field of ice into the sea, or at least have taken them so far from any place of shelter, as to have left them to perish in the ice and snow during the night.

This dreadful calamity was, however, prevented, by one of the party having in his possession a pocket compass. Fortunately, bearings had been taken previous to their leaving the wreck. The course they were pursuing was examined, and to their surprise it was discovered that they had been deviating widely from the direct line which they ought to have pursued. This, however, enabled the party to correct the march, and after a toilsome journey of six miles, they at length reached Newark.

In the course of their hazardous journey, a striking instance was afforded of the inscrutable ways of Providence. Two females were on board the Proserpine when she was stranded,—one a strong healthy woman, accustomed to the hardships of a maritime life: the other exactly the reverse, weak and delicate, had never been twelve hours on board a ship until the evening previous to the frigate's sailing from Yarmouth. Her husband had been lately impressed, and she had come on board for the purpose of taking farewell. Owing to a sudden change of the weather, and the urgency of the mission for which the Proserpine had been despatched, she had been unable to quit the ship. The poor creature was upon the eve of her confinement, and naturally being but ill prepared to combat with the inconvenience of a ship at sea, in the course of the day she was delivered of a dead child. The reader can well imagine the sufferings endured by this helpless woman, with but one of her own sex to tend her, in a vessel tossed about in the stormy seas of the Northern Ocean.

But this was little compared with what she had yet to undergo. Before many hours the frigate stranded: the night was passed in torture of mind and body, and then was she compelled, with others, to quit the ship, and travel through masses of snow and ice, and to combat with the bitter north wind, hail, and sleet.

It may well be supposed that her strength, already weakened by the sufferings she had undergone, was totally unprepared to bear up against a trial from which the strongest of the crew might have shrunk; but it turned out otherwise. The robust, healthy woman, with her feeble companion, left the wreck together, the former bearing in her arms an infant of nine months old. No doubt many a ready arm was stretched forth to assist them in their perilsome journey. But man could have done but little against the piercing winter's blast with which they had to contend. Before they had proceeded half the distance, the child was frozen in its mother's arms, and ere long the mother herself sunk on the snow, fell into a state of stupor, and died. Not so the delicate invalid; sustained by help from above, she still pursued her way, and ere long gained with others the hospitable shore. The inhabitants of the village received the strangers with great kindness, and did everything in their power to alleviate their sufferings. The ship's company were distributed amongst them for the night, but the poverty of the place afforded them little more than shelter.

The next morning a general muster was made, and it was ascertained that, of the whole company, twelve seamen, a woman, and her child, only were missing; these had either been frozen to death, or had died from the effects of cold, and the loss was small when compared with the hardships they had suffered. Several men had their legs and fingers frozen, but through proper medical treatment they all recovered.

The storm lasted without intermission till the night of the 5th, and during that time the crew of the Proserpine were suffering much from the want of necessary food, clothing, &c. Provisions were so scarce that they were all put upon short allowance; and their scanty store being nearly exhausted, it became absolutely necessary that part of them should proceed to Cuxhaven.

They learnt that at low water it was possible to get to Cuxhaven on foot; and as some of the islanders offered their services as guides, and the tide served, it was settled that the first lieutenant and half the officers and men should start with the guides on the morning of the 6th.

Mr. Grenville being very anxious to proceed on his mission to Berlin, determined to accompany the party, with the secretary to the embassy, and some of the servants; and they accordingly all set off at eight o'clock in the morning, the severity of the weather having somewhat abated.

Great as had been the difficulties they had encountered in their passage from the Proserpine to Newark Island, the dangers of their present expedition, over sand and ice, were nearly as formidable. At one part of their journey they found themselves on the banks of a river. The guides had assured them it was only a very narrow stream, and would most probably be frozen over: it proved, however, to be a river of considerable width; the ice was broken and floating upon it in large masses; the tide, too, was rising, and altogether the passage presented a formidable appearance. There was little time for deliberation, so the word was given to push forward, and the next moment they were up to their waists in the water, struggling against the tide and the large flakes of ice, which swept against them with such force that they had great difficulty in keeping their footing.

But through the mercy of Providence they all reached the opposite bank in safety, and before evening they arrived at Cuxhaven, without the loss of a single man. Many of them were more or less frost-bitten, but by rubbing the parts affected with snow, circulation was restored.

We must now return to Captain Wallis and the officers and men who had remained with him at Newark, in hopes of being able to save some of the stores from the frigate.

On Friday, the 8th, Mr. Anthony, the master, volunteered with a party to endeavour to ascertain the state of the vessel, and if possible to bring away some bread, of which they were in much need.

They had great difficulty in reaching the ship, which they found lying on her beam ends, with seven feet and a half of water in her hold, having her quarter-deck separated six feet from her gangway, and apparently only-kept together by the vast quantity of ice which surrounded her.

From this report, it was deemed unadvisable to make any more expeditions to the ship; but on the 10th, the clearness of the day induced Mr. Anthony, in company with the surgeon, a midshipman, the boatswain, and two seamen, to go off a second time.

Those who remained at Newark anxiously expected the return of the party, but they came not. Evening advanced, the tide was flowing, and at last it was too late for them to cross the sands and ice till the next ebb. The watchers were obliged to content themselves with the hope that Mr. Anthony and his party had found it safe and practicable to remain on board the frigate till morning. But during the night a violent storm arose, which increased the anxiety of Captain Wallis for the safety of his people; and this anxiety became deep distress, when in the morning he gazed wistfully towards the wreck, and saw nothing but the foaming waters, and moving fields of ice. Not a vestige of the frigate was visible. We cannot better describe Captain Wallis's feelings on this occasion than by quoting his own words, when he communicated the intelligence to Vice-Admiral Archibald Dickson.

'They got on board,' says Captain Wallis, 'but unfortunately neglected, until too late in the tide, to return, which left them no alternative but that of remaining on board till next day. About ten o'clock at night the wind came on at S.S.E., and blew a most violent storm; the tide, though at the neap, rose to an uncommon height, the ice got in motion, the velocity of which swept the wreck to destruction, (for in the morning not a vestige of her was to be seen,) and with it, I am miserably afraid, went the above unfortunate officers and men,—and if so, their loss will be a great one to the service, as, in their different departments, they were a great acquisition to it.

'The only hope I have is, that Providence which has so bountifully assisted us in our recent dangers and difficulties, may be extended towards them, so as to preserve their lives, by means of boat or otherwise; but I am very sorry to say my hopes are founded on the most distant degree of human probability. This melancholy accident happening so unexpectedly, added to my other misfortunes, has given so severe a shock to my health and spirits, as to prevent me hitherto undertaking the journey to Cuxhaven, where the survivors of the ship's company now are, except a few who are here with me, with whom I shall set out as soon as we are able.'

It is now necessary that we should follow the proceedings of Mr. Anthony and his party.

They reached the wreck at ten o'clock on Sunday morning; but, being busily occupied in collecting what stores they could, they neglected to watch the tide, and whilst they were thus employed, the time passed over, and the waves rolling between them and their temporary home at Newark; they were obliged to wait till the next day's ebb. During the night, as we have stated, the wind changed to the S.S.E.: it blew a violent gale, and the tide rose to such an unusual height, that it floated the ship, and the ice that had stuck to her, without the men on board being aware of it. The next morning, to their horror and dismay, they found the vessel drifting out to the ocean. We can scarcely imagine a situation more terrible than that in which these unfortunate men were placed. They were in all six persons, four officers and two seamen, and these few hands had to manage a frigate of 28 guns, which was actually going to pieces, and it was impossible to conjecture how long she might swim. She was merely buoyed up on the sea by the fields of ice that surrounded her; and if the ice were to break away, in all probability she would not hold together for an hour.

Mr. Anthony and his companions did not, however, give way to despair, nor lose time in useless repining. They set to work immediately, to avoid the danger as far as circumstances would permit.

Their first care was to drop the lead between two of the masses of ice, and they found that the ship was floating in eleven fathoms. They then fired several guns, to give warning of their situation. By turns they worked at the pumps, and, in order to lighten the vessel, threw all the remaining guns, except four, overboard—a labour of no small magnitude for six men to perform.

Their next object was to get up the tackles for hoisting out the boat, in case of their getting into clear water, or being obliged to quit the wreck.

There was one advantage in all this hard labour, to which most of them were unaccustomed: it prevented their suffering so much as they otherwise must have done from the extreme cold; and in one respect they were better off than their comrades at Newark, for they had plenty of provisions on board. So passed the first day on the wreck.

The next morning, Tuesday, the 12th, at about eleven o'clock, land was descried on their lee, on which they fired several guns, and hauled the colours on the main-rigging, union downwards, as a signal of distress. An hour afterwards the ship struck on a rock off the island of Baltrum, about a mile and a-half distant from the shore.

Mr. Anthony and his companions then tried to launch the cutter, but they were obliged to give up the attempt, as the sea was not sufficiently clear of ice; they therefore remained on board another night.

The next morning, however, they hoisted out the boat, and pulled towards the shore; but they had not gone more than half way, when they were surrounded by fields of ice, so that they were obliged to get upon the ice, and drag the boat with them.

About noon they had reached to within a cable's length of the shore, and here they were compelled to leave the boat: they were all completely exhausted, and found it impossible to drag her any further. They themselves had to leap from one piece of ice to another, often falling into the water; and it was at the imminent risk of their lives that they at last gained the beach.

They were tolerably well received by the inhabitants, who took them to their houses, and allowed them to seek that repose which they so much needed.

The next day the islanders, unable to resist the temptation of plunder, took to their boats, and made off to the ship, which they ransacked, and carried off all the arms, stores, and provisions of every kind. In vain Mr. Anthony protested against this base conduct: it was as much as he could do to persuade them to spare some part of the provisions for himself and his friends.

The party were obliged to remain at Baltrum amongst their rapacious hosts until Saturday, the 16th, when they deemed that the ice was sufficiently cleared away to allow of their sailing for Cuxhaven; they accordingly secured the cutter and took their departure. As there was not the remotest chance of getting the Proserpine afloat again, they abandoned her to the island plunderers. They reached Cuxhaven about the 22nd, and there they found Lieutenant Wright and those who had accompanied him from Newark.

On the following day, Captain Wallis arrived, with the rest of the ship's company, the sick and wounded. We can imagine the joy and gratitude with which Captain Wallis received the announcement of the safe arrival of Mr. Anthony and his friends, whom he had deplored as lost.

Thus were the crew of the Proserpine, with the exception of thirteen persons, brought once more together after three weeks endurance of innumerable hardships, and having been exposed to many perils. Never was the Almighty hand of Providence more visibly displayed than in the protection afforded to these gallant fellows; and never did men do more to help themselves than they did, We cannot but admire the calm courage they evinced throughout that long and dismal night when almost certain destruction awaited them; as well as their obedience and cheerful alacrity through their toilsome march from the wreck to Newark, and again from Newark to Cuxhaven. Nor must we forget the fortitude displayed by Mr. Anthony and his companions, when they were a second time wrecked in the Proserpine.

Throughout the history of their dangers and sufferings from cold and hunger, and the other evils attending a shipwreck on such an inhospitable shore and in such a climate, there is no mention of one single instance of murmuring, discontent, or disobedience of orders.

When the Elbe was again navigable and free from ice, the crew embarked in different packets and sailed for England, where they all arrived without further disasters.


[4] Newark Island is the highest point of one of those long ridges of sand which abound on the south and southeastern coasts of the North Sea, formed by the deposits of ages from the rivers that empty themselves into the German Ocean, acted upon by the alternate ebb and flow of the tide, till they assume a form and establish a position and a name. Upon Newark Island is a village and light-house, situated a few miles from Cuxhaven, and accessible at low water by the sand. The sand ridge takes a north-westerly direction from Newark Island, and extends about six miles further. It was on the extremity of the northwestern bank that the Proserpine was wrecked.


Early in the spring of 1799, a large convoy of transports and merchantmen sailed from the Cape of Good Hope, with troops and stores for the siege of Seringapatam. The Sceptre, 64 guns, commanded by Captain Valentine Edwards, was appointed to the sole charge of the convoy, and to take Sir David Baird and the whole of the 84th regiment on board. The Sceptre may, perhaps, have been the only king's ship then at the Cape; it is certain that she had been an unusual length of time on that station, and had become so weak and leaky as to be hardly sea-worthy, when she was dispatched on this important service.

Happily, the insecure state of the vessel induced extreme watchfulness on the part of both officers and men, and all went on well till she had made about two-thirds of her way, when one night a brisk gale sprung up, which increased in violence so rapidly, that the officers of the watch felt some anxiety on account of the unusual strain upon the ship. Captain Edwards ordered the well to be sounded, and the result confirming his apprehensions, the pumps were manned in an incredibly short time, every one on board being aroused to a sense of danger.

Lieutenant the Honourable Alexander Jones had been relieved from the first watch, and had retired to his berth about an hour before without any misgivings. He was suddenly awakened by the alarming cry that the ship was sinking, and the call of 'all hands,' He sprang up, and in a few moments joined the group of officers, naval and military, assembled on the quarter-deck. Anxiety was depicted on every countenance; for although the pumps were worked incessantly, the soldiers taking their turn with the sailors, the water was still gaining on them fast; and even whilst the men relieved each other, it rose several inches. But when human efforts were unavailing, the hand of Providence was stretched out to save. The wind fell as suddenly as it had risen, and after many hours of hard labour, the water was got under, and the vessel was considered comparatively safe.

Had the Sceptre gone down that night, hundreds and hundreds of England's best and bravest defenders must have sunk into a watery grave, and in all probability the enemy's ships, which were hovering upon the track of the convoy, would have got possession of the transports and merchantmen; and even the success of our arms in India might have been seriously affected.

A few weeks after the gale we have mentioned, the Sceptre and her convoy arrived safely at Bombay. She was there put into dock and repaired, and was strengthened by having large timbers, technically termed riders, bolted diagonally on either side, fore and aft.

When again fit for sea, she returned to Table Bay, and anchored there about the middle of October.

On the 1st of November, the captain and officers gave a ball to the inhabitants of Cape Town, and on that night the ship presented an appearance of unusual gaiety; mirth and music resounded on all sides; in place of the stern voice of command, the laugh, the jest, and the soft tones of woman's voice were heard; whilst many a light footstep glided over the decks of the old ship.

The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men; A thousand hearts beat happily; and when Music arose with its voluptuous swell, Soft eyes looked love to eyes that spake again, And all went merry as a marriage bell.


The night was calm and beautiful, and as the guests left the ship, little did they think of the fearful doom that was so soon to overwhelm many of those whose hands they had clasped for the last time.

The weather continued perfectly calm till the evening of the 4th of November, when some ominous looking clouds indicated an approaching storm.

In addition to the Sceptre there remained in the Bay the Jupiter of 50 guns, the Oldenburg, a Danish 64 gun ship, and several other vessels. On the morning of the 5th, a strong gale blew from the north-west, but no danger was apprehended, and the ship, dressed in flags, and with the royal standard hoisted, fired her salute at noon in commemoration of the Gunpowder Treason.

The gale had increased considerably by two o'clock, and as Table Bay affords no shelter from a north-west wind, the captain took every precaution to make all secure: the topmasts were struck, and the fore and main-yards were lowered to ease the ship. But half-an-hour had not elapsed before the violence of the storm was such, that the ship parted from her best bower cable; the sheet anchor was immediately let go, and the cable veered away to twenty-eight fathoms. The storm gathered strength, and at half-past six the whole fury of the elements seemed to be concentrated in one terrific blast.

Orders were given to let go the anchor, with two of the forecastle guns attached; but even this proved insufficient to hold the ship.

One of the boats was then hoisted out, in order to communicate with the Jupiter, and procure the end of a cable from her, but in a few minutes the boat upset and was lost, with all her crew. For some hours signal guns of distress had been fired, and the ensign had been hoisted downwards, but no help could reach the vessel: in that tempestuous sea no boat could live. Some of the officers who had gone on shore the previous evening were standing on the beach, unable to render any assistance to their comrades, and compelled to remain inactive spectators of the harrowing scene, and to behold their brave ship foundering at her anchors.

About eight o'clock, loud above the howling of the tempest and the booming of the minute gun, arose the wild cry of fire: and thick smoke was discernible from the shore, issuing from the hatches. Now were the opposing elements of air, fire, and water combined for the destruction of the ill-fated ship. For an instant, all stood paralysed; but it was only for an instant. Again the voices of the officers were raised in command, and every man was ready at his post.

The smoke came up from the hatches in such dense volumes, that all attempts to go below to extinguish the fire were abortive. Each man felt that his last hour was come,—there was not a shadow of hope that their lives could be saved; it was but a choice of death by fire or water: to quit the ship must be fatal; they had seen the boat and its crew swallowed up by the yawning waves, when the tempest raged less fiercely than now, and she was too far from the shore to afford even a ray of hope that the strongest swimmer might gain the beach. On the other hand, to remain on board was to encounter a still more terrible death—a burning funeral pile amidst the waters. While they hesitated in doubt and horror, one of their fears was relieved,—the heavy sea that washed incessantly over the wreck extinguished the fire. The ship continued to drive at the mercy of the waves till about ten o'clock, when she stranded, broadside to the shore, heeling on her port side towards the sea.

The captain then ordered the main and mizen masts to be cut away, and the foremast soon afterwards went by the board. At this juncture, a man of the name of Connolly, a favourite with both officers and crew, volunteered to jump overboard with a deep-sea line attached to his body, in order to form a communication between the ship and the shore. He made but a few strokes ere he was borne away by the eddy and drowned.

The ship being lightened by the falling of the masts, righted herself and got clear off the ground: there appeared some slight chance of preservation, and every heart was buoyed up with hope that she might be thrown high enough upon the beach to enable the people on shore to render them some assistance.

She was driven nearer and nearer to the land—voices became more and more audible, so as even to be recognised—in a few minutes more, the perishing crew might be safe—when a heavy sea struck the ship, the orlop deck gave way, and the port side fell in—many were swept away,—those who had the power to do so, retreated to the starboard side.

A most heartrending scene must that have been! The people were so benumbed with cold and exhaustion, and paralysed by fear, that many of them could no longer cling to the ropes and spars for support, and every wave that broke over the wreck, washed away its victims.

Many in despair leaped overboard, and attempted to swim to shore, but the eddy caused by the wreck was so strong, that they were carried out to sea; and in spite of the attempts made by those on board to rescue them, they all perished. Mr. Tucker, a midshipman, lost his life in the endeavour to reach the bow of the ship.

About half an hour later the poop was washed away, and carried towards the shore. Seventy or eighty men who were upon it seemed likely to be saved from the surrounding destruction. The people on the beach crowded to the spot where they would probably be driven, that they might render every possible assistance; but what was their horror to see a tremendous wave strike the poop, capsize it, and turn it over and over; whilst every one of those who clung to it perished!

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