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Loss Of The Amphitrite Convict Ship
The following particulars of the loss of this vessel are copied from a
letter dated Boulogne-sur-mer, Sept. 1, 1833.
The shocking event which is announced by the title to this letter,
has, I assure you, filled the town with dismay, and must lead to a
most narrow and rigid investigation. I cannot attempt to describe the
afflictions not only of the English, but the French, at this most
distressing event, and I only express the general opinion when I say
that the British public demands that an inquiry be instituted into the
conduct of all parties concerned in this deplorable affair.
The Amphitrite convict ship sailed for New South Wales from Woolwich
on the 25th of August. Capt. Hunter was the commander; Mr. Forrester
the surgeon; and there were 108 female convicts, 12 children and a
crew of 16 persons. The captain was part owner of the vessel. When the
ship arrived off Dungeness, the gale of the 29th began. On Friday
morning the captain hove the ship to, the gale being too heavy to
sail. The vessel was about three miles to the east from Boulogne
harbor on Saturday at noon, when they made land.--The captain set the
topsail and main-foresail in hopes of keeping her off shore.
From three o'clock she was in sight of Boulogne, and certainly the sea
was most heavy and the wind extremely strong; but no pilot boat went
out to her, and no life-boats or other assistance were dispatched. I
observed her from three o'clock till about half past four in the
afternoon, when she came round into Boulogne harbor and struck on the
sands. By four o'clock it was known that it was a British ship, but
some said it was a brig; others said it was a merchant vessel, though
all said it was English.
It appears from the statement of three men who have been saved out of
the crew--all the rest having perished, that the captain ordered the
anchor to be let go, in hopes of swinging round with the tide.
In a few minutes after the vessel had gone aground, multitudes rushed
to the beach, and a brave French sailor, named Pierre Henin, who has
already received the thanks of the Humane Society of London, addressed
himself to the captain of the port, and said that he was resolved to
go alone, and to reach the vessel, in order to tell the captain that
he had not a moment to lose, but must, as it was low water, send all
his crew and passengers on shore.
You will recollect that up to the time of her running aground no
measure was adopted, and the captain was not warned from shore of her
As soon as she had struck, however, a pilot-boat, commanded by
Francois Heuret, who has on many occasions shown much courage and
talent, was dispatched, and by a little after five came under her
bows. The captain of the vessel refused to avail himself of the
assistance of Heuret and his brave companions, and when a portion of
the crew proposed going on shore the captain prevented them. Two of
the men saved, state that they knew the boat was under the bows, but
that the rest were below making up their bundles. The crew could then
have got on shore, and all the unfortunate women and children.
When the French boat had gone, the surgeon sent for Owen, one of the
crew, and ordered him to get out the long boat. This was about half
past five. The surgeon discussed the matter with his wife and with the
captain. They were afraid of allowing the prisoners to go on shore.
The wife of the surgeon is said to have proposed to leave the convicts
there, and to go on shore without them.
In consequence of this discussion, no long boat was sent out. Three of
the convict women told Owen, that they heard the surgeon persuaded the
captain not to accept the assistance of the French boat, on account of
the prisoners who were on board.
Let us now return to Pierre Henin. The French pilot-boat had been
refused by the surgeon and captain--the long-boat had been put out,
through a discussion as to saving the convicts--and it was now nearly
six o'clock. At that time Henin went to the beach, stripped himself,
took a line, swam naked for about three quarters of an hour or an
hour, and arrived at the vessel at a little after seven. On reaching
the right side of the vessel, he hailed the crew, and said, "Give me a
line to conduct you on land, or you are lost, as the sea is coming
in." He spoke English plain enough to be heard. He touched the vessel
and told them to speak to the captain. They threw (that is, some of
the crew, but not the surgeon or captain) two lines, one from the
stern and one from the bow. The one from the stern he could not
seize--the one from the bow he did. He then went towards the shore,
but the rope was stopped. This was, it is believed, the act of the
surgeon and captain. He (Henin) then swam back, and told them to give
him more rope to get on shore. The captain and surgeon would not. They
then tried to haul him in, but his strength failed and he got on
You perceive, then, that up to this moment also the same obstacle
existed in the minds of the captain and surgeon.--They did not dare,
without authority, to land the convicts, and rather than leave them on
board, or land them without such authority, they perished with them.
The female convicts, who were battened down under the hatches, on the
vessel's running aground, broke away the half deck hatch, and frantic,
rushed on deck. Of course they entreated the captain and surgeon to
let them go on shore in the long-boat, but they were not listened to,
as the captain and surgeon did not feel authorized to liberate
prisoners committed to their care.
At seven o'clock the flood tide began. The crew seeing that there were
no hopes, clung to the rigging. The poor 108 women and 12 children
remained on deck, uttering the most piteous cries. The vessel was
about three quarters of a mile English from the shore, and no more.
Owen, one of the three men saved, thinks that the women remained on
deck in this state about an hour and a half. Owen and four others were
on the spars, and thinks they remained there three quarters of an
hour, but, seeing no hope of being saved, he took to swimming, and was
brought in a state of insensibility to the hotel. Towsey, another of
the men saved, was on a plank with the captain. Towsey asked who he
was? He said "I am the captain," but the next moment he was gone.
Rice, the third man, floated ashore on a ladder. He was in the aft
when the other men took to the raft. When the French pilot-boat rowed
away, after being rejected by the captain, he (Rice) saw a man waving
his hat on the beach, and remarked to the captain that a gentleman was
waving to them to come on shore. The captain turned away and made no
answer.--At that moment the women all disappeared, the ship broke in
These are the facts of this awful case. The French Marine Humane
Society immediately placed hundreds of men on the beach; and the
office, or lodging, being close to the shore, as soon as the corpses
were picked up they were brought to the rooms, where I assisted many
of my countrymen in endeavoring to restore them to life. Our efforts
were fruitless except in the cases of the three men, Owen, Rice and
Towsey. I never saw so many fine and beautiful bodies in my life. Some
of the women were the most perfectly made; and French and English wept
together at such a horrible loss of life in sight of--ay, and even
close to, the port and town.--Body after body has been brought in.
More than 60 have been found; they will be buried to-morrow. But alas!
after all our efforts, only three lives have been saved out of 136.
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