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Loss Of The Nautilus Sloop Of War On A Rock In The Archipelago






A misunderstanding having originated between the Court of Great
Britain, and the Ottoman Porte, a powerful squadron was ordered to
proceed to Constantinople, for the purpose of enforcing compliance
with rational propositions. The object, however, proved abortive; and
the expedition terminated in a way which did not enhance the
reputation of these islands in the eyes of the Turks.

Sir Thomas Louis, commander of the squadron sent to the Dardanelles,
having charged Captain Palmer with dispatches of the utmost importance
for England, the Nautilus got under weigh at daylight on the third of
January 1807. A fresh breeze from N. E. carried her rapidly out of the
Hellespont, passing the celebrated castles in the Dardanelles, which
so severely galled the British. Soon afterwards she passed the island
of Tenedos, off the north end of which, two vessels of war were seen
at anchor; they hoisted Turkish colours, and in return the Nautilus
showed those of Britain.--In the course of this day, many of the other
islands abounding in the Greek Archipelago came in sight, and in the
evening the ship approached the island of Negropont, lying in 38 30
north latitude, and 24 8 east longitude; but now the navigation became
more intricate, from the increasing number of islands, and from the
narrow entrance between Negropont and the island of Andros.

The wind still continued to blow fresh, and as night was approaching,
with the appearance of being dark and squally, the pilot, who was a
Greek, wished to lie to until morning, which was done accordingly; and
at daylight the vessel again proceeded. His course was shaped for the
island of Falconera, in a track which has been so elegantly described
by Falconer, in a poem as far surpassing the uncouth productions of
modern times, as the Ionian temples surpassed those flimsy structures
contributing to render the fame of the originals eternal. This island,
and that of Anti Milo, were made in the evening, the latter distant
fourteen or sixteen miles from the more extensive island of Milo,
which could not then be seen, from the thickness and haziness of the
weather.

The pilot never having been beyond the present position of the
Nautilus, and declaring his ignorance of the further bearings, now
relinquished his charge, which was resumed by the captain. All
possible attention was paid to the navigation, and Captain Palmer,
after seeing Falconera so plainly, and anxious to fulfil his mission
with the greatest expedition, resolved to stand on during the night.
He was confident of clearing the Archipelago by morning, and himself
pricked the course from the chart which was to be steered by the
vessel. This he pointed out to his coxswain, George Smith, of whose
ability he entertained a high opinion. Then he ordered his bed to be
prepared, not having had his clothes off for the three preceding
nights, and having scarce had any sleep from the time of leaving the
Dardanelles.

A night of extreme darkness followed, with vivid lightning constantly
flashing in the horizon; but this circumstance served to inspire the
captain with a greater degree of confidence; for being enabled by it
to see so much further at intervals, he thought, that should the ship
approach any land, the danger would be discovered in sufficient time
to be avoided.

The wind continued still increasing; and though the ship carried but
little sail, she went at the rate of nine miles an hour, being
assisted by a lofty following sea, which with the brightness of the
lightning, made the night particularly awful. At half past two in the
morning, high land was distinguished, which, those who saw it supposed
to be the island of Cerigotto, and thence thought all safe, and that
every danger had been left behind. The ship's course was altered to
pass the island, and she continued on her course until half past four,
at the changing of the watch, when the man on the look-out exclaimed,
breakers ahead! and immediately the vessel struck with a most
tremendous crash. Such was the violence of the shock, that people were
thrown from their beds, and, on coming upon deck, were obliged to
cling to the cordage. All was now confusion and alarm; the crew
hurried on deck, which they had scarce time to do when the ladders
below gave way, and indeed left many persons struggling in the water,
which already rushed into the under part of the ship. The captain it
appeared had not gone to bed, and immediately came on deck when the
Nautilus struck; there having examined her situation, he immediately
went round, accompanied by his second lieutenant, Mr. Nesbit, and
endeavored to quiet the apprehensions of the people. He then returned
to his cabin, and burnt his papers and private signals. Meantime every
sea lifted up the ship, and then dashed her with irresistible force on
the rocks; and in a short time, the crew were obliged to resort to the
rigging, where they remained an hour, exposed to the surges
incessantly breaking over them. There they broke out into the most
lamentable exclamations, for their parents, children and kindred, and
the distresses they themselves endured. The weather was so dark and
hazy, that the rocks could be seen only at a very small distance, and
in two minutes afterwards the ship had struck.

At this time the lightning had ceased, but the darkness of the night
was such, that the people could not see the length of the ship from
them; their only hope rested in the falling of the main-mast, which
they trusted would reach a small rock, which was discovered very near
them. Accordingly, about half an hour before day-break, the main-mast
gave way, providentially falling towards the rock, and by means of it
they were enabled to gain the land.

The struggles and confusion to which this incident gave birth, can
better be conceived than described; some of the crew were drowned, one
man had his arm broke, and many were cruelly lacerated; but Captain
Palmer refused to quit his station, while any individual remained on
board; and not until the whole of his people had gained the rock did
he endeavor to save himself. At that time, in consequence of remaining
by the wreck, he had received considerable personal injury, and must
infallibly have perished, had not some of the seamen ventured through
a tremendous sea to his assistance. The boats were staved in pieces;
several of the people endeavored to haul in the jolly-boat, which they
were incapable of accomplishing.

The hull of the vessel being interposed, sheltered the shipwrecked
crew a long time from the beating of the surf; but as she broke up,
their situation became more perilous every moment, and they soon found
that they should be obliged to abandon the small portion of the rock,
which they had reached, and wade to another apparently somewhat
larger. The first lieutenant, by watching the breaking of the seas,
had got safely thither, and it was resolved by the rest to follow his
example. Scarce was this resolution formed, and attempted to be put
into execution, when the people encountered an immense quantity of
loose spars, which were immediately washed into the channel which
they had to pass; but necessity would admit of no alternative. Many in
crossing between the two rocks were severely wounded; and they
suffered more in this undertaking than in gaining the first rock from
the ship. The loss of their shoes was now felt in particular, for the
sharp rocks tore their feet in a dreadful manner, and the legs of some
were covered with blood.

Daylight beginning to appear, disclosed the horrors by which those
unfortunate men were surrounded. The sea was covered with the wreck of
their ill fated ship, many of their unhappy comrades were seen
floating away on spars and timbers; and the dead and dying were
mingled together without a possibility of the survivors affording
assistance to any that might still be rescued. Two short hours had
been productive of all this misery, the ship destroyed and her crew
reduced to a situation of despair. Their wild and affrighted looks
indicated the sensations by which they were agitated; but on being
recalled to a sense of their real condition, they saw that they had
nothing left but resignation to the will of heaven.

The shipwrecked mariners now discovered that they were cast away on a
coral rock almost level with the water, about three or four hundred
yards long, and two hundred broad.--They were at least twelve miles
from the nearest islands, which were afterwards found to be those of
Cerigotto and Pera, on the north end of Candia, about thirty miles
distant. At this time it was reported, that a small boat, with several
men, had escaped; and although the fact was true, the uncertainty of
her fate induced those on the rock to confide in being relieved by any
vessel accidentally passing in sight of a signal of distress they had
hoisted on a long pole; the neighboring islands being too distant.

The weather had been extremely cold, and the day preceding the
shipwreck ice had lain on the deck; now, to resist its inclemency, a
fire was made, by means of a knife and a flint preserved in the pocket
of one of the sailors; and with much difficulty, some damp powder,
from a small barrel washed on shore, was kindled. A kind of tent was
next made, with pieces of old canvass, boards, and such things as
could be got about the wreck, and the people were thus enabled to dry
the few clothes they had saved. But they passed a long and comfortless
night, though partly consoled with the hope of their fire being
descried in the dark, and taken for a signal of distress. Nor was this
hope altogether disappointed.

When the ship first struck, a small whale-boat was hanging over the
quarter, into which, an officer, George Smith the coxswain, and nine
men, immediately got, and, lowering themselves into the water, happily
escaped. After rowing three or four leagues against a very high sea,
and the wind blowing hard, they reached the small island of Pera. This
proved to be scarce a mile in circuit, and containing nothing but a
few sheep and goats, belonging to the inhabitants of Cerigo, who come
in the summer months to carry away their young. They could find no
fresh water, except a small residue from rain in the hole of a rock,
and that was barely sufficient though most sparingly used. During the
night, having observed the fire above mentioned, the party began to
conjecture that some of their shipmates might have been saved, for
until then they had deemed their destruction inevitable.--The coxswain
impressed with this opinion, proposed again hazarding themselves in
the boat for their relief, and, although some feeble objections were
offered against it, he continued resolute to his purpose, and
persuaded four others to accompany him.

About nine in the morning of Tuesday, the second day of the shipwreck,
the approach in the little whale-boat was descried by those on the
rock; all uttered an exclamation of joy, and in return the surprise of
the coxswain and his crew to find so many of their shipmates still
surviving is not to be described. But the surf ran so high as to
endanger the safety of the boat, and several of the people imprudently
endeavored to get into it. The coxswain tried to persuade Captain
Palmer to come to him, but he steadily refused, saying, "No, Smith,
save your unfortunate shipmates, never mind me."--After some little
consultation, he desired him to take the Greek pilot on board, and
make the best of his way to Cerigotto, where the pilot said there were
some families of fishermen, who doubtless would relieve their
necessities.

But it appeared as if Heaven had ordained the destruction of this
unfortunate crew, for, soon after the boat departed, the wind began to
increase, and dark clouds gathering around, excited among those
remaining behind all their apprehensions for a frightful storm. In a
about two hours it commenced with the greatest fury; the waves rose
considerably, and soon destroyed the fire. They nearly covered the
rock, and compelled the men to fly to the highest part for refuge,
which was the only one that could afford any shelter. There nearly
ninety people passed a night of the greatest horrors; and the only
means of preventing themselves from being swept away by the surf,
which every moment broke over them, was by a small rope fastened round
the summit of the rock, and with difficulty holding on by each other.

The fatigues which the people had previously undergone, added to what
they now endured, proved too overpowering to many of their number;
several became delirious; their strength was exhausted, and they could
hold on no longer. Their afflictions were still further aggravated by
an apprehension that the wind, veering more to the north, would raise
the sea to their present situation, in which case a single wave would
have swept them all into oblivion.

The hardships which the crew had already suffered were sufficient to
terminate existence, and many had met with deplorable accidents. One
in particular, while crossing the channel between the rocks at an
unsuitable time, was dashed against them so as to be nearly scalped,
and exhibited a dreadful spectacle to his companions. He lingered out
the night, and next morning expired. The more fortunate survivors were
but ill prepared to meet the terrible effects of famine; their
strength enfeebled, their bodies unsheltered and abandoned by hope.
Nor were they less alarmed for the fate of their boat. The storm came
on before she could have reached the intended island, and on her
safety their own depended. But the scene which daylight presented was
still more deplorable. The survivors beheld the corpses of their
departed shipmates, and some still in the agonies of death. They were
themselves altogether exhausted, from the sea all night breaking over
them, and the inclemency of the weather, which was such, that many,
among whom was the carpenter, perished from excessive cold.

But this unfortunate crew had now to suffer a mortification, and to
witness an instance of inhumanity, which leaves an eternal stain of
infamy on those who merit the reproach.--Soon after day broke, they
observed a vessel with all sail set, coming down before the wind,
steering directly for the rock. They made every possible signal of
distress which their feeble condition admitted, nor without effect,
for they were at last seen by the vessel, which bore to and hoisted
out her boat. The joy which this occasioned may be easily conceived,
for nothing short of immediate relief was anticipated; and they
hastily made preparation for rafts to carry them through the surf,
confident that the boat was provided with whatever might administer to
their necessities. Approaching still nearer, she came within
pistol-shot, full of men dressed in the European fashion, who after
having gazed at them a few minutes, the person who steered, waved his
hat to them and then rowed off to his ship. The pain of the
shipwrecked people at this barbarous proceeding was acute, and
heightened even more by beholding the stranger vessel employed the
whole day in taking up the floating remains of that less fortunate one
which had so lately borne them.

Perhaps the abandoned wretches guilty of so unfeeling an act may one
day be disclosed, and it would surely excite little compassion to
learn that they suffered that retribution which such inhuman conduct
merits. That people dressed in the habit of Englishmen, though
belonging to a different nation, could take advantage of misery
instead of relieving it, will scarce seem creditable at the present
day, were not some instances of a similar nature related elsewhere
than in these volumes.

After this cruel disappointment, and bestowing an anathema which the
barbarity of the strangers deserved, the thoughts of the people were,
during the remainder of the day, directed towards the return of the
boat; and being disappointed there also, their dread that she had been
lost was only further confirmed. They began to yield to despondency,
and had the gloomy prospect of certain death before them. Thirst then
became intolerable; and in spite of being warned against it by
instances of the terrific effects ensuing, some in desperation
resorted to salt water. Their companions had soon the grief of
learning what they would experience by following their example; in a
few hours raging madness followed, and nature could struggle no
longer.

Another awful night was to be passed, yet the weather being
considerably more moderate, the sufferers entertained hopes that it
would be less disastrous than the one preceding; and to preserve
themselves from the cold, they crowded close together and covered
themselves with their few remaining rags. But the ravings of their
comrades who had drank salt water were truly horrible; all endeavors
to quiet them were ineffectual, and the power of sleep lost its
influence. In the middle of the night they were unexpectedly hailed by
the crew of the whale-boat; but the only object of the people on the
rock was water; they cried out to their shipmates for it, though in
vain. Earthen vessels only could have been procured, and these would
not bear being conveyed through the surf. The coxswain then said they
should be taken off the rock by a fishing vessel in the morning, and
with this assurance they were forced to be content. It was some
consolation to know that the boat was safe, and that relief had so far
been obtained.

All the people anxiously expected morning, and, for the first time
since being on the rock, the sun cheered them with its rays. Still the
fourth morning came and no tidings either of the boat or vessel. The
anxiety of the people increased, for inevitable death from famine, was
staring them in the face. What were they to do for self-preservation?
The misery and hunger which they endured, were extreme; they were not
ignorant of the means whereby other unfortunate mariners in the like
situation had protracted life, yet they viewed them with disgust.
Still when they had no alternative, they considered their urgent
necessities and found them affording some excuse. Offering prayers to
Heaven for forgiveness of the sinful act, they selected a young man
who had died the preceding night, and ventured to appease their hunger
with human flesh.

Whether the people were relieved is uncertain, for towards evening
death had made hasty strides among them, and many brave men drooped
under their hardships. Among these were the captain and first
lieutenant, two meritorious officers: and the sullen silence now
preserved by the survivors, shewed the state of their internal
feelings. Captain Palmer was in the 26th year of his age; amidst his
endeavors to comfort those under his command, his companions in
misfortune, his personal injuries were borne with patience and
resignation, and no murmurs escaped his lips; his virtuous life was
prematurely closed by the overwhelming severities of the lamentable
catastrophe he had shared.

During the course of another tedious night, many suggested the
possibility of constructing a raft which might carry the survivors to
Cerigotto; and the wind being favorable, might enable them to reach
that island. At all events, attempting this seemed preferable to
remaining on the rock to expire of hunger and thirst. Accordingly, at
daylight they prepared to put their plan in execution. A number of the
larger spars were lashed together, and sanguine hopes of success
entertained. At length the moment of launching the raft arrived, but
it was only to distress the people with new disappointments, for a few
moments sufficed for the destruction of a work on which the strongest
of the party had been occupied hours. Several from this unexpected
failure became still more desperate, and five resolved to trust
themselves on a few small spars slightly lashed together, and on which
they had scarce room to stand. Bidding their companions adieu, they
launched out into the sea, where they were speedily carried away by
unknown currents, and vanished forever from sight.

Towards the same afternoon, the people were again rejoiced by the
sight of the whale-boat, and the coxswain told them that he had
experienced great difficulty in prevailing on the Greek fishermen of
Cerigotto to venture in their boats, from dread of the weather.
Neither would they permit him to take them unaccompanied by
themselves; he regretted what his comrades had endured, and his grief
at not being able yet to relieve them, but encouraged them with hopes,
if the weather remained fine, that next day the boats might come.
While the coxswain spoke this, twelve or fourteen men imprudently
plunged from the rock into the sea, and very nearly reached the boat.
Two indeed, got so far as to be taken in, one was drowned and the rest
providentially recovered their former station. Those who thus escaped
could not but be envied by their companions, while they reproached the
indiscretion of the others, who, had they reached the boat, would
without all doubt have sunk her, and thus unwittingly consigned the
whole to irremediable destruction.

The people were wholly occupied in reflections on the passing
incidents; but their weakness increased as the day elapsed; one of the
survivors describes himself as feeling the approach of annihilation,
that his sight failed, and his senses became confused; that his
strength was exhausted, and his eyes turned towards the setting sun,
under the conviction that he should never see it rise again. Yet on
the morning he survived, and he was surprised that Providence willed
it should still be so, as several strong men had fallen in the course
of the night. While the remainder were contemplating their forlorn
condition, and judging this the last day of their lives, the approach
of the boats was unexpectedly announced.--From the lowest ebb of
despair, they were now elated with the most extravagant joy; and
copious draughts of water, quickly landed, refreshed their languid
bodies. Never before did they know the blessings which the single
possession of water could afford; it tasted more delicious than the
finest wines.

Anxious preparations were made for immediate departure from a place,
which had been fatal to so many unhappy sufferers. Of one hundred and
twenty-two persons on board the Nautilus when she struck, fifty-eight
had perished. Eighteen were drowned, it was supposed, at the moment
of the catastrophe, and one in attempting to reach the boat, five were
lost on the small raft, and thirty-four died of famine. About fifty
now embarked in four fishing vessels, and landed the same evening at
the island of Cerigotto, making altogether sixty-four individuals,
including those who escaped in the whale-boat. Six days had been
passed on the rock, nor had the people, during that time, received any
assistance, excepting from the human flesh of which they had
participated.

The survivors landed at a small creek in the island of Cerigotto,
after which they had to go to a considerable distance before reaching
the dwellings of their friends. Their first care was to send for the
master's mate, who had escaped to the island of Pori, and had been
left behind when the whale-boat came down to the rock. He and his
companions had exhausted all the fresh water, but lived on the sheep
and goats, which they caught among the rocks, and had drank their
blood. There they had remained in a state of great uncertainty
concerning the fate of those who had left them in the boat.

Though the Greeks could not aid the seamen in the care of their
wounds, they treated them with great care and hospitality; but medical
assistance being important, from the pain the sufferers endured, and
having nothing to bind up their wounds but shirts which they tore into
bandages, they were eager to reach Cerigo. The island of Cerigotto,
where they had landed, was a dependency on the other, about fifteen
miles long, ten broad, and of a barren and unproductive soil, with
little cultivation. Twelve or fourteen families of Greek fishermen
dwelt upon it, as the pilot had said, who were in a state of extreme
poverty. Their houses, or rather huts, consisting of one or two rooms
on the same floor, were, in general, built against the side of a rock;
the walls composed of clay and straw, and the roof supported by a tree
in the centre of the dwelling. Their food was a coarse kind of bread,
formed of boiled pease and flour, which was made into a kind of paste
for the strangers, with once or twice a bit of kid; and that was all
which they could expect from their deliverers. But they made a liquor
from corn, which having an agreeable flavour, and being a strong
spirit, was drank with avidity by the sailors.

Cerigo was about twenty-five miles distant, and there, it was also
said, an English consul resided. Eleven days elapsed, however, before
the crew could leave Cerigotto, from the difficulty of persuading the
Greeks to adventure to sea, in their frail barks, during tempestuous
weather. The wind at last proving fair, with a smooth sea, they bade a
grateful adieu to the families of their deliverers, who were tenderly
affected by their distresses, and shed tears of regret when they
departed. In six or eight hours, they reached Cerigo, where they were
received with open arms. Immediately on arrival, they were met by the
English vice-consul, Signor Manuel Caluci, a native of the island, who
devoted his house, bed, credit and whole attention to their service;
and the survivors unite in declaring their inability to express the
obligations under which he laid them. The governor, commandant, bishop
and principal people, all shewed equal hospitality, care and
friendship, and exerted themselves to render the time agreeable;
insomuch that it was with no little regret that these shipwrecked
mariners thought of forsaking the island.

After the people had remained three weeks at Cerigo, they learnt that
a Russian ship of war lay at anchor off the Morea about twelve leagues
distant, being driven in by bad weather, and immediately sent letters
to her commanding officer, narrating their misfortunes and soliciting
a passage to Corfu.--The master of the Nautilus determining to make
the most of the opportunity, took a boat to reach the Russian vessel;
but he was at first so unfortunate as to be blown on the rocks in a
heavy gale of wind, where he nearly perished, and the boat was staved
in pieces. However, he luckily got to the ship, and after some
difficulty, succeeded in procuring the desired passage for himself and
his companions to Corfu. Her commander, to accommodate them, came down
to Cerigo, and anchored at a small port called St. Nicholas, at the
eastern extremity of the island. The English embarked on the 5th, but,
owing to contrary winds, did not sail until the 15th of February, when
they bade farewell to their friends. They next touched at Zante,
another small island, abounding in currants and olives, the oil from
the latter of which constitutes the chief riches of the people. After
remaining there four days, they sailed for Corfu, where they arrived
on the 2d of March 1807, nearly two months after the date of their
shipwreck.





Next: Wreck Of A Slave Ship

Previous: Tom Cringle's Log



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