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The Shipwreck






A few years ago a company of one of the English regiments of infantry,
consisting of eleven officers and two hundred soldiers embarked in a
large, strongly built ship, to sail from Quebec to Halifax. Besides
the troops, there were forty-eight passengers on board, most of them
women and children, and the whole number of persons, including the
sailors, amounted to upwards of three hundred.

On the evening of the tenth day, when they were clear of the Gulf of
St. Lawrence, and a brisk wind had driven them out many leagues to
seaward, the pilot who, for the greater security of the troops had
been kept on board, directed the course of the vessel to the westward,
hoping on the next day to run her into Halifax. From the windward side
of the otherwise clear heavens a dark cloud showed itself on the
horizon, and in a short time afterwards the ship was enveloped in one
of those dense fogs, which make a voyage along these coasts so
perilous, during the greater part of the year. They had now come
within that space of the ocean in which it was usual to hold a ship's
course in sailing from England to the West Indies; torrents of rain
increased the thickness of the fog, and fearful gusts of wind
increased the danger, and the officers in charge of the troops,
thought it expedient to hold a consultation with the captain, as to
what course was best to be pursued in the present circumstances. The
result of this conference was a determination to keep on the course
deemed expedient by the pilot, but with as little sail set as
possible. For their further safety a watch was stationed on the
foredeck, with the company's drums which they beat from to time, and
taking besides every other precaution against their coming into
collision with another vessel.

Among the officers, was a lieutenant named Stewart, a young man of
uncommon steadiness and bravery, and who in his zeal for the comfort
of the soldiers and the discipline necessary to be observed for
maintaining order in the ship, had during the whole voyage, limited
his own hours of rest to the smallest possible number. One night,
completely worn out, he was about to betake himself to his hammock,
when the colonel requested in view of the danger that every moment
threatened, that he would remain all night upon deck. Stewart rallied
his remaining strength, and conquering the importunate demands of
sleep, he took his station with ten men on the foredeck, whilst the
captain, with eight soldiers, kept watch at the stern. The rain poured
down in streams, squalls of wind and angry waves caused the good ship
to reel and turn like one drunk, and to add to the horrors of their
situation, the night was so dark they could not see half the length of
the ship before them, and the fog enshrouded them in its oppressive
vapor. At ten o'clock, the watch on the bowsprit called out to the
lieutenant on the foredeck, and directed his attention to a clear spot
which he declared to proceed from a light. Stewart at once proceeded
to the stern where he found the pilot seated on the rudder,
apparently watching the same appearance, but when he inquired of him
what it meant, he received a very short uncourteous reply, together
with a command from the captain who was by, to go back to his post. He
did so, and not long after the man on the bowsprit once more called
out, that notwithstanding the thick fog he saw a light distinctly;
Stewart looked in the direction the sailor pointed out, and plainly
saw the glimmer of the friendly beacon, and knew it at once as the
signal placed to warn ships from approaching too near the cliffs which
lined the shore. Notwithstanding his first repulse, he approached the
pilot a second time; but he met with a second repulse;--he was
answered--"Sir, I have been royal pilot on this coast for twenty-five
years, and I ought to know where I am." The captain too, in a sterner
manner then before, commanded Stewart to return to his watch. The
lieutenant dared utter no further remonstrance, but with a heart,
heavy with sad forebodings, busied himself to keep up the failing
spirits of his men who were as apprehensive of the threatened danger
as himself. And his sad foreboding was only too soon fulfilled, for
whilst the pilot imagined his vessel to be sailing on the open sea,
she was already among the rocks that lay but a mile and an half from
the coast, but yet were sixty distant from the roadstead by which they
were to enter Halifax.

By midnight, Stewart felt himself so fairly exhausted by cold and long
watching, that he left the quarter deck, and went below to snatch, if
possible, a few minutes sleep. He had been in his cabin only long
enough to change his damp clothing for dry, when a fearful crash told
him the ship had struck upon the rocks. In a moment he was back on the
quarter deck. He found that a surging billow had struck the hinder
part of the ship, tore off part of the sheathing, and carried away the
watch-house in which two women were sleeping--all efforts to rescue
them were in vain. Whilst the storm-tossed ocean raged and foamed
around the devoted ship, and night shrouded all objects in her veil of
impenetrable darkness, wild shrieks and cries arose from the women and
children, increasing the horrors of the moment, and filled the
stoutest hearted among the mariners and soldiers with dread and
despair. Among the soldiers all discipline was at an end, and in many
families this hour of terrors had loosed the bonds of affection and
dependence, that until now had subsisted for years. The men forsook
their wives in the endeavour to save their own lives; their wives and
children were entreating the help from strangers denied them by
husbands and fathers, and an officer who had heretofore been
considered not only as a most courageous soldier, but had showed
himself a kind and affectionate husband, now turned a deaf ear to the
prayers of his wife, and intent only on his own deliverance, climbed
up into the rigging of the mainmast, left her to her fate below,
whatever it might be. In the meantime, the captain had ordered the
ship to be examined, he found that she had struck upon a hidden rock,
and the waves beating over the quarter deck had already filled all the
rooms with water. Several men had been washed overboard as they rushed
from their hammocks to the deck at the moment of the ship striking,
but the greater number had reached the foredeck where they crowded
closely together, awaiting in painful anxiety for what the morning
would bring.

At length the dappling clouds in the east proclaimed the hour of
dawning--the day struggled into existence, and showed to the great joy
of the shipwrecked, a rock about fifty yards distant, which raising
its dark head above the foaming sea, promised present safety if it
could be reached, although the white waves broke furiously against it.
But how were they to reach it? The only hope--and it was a weak
one--was if they could succeed in passing a rope from the ship to the
rock, and fastening it there so firmly that by its aid all might be
able to leave the wreck. But who was the adventurous one to carry it
thither? The most experienced officers on board, declared it
impossible for any one to brave those angry breakers successfully, and
the best and most resolute of the sailors, who, perhaps, would have
ventured encountering such a risk, had broken into the spirit room and
were now lying drunk, seeking to drown the bitterness of death which
they were so certain of meeting, by steeping their senses in
oblivion.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Stewart with folded arms and thoughtful
mien, stood on the foredeck, measuring with his eyes the distance
between the wreck and the rock. After some minutes spent in deep
consideration, he threw off his coat, fastened a rope round his body,
and plunged into the boiling surf. The soldiers looked on in anxious
silence--for the bold swimmer had almost immediately disappeared from
their view--a wave had buried him deep in its bosom--but again his
head was seen above its foaming crest, and with strong arms he parted
the angry waters as he swam boldly forward, like one determined to
battle with and conquer fate. His strength would not have sufficed to
enable him to accomplish his aim, had not a huge wave borne him
onward, and dashing powerfully against the rocky ledge left him behind
as it retreated. Stunned by the violence with which he was thrown, he
lay for some moments deprived of all consciousness; his senses at
length returning, he rose hastily and mustering all his strength,
essayed to climb the steep and rugged rock, the difficulty of the
assent being increased by the slippery sea-grass with which it was
covered. After many toilsome efforts he reached the top, where he
succeeded in fastening his rope. But as it was impossible for him to
be seen from this height by those on the wreck, on account of the
thick fog, he was obliged to descend to the shore, where, as he was
nearer the ship, he hoped he might be visible, and thus relieve part
of their anxiety. On the side next the ship the breakers dashed so
violently that he dreaded making the attempt, and venturing on the
other, he fell from the steep and slippery path down into the sea.

Benumbed with cold, and sorely wounded by the sharp edges of the
rocks, he was at first scarcely able to move, but still he managed to
keep his head above the water, and after an half hour spent in a
vigorous struggle with death, a rushing wave once more carried him to
the shore, where bruised and bleeding he lay on his back like one
dead. He felt like giving up the contest, but he saw the sinking ship
and his doomed companions--with great effort, therefore, he raised
himself, gave the appointed signal to show that he had succeeded in
fastening the rope, and a gleam of joy shot through his heart as he
heard the loud cheers with which the news was hailed on board.

In less than a minute, the only boat belonging to the ship was let
down, and manned with but one stout sailor. Slipping along by the rope
which Stewart had drawn he guided his frail craft to the rock, to
which he fastened a stronger one, brought with him for that purpose:
this being done, he returned to the wreck in order to bring off the
passengers. It was determined to send away the women and children
first, and accordingly two grown females or a mother with several
children were bound together and sent off, the little boat which was
guided by two sailors being too small to hold any more.

Stewart assured that the slippery surface of the rock where he had
stood when fastening the rope, would not afford sufficient space for
all on board, even to stand upon, was half in despair, but just at the
moment however, that the boat containing the colonel's wife, her two
children, and the surgeon of the regiment, pushed off from the ship,
the fog lifted and parting at the coast, showed another rock of
greater height and broader extent a few yards distant from the one on
which he stood. The boat almost touched the one first reached--he gave
the sailors a sign--it was understood, and they rowed to the second
rock where the surf was much less dangerous, and the breakers small in
comparison with those that beat against the other. A better landing
was to be obtained here, and without the loss of a single life or any
untoward occurrence, the women and children reached this place of
safety if not of comfort Whilst this was being done, they made a
running noose to slip along on the rope that Stewart had fastened to
the rock on which he now stood, which rope as we before have said
reached to the ship. By this contrivance the officers and most of the
soldiers attained the smaller rock, and in the course of two or three
hours all on board were safely rescued. By a merciful Providence the
ship groaning, creaking, tottering, and gradually sinking, just kept
above the water until the last man was taken off; then a surging wave
dashed over her, and she was seen no more--a few circling eddies alone
showed the spot where she went down.

When the men who, as we have said had landed on the smaller rock had
assembled, they found it incapable of holding so many--all could not
stand in the narrow space its surface afforded, and too closely
crowded, they could not resist the pressure of the waves that
sometimes broke over it. The higher rock where the women and children
were landed showed that there was still room for many more of the
shipwrecked; the colonel, therefore, proposed that the officers should
be rowed thither in the boat, but to this the soldiers would not
listen. With death staring them in the face, they declared all
subordination was at an end--that preference on account of rank and
birth was not to be thought of--all were now on an equality, life was
as dear to the meanest soldier as to the highest in command; no! no
preference should be given--it must be decided by lot, who should go,
and who remain. All efforts to still the angry tumult that now arose
among the excited troops was in vain, and the little island whose
rock-covered surface, lifted for ages above that boiling flood, where
wave contended with wave, and had never before been pressed by the
foot of man, now became a scene of strife and confusion.

In the midst of the crowd who could thus strive with each other in the
very presence of death, lay Stewart, senseless and covered with the
blood that flowed plentifully from his wounds. All believed him to be
dying, and only a few cared to trouble themselves about the noble
young officer, to whose disinterested daring the whole crew owed their
lives. His strong constitution, however, soon triumphed over his
temporary exhaustion, and he awoke to consciousness, just when the
oaths and outcries of the striving soldiers was at the loudest. Slowly
and painfully he arose on his stiffened limbs, and supported on the
arm of one of his own men from whom he learned the cause of the
tumult, he approached and commanded silence. This in the presence of
his superior officers was out of place, but distinction was at an end,
and beloved as he was by all the soldiers, the command was obeyed at
once. "My friends," he began, "death, inevitable death awaits us all
alike, both on the other rock and here where the angry waves beat over
us, if we do not soon obtain help. Our only hope for deliverance is by
means of the boat, through which we may, perhaps, obtain it from the
land, which cannot be very distant. Let the officers and sailors then
go over to the other rock, where there is more room than on this, and
the surf being less violent and itself nearer to the coast, they can
better venture to seek the help, without which we must all perish. We
will remain here in peace together, awaiting the issue whatever it
be; I will not leave you, but am ready to share every danger, and as I
was the first to spring into the foaming sea, to try what could be
done for the salvation of all, so I will be the very last to leave
this rock."

His words were answered by a cheer; the true heroic spirit which
breathed from his words--the magnanimity of his whole proceedings
since the first moment of the common danger, flashed upon the memories
of these rude men, and wrought an instant change. The soldiers calmed
and encouraged, no longer objected to the departure of the officers
and sailors for the other rock, and the boat at once began to ply
between. As it would not carry but two persons at once, it took some
time before the specified persons had passed over. At the last voyage
there was but one to go. This officer as he took his place on the seat
beside the rowers, called out to Stewart to "come along, for the flood
was rapidly rising on the rock, and his staying behind would do the
soldiers no good." The lieutenant however refused the invitation, with
the words that as he had promised the soldiers to remain with them, he
was determined to do so, whether the issue was life or death.

So, while the officers with the pilot and sailors were borne to a
place of comparative safety, Stewart stood with his two hundred
soldiers upon that naked rock that gradually grew less from the rising
of the encroaching waters.

Not without good ground for apprehension, had the last departing
officer warned the lieutenant of the danger that threatened from the
advancing tide. The rock on which two hundred human beings were now
crowded, hoping to escape or gain a respite from death, was one which
in nautical phrase is called a sunken reef, that is only above water
at ebb tide, while at flood, except when swayed by a sweeping north
wind, the sea buries it in a depth of ten or fifteen feet.

The pilot knew this well, and having made it known to the colonel,
this knowledge was the occasion of his heartless proposition, that the
officers should be saved, leaving the soldiers to perish.

But when men deal treacherously with the unfortunate, or seek to ruin
the unsuspecting, it is then that a kind Providence watches over
them--it is then that the hand of the Most High is stretched forth for
their protection;--throughout the whole of this day, the only wind
that held the flood tide in check, namely the north-east, swept over
the still angry ocean and restrained its perilous advance.

Soon after the ship went down, the sea became covered with boxes and
barrels, together with many other articles of the stores on board
which had been floated from the hold; the confined air between the
decks had caused an explosion, and burst the vessel in every part.
This was providential, if those casks of provisions would only flock
toward the rock, they might be able to secure enough to support them
until help could be obtained either by a passing vessel, or from the
shore.

In the meantime, the still rising water had encroached so far upon the
rock that but one dry place was left; here the soldiers clustered,
standing close to one another, for the confined space admitted but
little movement. In order to judge of the rapidity with which the tide
was rising, Lieutenant Stewart ordered two large stones to be placed
on a rocky projection, whose surface at this time was just even with
the water. Leaving the spot and returning after a time, they found
them completely hidden. They then placed two others on a spot somewhat
higher, and turning away, scarce daring to hope that they should see
them again. But what was their joy on returning, to find not only the
two last dry, but the first two entirely out of the water; they were
thus assured the tide had reached its highest mark.

But now another trouble arose which threatened every moment to
increase the sufferings of the shipwrecked. As the waves dashed over
them for many hours, they had swallowed a large quantity of sea water,
this created a burning thirst, that was increased by their clothing
being entirely saturated with salt water. Whilst thus suffering, an
object was seen floating on the surface of the water, and approaching
the shore, which promised help in this moment of due necessity. One of
the sergeants was the first to remark it, and hastening to Stewart,
remarked that a cask was being washed by the waves to the edge of the
rock, and that he was sure it contained rum. The lieutenant, who
dreaded the effect of strong drink on the men as the greatest possible
evil, bade the sergeant to sink it as soon as it reached the shore.
The cask came nearer--a huge wave lifted it high and dry upon the
rock. The sergeant could not obey Stewart's order--the soldiers at
once clustered around it, and having been slightly broken as it was
dashed upon the rugged resting place, to their great delight,
discovered that it held--not rum, but pure sweet water, and in such
quantity that all could drink to their satisfaction.

Thus delivered from dread of being washed away and the torment of
thirst, new hope and increased courage sprang up in the breasts of the
shipwrecked, and beginning to think over how they might better their
condition, their first act was to prepare a comfortable place for
their wounded lieutenant, who seemed to be rapidly sinking from loss
of blood and the effect of his severe exertions. One corner of the
rock, the highest above the sea, presented a smoother surface than the
rest; they cleared the slippery sea-grass from the spot, and wrapping
a cloak round him, laid him down. Two soldiers, one on the right hand,
the other on the left, lay down near to screen him from the cutting
sea breeze, some others lay across these, thus forming a pyramid of
bodies that secured to the wounded a shelter from wind and rain. The
rest of the soldiers threw themselves on the rocky surface, whereon
they could find a place, and in a few moments were as sound asleep as
if reposing in the most luxurious chamber.

The day closed in, but the fog still continued; the rain poured down
in torrents on those half naked men, and the piercing north-east wind
made them shiver as it swept over them in their thin and sea-soaked
garments. At last all desire for sleep was banished, and rising from
their uncomfortable lodging places, each one looked out into the
darksome night in hopes of discovering a delivering ship. Sometimes
the silence that brooded over the little island was interrupted by the
joyful cry of "a ship! a ship!" but directly after, some foam-crested
billow rising high above the surrounding waves, showed what had
caused the delusion.

The sufferings of the unhappy men after this one short alleviation
again increased, the tide rose higher than before, for the wind had
now chopped round to the west, there was no restraining influence from
it as at first. The sea, as if claiming the rock as part of his
domain, advanced higher and higher, until at last only one dry spot
remained upon which the soldiers clustered so closely, that those who
stood in the middle could scarcely breathe. All believed that death
was approaching--all hope of deliverance had faded from each heart,
and every one of the seemingly doomed party who could control his
thoughts in that dreadful hour, summoned his last effort to be
expended in prayer.

As they stood there in silence with hearts darkened by the utter
extinction of hope, a red light was seen above the rolling waves--its
ruddy glow as it glanced upon the white-capped billows caused those
sunken hearts to beat with renewed activity--they gazed far out upon
the sea, but no man spoke; in a moment more the form of a ship was
seen, dimly but certainly in the enveloping fog. The loud and joyful
huzza that burst from the shipwrecked soldiers proved to those on
board the vessel sent to their rescue, that the rock was still
unsubmerged, and that life was there, and they returned the cheer with
great good-will. It appeared afterwards that some of the sailors had
attempted to reach the shore in the jolly boat; that they encountered
great toil and danger, but were at last so fortunate as to come up
with two fishing vessels. One of these had already taken the officers
and women from the larger rock and landed them on the coast; the other
turned about to look after the soldiers, although the captain of the
wrecked vessel declared it was folly to expect to find any of them
living, for he was convinced that the "sunken reef" had long ere this
been hidden beneath the foaming waters.

For fear of the ship being injured by the rocks, they could only
approach within a certain distance, and with only one small boat.
Stewart called through a speaking trumpet to the sailors, and inquired
how many they could take at one time in the boat. They answered,
"twelve," at the same time recommending to the shipwrecked to embark
quietly, and not rush in such numbers as to peril their own safety.
Stewart, exhausted as he was, enforced the necessity there was for
this caution, and marshaling his men as well as was possible in the
narrow space, he divided off the first twelve, and his command was
obeyed with promptness and without confusion. In the meantime, the
little boat had reached the rock, and the embarcation began, and
without the least disorder. The night came on, but nineteen times the
boat made its way through the darkness, from the ship to the now
nearly submerged rock, still bearing its living freight in safety, and
it was only at the last voyage that they shipped the two last
soldiers, and the noble hearted, heroic Stewart, whose soul was full
of blissful feelings at the thought that by his courage, obtained
through confidence in God, he had saved the lives of three hundred
men.





Next: Voyage To The East Indies

Previous: A Winter In The Frozen Ocean



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