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The Wrecked Seamen

The annexed thrilling sketch is extracted from the "Life of a Sailor,
by a Captain in the British Navy." It relates to the exposures of the
crew of the Magpie, who had taken to the boat, after their shipwreck
on the coast of Cuba. The boat was upset,--the storm continues:--

Even in this moment of peril, the discipline of the navy assumed its
command. At the order from the lieutenant for the men on the keel to
relinquish their position they instantly obeyed, the boat was turned
over and once more the expedient was tried--but quite in vain; for no
sooner had the two men begun to bail with a couple of hats, and the
safety of the crew to appear within the bounds of probability, than
one man declared he saw the fin of a shark. No language can convey an
idea of the panic which seized the struggling seamen; a shark is at
all times an object of horror to a sailor; and those who have seen the
destructive jaws of this voracious fish, and their immense and almost
incredible power--their love of blood and their bold daring to obtain
it, alone can form an idea of the sensations produced in a swimmer by
the cry of "a shark! a shark!" Every man now struggled to obtain a
moment's safety. Well they knew that one drop of blood would have been
scented by the everlasting pilot-fish, the jackalls of the shark; and
that their destruction was inevitable, if one only of these monsters
should discover this rich repast, or be led to its food by the little
rapid hunter of its prey.--All discipline was now unavailing, the boat
again turned keel up; one man only gained his security to be pushed
from it by others and thus their strength begun to fail from long
continued exertion. However, as the enemy so much dreaded did not make
its appearance, Smith once more urged them to endeavor to save
themselves by the only means left, that of the boat; but as he knew
that he would only increase their alarm by endeavoring to persuade
them that sharks did not abound in these parts, he used the wisest
plan of desiring those who held on by the gun-wale, to keep splashing
in the water with their legs, in order to frighten the monsters at
which they were so alarmed. Once more had hope began to dawn:--the
boat was clear to her thwarts, and four men were in her hard at work;
a little forbearance and a little obedience, and they were safe. At
this moment, when those in the water urged their messmates in the boat
to continue bailing with unremitted exertion, a noise was heard close
to them, and about fifteen sharks came right in amongst them. The
panic was ten times more dreadful than before; the boat was again
upset by the simultaneous endeavor to escape the danger; and the
twenty-two sailors were again devoted to destruction.--At first the
sharks did not seem inclined to seize their prey, but swam in amongst
the men, playing in the water, sometimes leaping about and rubbing
against their victims. This was of short duration, a loud shriek from
one of the men announced his sudden pain; a shark had seized him by
the leg, and severed it entirely from the body. No sooner had the
blood been tasted than the long dreaded attack took place; another and
another shriek proclaimed a loss of limbs; some were torn from the
boat to which they vainly endeavored to cling; some, it was supposed,
sunk from fear alone; all were in dreadful peril. Mr. Smith, even now,
when of all horrible deaths the most horrible seemed to await him,
gave his orders with clearness and coolness; and to the everlasting
honor of the poor departed crew be it known, they were obeyed; again
the boat was righted, and again two men were in her. Incredible as it
may appear, still, however, it is true, that the voice of the officer
was heard amidst the danger; and the survivors, actually as before,
clung to the gun-wale, and kept the boat upright. Mr. Smith himself
held to the stern, and cheered and applauded his men. The sharks had
tasted the blood, and were not to be driven from their feast; in one
short moment, when Mr. Smith ceased splashing as he looked into the
boat to watch the progress, a shark seized both legs, and bit them off
just above the knees. Human nature was not strong enough to bear the
immense pain without a groan; but Mr. Smith endeavored to conceal the
misfortune, nature, true to herself, resisted the endeavor, and the
groan was deep and audible. The crew had long respected their gallant
commander; they knew his worth and his courage:--on hearing him
express his pain, and seeing him relinquish his hold to sink, two of
the men grasped their dying officer, and placed him in the stern
sheets. Even now in almost insupportable agony, that gallant fellow
forgot his own sufferings, and thought only on rescuing the remaining
few from the untimely grave which awaited them; he told them again of
their only hope, deplored their perilous state, and concluded with
these words; "if any of you survive this fatal night, and return to
Jamaica, tell the admiral (Sir Lawrence Halstead) that I was in search
of the pirate when this lamentable occurrence took place, tell him I
hope I have always done my duty, and that I--" Here the endeavor of
some of the men to get into the boat gave her a heel on one side; the
men who were supporting poor Smith relinquished him for a moment, and
he rolled overboard and was drowned. His last bubbling cry was soon
lost amidst the shrieks of his former companions, he sunk to rise no

At eight o'clock in the evening the Magpie was upset; it was
calculated by the two survivors, that their companions had all died by
nine. The sharks seemed satisfied for the moment, and they, with
gallant hearts, resolved to profit by the precious time in order to
save themselves; they righted the boat, and one getting over the bows,
and the other over the stern, they found themselves although nearly
exhausted, yet alive, and in comparative security, they began the work
of bailing, and soon lightened the boat sufficiently not to be easily
upset, when both set down to rest. The return of the sharks was a
signal for their return to labor. The voracious monsters endeavored to
upset the boat; they swam by its side in seeming anxiety for their
prey, but after waiting sometime, they separated; the two rescued
seamen, found themselves free from their insatiable enemies, and, by
the blessing of God, saved.--Tired as they were, they continued their
labor until the boat was nearly dry, when both lay down to rest, the
one forward, and the other aft; so completely had fear operated on
their minds, that they did not dare even to move, dreading that an
incautious step might have capsized the boat. They soon, in spite of
the horrors they had witnessed, fell into a sound sleep, and day had
dawned before they awoke to horrible reflections, and apparently worse
dangers. The sun rose clear and unclouded; the cool calm of the night
was followed by the sultry calm of the morning, and heat, hunger,
thirst and fatigue, seemed to settle on the unfortunate men, rescued
by Providence and their own exertions from the jaws of a horrible
death. They awoke and looked at each other, the very gaze of despair
was appalling; far as the eye could reach, no object could be
discerned; the bright haze of the morning added to the strong
refraction of light; one smooth, interminable plain, one endless
ocean, one cloudless sky and one burning sun, were all they had to
gaze upon. The boat lay like the ark, in a world alone! They had no
oar, no mast and no sail, nothing but the bare planks and themselves,
without provisions or water, food or raiment. They lay upon the calm
ocean, hopeless, friendless and miserable. It was a time of intense
anxiety, their eyes rested upon each other in silent pity, not unmixed
with fear. Each knew the dreadful alternative to which nature would
urge them. The cannibal was already in their looks, and fearful would
have been the first attack on either side, for they were both brave
and stout men, and equals in strength and courage.

It now being about half past six in the morning, the sun was beginning
to prove its burning power, the sea was as smooth as a looking glass,
and saving now and then, the slight cat's paw of air, which ruffled
the face of the water for a few yards, all was calm and hushed. In
vain they strained their eyes, in vain they turned from side to side
to escape the burning rays of the sun; they could not sleep, for now
anxiety and fear kept both vigilant and on their guard; they dared not
to court sleep, for that might have been the last of mortal repose.
Once they nearly quarrelled, but fortunately the better feelings of
humanity overcame the bitterness of despair. The foremost man had long
complained of thirst, and had frequently dipped his hand into the
water, and sucked the fluid; this was hastily done, for all the
horrors of the night were still before them, and not unfrequently the
sharp fin of a shark was seen not very far from the boat. In the midst
of the excruciating torments of thirst, heightened by the salt water,
and the irritable temper of the bowman, as he stamped his impatient
feet against the bottom boards, and tore his hair with unfeeling
indifference, he suddenly stopped the expression of rage and called
out--"a sail!"

Whilst they stood watching in silence the approach of the brig, which
slowly made her way through the water, and at the very instant that
they were assuring each other that they were seen, and that the vessel
was purposely steered on the course she was keeping, to reach them,
the whole fabric of hope was destroyed in a second; the brig kept away
about three points, and began to make more sail. Then was it an awful
moment; their countenances saddened as they looked at each other; for
in vain they hailed, in vain they threw their jackets in the air; it
was evident they had never been seen, and that the brig was steering
her proper course.

The time was slipping away, and if once they got abaft the beam of the
brig, every second would lessen the chance of being seen, besides, the
sea breeze might come down, and then she would be far away, and beyond
all hope in a quarter of an hour. Now was it, that the man who had
been so loudly lamenting his fate, seemed suddenly inspired with fresh
hope and courage, he looked attentively at the brig, then at his
companion, and said "by heaven I'll do it, or we are lost!" "Do what?"
said his shipmate. "Though," said the first man, "it is no trifle to
do, after what we have seen and known; yet I will try, for if she
passes us, what can we do? I tell you Jack, I'll swim to her, if I get
safe to her, you are saved, if not, why I shall die without adding,
perhaps, murder to my crimes." "What! jump overboard, and leave me all
alone!" replied his companion, "look, look at that shark, which has
followed us all night, why it is only waiting for you to get into the
water to swallow you, as it did perhaps half of our messmates; no, no,
wait, do wait, perhaps another vessel may come, besides, I cannot swim
half the distance, and I should be afraid to remain behind, think,
Tom, only think of the sharks and of last night."

He jumped overboard with as much calmness as if he was bathing in
security. No sooner had he began to strike out in the direction he
intended, than his companion turned towards the sharks. The first had
disappeared, and it was evident they had heard the splash, and would
soon follow their prey. It is hard to say who suffered the most
anxiety. The one left in the boat cheered his companion, looked at the
brig, and kept waving his jacket, then turned to watch the sharks; his
horror may be imagined when he saw three of these terrific monsters
swim past the boat, exactly in the direction of his companion; he
splashed his jacket in the water to scare them away, but they seemed
quite aware of the impotency of the attack, and lazily pursued their
course. The man swam well and strongly. There was no doubt he would
pass within hail of the brig, provided the sharks did not interfere,
and he, knowing that they would not be long in following him, kept
kicking in the water and splashing as he swam. There is no fish more
cowardly, and yet more desperately savage than a shark. I have seen
one harpooned twice, with a hook in his jaws, and come again to a
fresh bait, yet will they suffer themselves to be scared by the
smallest noise, and hardly ever take their prey without it is quite
still. Generally speaking, any place surrounded by rocks where the
surf breaks, although there may be no passage for a ship, will be
secure from sharks. It was not until a great distance had been
accomplished, that the swimmer became apprized of his danger, and saw
by his side one of the terrific creatures; still however, he bravely
swam and kicked, his mind was made up for the worst, and he had little
hope of success. In the meantime the breeze had gradually freshened,
and the brig passed with greater velocity through the water; every
stitch of canvas was spread. To the poor swimmer the sails seemed
bursting with the breeze, and as he used his utmost endeavor to propel
himself so as to cut off the vessel, the spray appeared to dash from
the bow and the brig to fly through the sea. He was now close enough
to hope his voice might be heard; but he hailed and hailed in vain,
not a soul was to be seen on deck; the man who steered was too intent
upon his avocation to listen to the call of mercy. The brig passed,
and the swimmer was every second getting further in the distance,
every hope was gone, not a ray of that bright divinity remained; the
fatigue had nearly exhausted him, and the sharks only waited for the
first quiet moment to swallow their victim. It was in vain he thought
of returning towards the boat, for he never could have reached her,
and his companion had no means of assisting him. In the act of
offering up his last prayer ere he made up his mind to float and be
eaten, he saw a man looking over the quarter of the brig; he raised
both his hands, he jumped himself up in the water, and by the
singularity of his motions, fortunately attracted notice. A telescope
soon made clear the object; the brig was hove to, a boat sent, and the
man saved. The attention of the crew was then awakened to the Magpie's
boat; she was soon alongside, and thus through the bold exertions of
as gallant a fellow as ever breathed, both were rescued from their
perilous situation.

Next: Adventures Of Philip Ashton Who After Escaping From Pirates Lived Sixteen Months In Solitude On A Desolate Island

Previous: Wreck Of A Slave Ship

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