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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