Loss Of The Brig Tyrrel

In addition to the many dreadful shipwrecks already narrated, the

following, which is a circumstantial account given by T. Purnell,

chief mate of the brig Tyrrel, Arthur Cochlan, commander, and the only

person among the whole crew who had the good fortune to escape, claims

our particular attention.

On Saturday, June 29th, 1759, they sailed from New York to Sandy Hook,

and there came to an anchor, waiting for the captain's coming down

with a new boat, and some other articles. Accordingly he came on board

early the succeeding morning, and the boat cleared, hoisted in, stowed

and lashed. At eight o'clock, A. M. they weighed anchor, sailed out of

Sandy Hook, and the same day at noon, took their departure from the

High Land Never Sunk, and proceeded on their passage to Antigua. As

soon as they made sail, the captain ordered the boat to be cast loose,

in order that she might be painted, with the oars, rudder and tiller,

which job, he (Captain Cochlan) undertook to do himself.

At four P. M. they found the vessel made a little more water, than

usual; but as it did not cause much additional labour at the pump,

nothing was thought of it. At eight, the leak did not seem to

increase. At twelve it began to blow very hard in squalls, which

caused the vessel to lie down very much, whereby it was apprehended

she wanted more ballast. Thereupon the captain came on deck, being the

starboard watch, and close reefed both top-sails.

At four A. M. the weather moderated--let out both reefs:--at eight it

became still more moderate, and they made more sail, and set

top-gallant-sails; the weather was still thick and hazy. There was no

further observation taken at present, except that the vessel made more

water. The captain was now chiefly employed in painting the boat,

oars, rudder and tiller.

On Monday, June 30, at four P. M. the wind was at E. N. E. freshened

very much, and blew so very hard, as occasioned the brig to lie along

in such a manner as caused general alarm. The captain was now

earnestly intreated to put for New York, or steer for the Capes of

Virginia. At eight, took in top-gallant-sail, and close reefed both

top-sails, still making more water. Afterwards the weather became

still more moderate and fair, and they made more sail.

July 1, at four A. M. it began to blow in squalls very hard, took in

one reef in each top-sail, and continued so until eight A. M. the

weather being still thick and hazy.--No observation.

The next day she made still more water, but as every watch pumped it

out, this was little regarded. At four P. M. took second reef in each

top-sail,--close reefed both, and sent down top-gallant-yard; the gale

still increasing.

At four A. M. the wind got round to N. and there was no appearance of

its abating. At eight, the captain well satisfied that she was very

crank and ought to have had more ballast, agreed to make for Bacon

Island Road, in North Carolina; and in the very act of wearing her, a

sudden gust of wind laid her down on her beam-end, and she never rose

again!--At this time Mr. Purnell was lying in the cabin, with his

clothes on, not having pulled them off since they left land.--Having

been rolled out of his bed (on his chest,) with great difficulty he

reached the round-house door; the first salutation he met with was

from the step-ladder that went from the quarter-deck to the poop,

which knocked him against the companion, (a lucky circumstance for

those below, as, by laying the ladder against the companion, it served

both him and the rest of the people who were in the steerage, as a

conveyance to windward); having transported the two after guns forward

to bring her more by the head, in order to make her hold a better

wind; thus they got through the aftermost gun-port on the

quarter-deck, and being all on her broadside, every moveable rolled to

leeward, and as the vessel overset, so did the boat, and turned bottom

upwards, her lashings being cast loose, by order of the captain, and

having no other prospect of saving their lives but by the boat,

Purnell, with two others, and the cabin-boy (who were excellent

swimmers) plunged into the water, and with difficulty righted her,

when she was brim full, and washing with the water's edge. They then

made fast the end of the main-sheet to the ring in her stern-post, and

those who were in the fore-chains sent down the end of the

boom-tackle, to which they made fast the boat's painter, and by which

they lifted her a little out of the water, so that she swam about two

or three inches free, but almost full.

They then put the cabin-boy into her, and gave him a bucket that

happened to float by, and he bailed away as quick as he could, and

soon after another person got in with another bucket, and in a short

time got all the water out of her.--They then put two long oars that

were stowed in the larboard-quarter of the Tyrrel into the boat, and

pulled or rowed right to windward; for, as the wreck drifted, she made

a dreadful appearance in the water, and Mr. Purnell and two of the

people put off from the wreck, in search of the oars, rudder and

tiller. After a long while they succeeded in picking them all up, one

after another. They then returned to their wretched companions, who

were all overjoyed to see them, having given them up for lost. By this

time night drew on very fast. While they were rowing in the boat, some

small quantity of white biscuit (Mr. Purnell supposed about half a

peck,) floated in a small cask, out of the round house; but before it

came to hand, it was so soaked with salt water, that it was almost in

a fluid state: and about double the quantity of common ship-biscuit

likewise floated, which was in like manner soaked. This was all the

provision that they had; not a drop of fresh water could they get;

neither could the carpenter get at any of his tools to scuttle her

sides, for, could this have been accomplished, they might have saved

plenty of provisions and water.

By this time it was almost dark; having got one compass, it was

determined to quit the wreck, and take their chance in the boat, which

was nineteen feet six inches long, and six feet four inches broad; Mr.

Purnell supposes it was now about nine o'clock; it was very dark.

They had run abut 360 miles by their dead reckoning, on a S. E. by E.

course. The number in the boat was 17 in all; the boat was very deep,

and little hopes were entertained of either seeing land or surviving

long. The wind got round to westward, which was the course they wanted

to steer; but it began to blow and rain so very hard, that they were

obliged to keep before the wind and sea, in order to preserve her

above water. Soon after they had put off from the wreck the boat

shipped two heavy seas, one after another, so that they were obliged

to keep her before the wind and sea; for had she shipped another sea,

she certainly would have swamped with them.

By sunrise the next morning, July 3, they judged that they had been

running E. S. E. which was contrary to their wishes. The wind dying

away, the weather became very moderate. The compass which they had

saved proved of no utility, one of the people having trod upon, and

broken it; it was accordingly thrown overboard. They now proposed to

make a sail of some frocks and trowsers, but they had got neither

needles nor sewing twine, one of the people however, had a needle in his

knife, and another several fishing lines in his pockets, which were

unlaid by some, and others were employed in ripping the frocks and

trowsers. By sunset they had provided a tolerable lug-sail; having split

one of the boat's thwarts, (which was of yellow deal,) with a very large

knife, which one of the crew had in his pocket, they made a yard and

lashed it together by the strands of the fore-top-gallant-halyards, that

were thrown into the boat promiscuously.--They also made a mast of one

of the long oars, and set their sails, with sheets and tacks made out of

the top-gallant-halyards. Their only guide was the North star. They had

a tolerable good breeze all night; and the whole of the next day, July

4, the weather continued very moderate, and the people were in as good

spirits as their dreadful situation would admit.

July 5, the wind and weather continued much the same, and they knew by

the North star that they were standing in for the land. The next day

Mr. Purnell observed some of the men drinking salt water, and seeming

rather fatigued.--At this time they imagined the wind was got round to

the southward, and they steered, as they thought by the North star, to

the northwest quarter; but on the 7th, they found the wind had got

back to the northward, and blew very fresh. They got their oars out

the greatest part of the night, and the next day the wind still dying

away, the people laboured alternately at the oars, without

distinction. About noon the wind sprung up so that they laid in their

oars, and, as they thought, steered about N. N. W. and continued so

until about eight or nine in the morning of July 9, when they all

thought they were upon soundings, by the coldness of the water.--They

were, in general, in very good spirits. The weather continued still

thick and hazy, and by the North star, they found that they had been

steering about N. by W.

July 10.--The people had drank so much salt water, that it came from

them as clear as it was before they drank it; and Mr. Purnell

perceived that the second mate had lost a considerable share of his

strength and spirits; and also, at noon, that the carpenter was

delirious, his malady increasing every hour; about dusk he had almost

overset the boat, by attempting to throw himself overboard, and

otherwise behaving quite violent.

As his strength, however, failed him, he became more manageable, and

they got him to lie down in the middle of the boat, among some of the

people. Mr. Purnell drank once a little salt water, but could not

relish it; he preferred his own urine, which he drank occasionally as

he made it. Soon after sunset the second mate lost his speech. Mr.

Purnell desired him to lean his head on him; he died, without a groan

or struggle, on the 11th of July, being the 9th day they were in the

boat. In a few minutes after, the carpenter expired almost in a

similar manner. These melancholy scenes rendered the situation of the

survivors more dreadful; it is impossible to describe their feelings.

Despair became general; every man imagined his own dissolution was

near. They all now went to prayers; some prayed in the Welch language,

some in Irish, and others in English; then, after a little

deliberation, they stripped the two dead men, and hove them overboard.

The weather being now very mild, and almost calm, they turned to,

cleaned the boat, and resolved to make their sail larger out of the

frocks and trowsers of the two deceased men. Purnell got the captain

to lie down with the rest of the people, the boatswain and one man

excepted, who assisted him in making the sail larger, which they had

completed by six or seven o'clock in the afternoon, having made a

shroud out of the boat's painter, which served as a shifting

back-stay.--Purnell also fixed his red flannel waistcoat at the

mast-head, as a signal the most likely to be seen.

Soon after this some of them observed a sloop at a great distance,

coming, as they thought, from the land. This roused every man's

spirits; they got out their oars, at which they laboured alternately,

exerting all their remaining strength to come up with her; but night

coming on, and the sloop getting a fresh breeze of wind, they lost

sight of her, which occasioned a general consternation; however, the

appearance of the North star, which they kept on their starboard-bow,

gave them hopes that they stood in for land. This night one William

Wathing died; he was 64 years of age, and had been to sea 50 years;

quite worn out with fatigue and hunger, he earnestly prayed, to the

last moment, for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Early the next

morning Hugh Williams also died, and in the course of the day another

of the crew: entirely exhausted,--they both expired without a groan.

Early in the morning of July 13, it began to blow very fresh, and

increased so much, that they were obliged to furl their sail, and keep

the boat before the wind and sea, which drove them off soundings. In

the evening their gunner died. The weather now becoming moderate and

the wind in the S. W. quarter, they made sail, not one being able to

row or pull an oar at any rate; they ran all this night with a fine


The next morning (July 14) two more of the crew died, and in the

evening they also lost the same number. They found they were on

soundings again, and concluded the wind had got round to the N. W.

quarter. They stood in for the land all this night, and early on July

12 two others died; the deceased were thrown overboard as soon as

their breath had departed. The weather was now thick and hazy, and

they were still certain that they were on soundings.

The cabin-boy was seldom required to do any thing, and as his

intellects, at this time, were very good, and his understanding clear,

it was the opinion of Mr. Purnell that he would survive them all, but

he prudently kept his thoughts to himself. The captain seemed likewise

tolerably well, and to have kept up his spirits. On account of the

haziness of the weather, they could not so well know how they steered

in the day time as at night; for, whenever the North star appeared,

they endeavored to keep it on their starboard bow, by which means they

were certain of making the land some time or other. In the evening two

more of the crew died, also, before sunset, one Thomas Philpot, an old

experienced seaman, and very strong; he departed rather convulsed;

having latterly lost the power of articulation, his meaning could not

be comprehended. He was a native of Belfast, Ireland, and had no

family. The survivors found it a difficult task to heave his body

overboard, as he was a very corpulent man.

About six or seven the next morning, July 16, they stood in for the

land, according to the best of their judgment, the weather still thick

and hazy. Purnell now prevailed upon the captain and boatswain of the

boat to lie down in the fore-part of the boat, to bring her more by

the head, in order to make her hold a better wind. In the evening the

cabin-boy, who lately appeared so well, breathed his last, leaving

behind, the captain, the boatswain and Mr. Purnell.

The next morning, July 17, Mr. Purnell asked his two companions if

they thought they could eat any of the boy's flesh; and having

expressed an inclination to try, and the body being quite cold, he cut

the inside of his thigh, a little above his knee, and gave a piece to

the captain and boatswain, reserving a small piece for himself; but so

weak were their stomachs that none of them could swallow a morsel of

it, the body was therefore thrown overboard.

Early in the morning of the 18th, Mr. Purnell found both of his

companions dead and cold! Thus destitute, he began to think of his own

dissolution; though feeble, his understanding was still clear, and his

spirits as good as his forlorn situation could possibly admit. By the

colour and coldness of the water, he knew he was not far from land,

and still maintained hopes of making it. The weather continued very

foggy. He lay to all this night, which was very dark, with the boat's

head to the northward.

In the morning of the 19th, it began to rain; it cleared up in the

afternoon, and the wind died away; still Mr. Purnell was convinced he

was on soundings.

On the 20th, in the afternoon, he thought he saw land, and stood in

for it; but night coming on, and it being now very dark, he lay to,

fearing he might get on some rocks and shoals.

July 21, the weather was very fine all the morning, but in the

afternoon it became thick and hazy. Mr. Purnell's spirits still

remained good, but his strength was almost exhausted; he still drank

his own water occasionally.

On the 22d he saw some barnacles on the boat's rudder, very similar to

the spawn of an oyster, which filled him with greater hopes of being

near land. He unshipped the rudder, and scraping them off with his

knife, found they were of a salt fishy substance, and eat them; he was

now so weak, the boat having a great motion, that he found it a

difficult task to ship the rudder.

At sunrise, July 23, he became so sure that he saw land, that his

spirits were considerably raised. In the middle of this day he got up,

leaned his back against the mast, and received succour from the sun,

having previously contrived to steer the boat in this position. The

next day he saw, at a very great distance, some kind of a sail, which

he judged was coming from the land, which he soon lost sight of. In

the middle of the day he got up, and received warmth from the sun as

before. He stood on all night for the land.

Very early in the morning of the 25th, after drinking his morning

draught, to his inexpressible joy he saw, while the sun was rising, a

sail, and when the sun was up, found she was a two-mast vessel. He

was, however, considerably perplexed, not knowing what to do, as she

was a great distance astern and to the leeward. In order to watch her

motions better, he tacked about. Soon after this he perceived she was

standing on her starboard tack, which had been the same he had been

standing on for many hours. He saw she approached him very fast, and

he lay to for some time, till he believed she was within two miles of

the boat, but still to leeward; therefore he thought it best to steer

larger, when he found she was a top-sail schooner, nearing him very

fast.--He continued to edge down towards her, until he had brought her

about two points under his lee-bow, having it in his power to spring

his luff, or bear away. By this time she was within half a mile, and

he saw some of her people standing forwards on her deck and waiving

for him to come under their lee-bow.

At the distance of about 200 yards they hove the schooner up in the

wind, and kept her so until Purnell got alongside, when they threw him

a rope, still keeping the schooner in the wind. They now interrogated

him very closely; by the manner the boat and oars were painted, they

imagined she belonged to a man of war, and that they had run away with

her from some of his Majesty's ships at Halifax, consequently that

they would be liable to some punishment if they took him up; they also

thought, as the captain and boatswain were lying dead in the boat,

they might expose themselves to some contagious disorder. Thus they

kept Purnell in suspense for some time. They told him they had made

the land that morning from the mast-head, and that they were running

along shore for Marblehead, to which place they belonged, and where

they expected to be the next morning. At last they told him he might

come on board; which as he said, he could not without assistance, the

captain ordered two of his men to help him.--They conducted him aft on

the quarter deck, where they left him resting on the companion.

They were now for casting the boat adrift, but Mr. Purnell told them

she was not above a month old, built at New York, and if they would

hoist her in, it would pay them well for their trouble. To this they

agreed, and having thrown the two corpses overboard, and taken out the

clothes that were left by the deceased, they hoisted her in and made


Being now on board, Purnell asked for a little water, Captain

Castleman (for that was his name) ordered one of his sons, (having two

on board) to fetch him some; when he came with the water, his father

looked to see how much he was bringing him, and thinking it too much,

threw some of it away, and desired him to give the remainder, which

he drank being the first fresh water he had tasted for 23 days. As he

leaned all this time against the companion, he became very cold, and

begged to go below; the captain ordered two men to help him down to

the cabin, where they left him sitting on the cabin-deck, leaning upon

the lockers, all hands being now engaged in hoisting in and securing

the boat. This done, all hands went down to the cabin to breakfast,

except the man at the helm. They made some soup for Purnell, which he

thought very good, but at present he could eat very little, and in

consequence of his late draughts, he had broke out in many parts of

his body, so that he was in great pain whenever he stirred. They made

a bed for him out of an old sail, and behaved very attentive. While

they were at breakfast a squall of wind came on, which called them all

upon deck; during their absence, Purnell took up a stone bottle, and

without smelling or tasting it, but thinking it was rum, took a hearty

draught of it, and found it to be sweet oil; having placed it where he

found it, he lay down.

They still ran along shore with the land in sight, and were in great

hopes of getting into port that night, but the wind dying away, they

did not get in till nine o'clock the next night. All this time Purnell

remained like a child; some one was always with him, to give him

whatever he wished to eat or drink.

As soon as they came to anchor, Captain Castleman went on shore, and

returned on board the next morning with the owner, John Picket, Esq.

Soon after they got Purnell into a boat, and carried him on shore; but

he was still so very feeble, that he was obliged to be supported by

two men. Mr. Picket took a very genteel lodging for him, and hired a

nurse to attend him; he was immediately put to bed, and afterwards

provided with a change of clothes. In the course of the day he was

visited by every doctor in the town, who all gave him hopes of

recovering, but told him it would be some time, for the stronger the

constitution, the longer (they said) it took to recover its lost

strength. Though treated with the utmost tenderness and humanity, it

was three weeks before he was able to come down stairs. He stayed in

Marblehead two months, during which he lived very comfortably, and

gradually recovered his strength. The brig's boat and oars were sold

for 95 dollars, which paid all his expenses, and procured him a

passage to Boston. The nails of his fingers and toes withered away

almost to nothing, and did not begin to grow for many months after.

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