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


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


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


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


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


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


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