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.

The Wreck Of The Grosvenor Toilers Of The Sea facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail