Sea Stories

Loss Of H B M Ship La Tribune Off Halifax Nova Scotia

La Tribune was one of the finest frigates in his Majesty's navy, mounted 44 guns, and had recently been taken from the French by Captain Williams in the Unicorn frigate.--She was commanded by Captain S. Barker, and on the 22d of September, 1797,

sailed from Torbay as convoy to the Quebec and Newfoundland fleets. In latitude 49 14 and longitude 17 22, she fell in and spoke with his Majesty's ship Experiment, from Halifax; and lost sight of all her convoy on the 10th of October, in latitude 74 16 and longitude 32 11. About eight o'clock in the morning of the following Thursday they came in sight of the harbor of Halifax, and approached it very fast, with an E. S. E. wind, when Captain Barker proposed to the master to lay the ship to, till they could procure a pilot. The master replied that he had beat a 44 gun ship into the harbor, that he had frequently been there, and there was no occasion for a pilot, as the wind was favorable. Confiding in these assurances, Captain Barker went into his cabin, where he was employed in arranging some papers which he intended to take on shore with him. In the mean time the master, placing great dependance on the judgment of a negro, named John Cosey, who had formerly belonged to Halifax, took upon himself the pilotage of the ship. By twelve o'clock the ship approached so near the Thrum Cap shoals that the master became alarmed, and sent for Mr. Galvin, master's mate, who was sick below. On his coming upon deck, he heard the man in the chains sing out, "by the mark five!" the black man forward at the same time crying "steady!" Galvin got on one of the carronades to observe the situation of the ship; the master ran in great agitation to the wheel, and took it from the man who was steering, with the intention of wearing the ship; but before this could be effected, or Galvin was able to give an opinion, she struck.--Captain Barker immediately went on deck and reproached the master with having lost the ship. Seeing Galvin likewise on deck, he addressed him and said "that, knowing he had formerly sailed out of the harbor, he was surprised he could stand by and see the master run the ship on shore," to which Galvin replied "that he had not been on deck long enough to give an opinion." Signals of distress were immediately made, and answered by the military posts and ships in the harbor, from which, as well as the dock-yard, boats immediately put off to the relief of the Tribune. The military boats, and one of those from the dock-yard, with Mr. Rackum, boatswain of the ordinary, reached the ship, but the wind was so much against the others, that, in spite of all their exertions, they were unable to get on board. The ship was immediately lightened by throwing overboard all her guns, excepting one retained for signals, and every other heavy article, so that about half past eight o'clock in the evening the ship began to heave, and at nine got off the shoals. She had lost her rudder about three hours before, and it was now found, on examination, that she had seven feet water in the hold. The chain-pumps were immediately manned, and such exertions were made that they seemed to gain on the leaks. By the advice of Mr. Rackum, the captain ordered the best bower anchor to be let go, but this did not bring her up. He then ordered the cable to be cut; and the jib and fore-top-mast stay-sail were hoisted to steer by. During this interval a violent gale, which had come on at S. E. kept increasing, and carrying the ship to the western shore. The small bower anchor which soon afterwards let go, at which time they found themselves in thirteen fathom of water, and the mizen-mast was then cut away. It was now ten o'clock, and as the water gained fast upon them, the crew had but little hope left of saving either the ship or their lives. At this critical period Lieutenant Campbell quitted the ship, and Lieutenant North was taken into the boat out of one of the ports. From the moment at which the former left the vessel all hopes of safety had vanished; the ship was sinking fast, the storm was increasing with redoubled violence, and the rocky shore which they were approaching, resounded with the tremendous noise of the rolling billows, presented nothing to those who might survive the loss of the ship but the expectation of a more painful death, by being dashed against precipices, which, even in the calmest day, it is impossible to ascend. Dunlap, one of the survivors, declared, that about half past ten, as nearly as he could conjecture, one of the men who had been below, came to him on the forecastle, and told him it was all over. A few minutes afterwards the ship took a lurch, like a boat nearly filled with water and going down; on which Dunlap immediately began to ascend the fore-shrouds, and at the same moment casting his eyes towards the quarter-deck, he saw Captain Barker standing by the gangway, and looking into the water, and directly afterwards he heard him call for the jolly-boat. He then saw the lieutenant of marines running towards the taffrel, to look, as he supposed, for the jolly-boat, which had been previously let down with men in her; but the ship instantly took a second lurch and sunk to the bottom, after which neither the captain nor any of the other officers were again seen. The scene, before sufficiently distressing, now became peculiarly awful. More than 240 men, besides several women and children, were floating on the waves, making the last effort to preserve life. Dunlap, who has been already mentioned, gained the fore-top. Mr. Galvin, the master's mate, with incredible difficulty, got into the main-top. He was below when the ship sunk, directing the men at the chain-pump, but was washed up the hatchway, thrown into the waist and from thence into the water, and his feet, as he plunged, struck against a rock. On ascending he swam to gain the main-shrouds, when three men suddenly seized hold of him. He now gave himself up for lost; but to disengage himself from them he made a dive into the water, which caused them to quit their grasp. On rising again he swam to the shrouds, and having reached the main-top, seated himself on an arm chest which was lashed to the mast. From the observations of Galvin in the main-top, and Dunlap in the fore-top, it appears that nearly one hundred persons were hanging a considerable time to the shrouds, the tops and other parts of the wreck. From the length of the night, and the severity of the storm, nature, however, became exhausted, and during the whole night they kept dropping off and disappeared. The cries and groans of the unhappy sufferers, from the bruises many of them had received, and their hopes of deliverance beginning to fail, were continued through the night, but as morning approached, in consequence of the few who then survived, they became extremely feeble. About twelve o'clock the main-mast gave way; at that time there were on the main-top and shrouds about forty persons. By the fall of the mast the whole of these unhappy wretches were again plunged into the water, and ten only regained the top, which rested on the main-yard, and the whole remained fast to the ship by some of the rigging. Of the ten who thus reached the top, four only were alive when morning appeared. Ten were at that time, alive on the fore-top, but three were so exhausted, and so helpless, that they were washed away before any relief arrived; three others perished, and thus only four were, at last, left alive on the fore-top. The place where the ship went down was barely three times her length to the southward of the entrance into Herring Cove. The inhabitants came down in the night to the point opposite to which the ship sunk, kept up large fires, and were so near as to converse with the people on the wreck. The first exertion that was made for their relief was by a boy thirteen years old, from Herring Cove, who ventured off in a small skiff by himself about eleven o'clock the next day. This youth, with great labor and extreme risk to himself, boldly approached the wreck, and backed in his little boat so near to the fore-top as to take off two of the men, for the boat could not with safety hold any more. And here a trait of generous magnanimity was exhibited, which ought not to pass unnoticed. Dunlap and another man, named Monro, had throughout this disastrous night, preserved their strength and spirits in a greater degree than their unfortunate companions, who they endeavored to cheer and encourage when they found their spirits sinking. Upon the arrival of the boat these two might have stepped into it, and thus have terminated their own sufferings; for their two companions, though alive, were unable to stir; they lay exhausted on the top, wishing not to be disturbed, and seemed desirous to perish in that situation. These generous fellows hesitated not a moment to remain themselves on the wreck, and to save their unfortunate companions against their will. They lifted them up, and with the greatest exertion placed them in the boat, the MANLY BOY rowed them triumphantly to the Cove, and immediately had them conveyed to a comfortable habitation. After shaming, by his example, older persons, who had larger boats, he again put off with his skiff, but with all his efforts he could not then approach the wreck. His example, however, was soon followed by four of the crew who had escaped in the Tribune's jolly-boat, and by some of the boats in the Cove. With their joint exertions, the eight men were preserved, and these with the four who had saved themselves in the jolly-boat, were the whole of the survivors of this fine ship's company. A circumstance occurred in which that cool thoughtlessness of danger, which so often distinguishes our British tars, was displayed in such a striking manner, that it would be inexcusable to omit it. Daniel Monro, had, as we have already seen, gained the fore-top. He suddenly disappeared, and it was concluded that he had been washed away like many others. After being absent from the top about two hours, he, to the surprise of Dunlap, who was likewise on the fore-top, raised his head through the lubber-hole; Dunlap inquiring where he had been, he told him he had been cruising for a better birth; that after swimming about the wreck for a considerable time, he had returned to the fore-shrouds, and crawling in on the catharpins, had actually been sleeping there more than an hour, and appeared greatly refreshed.

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