Sea Stories

Preservation Of Nine Men In A Small Boat Surrounded By Islands Of Ice

We sailed from Plymouth under convoy of H. B. Majesty's ship St. Alban's, and two other ships of war, together with a fleet of merchantmen bound to the Mediterranean, having a fresh gale at north-east. The wind still continuing, we kept company with the

fleet until reaching 120 leagues to the westward; then judging ourselves clear of privateers, we proceeded on our voyage. But before gaining 300 leagues, on the 17th of March we came up with an English built ship of about 200 tons, carrying twelve guns, and sailing under a jury main-mast. On our approach she hoisted English colors; and, on being hailed, told us she belonged to London, and was now bound from Virginia homewards, which seemed probable, as many tame fowl were on board; and a red bird flew from her to us. Our captain seeing the vessel disabled, desired her to bring to; saying, if anything was wanted on board, we should hoist out our boat and carry it thither; but this was obstinately refused; the captain declared, that our boat should not approach, and unless we kept further off, he would fire into us. This induced suspicion on our part, wherefore we run up with the vessel, and commanded her to bring to. On this she fired, and engaged us from eleven in the morning until six in the evening; then, being much damaged, she struck, and called to us to save the lives of the crew. But this request came too late, for the wind increasing, raised a great sea, which forced our ship under a reefed main-sail, whence we could not hoist out our boat, without endangering our own lives. However, by means of a light which she carried, we kept close to her, intending to hoist the boat out when it became practicable. But towards midnight her light became very low; and by a loud cry, which was heard about one o'clock, we judged that she foundered. When the vessel struck she told us that she had fourteen Frenchmen on board, whence we conjectured her to be an English Virginia-man taken by the French; and that she had lost her main-mast in the engagement. We followed her, chasing and fighting, about thirty leagues; and when she struck we were in 45 50 north latitude. Our booty being thus lost, we made the best of our way to Newfoundland, being bound thither on a fishing voyage. One trouble, however, seldom comes alone, and so it happened to us; for, on the 26th of March, we saw some shattered ice, at four in the afternoon, which was supposed to be the harbor ice now broken up. We were now in 46 50 north latitude, and conceived ourselves 50 leagues, though it afterwards proved seventy, from the land. The wind being at east, the top-sails were handed; and we stood northward, under our courses, hoping to get clear of the ice before night. But finding rather more than less, we tacked to the Southward, which was found unproductive of any change. Therefore, for further security, the fore-sail was furled, and the ship brought to under the main-sail, as night approached, and as there was a dead wind, so that we could lie off on neither tack, we trusted if we should fall in with the greater ice, to meet with the less shocks. About eight or nine o'clock, we discovered a field of ice, of which we ran foul, notwithstanding our exertions to keep clear of it; and although we hung cables, coils of rope, hoops and such things, over the ship to defend her, she struck so hard, that at eleven she bilged, whence we had much difficulty to keep her afloat till day-light, by two pumps going, and bailing at three hatchways. At the approach of day our men were much fatigued, the water increased, and against noon the hold was half full.--No one knew what to advise another, and all began to despair of their lives: we continued pumping, though to little purpose, and concluded, that if now were our appointed time, we must submit patiently to it. But amidst this disaster, it pleased God to put it into the thoughts of some of us, that several might be preserved in the boat, whence the captain was entreated to hoist her out, and commit a few of us there. The captain answered, that, although God could work wonders, it was improbable that so small a boat should preserve us; that it was but living a few days longer in misery; and, seeing God had cast this calamity to his lot, he was resolved to take his chance and die with his men. Nevertheless, being much importuned, he ordered the boat out, and William Saunders and five others in her; and, that the men might not suspect their design, it was given out that the boat should go ahead to tow the ship clear of the ice.--How likely that was the reader may judge, there being but one oar, all the rest were broken by defending the ship from the ice. However, the purpose advanced. The boat being out, and finding no effect produced in towing the ship, fell a-stern, intending to take in the captain and as many as it could safely carry, while some were preparing necessaries for a miserable voyage. A compass, and other things ready, were conveyed into it. The captain, doctor and several others, having got out at the cabin windows and galleries, I, amongst the rest, endeavored to escape at the gallery, intending likewise, if possible, to get into the boat; but being discovered by the men, they took small arms, and kept off the boat, resolving, as she could not preserve all, that the whole should perish together. This design being frustrated, every one, except myself and William Langmead, got into the ship again; but we were so low that we could not recover ourselves. No person coming to relieve us, we were at length forced to let go our hold, and trust to the mercy of those in the boat, who seeing us swimming towards them, hove out a rope and took us in. We were now eight in number in the boat; and, willing to save our captain, lay hovering about the ship till night; but the men persisting in their resolution, fired at the boat and kept her off. We began to seek shelter as night approached; and, having gone among the shattered ice, made our boat fast to a small lump, and drove with it; and as we came foul of great ice, we removed and made fast to another piece, and so continued during the remainder of the night. Looking around in the morning, the ship was seen about three leagues to the eastward in the same position as we had left her, whereon a consultation was held whether or not we should return and make another attempt to save the captain, and as many more as possible. This proposal, however, was negatived, every one alleging that the men would either fire on us, or inconsiderately crowd into the boat and sink her; therefore, it was resolved to make the best of our way to the shore. But I, considering how little it would tend to my honor to save my life, and see my captain perish, endeavored to persuade them that the ship still swam buoyant, that I hoped the leak was stopped, and that we might proceed on our voyage; but this was unavailing. When I saw myself unable to prevail thus, I desired them to row up and set me on that part of the ice next the ship, whence I should walk to her, and die with my commander. This being unanimously agreed to, we rowed to the ice; but when we reached it, I was loth to go out. However, on calling the captain to us, Mr. John Maddick came first, and after him the doctor and some others, which the captain perceiving, came also. The captain having left the ship, the multitude crowded so eagerly after him that we had like to have spoiled all; but by chance the boat was got off, with twenty-one people in her and hanging to her sides. Some were forced to slip; others perished on the ice, not being able to return to the ship, where the rest were lost. On the 25th of March we took a miserable farewell of our distressed brethren, the heart of every one being so overloaded with his own misery as to have little room to pity another. Next, on considering what course to follow, we resolved to make for the shore. Our only provision was a small barrel of flour, and a five gallon rundlet of brandy, which had been thrown overboard, and was taken up by us. We also took up an old chest, which stood us in good stead, for having but one oar, and our ship's handspikes, and a hatchet being by chance in the boat, we could split the chest, and nail it to the handspikes, which were our oars. Nails we had only, by drawing them from different parts of the boat; and the rest of the chest was used to kindle a fire. It also happened that our main tarpaulin, which had been newly tarred, was put into the boat. Of it we made a main-sail; and of an old piece of canvas, that had been a sail to a yawl, we made a fore-sail. In this condition we turned towards the shore, and observing the surrounding ice lie north and south, we steered north, and in the morning were clear of it. Having now got into the ocean, and the wind being still easterly, we hoisted our sail, and steered west-north-west about fourteen leagues, when we fell in with another field of ice. Attempting to sail through it, we were enclosed by many great islands, which drove so fast together, that we were forced to haul up our boat on the ice, otherwise we should have perished. Here we lay eleven days without once seeing the sea. As the ice was thick, we caught as many seals as we chose, for they were in great abundance. Our fire hearth was made of the skin, and the fat melted so easily, that we could boil the lean with it. But by lying so long in this cold region, the men began to complain of their feet; and our boat being too small to afford room for all, there was always a hideous cry among us of hurting each other, though for this there was no remedy. We kept watch six and six, both for the convenience of room, and to guard against the ice breaking under our boat, which often happened, and then it was necessary to launch, or carry her to a place which we thought strong enough to bear her weight. In eleven days we saw the sea, and, with great difficulty, got out the boat. We sailed about ten or twelve leagues north-north-west as before, when we were again enclosed; and this was repeated five several times. The last ice, however, was worse than any before, and although it was so thick that we could not force the boat through it, yet it was not so solid as to bear the weight of a man; therefore, notwithstanding we daily saw enough of seals, we could take none of them. It fortunately happened, that when we parted from the hard ice, we had seven seals in store, and one that we took dead, which was consumed without consulting how it had died. We were next reduced to short allowance, having only one among us to serve two days, which, with about three ounces of flour, mixed with water, and boiled in the fat of the seal, was all our provision. At length we were obliged to share both feet and skin, each of us allowing a little fat to make a fire. But being constrained to eat the whole, skin and bone also, scarcely boiled, injured our stomachs so much, that some of our number died, and I myself suffered severely. On getting clear of the loose ice, if the wind was so adverse as to prevent our rowing, we made fast the boat to an island of ice until better weather. Although this sheltered us, we were often in great danger, from the islands driving foul of us, so that it was wonderful we escaped. We drank the ice mixed with brandy; and our provisions, with good management, lasted until our coming ashore, for it pleased God to save some of us by taking others to himself. Our companions began to die two or three in a day, until we were at last reduced to nine. The feet of several who died were bit in such a manner by the frost, that, on stripping them, which was done to give the clothes to the survivors, their toes came away with the stockings. The last who died was the boatswain, who lived until the day before we saw land. Our compass was broke by the last field of ice through which we passed, and soon after we lost our water bucket, which was used for bailing. Our course was directed by the sun in the day-time, and the stars by night. Though many other accidents befel us, it pleased the Lord to bring us safe to land, after passing twenty-eight days in the boat. On the 24th of April we arrived at Baccalew, and thence repaired to the Bay of Verds, in Newfoundland, where we found three men providing for a fishing voyage, who carried us to their house, and gave us such things as they had. But they being indifferently stored, and unable to maintain us, we determined to go to St. John's, notwithstanding some of us were so much frost-bit, as to be obliged to be carried to the boat. Before getting to Cape St. Francis, however, the wind veered to the south-west, which compelled us to row all night. In the morning we reached Portugal Cove, where to our unspeakable joy, some men were found preparing for the summer's fishing. They shewed us so much compassion as to launch a boat, and tow us over to Belleisle, and there we were courteously received. All were so weak that we were carried ashore on men's shoulders; and we were besides so disfigured with hunger, cold and the oil of seals, that people could hardly recognise us as men, except for the shape. At Belleisle we remained ten days, when, being somewhat recruited, we went to St. John's. Thus, in all this extremity, God miraculously preserved nine out of ninety-six that were in the ship.

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