Sea Stories

Shipwreck Of The French Frigate Medusa

On the Western Coast of Africa. By MADAME DARD, one of the Sufferers. In the year 1816, an expedition was fitted out by the French to go and resume possession of Senegal, which had been restored to them.--My father was reinstated in his place

of resident attorney, and taking with him his family repaired immediately to Rochefort to embark on board the Medusa frigate. Early on the morning of the 12th of June, we were on our way to the boats that were to convey us on board the Medusa, which was riding at anchor off the island of Aix, distant about four leagues from Rochefort. The field through which we passed was sown with corn. Wishing before I left our beautiful France, to make my farewell to the flowers, and, whilst our family went leisurely forward to the place where we were to embark upon the Charente, I crossed the furrows, and gathered a few blue-bottles and poppies. We soon arrived at the place of embarkation, where we found some of our fellow passengers, who, like myself, seemed casting a last look to Heaven, whilst they were yet on the French soil.--We embarked, however and left these happy shores. In descending the tortuous course of the Charente, contrary winds so impeded our progress, that we did not reach the Medusa till the morrow, having taken twenty-four hours in sailing four leagues. At length we mounted the deck of the Medusa, of painful memory. When we got on board, we found our berths not provided for us, consequently were obliged to remain indiscriminately together till the next day. Our family, which consisted of nine persons, was placed in a berth near the main deck. As the wind was still contrary, we lay at anchor for seventeen days. On the 17th of June, at four in the morning, we set sail as did the whole expedition, which consisted of the Medusa frigate, the Loire store-ship, the Argus brig and the Echo corvette. The wind being favorable, we soon lost sight of the green fields of l'Aunis. At six in the morning, however, the island of Rhe still appeared above the horizon. We fixed our eyes upon it with regret, to salute for the last time our dear country. Now, imagine the ship borne aloft, and surrounded by huge mountains of water, which at one moment tossed it in the air, and at another plunged it into the profound abyss. The waves, raised by a stormy northwest breeze, came dashing in a horrible manner against the sides of our ship.--I knew not whether it was a presentiment of the misfortune which menaced us that had made me pass the preceding night in the most cruel inquietude. In my agitation, I sprang upon deck, and contemplated with horror the frigate winging its way upon the waters. The winds pressed against the sails with great violence, strained and whistled among the cordage; and the great bulk of wood seemed to split every time the surge broke upon its sides. On looking a little out to sea I perceived at no great distance on our right, all the other ships of the expedition, which quieted me very much. Towards ten in the morning the wind changed; immediately an appalling cry was heard, concerning which the passengers, as well as myself, were equally ignorant. The whole crew were in motion. Some climbed the rope ladders, and seemed to perch on the extremities of the yards; others mounted to the highest parts of the mast; these bellowing and pulling the cordages in cadence; those crying, swearing, whistling, and filling the air with barbarous and unknown sounds. The officer on duty, in his turn, roaring out these words, starboard, larboard, hoist, luff, tack, which the helmsman repeated in the same tone. All this hubbub, however, produced its effect; the yards were turned on their pivots, the sails set, the cordage tightened, and the unfortunate sea-boys having received their lesson descended to the deck. Every thing remained tranquil, except that the waves still roared, and the masts continued their creaking. However the sails were swelled, the wind less violent, though favorable, and the mariner, while he caroled his song, said we had a noble voyage. During several days we did indeed enjoy a delightful passage. All the ships of the expedition still kept together, but at length the breeze became changeable, and they all disappeared. The Echo, however, still kept in sight, and persisted in accompanying us, as if to guide us on our route. The wind becoming more favorable, we held due south, sailing at the rate of sixty-two leagues a day. The sea was so fine, and our journey so rapid, that I began to think it nearly as agreeable to travel by sea as by land; but my illusion was not of long duration. On the 28th of June, at six in the morning, we discovered the Peak of Teneriffe, towards the south, the summit of whose cone seemed lost in the clouds. We were then distant about two leagues, which we made in less than a quarter of an hour. At ten o'clock we brought to before the town of St. Croix. Several officers got leave to go on shore to procure refreshments. While these gentlemen were away, a certain passenger, member of the self-instituted Philanthropic Society of Cape Verd, suggested that it was very dangerous to remain where we were, adding that he was well acquainted with the country, and had navigated in all these latitudes. M. Le Roy Lachaumareys, captain of the Medusa, believing the pretended knowledge of the intriguing Richefort, gave him the command of the frigate. Various officers of the navy, represented to the captain how shameful it was to put such confidence in a stranger, and they would never obey a man who had no character as a commander. The captain despised these wise remonstrances; and, using his authority, commanded the pilots, and all the crew, to obey Richefort; saying he was king, since the orders of the king were, that they should obey him. Immediately the imposter, desirous of displaying his great skill in navigation, made them change the route, for no purpose, but that of showing his skill in manoeuvring the ship.--Every instant he changed the tack, went, came and returned, and approached the very reefs, as if to brave them; in short, he beat about so much, that the sailors at length refused to obey him, saying boldly that he was a vile imposter. But it was done. The man had gained the confidence of Captain Lachaumareys, who ignorant of navigation himself, was doubtless glad to get someone to undertake his duty. But it must be told, that this blind inept confidence was the sole cause of the loss of the Medusa frigate, as well as all the crimes consequent upon it. Towards three in the afternoon, those officers who went on shore in the morning, returned on board loaded with vegetables, fruits and flowers. They laughed heartily at the manoeuvres that had been going on during their absence, which doubtless did not please the captain, who flattered himself he had already found in his pilot Richefort, a good and able seaman; such were his words. At four in the afternoon we took a southerly direction. M. Richefort, then beaming with exultation for having, as he said, saved the Medusa from certain shipwreck, continued to give his pernicious counsels to the captain, persuading him he had been often employed to explore the shores of Africa, and that he was perfectly well acquainted with the Arguin Bank. The journals of the 29th and 30th afford nothing very remarkable. The hot winds from the desert of Sahara began to be felt, which told us we approached the tropic; indeed, the sun at noon seemed suspended perpendicularly above our heads, a phenomenon which few among us had ever seen. On the 1st of July, we recognised Cape Bojador, and then saw the shores of Sahara. Towards ten in the morning, they set about the frivolous ceremony which the sailors have invented for the purpose of exacting something from those passengers who have never crossed the line. During the ceremony, the frigate doubled Cape Barbas hastening to its destruction. Captain Lachaumareys very good humoredly presided at this species of baptism, while his dear Richefort promenaded the forecastle, and looked with indifference upon a shore bristling with dangers. However that may be, all passed on well; nay, it may even be said that the farce was well played off. But the route which we pursued soon made us forget the short lived happiness we had experienced. Every one began to observe the sudden change which had taken place in the color of the sea, as we ran upon the bank in shallow water. A general murmur arose among the passengers and officers of the navy;--they were far from partaking in the blind confidence of the captain. On the second of July, at five in the morning, the captain was persuaded that a large cloud, which was discovered in the direction of Cape Blanco, was that Cape itself. After this pretended discovery, they ought to have steered to the west, for about fifty leagues, to have gained sea room to double with certainty the Arguin Bank; moreover, they ought to have conformed to the instructions the Minister of Marine had given to the ships which set out for Senegal. The other part of the expedition, from having followed these instructions arrived in safety at their destination. During the preceding night, the Echo, which had hitherto accompanied the Medusa, made several signals, but being replied to with contempt, abandoned us. Towards ten in the morning, the danger which threatened us was again represented to the captain, and he was strongly urged, if he wished to avoid the Arguin Bank, to take a westerly course; but the advice was again neglected, and he despised the predictions. One of the officers of the frigate, from having wished to expose the intriguing Richefort, was put under arrest. My father, who had already twice made the voyage to Senegal, and who with various persons was persuaded they were going right upon the bank, also made his observations to the unfortunate pilot.--His advice was no better received than those of Messrs. Reynaud, Espiau, Maudet, &c. Richefort, in the sweetest tone, replied, 'My dear, we know our business; attend to yours, and be quiet. I have already twice passed the Arguin Bank; I have sailed upon the Red Sea, and you see I am not drowned.' What reply could be made to such a preposterous speech? My father, seeing it was impossible to get our route changed, resolved to trust to Providence to free us from our danger, and descended to our cabin, where he sought to dissipate his fears in the oblivion of sleep. At noon on the 2d of July, soundings were taken. M. Maudet, ensign of the watch, was convinced we were upon the edge of the Arguin Bank. The captain said to him, as well as to every one, that there was no cause of alarm. In the meanwhile, the wind blowing with great violence, impelled us nearer and nearer to the danger which menaced us.--A species of stupor overpowered all our spirits, and every one preserved a mournful silence, as if they were persuaded we would soon touch the bank. The color of the water entirely changed, a circumstance even remarked by the ladies. About three in the afternoon, being in 19 30 north latitude, and 19 45 west longitude, an universal cry was heard upon deck. All declared they saw sand rolling among the ripple of the sea. The captain in an instant ordered to sound.--The line gave eighteen fathoms; but on a second sounding it only gave six. He at last saw his error, and hesitated no longer on changing the route, but it was too late. A strong concussion told us the frigate had struck. Terror and consternation were instantly depicted on every face. The crew stood motionless; the passengers in utter despair. In the midst of this general panic, cries of vengeance were heard against the principal author of our misfortunes, wishing to throw him overboard; but some generous persons interposed, and endeavored to calm their spirits, by diverting their attention to the means of our safety. The confusion was already so great, that McPoinsignon, commandant of a troop, struck my sister Caroline a severe blow, doubtless thinking it was one of his soldiers. At this crisis my father was buried in profound sleep, but he quickly awoke, the cries and the tumult upon deck having informed him of our misfortunes. He poured out a thousand reproaches on those whose ignorance and boasting had been so disastrous to us. However, they set about the means of averting our danger. The officers, with an altered voice, issued their orders expecting every moment to see the ship go in pieces. They strove to lighten her, but the sea was very rough and the current strong. Much time was lost in doing nothing; they only pursued half measures and all of them unfortunately failed. When it was discovered that the danger of the Medusa was not so great as was at first supposed, various persons proposed to transport the troops to the island of Arguin, which was conjectured to be not far from the place where we lay aground. Others advised to take us all successively to the coast of the desert of Sahara, by the means of our boats, and with provisions sufficient to form a caravan, to reach the island of Saint Louis, at Senegal. The events which afterwards ensued proved this plan to have been the best, and which would have been crowned with success; unfortunately it was not adopted. M. Schmaltz, the governor, suggested the making of a raft of sufficient size to carry two hundred men, with provisions; which latter plan was seconded by the two officers of the frigate, and put in execution. The fatal raft was then begun to be constructed, which would, they said, carry provisions for every one. Masts, planks, boards and cordage were thrown overboard. Two officers were charged with the framing of these together.--Large barrels were emptied and placed at the angles of the machine, and the workmen were taught to say, that the passengers would be in greater security there, and more at their ease, than in the boats. However, it was forgotten to erect rails, every one supposed, and with reason, that those who had given the plan of the raft, had had no design of embarking upon it themselves. When it was completed, the two chief officers of the frigate publicly promised, that all the boats would tow it to the shore of the Desert; and, when there, stores of provisions and fire-arms would be given us to form a caravan to take us all to Senegal. Why was not this plan executed?--Why were these promises, sworn before the French flag, made in vain? But it is necessary to draw a veil over the past. I will only add, that if these promises had been fulfilled, every one would have been saved, and that, in spite of the detestable egotism of certain personages, humanity would not now have had to deplore the scenes of horror consequent on the wreck of the Medusa. On the 3d of July, the efforts were renewed to disengage the frigate, but without success. We then prepared to quit her. The sea became very rough, and the wind blew with great violence. Nothing now was heard but the plaintive and confused cries of a multitude, consisting of more than four hundred persons, who, seeing death before their eyes, deplored their hard fate in bitter lamentations. On the 4th, there was a glimpse of hope. At the hour the tide flowed, the frigate, being considerably lightened by all that had been thrown overboard, was found nearly afloat; and it is very certain, if on that day they had thrown the artillery into the water, the Medusa would have been saved; but M. Lachaumareys said, he would not thus sacrifice the king's cannon, as if the frigate did not belong to the king also.--However, the sea ebbed, and the ship sinking into the sand deeper than ever, made them relinquish that on which depended our last ray of hope. On the approach of night, the fury of the winds redoubled, and the sea became very rough. The frigate then received some tremendous concussions, and the water rushed into the hold in the most terrific manner, but the pumps would not work. We had now no alternative but to abandon her for the frail boats, which any single wave might overwhelm.--Frightful gulfs environed us; mountains of water raised their liquid summits in the distance. How were we to escape so many dangers? Whither could we go? What hospitable land would receive us on its shores? My thoughts then reverted to our beloved country. Then starting suddenly from my reverie, I exclaimed: 'O terrible condition! that black and boundless sea resembles the eternal night which will engulf us! All those who surround me seem yet tranquil, but that fatal calm will soon be succeeded by the most frightful torments. Fools, what had we to find in Senegal, to make us trust to the most perfidious of elements! Did France not afford every necessary for our happiness? Happy! yes, thrice happy, they who never set foot on a foreign soil! Great God! succor all these unfortunate beings; save our unhappy family!' My father perceived my distress, but how could he console me? What words could calm my fears, and place me above the apprehensions of those dangers to which we were exposed? How, in a word, could I assume a serene appearance, when friends, parents and all that was most dear to me were, in all human probability, on the very verge of destruction?--Alas! my fears were but too well founded. For I soon perceived that, although we were the only ladies, besides the Misses Schmaltz, who formed a part of the Governor's suit, they had the barbarity of intending our family to embark upon the raft, where were only soldiers sailors and planters of Cape Verd, and some generous officers who had not the honor (if it could be accounted one) of being considered among the ignorant confidants of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys. My father, indignant at a proceeding so indecorous, swore we would not embark upon the raft, and that, if we were not judged worthy of a place in one of the six boats, he would himself, his wife and children, remain on board the wreck of the frigate. The tone in which he spoke these words, was that of a man resolute to avenge any insult that might be offered to him. The governor of Senegal, doubtless fearing the world would one day reproach him for his inhumanity, decided we should have a place in one of the boats. This having in some measure quieted our fears concerning our unfortunate situation, I was desirous of taking some repose, but the uproar among the crew was so great I could not obtain it. Towards midnight, a passenger came to inquire of my father if we were disposed to depart; he replied, we had been forbid to go yet. However, we were soon convinced that a great part of the crew and various passengers were secretly preparing to set off in the boats. A conduct so perfidious could not fail to alarm us, especially as we perceived among those so eager to embark unknown to us, several who had promised, but a little while before, not to go without us. M. Schmaltz, to prevent that which was going on upon deck, instantly rose to endeavor to quiet their minds; but the soldiers had already assumed a threatening attitude, and holding cheap the words of their commander, swore they would fire upon whosoever attempted to depart in a clandestine manner. The firmness of these brave men produced the desired effect, and all was restored to order. The governor returned to his cabin; and those who were desirous of departing furtively were confused and covered with shame. The governor, however, was ill at ease; and as he had heard very distinctly certain energetic words which had been addressed to him, he judged it proper to assemble a council.--All the officers and passengers being collected, M. Schmaltz, there solemnly swore before them not to abandon the raft, and a second time promised that all the boats would tow it to the shore of the Desert, where they would all be formed into a caravan. I confess this conduct of the governor greatly satisfied every member of our family; for we never dreamed he would deceive us, nor act in a manner contrary to what he had promised. About three in the morning, some hours after the meeting of the council, a terrible noise was heard in the powder room; it was the helm which was broken. All who were sleeping were roused by it. On going on deck every one was more and more convinced that the frigate was lost beyond all recovery. Alas! the wreck was for our family but the commencement of a horrible series of misfortunes. The two chief officers then decided with one accord, that all should embark at six in the morning, and abandon the ship to the mercy of the waves. After the decision, followed a scene the most whimsical, and at the same time the most melancholy that can be well conceived. To have a more distinct idea of it, let the reader transport himself in imagination to the midst of the liquid plains of the ocean: then let him picture to himself a multitude of all classes, of every age, tossed about at the mercy of the waves upon a dismasted vessel, foundered, and half submerged, let him not forget these are thinking beings with the certain prospect before them of having reached the goal of their existence. Separated from the rest of the world by a boundless sea, and having no place of refuge but the wreck of a grounded vessel, the multitude addressed at first their vows to heaven, and forgot, for a moment, all earthly concerns. Then suddenly starting from their lethargy, they began to look after their wealth, the merchandise they had in small ventures, utterly regardless of the elements which threatened them. The miser, thinking of the gold contained in his coffers, hastening to put it in a place of safety, either by sewing it into the lining of his clothes, or by cutting out for it a place in the waistband of his trowsers. The smuggler was tearing his hair at not being able to save a chest of contraband which he had secretly got on board, and with which he had hoped to have gained two or three hundred per cent. Another, selfish to excess, was throwing overboard all his hidden money, and amusing himself by burning all his effects. A generous officer was opening his portmanteau, offering caps, stockings, and shirts, to any who would take them. These had scarcely gathered together their various effects, when they learned that they could not take anything with them; those were searching the cabin and store-rooms to carry away everything that was valuable. Ship-boys were discovering the delicate wines and fine liquors, which a wise foresight had placed in reserve. Soldiers and sailors were penetrating even into the spirit-room, broaching casks, staving others and drinking till they fell exhausted. Soon the tumult of the inebriated made us forget the roaring of the sea which threatened to engulf us. At last the uproar was at its height; the soldiers no longer listened to the voice of the captain. Some knit their brows and muttered oaths; but nothing could be done with those whom wine had rendered furious. Next, piercing cries mixed with doleful groans were heard--this was the signal of departure. At six o'clock on the morning of the 5th, a great part of the military were embarked upon the raft, which was already covered with a large sheet of foam. The soldiers were expressly prohibited from taking their arms. A young officer of infantry, whose brain seemed to be powerfully affected, put his horse beside the barricadoes of the frigate, and then, armed with two pistols, threatened to fire upon any one who refused to go upon the raft. Forty men had scarcely descended when it sunk to the depth of about two feet. To facilitate the embarking of a greater number, they were obliged to throw over several barrels of provisions which had been placed upon it the day before. In this manner did this furious officer get about one hundred and fifty heaped upon that floating tomb; but he did not think of adding one more to the number by descending himself, as he ought to have done, but went peaceably away, and placed himself in one of the best boats. There should have been sixty sailors upon the raft, and there were but about ten. A list had been made out on the 4th, assigning each his proper place: but this wise precaution being disregarded, every one pursued the plan he deemed the best for his own preservation. The precipitation with which they forced one hundred and fifty unfortunate beings upon the raft was such, that they forgot to give them one morsel of biscuit. However, they threw towards them twenty-five pounds in a sack, while they were not far from the frigate; but it fell into the sea, and was with difficulty recovered. During this disaster, the governor of Senegal, who was busied in the care of his own dear self, effeminately descended in an arm-chair into the barge, where were already various large chests, all kinds of provisions, his dearest friends, his daughters and his wife. Afterwards the captain's boat received twenty-seven persons, among whom were twenty-five sailors, good rowers. The shallop, commanded by M. Espiau, ensign of the ship, took forty-five passengers, and put off. The boat, called the Senegal, took twenty-five; the pinnace thirty-three; and the yawl, the smallest of all the boats, took only ten. Almost all the officers, the passengers, the mariners and supernumeraries, were already embarked--all, but our weeping family, who still remained upon the boards of the frigate, till some charitable souls would kindly receive us into a boat. Surprised at this abandonment, I instantly felt myself roused, and, calling with all my might to the officers of the boats, besought them to take our unhappy family along with them. Soon after, the barge, in which were the governor of Senegal and all his family, approached the Medusa, as if still to take some passengers, for there were but few in it. I made a motion to descend, hoping that the Misses Schmaltz, who had, till that day, taken a great interest in our family, would allow us a place in their boat; but I was mistaken: those ladies, who had embarked in a mysterious incognito, had already forgotten us; and M. Lachaumareys, who was still on the frigate, positively told me they would not embark along with us. Nevertheless I ought to tell, what we learned afterwards, that the officer who commanded the pinnace had received orders to take us in, but, as he was already a great way from the frigate, we were certain he had abandoned us. My father however hailed him, but he persisted on his way to gain the open sea. A short while afterwards we perceived a small boat among the waves, which seemed desirous to approach the Medusa; it was the yawl. When it was sufficiently near, my father implored the sailors who were in it to take us on board, and to carry us to the pinnace, where our family ought to be placed. They refused. He then seized a firelock, which lay by chance upon deck, and swore he would kill every one of them if they refused to take us, adding that it was the property of the king, and that he would have advantage from it as well as another. The sailors murmured, but durst not resist, and received all our family, which consisted of nine persons, viz. four children, our step-mother, my cousin, my sister Caroline, my father and myself. A small box filled with valuable papers, which we wished to save, some clothes, two bottles of ratafia, which we had endeavored to preserve amidst our misfortunes, were seized and thrown overboard by the sailors of the yawl, who told us we would find in the pinnace everything we could wish for our voyage. We had then only the clothes which covered us, never thinking of dressing ourselves in two suits; but the loss which affected us most was that of several MSS, at which my father had been laboring for a long while. Our trunks, our linen and various chests of merchandize of great value, in a word, everything we possessed, was left in the Medusa. When we boarded the pinnace, the officer who commanded it began excusing himself for having set off without forewarning us, as he had been ordered, and said a thousand things in his justification. But without believing the half of his fine protestations, we felt very happy in having overtaken him; for it is most certain they had no intention of encumbering themselves with our unfortunate family. I say encumber, for it is evident that four children, one of whom was yet at the breast, were very indifferent beings to people who were actuated by a selfishness without all parallel. When we were seated in the long boat, my father dismissed the sailors with the yawl, telling them he would ever gratefully remember their services. They speedily departed, but little satisfied with the good action they had done. My father hearing their murmurs and the abuse they poured out against us, said, loud enough for all in the boat to hear, 'We are not surprised sailors are destitute of shame, when their officers blush at being compelled to do a good action.' The commandant of the boat feigned not to understand the reproaches conveyed in these words, and, to divert our minds from brooding over our wrongs, endeavored to counterfeit the man of gallantry. All the boats were already far from the Medusa, when they were brought to, to form a chain in order to tow the raft.--The barge, in which was the governor of Senegal, took the first tow, then all the other boats in succession joined themselves to that. M. Lachaumareys embarked, although there yet remained upon the Medusa more than sixty persons.--Then the brave and generous M. Espiau, commander of the shallop, quitted the line of boats, and returned to the frigate, with the intention of saving all the wretches who had been abandoned. They all sprung into the shallop; but as it was very much overloaded, seventeen unfortunates preferred remaining on board, rather than expose themselves as well as their companions to certain death. But alas! the greater part afterwards fell victims to their fears or their devotion.--Fifty-two days after they were abandoned, no more than three of them were alive, and those looked more like skeletons than men. They told that their miserable companions had gone afloat upon planks and hen-coops, after having waited in vain forty-two days, for the succor which had been promised them, and that all had perished. The shallop, carrying with difficulty all those she had saved from the Medusa, slowly rejoined the line of boats which towed the raft, M. Espiau earnestly besought the officers of the other boats to take some of them along with them; but they refused, alleging to the generous officer that he ought to keep them in his own boat, as he had gone for them himself. M. Espiau, finding it impossible to keep them all without exposing them to the utmost peril, steered right for a boat which I will not name. Immediately a sailor sprung from the shallop into the sea, and endeavored to reach it by swimming; and when he was about to enter it, an officer who possessed great influence pushed him back, and, drawing his sabre, threatened to cut off his hands, if he again made the attempt. The poor wretch regained the shallop, which was very near the pinnace, which we were in, my father supplicated M. Laperere, the officer of the boat, to receive him on board, and had his arms already out to catch him, when M. Laperere instantly let go the rope which attached us to the other boats, and tugged off with all his force. At the same instant every boat imitated our execrable example; and wishing to shun the approach of the shallop, which sought for assistance, stood off from the raft, abandoning, in the midst of the ocean, and to the fury of the waves, the miserable mortals whom they had sworn to land on the shores of the Desert. Scarcely had these cowards broken their oath, when we saw the French flag flying upon the raft. The confidence of those unfortunate persons was so great, that when they saw the first boat which had the tow removing from them, they all cried out the rope is broken! the rope is broken! but when no attention was paid to their observation, they instantly perceived the treachery of the wretches who had left them so basely.--Then the cries of Vive le Roi arose from the raft, as if the poor fellows were calling to their father for assistance; or, as if they had been persuaded that, at that rallying word, the officers of the boats would return, and not abandon their countrymen. The officers repeated the cry of Vive le Roi, without a doubt, to insult them; but, more particularly, M. Lachaumareys who, assuming a martial attitude, waved his hat in the air. Alas! what availed these false professions? Frenchmen, menaced with the greatest peril, were demanding assistance with the cries of Vive le Roi; yet none were found sufficiently generous nor sufficiently French, to go to aid them. After a silence of some minutes, horrible cries were heard; the air resounded with the groans, the lamentations, the imprecations of these wretched beings, and the echo of the sea frequently repeated, alas! how cruel you are to abandon us!!! The raft already appeared to be buried under the waves, and its unfortunate passengers immersed. The fatal machine was drifted by currents far behind the wreck of the frigate; without cable, anchor, mast, sail or oars; in a word, without the smallest means of enabling them to save themselves. Each wave that struck it, made them stumble in heaps on one another.--Their feet getting entangled among the cordage, and between the planks, bereaved them of the faculty of moving. Maddened by these misfortunes, suspended, and adrift upon a merciless ocean, they were soon tortured between the pieces of wood which formed the scaffold on which they floated.--The bones of their feet and their legs were bruised and broken, every time the fury of the waves agitated the raft; their flesh covered with contusions and hideous wounds, dissolved, as it were, in the briny waves, while the roaring flood around them was colored with their blood. As the raft, when it was abandoned, was nearly two leagues from the frigate, it was impossible these unfortunate persons could return to it; they were soon after far out to sea. These victims still appeared above their floating tomb; and, stretching out their supplicating hands towards the boats which fled from them, seemed yet to invoke, for the last time, the names of the wretches who had deceived them. O horrid day! a day of shame and reproach! Alas! that the hearts of those who were so well acquainted with misfortune, should have been so inaccessible to pity. After witnessing that most inhuman scene, and seeing they were insensible to the cries and lamentations of so many unhappy beings, I felt my heart bursting with sorrow. It seemed to me that the waves would overwhelm all these wretches, and I could not suppress my tears. My father, exasperated to excess, and bursting with rage at seeing so much cowardice and inhumanity among the officers of the boats, began to regret he had not accepted the place which had been assigned for us upon the fatal raft. 'At least,' said he, 'we would have died with the brave, or would have returned to the wreck of the Medusa; and not have had the disgrace of saving ourselves with cowards.' Although this produced no effect upon the officers, it proved very fatal to us afterwards; for, on our arrival at Senegal, it was reported to the Governor, and very probably was the principal cause of all those evils and vexations which we endured in that colony. Let us now turn our attention to the several situations of all those who were endeavoring to save themselves in the different boats, as well as to those left upon the wreck of the Medusa. We have already seen, that the frigate was half sunk when it was deserted, presenting nothing but a hulk and wreck.--Nevertheless, seventeen still remained upon it, and had food, which, although damaged, enabled them to support themselves for a considerable time; while the raft was abandoned to float at the mercy of the waves, upon the vast surface of the ocean. One hundred and fifty wretches were embarked upon it, sunk to the depth of at least three feet on its fore part, and on its poop immersed even to the middle. What victuals they had were soon consumed, or spoiled by the salt water; and perhaps some, as the waves hurried them along, became food for the monsters of the deep. Two only of all the boats which left the Medusa, and these with very few people in them, were provisioned with every necessary; these struck off with security and despatch. But the condition of those who were in the shallop was but little better than those upon the raft; their great number, their scarcity of provisions, their great distance from the shore, gave them the most melancholy anticipations of the future. Their worthy commander, M. Espiau, had no other hope but of reaching the shore as soon as possible. The other boats were less filled with people, but they were scarcely better provisioned; and as by a species of fatality, the pinnace, in which were our family, was destitute of everything. Our provisions consisted of a barrel of biscuit, and a tierce of water; and, to add to our misfortune, the biscuit being soaked in the sea, it was almost impossible to swallow one morsel of it. Each passenger in our boat was obliged to sustain his wretched existence with a glass of water, which he could get only once a day. To tell how this happened, how this boat was so poorly supplied, while there was abundance left upon the Medusa, is far beyond my power. But it is at least certain, that the greater part of the officers commanding the boats, the shallop, the pinnace, the Senegal boat, and the yawl, were persuaded, when they quitted the frigate, that they would not abandon the raft, but that all the expedition would sail together to the coast of Sahara; that when there, the boats would be again sent to the Medusa to take provisions, arms, and those who were left there; but it appears the chiefs had decided otherwise. After abandoning the raft, although scattered, all the boats formed a little fleet, and followed the same route. All who were sincere hoped to arrive the same day at the coast of the Desert, and that every one would get on shore; but MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys gave orders to take the route for Senegal. This sudden change in the resolutions of the chiefs was like a thunderbolt to the officers commanding the boats. Having nothing on board but what was barely necessary to enable us to allay the cravings of hunger for one day, we were all sensibly affected. The other boats, which, like ourselves, hoped to have got on shore at the nearest point, were a little better provisioned than we were; they had at least a little wine, which supplied the place of other necessaries. We then demanded some from them, explaining our situation, but none would assist us, not even the captain, who, drinking to a kept mistress, supported by two sailors, swore he had not one drop on board. We were next desirous of addressing the boat of the Governor of Senegal, where we were persuaded were plenty of provisions of every kind, such as oranges, biscuit, cakes, comfits, plums and even the finest liquors; but my father opposed it, so well was he assured we would not obtain anything. We will now turn to the condition of those on the raft, when the boats left them to themselves. If all the boats had continued dragging the raft forward, favored as we were by the breeze from the sea, we would have been able to have conducted them to the shore in less than two days. But an inconceivable fatality caused the generous plan to be abandoned which had been formed. When the raft had lost sight of the boats, a spirit of sedition began to manifest itself in furious cries. They then began to regard one another with ferocious looks, and to thirst for one another's flesh. Some one had already whispered of having recourse to that monstrous extremity, and of commencing with the fattest and youngest. A proposition so atrocious filled the brave Captain Dupont and his worthy Lieutenant M. L'Heureux with horror; and that courage which had so often supported them in the field of glory, now forsook them. Among the first who fell under the hatchets of the assassins, was a young woman who had been seen devouring the body of her husband. When her turn was come, she sought a little wine as a last favor, then rose, and without uttering a word threw herself into the sea. Captain Dupont, being prescribed for having refused to partake of the sacrilegious viands with which the monsters were feeding on, was saved by a miracle from the hands of the butchers. Scarcely had they seized him to lead him to the slaughter, when a large pole, which served in place of a mast, fell upon his body; and believing that his legs were broken, they contented themselves by throwing him into the sea. The unfortunate captain plunged and disappeared, and they thought him already in another world. Providence, however, revived the strength of the unfortunate warrior. He emerged under the beams of the raft, and clinging with all his might, holding his head above water, he remained between two enormous pieces of wood, while the rest of his body was hid in the sea. After more than two hours of suffering, Captain Dupont spoke in a low voice to his lieutenant, who by chance was seated near the place of his concealment. The brave L'Heureux, with eyes glistening with tears, believed he heard the voice, and saw the shade of his captain; and trembling, was about to quit the place of horror; O wonderful! he saw a head which seemed to draw its last sigh, he recognized it, he embraced it, alas! it was his dear friend! Dupont was instantly drawn from the water, and L'Heureux obtained for his unfortunate comrade again a place upon the raft. Those who had been most inveterate against him, touched at what Providence had done for him in so miraculous a manner, decided with one accord to allow him entire liberty upon the raft. The sixty unfortunates who had escaped from the first massacre, were soon reduced to fifty, then to forty, and at last to twenty-eight. The least murmur, or the smallest complaint, at the moment of distributing the provisions, was a crime punished with immediate death. In consequence of such a regulation, it may easily be presumed the raft was soon lightened. In the meanwhile the wine diminished sensibly, and the half-rations very much displeased a certain chief of the conspiracy. On purpose to avoid being reduced to that extremity, the executive power decided it was much wiser to drown thirteen people, and to get full rations, than that twenty-eight should have half rations. Merciful Heaven! what shame! After the last catastrophe, the chiefs of the conspiracy, fearing, doubtless of being assassinated in their turn, threw all the arms into the sea, and swore an inviolable friendship with the heroes which the hatchet had spared. On the 17th of July, in the morning, Captain Parnajon, commandant of the Argus brig, still found fifteen men on the raft. They were immediately taken on board, and conducted to Senegal. Four of the fifteen are yet alive, viz. Captain Dupont, residing in the neighborhood of Maintenon, Lieutenant L'Heureux, since Captain at Senegal, Savigny, at Rochefort, and Correard, I know not where. On the 5th of July, at ten in the morning, one hour after abandoning the raft, and three after quitting the Medusa, M. Laperere, the officer of our boat, made the first distribution of provisions. Each passenger had a small glass of water and nearly the fourth of a biscuit. Each drank his allowance of water at one draught, but it was found impossible to swallow one morsel of our biscuit, it being so impregnated with sea-water. It happened, however, that some was found not quite so saturated. Of these we eat a small portion, and put back the remainder for a future day. Our voyage would have been sufficiently agreeable, if the beams of the sun had not been so fierce. On the evening we perceived the shores of the Desert; but as the two chiefs (MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys) wished to go right for Senegal, notwithstanding we were still one hundred leagues from it, we were not allowed to land. Several officers remonstrated, both on account of our want of provisions and the crowded condition of the boats, for undertaking so dangerous a voyage. Others urged with equal force, that it would be dishonoring the French name if we were to neglect the unfortunate people on the raft, and insisted we should be set on shore, and whilst we waited there, three boats should return to look after the raft, and three to the wreck of the frigate, to take up the seventeen who were left there, as well as a sufficient quantity of provisions to enable us to go to Senegal by the way of Barbary. But MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys whose boats were sufficiently well provisioned, scouted the advice or their subalterns, and ordered them to cast anchor till the following morning. They were obliged to obey these orders, and to relinquish their designs. During the night, a certain passenger who was doubtless no doctor, and who believed in ghosts and witches, was suddenly frightened by the appearance of flames, which he thought he saw in the waters of the sea, a little way from where our boat was anchored. My father, and some others, who were aware that the sea is sometimes phosphorated, confirmed the poor credulous man in his belief, and added several circumstances which fairly turned his brain. They persuaded him the Arabic sorcerers had fired the sea to prevent us from travelling along their deserts. On the morning of the 6th of July, at five o'clock, all the boats were under way on the route to Senegal. The boats of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys took the lead along the coast, and all the expedition followed. About eight, several sailors in our boat, with threats, demanded to be set on shore; but M. Laperere, not acceding to their request, the whole were about to revolt and seize the command; but the firmness of this officer quelled the mutineers. In a spring which he made to seize a firelock which a sailor persisted in keeping in his possession, he almost tumbled into the sea. My father fortunately was near him, and held him by his clothes, but he had instantly to quit him, for fear of losing his hat, which the waves were floating away. A short while after this slight accident, the shallop, which we had lost sight of since the morning, appeared desirous of rejoining us. We plied all hands to avoid her, for we were afraid of one another, and thought that that boat, encumbered with so many people, wished to board us to oblige us to take some of its passengers, as M. Espiau would not suffer them to be abandoned like those upon the raft. That officer hailed us at a distance, offering to take our family on board, adding, he was anxious to take about sixty people to the Desert. The officer of our boat, thinking that this was a pretence, replied, we preferred suffering where we were. It even appeared to us that M. Espiau had hid some of his people under the benches of the shallop. But alas; in the end we deeply deplored being so suspicious, and of having so outraged the devotion of the most generous officer of the Medusa. Our boat began to leak considerably, but we prevented it as well as we could, by stuffing the largest holes with oakum, which an old sailor had had the precaution to take before quitting the frigate. At noon the heat became so strong--so intolerable, that several of us believed we had reached our last moments. The hot winds of the Desert even reached us; and the fine sand with which they were loaded, had completely obscured the clearness of the atmosphere. The sun presented a reddish disk; the whole surface of the ocean became nebulous, and the air which we breathed, depositing a fine sand, an impalpable powder, penetrated to our lungs, already parched with a burning thirst. In this state of torment we remained till four in the afternoon, when a breeze from the northwest brought us some relief. Notwithstanding the privations we felt, and especially the burning thirst which had become intolerable, the cool air which we now began to breathe, made us in part forget our sufferings. The heavens began again to resume the usual serenity of those latitudes, and we hoped to have passed a good night. A second distribution of provisions was made; each received a small glass of water, and the eighth part of a biscuit. Notwithstanding our meagre fare, every one seemed content, in the persuasion we would reach Senegal by the morrow. But how vain were all our hopes, and what sufferings had we yet to endure! At half past seven, the sky was covered with stormy clouds. The serenity we had admired a little while before, entirely disappeared, and gave place to the most gloomy obscurity. The surface of the ocean presented all the signs of a coming tempest. The horizon on the side of the Desert had the appearance of a long hideous chain of mountains piled on one another, the summits of which seemed to vomit fire and smoke. Bluish clouds, streaked with a dark copper color, detached themselves from that shapeless heap, and came and joined with those which floated over our heads. In less than half an hour the ocean seemed confounded with the terrible sky which canopied us. The stars were hid. Suddenly a frightful noise was heard from the west, and all the waves of the sea rushed to founder our frail bark. A fearful silence succeeded to the general consternation. Every tongue was mute; and none durst communicate to his neighbor the horror with which his mind was impressed. At intervals the cries of the children rent our hearts. At that instant a weeping and agonized mother bared her breast to her dying child, but it yielded nothing to appease the thirst of the little innocent who pressed it in vain. O night of horrors! what pen is capable to paint thy terrible picture! How describe the agonizing fears of a father and mother, at the sight of their children tossed about and expiring of hunger in a small boat, which the winds and waves threatened to engulf at every instant! Having full before our eyes the prospect of inevitable death, we gave ourselves up to our unfortunate condition, and addressed our prayers to Heaven. The winds growled with the utmost fury; the tempestuous waves arose exasperated. In their terrific encounter a mountain of water was precipitated into our boat, carrying away one of the sails, and the greater part of the effects which the sailors had saved from the Medusa. Our bark was nearly sunk; the females and the children lay rolling in its bottom, drinking the waters of bitterness; and their cries, mixed with the roaring of the waves and the furious north wind, increased the horrors of the scene. My unfortunate father then experienced the most excruciating agony of mind. The idea of the loss which the shipwreck had occasioned to him, and the danger which still menaced all he held dearest in the world, plunged him into a swoon. The tenderness of his wife and children recovered him; but alas! his recovery was to still more bitterly deplore the wretched situation of his family. He clasped us to his bosom; he bathed us with his tears, and seemed as if he was regarding us with his last looks of love. Every soul in the boat was seized with the same perturbation, but it manifested itself in different ways. One part of the sailors remained motionless, in a bewildered state; the other cheered and encouraged one another; the children, locked in the arms of their parents, wept incessantly. Some demanded drink, vomiting the salt water which choked them; others, in short, embraced as for the last time, intertwining their arms, and vowing to die together. In the meanwhile the sea became rougher and rougher. The whole surface of the ocean seemed a vast plain furrowed with huge blackish waves fringed with white foam. The thunder growled around us, and the lightning discovered to our eyes all that our imagination could conceive most horrible. Our boat, beset on all sides by the winds, and at every instant tossed on the summit of mountains of water, was very nearly sunk in spite of our every effort in baling it, when we discovered a large hole in its poop. It was instantly stuffed with everything we could find:--old clothes, sleeves of shirts, shreds of coats, shawls, useless bonnets, everything was employed, and secured us as far as it was possible. During the space of six hours, we rowed suspended alternately between hope and fear, between life and death. At last towards the middle of the night, Heaven, which had seen our resignation, commanded the floods to be still. Instantly the sea became less rough, the veil which covered the sky became less obscure, the stars again shone out, and the tempest seemed to withdraw. A general exclamation of joy and thankfulness issued at one instant from every mouth. The winds calmed, and each of us sought a little sleep, while our good and generous pilot steered our boat on a still very stormy sea. The day at last, the day so desired, entirely restored the calm; but it brought no other consolation. During the night, the currents, the waves, and the winds had taken us so far out to sea, that, on the dawning of the 7th of July, we saw nothing but sky and water, without knowing whither to direct our course; for our compass had been broken during the tempest. In this hopeless condition, we continued to steer sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, until the sun arose, and at last showed us the east. On the morning of the 7th of July, we again saw the shores of the Desert, notwithstanding we were a great distance from it. The sailors renewed their murmurings, wishing to get on shore, with the hope of being able to get some wholesome plants, and some more palatable water than that of the sea; but as we were afraid of the Moors, their request was opposed. However, M. Laperere proposed to take them as near as he could to the first breakers on the coast; and when there, those who wished to go on shore should throw themselves into the sea, and swim to land. Eleven accepted the proposal; but when we had reached the first waves, none had the courage to brave the mountains of water which rolled between them and the beach. Our sailors then betook themselves to their benches and oars, and promised to be more quiet for the future. A short while after, a third distribution was made since our departure from the Medusa; and nothing more remained than four pints of water, and one half dozen biscuits. What steps were we to take in this cruel situation? We were desirous of going on shore, but we had such dangers to encounter. However we soon came to a decision, when we saw a caravan of Moors on the coast. We then stood a little out to sea. According to the calculation of our commanding officer, we would arrive at Senegal on the morrow. Deceived by that false account, we preferred suffering one day more, rather than be taken by the Moors of the Desert, or perish among the breakers. We had now no more than a small half glass of water, and the seventh of a biscuit. Exposed as we were to the heat of the sun, which darted its rays perpendicularly on our heads, that ration, though small would have been a great relief to us; but the distribution was delayed to the morrow. We were then obliged to drink the bitter sea water, ill as it was calculated to quench our thirst. Must I tell it! thirst had so withered the lungs of our sailors, that they drank water salter than that of the sea. Our numbers diminished daily, and nothing but the hope of arriving at the colony on the following day sustained our frail existence. My young brothers and sisters wept incessantly for water. The little Laura, aged six years lay dying at the feet of her mother. Her mournful cries so moved the soul of my unfortunate father, that he was on the eve of opening a vein to quench the thirst which consumed his child; but a wise person opposed his design, observing that all the blood in his body would not prolong the life of his infant one moment. The freshness of the night wind procured us some respite. We anchored pretty near to the shore, and though dying of famine, each got a tranquil sleep. On the morning of the 8th of July, at break of day, we took the route for Senegal. A short while after the wind fell, and we had a dead calm.--We endeavored to row, but our strength was exhausted. A fourth and last distribution was made, and in the twinkling of an eye, our last resources were consumed. We were forty-two people who had to feed upon six biscuits and about four pints of water, with no hope of a farther supply. Then came the moment for deciding whether we were to perish among the breakers, which defended the approach to the shores of the Desert, or to die of famine in continuing our route.--The majority preferred the last species of misery. We continued our progress along the shore, painfully pulling our oars. Upon the beach were distinguished several downs of white sand and some small trees. We were thus creeping along the coast, observing a mournful silence, when a sailor suddenly exclaimed, behold the Moors! We did, in fact, see various individuals upon the rising ground, walking at a quick pace, and whom we took to be the Arabs of the Desert. As we were very near the shore, we stood farther out to sea, fearing that these pretended Moors, or Arabs, would throw themselves into the sea, swim out, and take us. Some hours after, we observed several people upon an eminence, who seemed to make signals for us. We examined them attentively, and soon recognized them to be our companions in misfortune. We replied to them by attaching a white handkerchief to the top of our mast. Then we resolved to land at the risk of perishing among the breakers, which were very strong towards the shore, although the sea was calm. On approaching the beach, we went towards the right, where the waves seemed less agitated, and endeavored to reach it, with the hope of being able more easily to land. Scarcely had we directed our course to that point, when we perceived a great number of people standing near to a little wood surrounding the sand-hills. We recognized them to be the passengers of that boat, which, like ourselves, were deprived of provisions. Meanwhile we approached the shore, and already the foaming surge filled us with terror. Each wave that came from the open sea, each billow that swept beneath our boat, made us bound into the air; so we were sometimes thrown from the poop to the prow, and from the prow to the poop. Then, if our pilot had missed the sea, we would have been sunk; the waves would have thrown us aground, and we would have been buried among the breakers. The helm of the boat was again given to the old pilot, who had already so happily steered us through the dangers of the storm. He instantly threw into the sea the mast, the sails, and everything that could impede our proceedings. When we came to the first landing point, several of our shipwrecked companions, who had reached the shore, ran and hid themselves behind the hills, not to see us perish; others made signs not to approach at that place, some covered their eyes with their hands; others, at last despising the danger, precipitated themselves into the waves to receive us in their arms. We then saw a spectacle that made us shudder. We had already doubled two ranges of breakers; but those which we had still to cross raised their foaming waves to a prodigious height, then sunk with a hollow and monstrous sound, sweeping along a long line of the coast.--Our boat sometimes greatly elevated, and sometimes engulfed between the waves, seemed, at the moment, of utter ruin. Bruised, battered and tossed about on all hands, it turned of itself, and refused to obey the kind hand which directed it.--At that instant a huge wave rushed from the open sea, and dashed against the poop; the boat plunged, disappeared, and we were all among the waves. Our sailors, whose strength had returned at the presence of danger, redoubled their efforts, uttering mournful sounds. Our bark groaned, the oars were broken; it was thought aground, but it was stranded; it was upon its side. The last sea rushed upon us with the impetuosity of a torrent. We were all up to the neck in water; the bitter sea-froth choked us. The grapnel was thrown out.--The sailors threw themselves into the sea; they took the children in their arms; returned, and took us upon their shoulders; and I found myself seated upon the sand on the shore, by the side of my step-mother, my brothers and sisters, almost dead. Every one was upon the beach except my father and some sailors; but that good man arrived at last, to mingle his tears with those of his family and friends. Instantly our hearts joined in addressing our prayers and praises to God. I raised my hands to heaven, and remained sometime immoveable upon the beach. Every one also hastened to testify his gratitude to our old pilot, who next to God, justly merited the title of our preserver. M. Dumege, a naval surgeon, gave him an elegant gold watch, the only thing he had saved from the Medusa. Let the reader now recollect all the perils to which we had been exposed in escaping from the wreck of the frigate to the shores of the Desert--all that we had suffered during our four days' voyage--and he will perhaps have a just notion of the various sensations we felt on getting on shore on that strange and savage land. Doubtless the joy we experienced at having escaped, as by a miracle, the fury of the floods, was very great; but how much was it lessened by the feelings of our horrible situation! Without water, provisions, and the majority of us nearly naked, was it to be wondered at that we should be seized with terror on thinking of the obstacles which we had to surmount, the fatigues, the privations, the pains and sufferings we had to endure, with the dangers we had to encounter in the immense and frightful Desert we had to traverse before we could arrive at our destination? Almighty Providence! it was in Thee alone I put my trust. After we had a little recovered from the fainting and fatigue of our getting on shore, our fellow-sufferers told us they had landed in the forenoon, and cleared the breakers by the strength of their oars and sails; but they had not all been so lucky as we were. One unfortunate person, too desirous of getting quickly on shore, had his legs broken under the shallop, and was taken and laid on the beach, and left to the care of Providence. M. Espiau, commander of the shallop, reproached us for having doubted him when he wished to board us to take our family along with him. It was most true he had landed sixty-three people that day. A short while after our refusal, he took the passengers of the yawl, who would infallibly have perished in the stormy nights of the 6th and 7th. The boat named the Senegal, commanded by M. Maudet, had made the shore at the same time with M. Espiau. The boats of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys were the only ones which continued the route for Senegal, while nine-tenths of the Frenchmen intrusted to these gentlemen were butchering each other on the raft, or dying of hunger on the burning sands of Sahara. About seven in the morning, a caravan was formed to penetrate into the interior, for the purpose of finding some fresh water. We did accordingly find some at a little distance from the sea, by digging among the sand. Every one instantly flocked round the little wells, which furnished enough to quench our thirst. This brackish water was found to be delicious, although it had a sulphurous taste: its color was that of whey. As all our clothes were wet and in tatters, and as we had nothing to change them, some generous officers offered theirs. My step-mother, my cousin, and my sister, were dressed in them; for myself, I preferred keeping my own. We remained nearly an hour beside our beneficent fountain, then took the route for Senegal; that is, a southerly direction, for we did not know exactly where that country lay. It was agreed that the females and children should walk before the caravan, that they might not be left behind. The sailors voluntarily carried the youngest on their shoulders, and every one took the route along the coast. Notwithstanding it was nearly seven o'clock, the sand was

Previous: A Scene On The Atlantic Ocean
Next: The Loss Of The Royal George

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon

Add to Informational Site Network