Sea Stories

Wreck Of The British Ship Sidney On A Reef Of Rocks In The South Sea

The Sidney left Port Jackson, on the coast of New Holland, on the 12th of April, 1806, bound to Bengal. Intending to proceed through Dampier's Straits, her course was directed as nearly as possible in the track of Captain Hogan of the Cornwallis,

which, as laid down in the charts, appeared a safe and easy passage. But, on the 20th of May, at one A. M. we ran upon a most dangerous rock, or shoal in 3 20 south latitude, and 146 50 east longitude, and as this reef is not noticed in any map or chart, it appears that we were its unfortunate discoverers. On Sunday 25 fathoms of water were found over the taffrail, and six fathoms over the larboard gangway; only nine feet on the starboard side, and 12 feet over the bows. One of the boats was immediately got out, with a bower-anchor; but on sounding, at the distance of ten fathoms from the ship, no ground could be found with sixty fathoms of line. When she struck it must have been high water, for at that time there was no appearance of any reef or breaker; but as the water subsided, the shoal began to show itself, with a number of small black rocks. The ship had been striking very hard, and began to yield forward. At three A. M. there were six feet water in the hold, and increasing rapidly; at five the vessel was setting aft, and her top sides parting from the floor-heads. Upon consultation with my officers, it was our unanimous opinion, that the ship was gone beyond recovery, and that no exertions could avail for her safety. We therefore employed all hands in getting the boats ready to receive the crew, who were 108 in number. Eight bags of rice, six casks of water and a small quantity of salted beef and pork, were put into the long-boat as provisions for the whole; the number of the people prevented us from taking a larger stock, as the three boats were barely sufficient to receive us all with safety. We remained with the Sidney until five P. M. on the twenty-first of May, when there were three feet of water on the orlop deck; therefore we now thought it full time to leave the ship to her fate, and to seek our safety in the boats. Accordingly, I embarked in the long-boat with Mr. Trounce, second officer, and 74 Lascars; Mr. Robson and Mr. Halkart with 16 Lascars, were in the cutter, and the jolly-boat was allotted to 15 Dutch Malays, and one Seapoy. Being desirous to ascertain the position of the reef, which could be done by making the Admiralty Islands, our course was shaped thither, steering north by east and half east. During the night, it blew fresh, and the long-boat having made much water, we were obliged to lighten her, by throwing a great deal of lumber, and two casks of water, overboard. The three boats kept close in company, the long-boat having the jolly-boat in tow. Finding at day-light that the cutter sailed considerably better, I directed Mr. Robson that the jolly-boat might be taken in tow by her. But the wind increasing as the morning advanced, and a heavy swell rising, the jolly-boat, while in tow by the cutter, sunk at ten o'clock, and all on board, to the number of 16, perished. It was lamentable to witness the fate of these unhappy men, and the more so, as it was not in our power to render them the smallest assistance. The Admiralty Islands were seen at noon of the 22d, bearing N. N. E. three or four leagues distant, and as we had run about fifty-eight miles in the boats, upon a N. by E. half E. course, the situation of the shoal where the Sidney struck was accurately ascertained, and will be found as above laid down. From the Admiralty Islands, we continued standing to the westward, and on the twenty-fifth, made a small island, on which, from its appearance, I was induced to land in quest of a supply of water. Therefore Mr. Robson, myself, and 20 of our best hands, armed with heavy clubs, brought from New Caledonia, (our fire-arms being rendered useless from exposure to the rain) landed through a high surf, to the utmost astonishment of the inhabitants. As far as might be judged, they had never before seen people of our complexion. The men were tall and well made, wearing their hair plaited and raised above the head; they had no resemblance to Malays or Caffres; and excepting their color, which was of a light copper, they had the form and features of Europeans. They were entirely naked. We also saw a number of women, who were well formed, and had mild and pleasing features. We were received on the beach by about twenty natives, who immediately supplied each of us with a cocoa-nut. We succeeded in making them understand that we wanted water, on which they made signs for us to accompany them to the interior of the island; on compliance, after walking about a mile, they conducted us into a thick jungle, and, as their number was quickly increasing, I judged it imprudent to proceed further. Thus returning to the beach, I was alarmed to find that 150, or more, of the natives had assembled, armed with spears eight or ten feet long. One of them, an old man of venerable appearance, and who seemed to be their chief, approached, and threw his spear at my feet, expressing as I understood, of his wish that we should part with our clubs in like manner. Perceiving at this time that a crowd of women had got hold of the stern-fast of the cutter, and were endeavoring to haul her on shore from the grapnel, we hastily tried to gain the boat. The natives followed us closely; some of them pointed their spears at us as we retreated, and some were thrown, though happily without effect; and to us they seemed to be very inexpert in the management of their weapons.--On my getting into the water, three or four of the natives followed me, threatening to throw their spears, and when I was within reach of the boat, one of them made a thrust, which was prevented from taking effect by Mr. Robson, who warded off the weapon. When we had got into the boat, and were putting off, they threw, at least, 200 spears, none of which struck, excepting one, which gave a severe wound to my cook, entering immediately above the jaw, and passing through his mouth. Having escaped this perilous adventure we pursued our course, and got as far as Dampier's Straits, in as favorable circumstances as our situation could well admit. But the Lascars, now being within reach of land, became impatient to be put on shore. It was in vain that I exhorted them to persevere; they would not listen to argument, and expressed their wish rather to meet with immediate death on shore, than to be starved to death in the boats. Yielding to their importunity, I at length determined to land them on the north-west extremity of the island of Ceram, from whence they might travel to Amboyna in two or three days. Being off that part of the island on the ninth of June, Mr. Robson volunteered to land a portion of the people in the cutter, to return to the long-boat, and the cutter to be then given up to such further portion of the crew as chose to join the party first landed.--Accordingly he went ashore with the cutter, but to my great mortification, after waiting two days, there was no appearance of his return or of the cutter. We concluded that the people had been detained either by the Dutch or the natives. Yet as the remaining part of the Lascars were desirous to be landed, we stood in with the long-boat, and put them on shore near the point where we supposed the cutter to have landed her people. Our number in the long-boat were now reduced to seventeen, consisting of Mr. Trounce, Mr. Halkart, myself and 14 Lascars and others. Our stock of provision was two bags of rice and one gang cask of water, with which we conceived we might hold out until reaching Bencoolen, whither we determined to make the best of our way. The allowance to each man we fixed at one tea-cupful of rice and a pint of water daily, but we soon found it necessary to make a considerable reduction. Proceeding through the straits of Bantam, we met in our course several Malay prows, none of which took notice of us excepting one, which gave chase for a day, and would have come up with us had we not got off under cover of a very dark night. Continuing onwards, we passed through the strait of Saypay, where we caught a large shark. Our spirits were much elated by this valuable prize, which we lost no time in getting on board; and having kindled a fire in the bottom of the boat, it was roasted with all expedition. Such was the keenness of our appetite, that although the shark must have weighed 150 or 160 pounds, not a vestige of it remained at the close of the day. But we were afflicted on the following day with the most violent complaint of the stomach and bowels, which reduced us exceedingly, and left us languid and spiritless, insomuch that we now despaired of safety. On the 2d of July I lost an old and faithful servant, who died from want of sustenance; and on the fourth we made Java head; at the same time catching two large boobies, which afforded all hands a most precious and refreshing meal. At midnight of the ninth, we came to off Pulo Penang, on the west coast of Sumatra; but at day-light, when endeavoring to weigh our anchor and run close in shore, we were so much exhausted that our united strength proved insufficient to get it up. On a signal of distress being made, a sanpan with two Malays came off, and as I was the only person in the long-boat who had sufficient strength to move, I accompanied them on shore. However, I found myself so weak on landing that I fell to the ground, and it was necessary to carry me to an adjacent house. Such refreshments as could be procured were immediately sent off to the long-boat, and we recruited so rapidly that in two days we found ourselves in a condition to proceed on our voyage. Having weighed anchor on the 12th of July, we set sail, and on the 19th arrived off the island of Bencoolen. Here I met with an old friend, Captain Chauvet of the Perseverance, whose kindness and humanity I shall ever remember and gratefully acknowledge. On the day subsequent to my arrival, I waited on Mr. Parr the resident, from whom I received every attention. Leaving Bencoolen on the 17th of August, in the Perseverance, I arrived at Penang on the 27th, where I was agreeably surprized to meet my late chief mate Mr. Robson, who, along with the Lascars, had landed at Ceram. They reached Amboyna in safety, where they were received by the Dutch governor, Mr. Cranstoun, with a humanity and benevolence that reflect honor on his character. He supplied them with whatever their wants required. Mr. Robson was accommodated at his own table, and, on leaving Amboyna, he furnished him money for himself and his people, for the amount of which he refused to take any receipt or acknowledgment. He also gave Mr. Robson letters to the governor-general of Batavia, recommending him to his kind offices. Such honorable conduct from the governor of a foreign country, and with which we were at war, cannot be too widely promulgated. From Amboyna, Mr. Robson embarked in the Pallas a Dutch frigate, for Batavia, which on the passage thither was captured by his Majesty's ships Greyhound and Harriet, and brought to Prince of Wales's island. From Penang I sailed to Bengal with the Paruna, Captain Denison, and arrived safely in Calcutta in the beginning of May, 1806.

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