Imágenes de páginas

end of the Rue des Vieillards, he is not bound to have some one else. where to warn him when vessels belonging to his own country are driven upon a lee-shore during the sudden gales which so often occur in the Channel. This subject we distinctly decline to enter upon,--more especially as Captain Chads, of the Royal Navy, has been sent over by express desire of the government, to inquire if His Majesty's consul, Mr. Hamilton, has been guilty of any negligence in this truly lamentable affair.

The next point to which we shall draw the attention of our readers before breaking into our subject, is the existence of a law in this free country, which authorizes, or rather protects, any officer of the customs, should he be in the execution of his office, in committing what we might call a legal murder. These officers are desired, on no account, to allow any thing, be it living or dead, to pass the high water-mark until the collector of the customs, the commissary of the police, or some of the numerous authorities which adorn a French sea-port town, have been apprised of the landing of such living creatures; or the arrival on the coast of any cask, sack, trunk, chest, plank, or dead body; and sorry are we to say, that this order, issued no doubt to protect the revenue, has been the occasion of more than one death, and that of the most melancholy and afflicting nature. We shall here merely advert to the fact, that in December, 1828, the brig William was wrecked on the coast off Porlet, not far from Boulogne, from which vessel one black man managed to get on shore alive. Struggling from the ocean, which had nearly dragged him back to its insatiable grave, the poor negro fell upon the shore, and there, digging his eager nails into the sands, he waited the receding of the sea before he again ventured advance to a greater security. That advance was arrested by a soldier or a douanier, who, pointing a bayonet to his breast, called upon the fainting man to await the arrival of the officer. Life was barely existing, and was fast ebbing ;-assistance would have restored what the fury of the elements had nearly snatched away. The hand of science-the aid of any human being would have saved the life which now an inhuman law was murdering. The black man spoke,- he mentioned the wreck-he called for sustenance@he urged them to shelter him; and whilst one of the douaniers had gone at his leisure to inform his officer, the poor drenched and shivering wretch was extended on the sands, and before the man dressed in a little brief authority thought proper to appear— the negro had died. One more fact upon the same head: on the 31st of August an Indiaman was lost not many leagues to the westward, off Berg—“The Amelia.” Three of her crew, who managed to get on shore, were compelled by the douaniers to lie down a few paces above high water-mark, and there they remained the whole night ;-nay, it is a positive fact, that these devils incarnate, as devoid of feeling as of a right sense of duty, actually drove the poor rescued seamen at the point of the bayonet to the water again. Is this the country where we are constantly reminded of its civilization and humanity? Is this the country to which we are referred for the excellence of the laws ?—why to us it appears a matter of perfect indifference according to that law, if the man on the beach be murdered by the bayonet, or murdered by being forced to remain on the exposed shore in' his drenched clothes. But before we proceed, and in order to show how rigidly, even in extreme cases, this law is acted up to, take one more fact:-on the night of the wreck of the Amphitrite, a female was washed on shore alive; she was carried by Achille le Prêtre and Nicholas Huret, two Frenchmen who rescued the poor creature from at any rate a watery grave; she was so far sensible, as frequently to grasp Huret's hand; and no doubt exists in the minds of the above-mentioned men, but that had assistance been promptly rendered at the moment, that woman's life would have been saved. Two superior officers (these are their own words) of the custom-house came towards the bearers of the then living woman; they pointed their bayonets, and forcibly compelled the abovenamed men to abandon the female; and she died on the beach at the feet of these self-styled human beings !

Now to the shipwreck :-The Amphitrite, a vessel of 208 tons, and drawing about twelve feet water abaft, bark-rigged, weighed and sailed from the Downs on the 29th of August last, the wind then being from the S.W. and blowing a moderate breeze: she had on board 137 people, of whom 100 were women, 23 were infants, and 14 belonged to the crew; she was bound to Sydney, and was commanded by Capt. Ilunter, the women being convicts, and under the charge of Mr. Forrester, a surgeon of the navy, whose wife was also on board. The wind freshened gradually, so that on the night of the 30th, the crew were almost incessantly employed in reefing their topsails and their courses ; and although in men-of-war half an hour at the very utmost, even in ships badly disciplined, would have been ample time for the performance of such duties, yet on board a merchant-ship it not unfrequently, especially in squally, rainy weather, requires the whole night for such a reduction of sail. At dawn of day on Saturday morning the 31st, she had shortened sail to her trysail; the men having been engaged the whole of Friday night in first double-reefing the topsails, then furling everything but the maintop-sail, which they close reefed, and afterwards furled, though they kept her top-gallant yards aloft. At 3 P.m. on Saturday, the Amphitrite being then under the sail described, and on the larboard tack, the wind having chopped round to the N.W. and blowing excessively hard, made the land, or rather the martello tower, which stands to the westward of Boulogne harbour about a mile, and known by the name of Fort de l'Heure, on her starboard beam. She now found herself on a lee-shore, and perfectly embayed ; for when she first started from the Downs, the wind being at S.W. she hugged the French coast, but on Saturday night a tremendous squall came from the N.W. and settled the wind in that quarter, making the French a lee-shore. The hands were instantly turned up to make sail, and with all the alacrity which their dangerous situation inspired, they got her under close-reefed maintop-sail, the foresail, fore-topmast staysail, and soon opened Boulogne harbour. It was apparent to any seaman, that the loss of the vessel was inevitable, for she drifted bodily on the shore, the sea rolling and breaking more furiously the more she neared it. In vain did they hold on all their canvass when the squalls came : she was a leewardly and miserable craft to crawl off a lee-shore, and every sea that struck her seemed to deaden her way and force her fast into the surf. She struck about half-past four o'clock on the shoal which projects itself to the eastward of the harbour of Boulogne, at which moment the best bower anchor was cut away. From this moment, all hope of saving the vessel must have been abandoned even by him who is longest flattered by hope. The ship was broadside on to the shore, the sea running at times clear over the hull. The anchor being of no possible use, the cable was slipped, and by means of the foretop-mast staysail the ship's head payed off, and she now beeame hard and fast end on to the beach.

The tide was ebbing, and about seven o'clock it was dead low water. Between the period of her striking and the lowest of the tide, the topgallant yards had been sent down, and an attempt had been made, but which was shortly abandoned, to furl the sails. There she lay rolling over as the sea waslied against her; but so far dry as not to strike, Outside of her the sea roared in all its fury; the surf, as it struck the edge of the shoal, sending its spray to the shore ; and the returning tide threatening to devour its victim, now placed beyond the power of escape.

When the vessel first quitted the Downs, the motion soon rendered all the female passengers sea-sick, and they, generally speaking, remained in their beds quite unconscious of the danger which awaited them, and luckily ignorant of " the impervious horrors of a leeward shore.” As the vessel rolled her lumbering sides in the water, these poor creatures either laughed at the sufferings of their comrades, or made their quick remarks as to their change of situation : but when she struck—when the high waves beat over the vessel, and the water poured down the main hatchway,—then all the terror of highly-pictured fear usurped the place of merriment;—then they made a simultaneous rush to the hatchway, and crawling on deck, took forcible possession of the poop-cabin, in which was the surgeon and his wife. The scene now was changed to one of frantic apprehension : some clung to the seamen-some to others of their own sex, whose bolder countenance inspired courage; and some who had children on board wept over their devoted offspring, and tied the imploring infants round their waists.Oh, few can tell whose lot in life is cast in higher stations, and who are freed from the dangers of the sea, the horrible confusion-the scenes of affection-the heart-rending sights offered to the hurried gaze in such a moment as this; when reason is not sufficiently calm, either to direct or be directed—when the eye only meets the towering sea which breaks upon its victims, or turns to the frightened and agitated looks of scared females or helpless infants ;-in vain the pitying appeal is made-the unrelenting ocean still performs its wonted office, - each sea brings the danger nearer-escape is impossible, and death stalks over the water.

At this time—the nearest minute of low water, about seven in the evening, a Frenchman named Hénin waded out, occasionally swimming, but almost always within his depth, and arrived positively within long boat-hook's length of the wreck. He told the crew who were disposed to listen, that with the returning food inevitable death awaited them-that the sea would rise as the tide rose; and he pointed to the fierce breaking of the surf to warn the seamen of their danger; he was, at the moment of his holding this conversation, actually within his depth, and he merely used a slight exertion to lift himself above the wave as it rushed past him. Unfortunately, Hénin was under the starboard-bow, and the survivors doubt if the captain, who was in the cabin with the surgeon and the women, was ever informed of this warning voice having reached his vessel. He remained imploring the crew to save themselves whilst their safety was certain, to risking the return of the tide, which could as well wash the wreck closer to the shore without, as with their additional weight. At last, finding the crew deaf to his entreaties, he asked for a rope, by which means it was hoped that some might be saved, should the worst of apprehensions occur; with this rope he again made towards the shore, but when distant about twenty fathoms, finding that no more of the coil was payed out, and being much exhausted from his long stay in the water, he very reluctantly quitted the end, and returned to his comrades, who were collected in crowds upon the sands. A boat likewise manned by eight Frenchmen endeavoured to assist the vessel, but we are bound to contradict the report which has gone forth that she actually reached the ship, and had the end of a rope thrown on board *

The strangest of all infatuations seems to have taken possession of the captain, surgeon, and mate ; for at this moment, when the vessel was, comparatively speaking, still, no boat was hoisted out, no raft was constructed, no preparation was made to meet the worst consequences; and we are bound to believe the report, that the captain, who was the owner of the vessel, was so appalled at her danger, that he lost all command of himself and his crew, and, instead of endeavouring to remedy the certain disaster, he remained in the poop-cabin in the company of the women. It is rumoured that some proposition was made of landing the convicts, which was opposed by Mrs. Forrester, who refused to sit in the same boat with females banished for their crimes from their parent country. We are called upon to contradict this Boulogne rumour—Mrs. Forrester, in her fright, would not have been so foolishly fastidious; but this much is certain, that some conversation upon the subject did take place; that the precious moments were wasted ; and that ultimately no decision was come to, and the boat remained on the booms.

At the time that the day closed in, and all the murkiness of night was apparent, the sea began to rise with the tide; the wind, far from lulling, freshened with the setting sun; small showers after showers fed

* The whole of this paper is the result of many inquiries, and in many places an actual copy of the written statement made by Mr. Towsey, one of the three survivors. It has been read to him, and is confirmed by his testimony given to the British consul here. We here give an extract from the « Annotateur,” a paper which has entered very minutely into the details of this shipwreck :-“ Pendant ce tems là, un canot avait été traîné par-dessus les fascines et amené vis-à-vis le navire : les pilotes Huret et Testard, avec huit braves marins, s'y embarquèrent, et après des efforts inouis, réussirent enfin à s'approcher du bâtiment ; ils prirent un bout de cordage en faisant signe qu'on le filât du bord et qu'ils le porteraient à terre. Le cordage fut encore filé pendant quelque temps, et fut une seconde fois arrêté tout-à-coup; le canot ainsi retenu plongeait sou avant dans la lame et s'emplissait d'eau; nos marins intrépides furent obligés pour leur propre sûreté, de le laisser aller, et de renoncer à leur courageuse entreprise." Now, which of the two statements are true we leave the public to decide; but Mr. Towsey declares, that all the time the boat was in sight he never quitted the deck, and only went below when the tide began to flow.

the gale; and no seaman ever looked upon a horizon more lowering than that which now was dimly discernible over the waste of waters. Everything bespoke a tempestuous night, and the worst apprehensions were entertained by all but those who had most to suffer.

So secure did the crew of this ill-fated vessel feel, that they actually turned into their hammocks, and went to sleep.

Short time had they for the slumber of life, as a preface to that of a more lasting nature! Half an hour had scarcely elapsed, when the striking of the ship disturbed their repose. Some then, as forewarned of their fate, dressed themselves in their best clothes ; some hastily encumbered their persons with the little money, their whole worldly treasure ; and some packed their chests; whilst others looked with hope's bright eye towards the shore, where the numerous lights announced that their situation was not entirely neglected. Strange, but true it is, that as their danger increased with the repeated striking, they never dreamed of making any signal of distress ; nor did they have recourse to that remedy of making known their fears by the only noise which could have been heard above the roar of the wind and waves, the loud dash of the ocean, or the shrieks of despair-namely, by firing guns, of which they had four on board. They gave no signal; they never attempted to relieve themselves ; but they looked on at the accumulating danger with listless indifference, while the vessel, as she floated occasionally, fell broadside on. Soon they heard the cry

of some below, that the vessel had sprung a leak, in short that she was stove in. The water soon filled the lower deck, and the vessel became a fixture on the sand. The sea now broke clean over, and carried away her bulwarks fore and aft. The women still remained in the poop-cabin ; whilst seven of the seamen mounted the fore-rigging, and there, entwining their arms round the shrouds, they awaited the inevitable fate which they now too plainly perceived, and which it was now too late to attempt to baffle. Each sea grew higher and higher; the battered vessel began gradually to yield to the force of the ocean ; when a tremendous sea broke with all its fury full on the quarter of the wreck. The poop-cabin was washed away, and the whole of the women and children, the surgeon and the captain, were immersed in the sea! One tremendous shriek, heard above the wild roar of the elements, reached the shore; and in that last and heart-appalling scream the dreadful tale was told. Those who still clung to the fore-rigging heard the last ineffectual cry for assistance from the drowning convicts ; they looked


grave open to receive them; and, in the aberration of intellect, they responded a kind of faint echo to the last earthly sound of one hundred and thirty human beings.

“ Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell ;

Then shriek'd the timid, and stood still the brave;
Then some leap'd overboard with dreadful yell,

As eager to anticipate their grave!
And the sea yawn'd around them like a hell,

As down it suck'd with them the whirling wave.” The following sea swept away the main and mizen masts, and snapped the big spars close above the deck. The ship began to part; and five minutes from that time, as well as misery can estimate the lingering


« AnteriorContinuar »