Page images
PDF
EPUB

OR

SAILORS' MAGAZINE.

NEW SERIES.

FOR APRIL 1836.

SUFFERINGS IN THE SHIPWRECK OF TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-EIGHT PERSONS. ORDINARY circumstances of privation and suffering in a seafaring life are fully sufficient to plead with Christians on land for their generous sympathy, their ardent prayers, and their constant liberality for the spiritual welfare of "those that go down to the sea in ships." But the frequent dreadful and fatal shipwrecks, afford the most powerful and touching appeals to engage them to seek by all means to promote among seamen the saving knowledge of Christ, that they may be fitted for the enjoyment of God in this world, and whether called into eternity by land or by sea, they may be prepared for his eternal glory.

The "Loss of the Neva" has already been mentioned in the PILOT, but the following most affecting details of that melancholy event are given as a plea for sympathy with sailors, at the special request of a merchant, one of their oldest and most generous friends, and one of the Vice Presidents of the British and Foreign Sailors Society.

Particulars of the total loss of the Convict ship, NEVA, on the 13th of May, 1835, having then on board 238 persons, chiefly female convicts, of whom all but fifteen perished; being a letter from the Mate, Joseph Bennett, to his parents.

Launceston, July 2, 1835,

My dear Parents,-With heartfelt sorrow I have to relate the total, dreadful, and melancholy loss of the Neva, under the following melancholy circumstances: On the 12th of May, at noon, the northern part of King's Island, at the entrance of Bass's Strait, bore east ninety miles by good observation; and knowing it to be dangerous, we

VOL. III.

H

steered E.N.E., a course which ought to have taken us at least twenty miles clear of the island, and expecting to be abreast of it about two o'clock on the morning of the 13th. I having the watch on deck, saw the land, but instead of being well clear, and to the northward, we were running dead upon it, the wind blowing hard, as much as we could carry double reefed topsails, with a heavy sea running. On seeing the land, I immediately hauled the ship to the wind, and called the captain. After the yards were trimmed to the wind, we appeared to lie well clear of the point, having it broad on the lee-bow, and a good distance off. At four o'clock I was relieved, but still kept the deck, attending to the helmsman. The captain and second mate were on the quarter-deck, a man on each side of the forecastle looking out, when at half-past five, one called out, "Breakers a-head!" I instantly ran and hove the helm hard-a-lee; the ship was coming round, and the headsails lifting, when she struck with tremendous force, and knocked away the rudder, which, hanging in such a position as to be a-weather, and the ship floating after the first strike, and gathering way, she paid off, and went on the main reef. The first sea hove her upon a pointed rock, which went through her bottom, and she lay broadside-on to the sea, which was making a break completely over her. I have thus far endeavoured to state all that occurred until the ship lay in the situation I have pointed out; what followed is more than I have power to do. I will endeavour to give a description of the scene, but it will be a faint one. At the time of the ship first striking, the women were all in bed; as soon as she came broadside to the sea, which was in about the space of three minutes, the whole of the prison bars round the hatches fell down, and the women immediately rushed on deck, and made for the cuddy, crying and screaming in a dreadful manner, some poor creatures scarcely covered, when they began ransacking the place; they drank all the wine and spirits they could procure, dressed themselves in clothes belonging to the captain, and stole my little new watch, and committed all the depredation they possibly could. At length day-light broke, and we launched one boat (pinnace), which we had been clearing away. The surgeon, who was in a very bad state of health, was put into her first; the captain got in also. I kept clear of her; for although she was the only boat that was likely to get clear of the reef, I knew it would be next

to impossible to get clear of the ship's side. I was not wrong; for as soon as the women saw the captain and surgeon take to the boat, they made a jump, and at least fifty, tumbling over each other, sunk the boat, and all perished except the captain. The long-boat was next tried, into which the captain, myself, and about ten more, placed ourselves before she was off the ship's deck. At length the word was given to launch; off she went filled with water, and a sea at the same time curling round the bow, turned her bottom up; the boat's gunwale struck me on the head and sent me under water, and, rising, I came in contact with Hayman, the third mate, who got my head between his legs, squeezed me as tight as possible, and carried me under water again, still clinging to me; with a great exertion I got clear, and to the surprise of all who saw me, I came up after having swallowed a great quantity of salt water, and swam to the main-yard, which was swinging up and down alongside of the ship, the heel of the mainmast being through her bilge. I took hold of the chain-sheet, and clung with arms and legs for a full quarter of an hour, while every sea broke over me; and had I been able to lift my leg one foot, I could have got on board; but I could not, and only one man would venture his life in such a dangerous situation to assist me. At length I regained the deck, where I saw the captain, who had also got on board. At this time several were lying on the lee-side of the deck, dead or dying, some washing away with every sea. We had already lost two boats getting them in the water; the third was washed from the davits; the fourth and last still remained, but without any chance of getting her out; we were seven miles from the shore, between us and which the sea ran terrifically. Death appeared inevitable; I neither courted nor shunned it. Instinctively I sat down in the boat which was on deck, and waited calmly and collectedly for what might occur. I had scarcely been seated five minutes (for no human power could do the least good, the ship lying with a rock through her bottom, and jammed between one on each side, and opened so far below the bends as to allow ten butts to roll out), when with a horrid crash she parted into a thousand pieces. The women feeling the deck go from under them, crowded so thickly round the boat that they carried her down under my feet; this was about eight in the morning. I then swam to the mizenmast, stayed there about five minutes, when the mast began

to roll. I then, between wading and swimming, got to
the poop-deck, where I found a great number with a
few men. This part having the other deck under it,
behaved very well, and we went along very well. Several
cheeses washed up close to me; I took one of them, and
gave a piece to all around me, and in endeavouring to
cheer them up, found my own spirits much more elevated
than before. On the part where I now stood the water
barely covered my ankles; but this good fortune was of
but short continuance, for the lower deck floating from
underneath, we were instantly up to the chin! As soon
as possible I got to another piece, to which the women
followed, until they sunk that also. Now began our
misery. Finding the wreck sinking under me, I made to
a part of the quarter deck, about eight feet broad, with
the spindle of the capstan standing, with only two men
upon it, and floating nicely. As soon as I got upon it,
the women followed; several perished in the attempt,
several gained the piece, and several returned to their
own piece, which was now floating much better from so
many leaving it. Fearing that so many would come upon
my wreck as to sink that also, I cut the rope by which it
was hanging to the poop-deck, and off we went clear of
them. Having made a piece of rope fast from the spindle
to one of the broken beams, when counting our number I
found we were twenty-five upon a part of the deck, about
thirty feet long by eight feet broad, in a heavy sea. When
we first started, we approached the land rapidly, but when
about half way between the reef and the land, we seemed
nailed as it were to the spot, and for two hours did not
near the land one inch to all appearance.
I attributed
this to the wreck being between two tides; at length we
again began to near the land; but from the time of parting
with the other, every heavy sea which broke over us took
some off. I was washed off three times, but regained the
wreck, and had to walk from side to side holding the rope
at the same time to balance it, or it certainly would have
turned over.
We now drew near the shore, and saw, to
our dismay, that we had a heavy dangerous surf to go
through, and I cautioned my companions in misery not to
loose their hold. At length we were among the breakers,
and in vain did I call to them to hold on; the sea broke
completely over our heads, and carried off every woman
except one, who held on bravely. The wreck now took a
rock in the middle of the surf, about a hundred yards from

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the beach, the sea breaking in quick succession, when I determined to jump off, and swim to the land; accordingly I did jump, and found the water up to my chin; I directly called to the rest to come, for I felt the bottom. I had scarcely spoken, when a breaker rolled me over and over farther up. I then saw the poor creature of a woman standing, afraid to jump into the water, and the men also ; I then went out through the surf, told the woman to jump, which she did, and taking hold of her hand, I dragged her to the shore; the men then followed. I was the first who landed from the wreck of the ship, and with me landed from my piece, two men, one boy, and one woman. I shortly after saw the captain walking towards me, this was four in the afternoon, having been eight hours drifting, blowing hard, cold, and scarcely any covering. I had trowsers and shirt only; no fire; coming on dark (this being winter time), we crawled a few yards among the bushes, and there laid down, twenty-two in number, seven of whom died the same night, leaving fifteen to balance against 238 souls when the ship struck. We were six weeks upon the island, living upon some flour which washed from the wreck; a small quantity of pork, perriwinkles, and limpets, and lastly, kangaroo and porcupine, and were taken off by Mr. Charles Friend on the 24th of June. I must conclude with saying, that at the present time the captain and I are doing nothing: we expect to go to Hobart Town, and from thence to Sydney with our six women prisoners. I must offer no comment upon the loss of the ship, but merely say that she was set by a strong current at least twenty miles from her course, although a good look-out was kept, and every individual performed his duty with promptness. The destruction was inevitable. I must say since our arrival here, we have been treated in a manner which does honour to the inhabitants of Launceston. The captain and I are living together; he desires to be kindly remembered to you all; give my love to Dinah and the girls, and believe me,

Your affectionate son,
JOSEPH BENNETT.

I will now give you a short account of the way we passed our time on King's Island. I was the first who landed from the wreck alive, and judge my feelings when standing upon the beach surrounded by the bodies of those poor unfortunate victims, who had been washed off the

« PreviousContinue »