Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Wreck of the HMS Phoenix

Lately I have been exploring old texts written by sailors of the past.  It is quite fascinating.  While many aspects of the technology of going to sea in ships has changed, the dangers and challenges faced by sailors of the past and of the present have not.  The sea remains an awesome force both beautiful and terrible.

"The spiritual beauty of the sea, absorbing man's soul, permits of no infidels on its boundless expanse." - Capt. Joshua Slocum 1894

The following is a very personal account of survival of the shipwreck of a British ship of war in a hurricane in the Caribbean in 1780.  The account is made all the more personal as the writer, Lieutenant Archer,  is writing of it in a letter to his mother.  The language is a little archaic, but it captures both the flavor of the era and the emotion of Archer.  At the time England was at war with both the United States and Spain.  Archer's ship, the HMS Phoenix was on patrol in the Caribbean searching for Spanish merchantman.  The Letter comes from an out of copyright book published in 1889:


Tales of Shipwreck and Disaster,
Providential Escapes
HURST & CO., Publishers,

The Phœnix of 44 guns, Capt. Sir Hyde Parker was lost in a hurricane, off Cuba, in the West Indies, in the year 1780. The same hurricane destroyed the Thunderer, 74; Stirling Castle, 64; La Blanche, 42; Laurel, 28; Andromeda, 28; Deas Castle, 24; Scarborough, 20; Beaver’s Prize, 16; Barbadoes, 14; Cameleon, 14; Endeavour, 14; and Victor, 10 guns. Lieut. Archer was first-lieutenant of the Phœnix at the time she was lost. His narrative in a letter to his mother, contains a most correct and animated account of one of the most awful events in the service. It is so simple and natural as to make the reader feel himself as on board the Phœnix. Every circumstance is detailed with feeling, and powerful appeals are continually made to the heart. It must likewise afford considerable pleasure to observe the devout spirit of a seaman frequently bursting forth, and imparting sublimity to the relation.
At Sea, June 30, 1781.
My dear Mother,
I am now going to give you an account of our last cruise in the Phœnix; and must premise, that should any one see it besides yourself, they must put this construction on it—that it was originally intended for the eyes of a mother, and a mother only—as, upon that supposition, my feelings may be tolerated. You will also meet with a number of sea-terms, which, if you don’t understand, why, I cannot help you, as I am unable to give a sea description in any other words.
To begin then:—On the 2d of August, 1780, we weighed and sailed for Port Royal, bound for Pensacola, having two store-ships under convoy, and to see safe in; then cruise off the Havana, and in the gulf of Mexico, for six weeks. In a few days we made the two sandy islands, that look as if they had just risen out of the sea, or fallen from the sky; inhabited, nevertheless, by upwards of three hundred English, who get their bread by catching turtle and parrots, and raising vegetables, which they exchange with ships that pass, for clothing and a few of the luxuries of life, as rum, &c.
About the 12th we arrived at Pensacola, without any thing remarkable happening except our catching a vast quantity of fish, sharks, dolphins, and bonettos. On the 13th sailed singly, and on the 14th had a very heavy gale of wind at north, right off the land, so that we soon left the sweet place, Pensacola, at a distance astern. We then looked into the Havana, saw a number of ships there, and knowing that some of them were bound round the bay, we cruised in the track: a fortnight, however, passed, and not a single ship hove in sight to cheer our spirits. We then took a turn or two round the gulf, but not near enough to be seen from the shore. Vera Cruz we expected would have made us happy, but the same luck still continued; day followed day, and no sail. The dollar bag began to grow a little bulky, for every one had lost two or three times, and no one had won: this was a small gambling party entered into by Sir Hyde and ourselves; every one put a dollar into a bag, and fixed on a day when we should see a sail, but no two persons were to name the same day, and whoever guessed right first was to have the bag.
Being now tired of our situation, and glad the cruise was almost out, for we found the navigation very dangerous, owing to unaccountable currents; we shaped our course for Cape Antonio. The next day the man at the mast head, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, called out: “A sail upon the weather bow! Ha! Ha! Mr. Spaniard, I think we have you at last. Turn out all hands! make sail! All hands give chase!” There was scarcely any occasion for this order, for the sound of a sail being in sight flew like wild fire through the ship and every sail was set in an instant almost before the orders were given. A lieutenant at the mast head, with a spy glass, “What is she?” “A large ship studding athwart right before the wind. P-o-r-t! Keep her away! set the studding sails ready!” Up comes the little doctor, rubbing his hands; “Ha! ha! I have won the bag.” “The devil take you and the bag; look, what ’s ahead will fill all our bags.” Mast head again: “Two more sail on the larboard beam!” “Archer, go up, and see what you can make of them.” “Upon deck there; I see a whole fleet of twenty sail coming right before the wind.” “Confound the luck of it, this is some convoy or other, but we must try if we can pick some of them out.” “Haul down the studding-sails! Luff! bring her to the wind! Let us see what we can make of them.”
About five we got pretty near them, and found them to be twenty-six sail of Spanish merchantmen, under convoy of three line of battle ships, one of which chased us; but when she found we were playing with her (for the old Phœnix had heels) she left chase, and joined the convoy; which they drew up into a lump, and placed themselves at the outside; but we still kept smelling about till after dark. O, for the Hector, the Albion, and a frigate, and we should take the whole fleet and convoy, worth some millions! About eight o’clock perceived three sail at some distance from the fleet; dashed in between them, and gave chase, and were happy to find they steered from the fleet. About twelve came up with a large ship of twenty-six guns. “Archer, every man to his quarters! run the lower deck guns out, and light the ship up; show this fellow our force; it may prevent his firing into us and killing a man or two.” No sooner said than done. “Hoa, the ship ahoy, lower all your sails down, and bring to instantly, or I’ll sink you.” Clatter, clatter, went the blocks, and away flew all their sails in proper confusion. “What ship is that?” “The Polly.” “Whence came you?” “From Jamaica.” “Where are you bound?” “To New York.” “What ship is that?” “The Phœnix.” Huzza, three times by the whole ship’s company. An old grum fellow of a sailor standing close by me: “O, d—m your three cheers, we took you to be something else.” Upon examination we found it to be as he reported, and that they had fallen in with the Spanish fleet that morning, and were chased the whole day, and that nothing saved them but our stepping in between; for the Spaniards took us for three consorts, and the Polly took the Phœnix for a Spanish frigate, till we hailed them. The other vessel in company was likewise bound to New York. Thus was I, from being worth thousands in idea, reduced to the old 4s. 6d. a day again: for the little doctor made the most prize money of us all that day, by winning the bag, which contained between thirty and forty dollars; but this is nothing to what we sailors sometimes undergo.
After parting company, we steered south-south-east, to go round Antonio, and so to Jamaica, (our cruise being out) with our fingers in our mouths, and all of us as green as you please. It happened to be my middle watch, and about three o’clock, when a man upon the forecastle bawls out: “Breakers ahead, and land upon the lee-bow;” I looked out, and it was so sure enough. “Ready about! put the helm down! Helm a lee!” Sir Hyde hearing me put the ship about, jumped upon deck. “Archer, what ’s the matter? you are putting the ship about without my orders!” “Sir, ’tis time to go about! the ship is almost ashore, there ’s the land.” “Good God so it is! Will the ship stay?” “Yes, Sir, I believe she will, if we don’t make any confusion; she’s all aback—forward now?”—“Well,” says he, “work the ship, I will not speak a single word.” The ship stayed very well. “Then, heave the lead! see what water we have!” “Three fathom.” “Keep the ship away, west-north-west.”—“By the mark three.” “This won’t do, Archer.” “No, Sir, we had better haul more to the northward; we came south-south-east, and had better steer north-north-west.” “Steady, and a quarter three.” “This may do, as we deepen a little.” “By the deep four.” “Very well, my lad, heave quick.” “Five Fathom.” “That ’s a fine fellow! another cast nimbly.” “Quarter less eight.” “That will do, come, we shall get clear by and by.”—“Mark under water five.” “What ’s that?” “Only five fathom, Sir.” “Turn all hands up, bring the ship to an anchor, boy!” “Are the anchors clear!” “In a moment, Sir.” “All clear!” “What water have you in the chains now!” “Eight, half nine.” “Keep fast the anchors till I call you.” “Ay, ay, Sir, all fast!” “I have no ground with this line.” “How many fathoms have you out? pass along the deep-sea line!” “Ay, ay, Sir.” “Come are you all ready?” “All ready, Sir.” “Heave away, watch! watch! bear away, veer away, no ground Sir, with a hundred fathom.” “That ’s clever, come, Madam Phœnix, there is another squeak in you yet—all down but the watch; secure the anchors again; heave the main-top-sail to the mast; luff, and bring her to the wind!”
I told you, Madam, you should have a little sea-jargon: if you can understand half of what is already said, I wonder at it, though it is nothing to what is to come yet, when the old hurricane begins. As soon as the ship was a little to rights, and all quiet again, Sir Hyde came to me in the most friendly manner, the tears almost starting from his eyes—“Archer, we ought all, to be much obliged to you for the safety of the ship, and perhaps of ourselves. I am particularly so; nothing but that instantaneous presence of mind and calmness saved her; another ship’s length and we should have been fast on shore; had you been the least diffident, or made the least confusion, so as to make the ship baulk in her stays, she must have been inevitably lost.” “Sir, you are very good, but I have done nothing that I suppose any body else would not have done, in the same situation. I did not turn all the hands up, knowing the watch able to work the ship; besides, had it spread immediately about the ship, that she was almost ashore, it might have created a confusion that was better avoided.” “Well,” says he, “’t is well indeed.”
At daylight we found that the current had set us between the Collarado rocks and Cape Antonio, and that we could not have got out any other way than we did; there was a chance, but Providence is the best pilot. We had sunset that day twenty leagues to the south-east of our reckoning by the current.
After getting clear of this scrape, we thought ourselves fortunate, and made sail for Jamaica, but misfortune seemed to follow misfortune. The next night, my watch upon deck too, we were overtaken by a squall, like a hurricane while it lasted; for though I saw it coming, and prepared for it, yet, when it took the ship, it roared, and laid her down so, that I thought she would never get up again. However, by keeping her away, and clewing up every thing, she righted. The remainder of the night we had very heavy squalls, and in the morning found the mainmast sprung half the way through: one hundred and twenty-three leagues to the leeward of Jamaica, the hurricane months coming on, the head of the mainmast almost off, and at short allowance; well, we must make the best of it. The mainmast was well fished, but we were obliged to be very tender of carrying sail.
Nothing remarkable happened for ten days afterwards, when we chased a Yankee man of war for six hours, but could not get near enough to her before it was dark, to keep sight of her; so that we lost her because unable to carry any sail on the mainmast. In about twelve days more made the island of Jamaica, having weathered all the squalls, and put into Montego Bay for water; so that we had a strong party for kicking up a dust on shore, having found three men of war lying there. Dancing, &c. &c. till two o’clock every morning; little thinking what was to happen in four days’ time: for out of the four men of war that were there, not one was in being at the end of that time, and not a soul alive but those left of our crew. Many of the houses, where we had been so merry, were so completely destroyed, that scarcely a vestige remained to mark where they stood. Thy works are wonderful, O God! praised be thy holy Name!
September the 30th weighed; bound for Port Royal, round the eastward of the island; the Bardadoes and Victor had sailed the day before, and the Scarborough was to sail the next. Moderate weather until October the 2d. Spoke to the Barbadoes off Port Antonio in the evening. At eleven at night it began to snuffle, with a monstrous heavy appearance from the eastward. Close reefed the top-sails. Sir Hyde sent for me: “What sort of weather have we, Archer!” “It blows a little, and has a very ugly look: if in any other quarter but this, I should say we were going to have a gale of wind.” “Ay, it looks so very often here when there is no wind at all; however, don’t hoist the top-sails till it clears a little, there is no trusting any country.” At twelve I was relieved; the weather had the same rough look: however, they made sail upon her, but had a very dirty night. At eight in the morning I came up again, found it blowing hard from the east-north-east, with close-reefed top-sails upon the ship, and heavy squalls at times. Sir Hyde came upon deck: “Well, Archer, what do you think of it?” “O, Sir, ’t is only a touch of the times, we shall have an observation at twelve o’clock; the clouds are beginning to break; it will clear up at noon, or else—blow very hard afterwards.” “I wish it would clear up, but I doubt it much. I was once in a hurricane in the East Indies, and the beginning of it had much the same appearance as this. So take in the top-sails, we have plenty of sea-room.”
At twelve, the gale still increasing, wore ship, to keep as near mid-channel between Jamaica and Cuba, as possible; at one the gale increasing still; at two, harder yet, it still blows harder! Reefed the courses, and furled them; brought to under a foul mizen stay-sail, head to the northward. In the evening no sign of the weather taking off, but every appearance of the storm increasing, prepared for a proper gale of wind; secured all the sails with spare gaskets; good rolling tackles upon the yards; squared the booms; saw the boats all made fast; new lashed the guns; double breeched the lower deckers; saw that the carpenters had the tarpawlings and battens all ready for hatchways; got the top-gallant-mast down upon the deck; jib-boom and sprit-sail-yard fore and aft; in fact every thing we could think of to make a snug ship.
The poor devils of birds now began to find the uproar in the elements, for numbers, both of sea and land kinds, came on board of us. I took notice of some, which happening to be to leeward, turned to windward, like a ship, tack and tack; for they could not fly against it. When they came over the ship they dashed themselves down upon the deck, without attempting to stir till picked up, and when let go again, they would not leave the ship, but endeavoured to hide themselves from the wind.
At eight o’clock a hurricane; the sea roaring, but the wind still steady to a point; did not ship a spoonful of water. However, got the hatchways all secured, expecting what would be the consequence, should the wind shift; placed the carpenters by the mainmast, with broad axes, knowing, from experience, that at the moment you may want to cut it away to save the ship, an axe may not be found. Went to supper: bread, cheese, and porter. The purser frightened out of his wits about his bread bags; the two marine officers as white as sheets, not understanding the ship’s working so much, and the noise of the lower deck guns; which, by this time, made a pretty screeching to people not used to it; it seemed as if the whole ship’s side was going at each roll. Wooden, our carpenter, was all this time smoking his pipe and laughing at the doctor; the second lieutenant upon deck, and the third in his hammock.
At ten o’clock I thought to get a little sleep; came to look into my cot; it was full of water; for every seam, by the straining of the ship, had began to leak. Stretched myself, therefore, upon deck between two chests, and left orders to be called, should the least thing happen. At twelve a midshipman came to me: “Mr. Archer, we are just going to wear ship, Sir!” “O, very well, I’ll be up directly, what sort of weather have you got?” “It blows a hurricane.” Went upon deck, found Sir Hyde there. “It blows damned hard Archer.” “It does indeed, Sir.” “I don’t know that I ever remember its blowing so hard before, but the ship makes a good weather of it upon this tack as she bows the sea; but we must wear her, as the wind has shifted to the south-east, and we were drawing right upon Cuba; so do you go forward, and have some hands stand by; loose the lee yard-arm of the fore-sail, and when she is right before the wind, whip the clue-garnet close up, and roll up the sail.” “Sir! there is no canvass can stand against this a moment; if we attempt to loose him he will fly into ribands in an instant, and we may lose three or four of our people; she’ll wear by manning the fore shrouds.” “No, I don’t think she will.” “I’ll answer for it, Sir; I have seen it tried several times on the coast of America with success.” “Well, try it; if she does not wear, we can only loose the fore-sail afterwards.” This was a great condescension from such a man as Sir Hyde. However, by sending about two hundred people into the fore-rigging, after a hard struggle, she wore; found she did not make so good weather on this tack as on the other; for as the sea began to run across, she had not time to rise from one sea before another lashed against her. Began to think we should lose our masts, as the ship lay very much along, by the pressure of the wind constantly upon the yards and masts alone: for the poor mizen-stay-sail had gone in shreds long before, and the sails began to fly from the yards through the gaskets into coach whips. My God! to think that the wind could have such force!
Sir Hyde now sent me to see what was the matter between decks, as there was a good deal of noise. As soon as I was below, one of the Marine officers calls out: “Good God Mr. Archer, we are sinking, the water is up to the bottom of my cot.” “Pooh, pooh! as long as it is not over your mouth, you are well off; what the devil do you make this noise for?” I found there was some water between decks, but nothing to be alarmed at; scuttled the deck, and let it run into the well—found she made a good deal of water through the sides and decks; turned the watch below to the pumps, though only two feet of water in the well; but expected to be kept constantly at work now, as the ship labored much, with scarcely a part of her above water but the quarter-deck, and that but seldom “Come, pump away, my boys. Carpenters, get the weather chain-pump rigged.” “All ready, Sir.” “Then man it and keep both pumps going.”
At two o’clock the chain-pump was choked; set the carpenters at work to clear it; the two head pumps at work upon deck; the ship gained on us while our chain-pumps were idle; in a quarter of an hour they were at work again, and we began to gain upon her. While I was standing at the pumps, cheering the people, the carpenter’s mate came running to me with a face as long as my arm: “O, Sir! the ship has sprang a leak in the gunner’s room.” “Go, then, and tell the carpenter to come to me, but don’t speak a word to any one else.” “Mr. Goodinoh, I am told there is a leak in the gunner’s room; go and see what is the matter, but don’t alarm any body, and come and make your report privately to me.” In a short time he returned: “Sir, there ’s nothing there, ’tis only the water washing up between the timbers that this booby has taken for a leak.” “O, very well; go upon deck and see if you can keep any of the water from washing down below.” “Sir, I have had four people constantly keeping the hatchways secure, but there is such a weight of water upon the deck that nobody can stand it when the ship rolls.” The gunner soon afterwards came to me: “Mr. Archer, I should be glad if you would step this way into the magazine for a moment:” I thought some damned thing was the matter, and ran directly: “Well, what is the matter here?” “The ground-tier of powder is spoiled, and I want to show you that it is not out of carelessness in stowing it, for no powder in the world could be better stowed. Now, Sir, what am I to do? if you don’t speak to Sir Hyde, he will be angry with me.” I could not forbear smiling to see how easy he took the danger of the ship, and said to him: “Let us shake off this gale of wind first, and talk of the damaged powder afterwards.”
At four we had gained upon the ship a little, and I went upon deck, it being my watch. The second lieutenant relieved me at the pumps. Who can attempt to describe the appearance of things upon deck? If I was to write for ever I could not give you an idea of it—a total darkness all above, the sea on fire, running as it were in Alps, or Peaks of Teneriffe; (mountains are too common an idea); the wind roaring louder than thunder, (absolutely no flight of imagination), the whole made more terrible, if possible, by a very uncommon kind of blue lightning; the poor ship very much pressed, yet doing what she could, shaking her sides, and groaning at every stroke. Sir Hyde upon deck lashed to windward! I soon lashed myself alongside of him, and told him the situation of things below, saying the ship did not make more water than might be expected in such weather, and that I was only afraid of a gun breaking loose. “I am not in the least afraid of that; I have commanded her six years, and have had many a gale of wind in her; so that her iron work, which always gives way first, is pretty well tried. Hold fast! that was an ugly sea; we must lower the yards, I believe, Archer; the ship is much pressed.” “If we attempt it, Sir, we shall lose them, for a man aloft can do nothing; besides their being down would ease the ship very little; the mainmast is a sprung mast; I wish it was overboard without carrying any thing else along with it; but that can soon be done, the gale cannot last for ever; ’twill soon be daylight now.” Found by the master’s watch that it was five o’clock, though but a little after four by ours; glad it was so near daylight, and looked for it with much anxiety. Cuba, thou art much in our way! Another ugly sea: sent a midshipman to bring news from the pumps: the ship was gaining on them very much, for they had broken one of their chains, but it was almost mended again. News from the pump again. “She still gains! a heavy lee!” Back-water from leeward, half-way up the quarter-deck; filled one of the cutters upon the booms, and tore her all to pieces; the ship lying almost on her beam ends, and not attempting to right again. Word from below that the ship still gained on them, as they could not stand to the pumps, she lay so much along. I said to Sir Hyde: “This is no time, Sir, to think of saving the masts, shall we cut the mainmast away?” “Ay! as fast as you can.” I accordingly went into the weather chains with a pole-axe, to cut away the lanyards; the boatswain went to leeward, and the carpenters stood by the mast. We were all ready, when a very violent sea broke right on board of us, carried every thing upon deck away, filled the ship with water, the main and mizen masts went, the ship righted, but was in the last struggle of sinking under us.
As soon as we could shake our heads above water, Sir Hyde exclaimed: “We are gone, at last, Archer! foundered at sea!” “Yes, Sir, farewell, and the Lord have mercy upon us!” I then turned about to look forward at the ship; and thought she was struggling to get rid of some of the water; but all in vain, she was almost full below “Almighty God! I thank thee, that now I am leaving this world, which I have always considered as only a passage to a better, I die with a full hope of the mercies, through the merits of Jesus Christ, thy son, our Saviour!”
I then felt sorry that I could swim, as by that means I might be a quarter of an hour longer dying than a man who could not, and it is impossible to divest ourselves of a wish to preserve life. At the end of these reflections I thought I heard the ship thump and grinding under our feet; it was so. “Sir, the ship is ashore!” “What do you say?” “The ship is ashore, and we may save ourselves yet!” By this time the quarter-deck was full of men who had come up from below; and ‘the Lord have mercy upon us,’ flying about from all quarters. The ship now made every body sensible that she was ashore, for every stroke threatened a total dissolution of her whole frame; found she was stern ashore, and the bow broke the sea a good deal, though it was washing clean over at every stroke. Sir Hyde cried out: “Keep to the quarter-deck, my lads, when she goes to pieces, ’t is your best chance!” Providentially got the foremast cut away, that she might not pay round broad-side. Lost five men cutting away the foremast, by the breaking of a sea on board just as the mast went. That was nothing; every one expected it would be his own fate next; looked for daybreak with the greatest impatience. At last it came; but what a scene did it show us! The ship upon a bed of rocks, mountains of them on one side, and Cordilleras of water on the other; our poor ship grinding and crying out at every stroke between them; going away by piecemeal. However, to show the unaccountable workings of Providence, that which often appears to be the greatest evil, proved to be the greatest good! That unmerciful sea lifted and beat us up so high among the rocks, that at last the ship scarcely moved. She was very strong, and did not go to pieces at the first thumping, though her decks tumbled in. We found afterwards that she had beat over a ledge of rocks, almost a quarter of a mile in extent beyond us, where, if she had struck, every soul of us must have perished.
I now began to think of getting on shore, so stripped off my coat and shoes for a swim, and looked for a line to carry the end with me. Luckily could not find one, which gave me time for recollection. “This won’t do for me, to be the first man out of the ship, and first lieutenant; we may get to England again, and people may think I paid a great deal of attention to myself and did not care for any body else. No, that won’t do; instead of being the first, I’ll see every man, sick and well, out of her before me.”
I now thought there was no probability of the ship’s soon going to pieces, therefore had not a thought of instant death: took a look round with a kind of philosophic eye, to see how the same situation affected my companions, and was surprised to find the most swaggering, swearing bullies in fine weather, now the most pitiful wretches on earth, when death appeared before them. However, two got safe; by which means, with a line, we got a hawser on shore, and made fast to the rocks, upon which many ventured and arrived safe. There were some sick and wounded on board, who could not avail themselves of this method; we, therefore, got a spare top-sail-yard from the chains and placed one end ashore and the other on the cabin-window, so that most of the sick got ashore this way.
As I had determined, so I was the last man out of the ship; this was about ten o’clock. The gale now began to break. Sir Hyde came to me, and taking me by the hand was so affected that he was scarcely able to speak “Archer, I am happy beyond expression, to see you on shore, but look at our poor Phœnix!” I turned about, but could not say a single word, being too full: my mind had been too intensely occupied before; but every thing now rushed upon me at once, so that I could not contain myself, and I indulged for a full quarter of an hour in tears.
By twelve it was pretty moderate; got some nails on shore and made tents; found great quantities of fish driven up by the sea into the holes of the rocks; knocked up a fire, and had a most comfortable dinner. In the afternoon made a stage from the cabin-windows to the rocks, and got out some provisions and water, lest the ship should go to pieces, in which case we must all have perished of hunger and thirst; for we were upon a desolate part of the coast, and under a rocky mountain, that could not supply us with a single drop of water.
Slept comfortably this night and the next day, the idea of death vanishing by degrees, the prospect of being prisoners, during the war, at the Havana, and walking three hundred miles to it through the woods, was rather unpleasant. However, to save life for the present, we employed this day in getting more provisions and water on shore, which was not an easy matter, on account of decks, guns and rubbish, and ten feet water that lay over them. In the evening I proposed to Sir Hyde to repair the remains of the only boat left, and to venture in her to Jamaica myself; and in case I arrived safe, to bring vessels to take them all off; a proposal worthy of consideration. It was, next day, agreed to; therefore got the cutter on shore, and set the carpenters to work on her; in two days she was ready, and at four o’clock in the afternoon I embarked with four volunteers and a fortnight’s provision, hoisted English colors as we put off from the shore, and received three cheers from the lads left behind, which we returned, and set sail with a light heart; having not the least doubt, that, with God’s assistance, we should come and bring them all off. Had a very squally night, and a very leaky boat, so as to keep two buckets constantly bailing. Steered her myself the whole night by the stars, and in the morning saw the coast of Jamaica distant twelve leagues. At eight in the evening arrived at Montego Bay.
I must now begin to leave off, particularly as I have but half an hour to conclude; else my pretty little short letter will lose its passage, which I should not like, after being ten days, at different times, writing it, beating up with the convoy to the northward, which is a reason that this epistle will never read well; as I never set down with a proper disposition to go on with it; but as I knew something of the kind would please you, I was resolved to finish it; yet it will not bear an overhaul; so don’t expose your son’s nonsense.
But to proceed—I instantly sent off an express to the admiral, another to the Porcupine man of war, and went myself to Martha Bray to get vessels; for all their vessels here, as well as many of their houses, were gone to Moco. Got three small vessels, and set out back again to Cuba, where I arrived the fourth day after leaving my companions. I thought the ship’s crew would have devoured me on my landing; they presently whisked me up on their shoulders and carried me to the tent where Sir Hyde was.
I must omit many little occurrences that happened on shore, for want of time; but I shall have a number of stories to tell when I get alongside of you; and the next time I visit you I shall not be in such a hurry to quit you as I was the last, for then I hoped my nest would have been pretty well feathered:—But my tale is forgotten.
I found the Porcupine had arrived that day, and the lads had built a boat almost ready for launching, that would hold fifty of them, which was intended for another trial, in case I had foundered. Next day embarked all our people that were left, amounting to two hundred and fifty; for some had died of their wounds they received in getting on shore; others of drinking rum, and others had straggled into the country.—All our vessels were so full of people, that we could not take away the few clothes that were saved from the wreck; but that was a trifle since we had preserved our lives and liberty. To make short of my story, we all arrived safe at Montego Bay, and shortly after at Port Royal, in the Janus, which was sent on purpose for us, and were all honorably acquitted for the loss of the ship. I was made admiral’s aid-de-camp, and a little time afterwards sent down to St. Juan’s as captain of the Resource, to bring what were left of the poor devils to Blue Fields, on the Musquito shore, and then to Jamaica, where they arrived after three month’s absence, and without a prize, though I looked out hard off Porto Bello and Carthagena. Found in my absence that I had been appointed captain of the Tobago, where I remain his majesty’s most true and faithful servant, and my dear mother’s most dutiful son,

1 comment:

  1. Just happened on to your blog, reading it while at sea and enjoying it. Thanks!