The New Zealand Evangelist
The Wreck Of The “Pandora.”
The Wreck Of The “Pandora.”
Written for the “New Zealand Evangelist,” By one of the Survivors.
The following narrative, though not so directly religious in its bearings, as we aim at in the general contents of our Magazine, yet illustrates so clearly page 83 the doctrine of an over-ruling and particular providence, exhibits so strikingly the hardships to which sea-faring men are occasionally exposed, and furnishes a specimen of the bitter fruits we may expect should another European war arise, that we are certain it will be perused by our readers with both interest and profit.—Ed.
The following narrative contains particulars of a shipwreck which happened in the year 1811, and was accompanied by some remarkable proofs of the providential care of God, effected by means which were at the moment looked upon as almost certain to lead to our destruction.
In the month of January, 1811, H. M. S. Pandora was ordered to cruise on the Danish Coast, for the protection of our merchant ships, and this being the most severe season of the year in that quarter, the Pandora had been specially fitted up for the purpose. We left the shores of England in excellent spirits, and like other sailors in those days in hopes of making prize money;—in fact, few ships crews ever sailed in better spirits; how little we see before us! On the 12th February, one day after our arrival on our station, a violent snow-storm commenced, which prevented the officers from taking an observation; nor had the sun or moon been seen for two days before so that there was only the dead reckoning to trust to, by which neither tides nor currents could be accounted for; and the thickness of the snow prevented our getting a sight of the land. At four o'clock in the evening there was a sudden ery of “breakers a-head!” the Master was at his dinner, and I was beside him reading; but before either had time to rise, a more frightful cry was repeated of “breakers on the lee bow!” and in the same moment the ship struck with a violent crash, throwing the Master and myself, chairs, tables, and every thing in a heap, to the lee side of the ship; and shock was followed by shock so fast, that it was with difficulty we could regain our legs. It being understood by the Captain and Officers what reef we had struck upon, it was supposed that by lightening the ship she would force herself over the bank, into deep and smooth water, for which purpose orders were given to throw the guns overboard, and to let the anchors fall; but the instant that the first anchor fell, a heavy sea lifted up the ship, and she fell upon some part of the anchor, which went right through her bows, making an opening through which the water rushed with such violence that the noise was heard on deck like the roar of a water-fall, even in the midst of the roaring of the storm, and the thundering of the breakers; so that in a few minutes the ship was full of water. Then all hope of safety, except from the ship holding together, was at an end; for this purpose all the straining and lever weight was ordered to be removed, the masts and bowsprit to be cut away. These orders were instantly executed. But, in the hurry, and from the tremendous roaring of the storm page 84 and dashing of the sea, the orders of the captain had not been distinctly heard, and in place of first cutting the lee shrouds, the order was reversed, and the moment that the weather shrouds were cut, the main-mast, by the force of the wind and weight of the sails, fell with a crash, just at the moment that the mistake was observed, but too late to remedy the evil, as afterwards no person could get at the lee shrouds to cut them; which not only prevented the mast from floating away from the ship, but held it with its heel lying across the deck, every sea lifting it up and letting it fall again like a battering ram, with such continued and repeated violence, that we all expected it would soon cut the ship in two; after which she must soon have gone to pieces, when all hands must have been drowned, as no boat could have lived in such breakers for one moment; and we knew that we were about three miles from the shore, although we could see nothing; so that the mistake of cutting the weather shrouds gave a good deal of concern; but it turned out, no doubt as directed by Divine Providence, to be the cause of saving many lives. As before mentioned, the heel or end of the mast was lifted up and let fall again, with great force, so that by degrees the deck was broken up, and the mast cut its way down though the side of the ship to the lower deck, which it also broke through over one of the store-rooms, where there was a small cask of spirits which had been placed there that same day. This being lighter than water, floated up, and by a recoil surge was driven within reach of one of the seamen, who managed to secure it. This happened just at break of day on the morning of the 14th, between seven and eight o'clock. We had been on the wreck at this time betwixt fifteen and sixteen hours, during which period thirty-one men and two women had been frozen to death, out of one hundred and twenty-one men and three women. As soon as it was possible, a small quantity of the spirits was handed about to each individual. This was repeated at intervals, and the effects were so marked that from the time of the first distribution to that of our being landed, which was more than thirty hours afterwards, not another death occurred; * and during the first twenty hours the storm, cold, and snow had not moderated in the least, and although the storm and snow was abated during the last eleven hours the cold felt, if possible, more intense, the sea no longer breaking over us, which being warmer than the atmosphere, produced a sort of warm glow as it passed over, besides preventing the wind from penetrating so freely through our clothes. Such was our situation during the first forty hours. When the clouds began to break, the snow to cease, and the wind to abate, and the light of page 85 the second morning to dawn, the cold was felt to be still more severe; and it being now possible to look around, the sight was truly awful, as turn to whatever side upon the deck, there was only a clear sheet of ice, with the face of some one of our ship-mates, perhaps one of our mess-mates, staring us in the face through a tomb of glass, which from the globular form of the head and eyes, produced a powerful magnifying effect upon the rays of light, and gave to them a hideous appearance, particularly as all seemed to have their eyes wide open. The ice also seemed to make the eyes more bright than was natural, and they all seemed turned towards us. It was not long after this, however, that we saw the Danish gun-boats making towards us. We had gone there to destroy them, but now they were coming to save our lives, and to make us prisoners of war! We found afterwards that they had three times before attempted this, and that one time they had got within a quarter of a mile of the wreck, but could come no further for the surf. After getting alongside, they assisted us into the boats with great care and tenderness, and then began with pick axes to dig the dead bodies out of the ice, with which they were covered about two feet deep, and they were carried on shore in separate boats for interment, which ceremony was afterwards performed with proper respect. The survivors, to the number of ninety, were landed at four o'clock in the evening, having been on the wreck and in the boats forty-eight hours, and were then distributed about in the poor miserable fishing village of Scawgan.
I cannot help here mentioning an incident strongly illustrative of the different characters of human nature. In the last boat that landed was Captain Fergusson and myself; we found standing on the frozen, stormy beach ready to receive us a young lieutenant, and one soldier with the cold musket in his hand; they both seemed shivering with the cold—and the moment that Captain F. got his foot on land, which he could not do without the help of the boatmen, this young officer seized his sword, giving it such a pull that the bend which it received could never be taken out of it, at the same time making use of his best English—saying, “Gaave me your sawber,” Captain Fergusson requested him to have patience and he would undo the clasp and give it to him, which he immediately did. At the same moment the wife of the common soldier had arrived with what appeared to be intended for the dinner of her husband, consisting of two slices of very black bread with something like a little butter spread on it—and as soon as his officer had gratified himself with the possession of a good sword, this poor shivering soldier, stepped forward, broke one of the slices of bread in two, and in the most respectful, but soldier-like manner, offered the one half to the Captain and the other to me; and although we did not accept of his kindness, it was not because we did not feel the need of it, but a sort of gratitude filled our hearts that we could not at the moment have swallowed a morsel, more particularly as he had been kept standing there all day on our account.
It may not be improper here to mention some of the effects of page 86 the cold as they were seen and felt by myself. In the first place, the whole body is seized with an involuntary shaking and shivering, with rattling of the teeth, which seems to continue in different constitutions longer or shorter according to the vis vitœ of the individual. As soon as these cease they are followed by an unconquerable inclination to sleep—and to prevent which these first sensations seem to be a wise provision of nature; for as soon as this shaking and rattling of the teeth ceases all sensation of pain is at an end, and in spite of every warning and advice, sleep becomes not only unconquerable, but men seem even to desire it, and so sure as it gets possession it is the sleep of death. But long before this inclination to sleep was felt, our sufferings had been very great, and all were alike exposed, as far as any thing like protection or shelter went. The escape of one more than another, can only he accounted for by the difference of constitution and the will of Providence. During the first forty hours we were obliged to keep our arms hooked round some rope or piece of wood to prevent the recoil of the surge from washing us away. We could not make any use of our fingers either to open or shut them, and our clothes were not only frozen, but so hard that all the loose floating parts broke off and were carried away; thus the rim of my hat was broken off as well as the skirts of my coat; and every sea giving a new coating of ice, forming at the points of our hair hundreds of icicles, like the eaves of a house, to such an extent that they were even painfully heavy, and would have rattled like a pound of candles had it been at all possible to shake the head; icicles formed even at the tip of the nose, from the water that was kept constantly running down from the forehead, which we were every now and then obliged to break off to give passage to the air in breathing; this had to be done by holding the nose with the one hand whilst they were broken away with the other, as without this precaution the nose would have been broken; and I actually saw the icicles like fine needles growing out of my fingers in all directions. During the whole of the time not a morsel of food could be got with the exception of one onion, which one of the men picked up floating, and who was so kind as to divide it into small morsels, one of which he gave to me; I know for certain that this was the only thing in the shape of food that was tasted.
There is another remark which seems to me worth making—it has been mentioned that two women died on the wreck, but there was a third on board who not only withstood the severity of the cold but who six weeks afterwards was delivered of a fine healthy infant. My principal reason for mentioning this circumstance arises from a strong persuasion that the Almighty has invested the female when in that state with a greater vis vita, or power of retaining life.
There is one thing more, worthy of remark, which is, that during all these sufferings and deaths, not a single man was heard to murmur or to behave in the slightest degree disrespectfully towards the captain or Officers, a circumstance that does not often happen amongst shipwrecked sailors; it being obvious to every one in this page 87 case that all suffered alike in the body, and that the Captain was suffering great distress of mind. Only one of the women uttered frequent cries of lamentation; every heavy sea in passing over the ship struck the bell, which made it toll with a very funereal sound, when she always exclaimed with a mournful tone, “that bell is tolling for me!” and sure enough she did die: the fear of death hastened the reality.
“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep; their soul is melted because of trouble; they are at their wit's end; but the Lord bringeth them out of trouble. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”
* “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish.” But lest any one should suppose that the writer of this narrative means it as an excuse for the unlimited use of ardent spirits, he intends at some future time to give to the public, a case in which the bad effects of spirits will be shewn in so strong a light that no one may be able to take this as an excuse.