Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter VI

Hostilities had now commenced, and we could not doubt but these merciless ruffians would soon return in force, and when able to overpower us, would massacre us all as they had already done Antonio. The wind blowing strong, and the surf breaking outside and on the wreck twenty or thirty feet high, the hope of Jetting to sea in our crazy long-boat was indeed but faint. She had been thumping alongside the wreck, and on a sand bank all "day, and writhed like an old basket, taking in as much water as two men constantly employed with buckets could throw out. The deck and outside of the wreck were fast going to pieces, and the other parts could not hold together long. The tide, (by being low) together with the sand bar that had been formed by the washing of the sea from the bow of the wreck to the beach, had very much lessened the danger of communicating with the shore during this day; but it was now returning to sweep every thing from the wreck, aided by the wind, which blew a gale on shore every night. To remain on the wreck, or go on shore, was almost certain death; the boat could no longer be kept afloat alongside, and being without provisions or water, if we should put to sea, we must soon perish. We had neither oars nor a rudder to the boat; no compass nor a quadrant to direct her course; but as it was our only chance, I resolved to try and get to sea; expecting, nevertheless, we should be swallowed up by the first surf and launched, into eternity all together.

I, in the first place, sent Porter on shore to get the two broken oars that were still lying there, while I made my way through the.water, into the hold of tt^p wreck, to try once more if any fresh water could be found. I dove in at the hatchway, which was covered with water, and found, after coming up under the deck on the larboard side, as I expected, just room enough to breathe, and to work among the floating casks, planks, and wreck of the hold. After much labour I found a water cask, partly full, and turning it over, discovered that its bung was tight. This gave me new courage, and after upheading it.

I came up and communicated the circumstance to my shipmates, and we then made search for some smaller vessel to fill from the cask. After much trouble, a small keg was found in the after hold ; it might probably hold four gallons—the head of the water- cask was stove in, and with the help of Mr. Savage and Clark I got the keg full of water, and a good drink for all hands besides, which was very much needed. The others were in the meantime employed in rigging out spars which we had lashed together over the stern of the wreck with a rope made fast to their outer ends, in order to give the boat headway, and clear her from the wreck, when we should finally shove off. Porter had returned with the oars, and also brought the bag of money that had been buried, containing about four hundred dollars: this he did of his own accord.

We had got the small boat’s sails, consisting of a jib and mainsail, into the boat, with a spar that would do for a mast, and the brig’s fore-topmast staysail ; the keg of water, a few pieces of salt pork, a live pig, weighing about twenty pounds, which had escaped to the shore when the vessel struck, and which had swam back to us again when we were driven from the shore; about four pounds of figs, that had been soaking in salt water ever since the brig was wrecked, and had been fished out of her cabin: this was all our stock of provisions.

Every thing being now ready, I endeavoured to encourage the crew as well as I could ; representing to them that was better to be swallowed up all together, than to suffer ourselves to be massacred by, the ferocious savages; adding, that the Almighty was able to save, even when the last ray of hope was vanishing; we should never despair, but exert ourselves to the last extremity, and still hope for his merciful protection.

As we surveyed the dangers that surrounded us, wave following wave, breaking with a dreadful crash just outside of us, at every instant, our hearts indeed failed us, and there appeared no possibility of getting safely beyond the breakers, without a particular interference of Providence in our favour. The particular interference of Providence in any case I had always before doubted. Every one trembled with dreadful apprehensions, and each imagined that the moment we ventured past the vessel’s stern, would be his last. I then said, “ let us pull off our hats, my shipmates and companions in distress.” This was done in an instant; when lifting my eyes and my soul towards heaven, I exclaimed, “ great Creator and preserver of the universe, who now seest our distresses; we pray thee to spare our lives, and permit us to pass through this overwhelming surf to the open sea; but if we are doomed to perish, thy will be done; we commit our souls to the mercy of, thee our God, who gave them: and O! universal Father, protect and preserve our widows and children.”

The wind, as if by divine command, at this very moment ceased to blow. We hauled the boat out; the dreadful surges that were nearly hurtling upon us, suddenly subsided, making a path for our boat about twenty yards wide, through which we rowed her out as smoothly as if she had been on a river in a calm, whilst on each side of, us, and not more than ten yards distant, the surf continued to break twenty feet high, and with unabated fury. We had to row nearly a mile “in this manner; all were fully convinced that we were saved by the immediate interposition of divine Providence in this particular instance, and all joined in returning thanks to the Supreme Being for this mercy. As soon as we reached the open sea, and had gained some distance from the wreck, the surf returned combing behind us with the same force as on each side the boat. We next fitted the mast, and set the small boat’s mainsail. The wind now veered four points to the eastward, so that we were enabled to fetch past the point of the Cape; though the boat had neither keel nor rudder, it was sunset when we got out, and night coming on, the wind as usual increased to a gale before morning, and we kept the boat to the wind by the help of an oar, expecting every moment to be swallowed up by the waves. We were eleven in number on board; two constantly bailing were scarcely able to keep her free, changing hands every half hour. The night was very dark and an( * we could not be sure of fetching clear of the land, having nothing to guide us but the wind. In the morning we sailed back again for the land, and had approached it almost within reach of the breakers without seeing it, when we put about again. It had been my intention after we had got to sea, to run down the coast in the hope of finding some vessel, or to discover the mouth of some river, in order to obtain a supply of water. But now the dangers and difficulties we should have to encounter in doing this were taken into consideration. If we tried to navigate along the coast, it was necessary to know our course, or we should be in imminent danger of being dashed to pieces on it every dark day, and every night. The thick foggy weather would prevent our seeing the land in the day time; whilst the wind, blowing almost directly on the land, would force us towards it, and endanger the safety of both the boat and our lives at every turn or point. We had no compass to guide us either by day or night; no instrument by which to find our latitude; no rudder to steer our crazy boat with, nor were we in possession of materials wherewith it was possible to make one; the boat had no keel to steady her, nor was there a steering place in her stern, where an oar could be fixed by any other means than by lashing to the stern ring, which afforded a very unsteady hold. On the one hand, we reflected that; if we escaped the danger of being driven on shore or foundering at sea, and should succeed in reaching the cultivated country south of the desart, we should have to encounter the ferocious inhabitants, who would not fail, in the hope of plunder, to massacre, or doom us to slavery, a slow but painful death. On the other hand, we reflected that we had escaped from savages who had already killed one of our shipmates, had gained the open sea through divine mercy, and could stand off to the westward without fear of being driven on shore. In this direction we might meet with some friendly vessel to save us, which was our only hope in that way, and the worst that could happen to us was to sink all together in the sea, or gradually perish through want of sustenance.

Having considered, and represented to my companions the dangers that beset us on every side, I asked their opinions one by one, and found they were unanimously in favour of committing themselves to the open sea in preference to keeping along the coast. The dangers appeared to be fewer, and all agreed that it was better to perish on the ocean, if it was God’s will, than by the hands of the natives. There being a strong breeze, we stood off by the wind and rigged our jib. We now agreed to put ourselves upon allowance of one bottle of water and half a bottle of wine among eleven of us, and a wrap of pork and two soaked and salted figs for each man. During this day, which was the 30th August, 1815, we fitted waist cloths to go round above the gunwale of the boat, to prevent the sea from dashing over; they were from eight to ten inches broad, made from the brig’s forestay sail, and were kept up by small pieces of a board which we formed in the^boat, so that they helped in some measure to keep off the spray, ^t had been cloudy all day, and the boat leaked faster than she had done before. As night came on the wind blew hard and raised the sea very high, but the boat was kept near the wind by her sails, and drifted broadside before it, smoothing the sea to the windward, and did not ship a great deal of water. On the 31st it became more moderate, but the weather was very thick and hazy. Our pig being nearly dead for the want, of water, we killed it, taking care however to save his blood; which we divided amongst us and drank, our thirst having became almost insupportable. We also divided the pig’s liver, intestines, &c. between us, and ate some of them, (as they were fresh) to satisfy, in some degree, our thirst. Thus this day passed away; no vessel was yet seen to relieve us; we had determined to save our urine for drink, which we accordingly did in some empty bottles, and found great relief from the use of it; for being obliged to labour hard by turns to keep the boat above water, our thirst was much more severely felt than if we had remained still. The night came on very dark and lowering; the sky seemed big with an impending tempest; the wind blew hard from the N. E. and before midnight the , sea combed into the boat in such quantities as several times to fill her more than half full. All hands were employed in throwing out the water with hats and other things, each believing his final hour had at length arrived, and expecting that every approaching surge would bury him forever in & watery grave.

The boat racked like an old basket, letting in water at every seam and split; her timbers working out or breaking off; the nails I had put in while last on shore were kept from entirely drawing out, merely by the pressure of the water acting on the outside of the boat. Sharp flashes of lightning caused by heat and vapour shot across the gloom, rendering the scene doubly horrid. In this situation some of the men thought it was no longer of use to try to keep the boat afloat, as they said she must soon fill in spite of all their exertions. Having poured out our souls before our God and implored pardon for our transgressions, each one felt perfectly resigned 1 to his fate : this was a trying moment, and my example and advice could scarcely induce them to continue bailing; whilst some of them, by thrusting their heads into the water, endeavoured to ascertain what the pains of death were by feeling the effects the water would produce on their organs. Thus passed this night: all my exertions were necessary to encourage the men to assist me in bailing the boat, by reminding them of our miraculous escape from the savages, and through the surf to the open sea, and enforcing on their minds the consideration that we were still in the hands of the same disposing power, and that we ought not to suppose we were aided in escaping from the shore by a miracle to be abandoned here and swallowed up by the ocean; and that for my own part I still entertained hopes of our preservation ; at any rate that it was a duty we owed to God and ourselves to strive to the latest breath to prevent our own destruction. Day came on amidst these accumulated horrors ; it was the 1st of September; thirst pressed upon us, which we could only allay by wetting our mouths twice a day with a few drops of wine and water, and as many times with our urine.

The wind continued to blow hard all this day, and the succeeding night with great violence, and the boat to work and leak in the same manner as before. Worn down with fatigues and long-continued hunger and thirst, scorched by the burning rays of the sun, and no vessel appearing to save us, our water fast diminishing, as well as our strength, every hope of succour by meeting with a vessel entirely failed me, so that in the afternoon of the 2d of September, I represented to my companions, that as we were still alive, after enduring so many trials, it was my advice to put about, and make towards the coast again; that if we continued at sea, we must inevitably perish, and that we could but perish in returning towards the land; that we might still exist four or five days longer, by means of the water and provisions that remained, and that it might be the will of Providence to send us on the coast where our vessel had been wrecked, and where means were perhaps prepared to bring about our deliverance and restoration to our country and our families. All seemed convinced that it was so, and we immediately put about with a kind of cheerfulness I had not observed in any countenance since our first disaster.

From this time all submitted to their fate with tolerable patience, and kept the boat free, though we had continual bad weather, without murmuring. We wetted our lips with wine and water twice every day, and ate the bones and some of the raw flesh of our pig, with its skin; but at length we became so faint as to be unable to take our turns in bailing, whilst the boat laboured so much as to work off nearly all the nails that kept the planks to her timbers above water. By the 6th of September, at night, we’ had not made the land, and could not hope to make the boat hold together in any manner above another day. I expected we should have found the land that day, but was disappointed, and some of the people began again to despair. Impelled by thirst, they forgot what they owed to their shipmates, and in the night got at, and drank off one of the two bottles of wine we had remaining. When I mentioned the loss of the wine on the morning of the 7th, all denied having taken or drank it, adding that it was an unpardonable crime, and that those who did it ought to be thrown overboard instantly. From the heat observable in their conversation, I guessed the offenders, but the wine was gone, and no remedy remained but patience, and stricter vigilance for the future.

In a short time we discovered land at a great distance ahead, and to leeward. This gave all hands new spirits; hope again revived; the land appeared perfectly smooth in the distant horizon; not the smallest rising or hill was to be seen, and I concluded we must be near a desart coast, where our sufferings would find no relief, but in death. We continued to approach the land, driving along to the southward by a swift current, roaring like a strong tide in a narrow rocky passage, until near sunset.

The coast now appeared to be formed of perpendicular and overhanging cliffs, rising to a great height, with no shelving shore to land on, or way by which we might mount to the top of the precipices. My opinion was, that we should endeavour to keep to sea this night also, and steer along down the coast, until by the help of daylight, we might find a better place to land, and where we should not be in such danger of being overwhelmed by the surf; but in this I was opposed by the united voice of the mates and all the people.

The surf was breaking high among the rocks, near the shore: we were now very near the land, and seeing a small spot that bore the appearance of a sand beach, we made for it, and approaching it with the help of our oars, we were carried on the top of a tremendous wave, so as to be high and dry, when the surf retired, on a little piece of sand beach, just large enough for the boat to lie on. Without us, and in the track we came, numerous fragments of rocks showed their craggy heads, over which the surf foamed as it retired, with a dreadful roaring, which made us feel we had once more escaped instant destruction, by what appeared a miraculous interference of Providence.

We got out of the boat, and carried up the little remains of our water and pork, among the rocks beyond the reach of the surf. The remains of the pig had been previously consumed; our boat was now stove in good earnest; over our heads pended huge masses of broken and shattered rocks, extending both ways as far as the eye could reach: our limbs had become stiff for the want of exercise; our flesh had wasted away for the want of sustenance, and through fatigue our tongues were so stiff in our parched mouths, that we could with great difficulty speak so as to be understood by each other, though we had finished our last bottle of wine between us, for fear of losing it, just before we ventured to the shore through the surf.

Being thus placed on dry land, we had yet to discover how we were to reach the surface above us—- so taking Mr. Savage with me, we clambered over the rocks to the westward, (for the coast running here from E. N. E. to W. S. W. induced me to think we were near Cape Blanco, which indeed afterwards proved to be the case) but we searched in vain, and as there appeared to be no access to the summit in that direction, we returned (it being then dark) to our shipmates, who had been busied in preparing a place on the sand, between rocks, to sleep on. We now wet our mouths with water, ate a small slice of the fat of salt pork, and after pouring out our souls before the universal Benefactor, in prayers and thanksgiving for his mercy and his long continued goodness, (as had constantly been our custom) we laid down to rest, and notwithstanding our dreadful situation, slept soundly till daylight.


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