Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter VII

Sufferings of the crew, and manner of climbing over the rocks along the sea-shore, under high cliffs—reaching the surface of the desart—meeting with a company of wandering Arabs, whom they are seized as slaves, and stripped naked.

On the morning of September the 8th, as soon as it was light, being much refreshed by our undisturbed sleep, we agreed to leave all we had that was cumbrous or heavy, and try to make our way to the eastward, in hopes of finding a place, whilst we had yet strength remaining, to dig for water* or to get to the surface of the land above us, where we hoped to find some herbage or vegetable juice to allay, in some degree, our burning thirst, which was now rendered more grievous than ever, by our eating a few muscles that were found on the rocks, and extremely salt. Having agreed to keep together, and to render each other mutual assistance, we divided amongst us the little water we had, every one receiving his share in a bottle, in order to preserve it as long as possible: then taking a small piece or two of pork, which we slung on our backs, either in a spare shirt or a piece of canvass,'leaving all our clothes but those we had on, and our jackets, we bent our way towards the east. I had, before starting, buried the bag of dollars, and induced each man to throw away every one he had about him, as I was convinced that money had been the cause of our former ill treatment, by tempting the natives to practise treacherous and cruel means, in order to extort it from us.

We proceeded now, as well as we were able, along close to the water side. The land was either nearly perpendicular, or jutting over our heads, rising to the height of from five to six hundred feet, and we were forced to climb over masses of sharp and craggy rocks, from two to three hundred feet in height; then to descend again by letting ourselves down from rock to rock, until we reached the water’s edge; now waiting for a surf to retire, while we rushed one by one past a steep point up to our necks in the water, to the rocks more favourable on the other side, where by cling fast hold, we kept ourselves from being washed away by the next surf, until, with each other’s assistance, we clambered up beyond the reach of the greedy billows. The beating of the ocean, and the force of the currents against this coast, had undermined the precipices in such a manner, that vast masses of rocks, gravel, and sand, had given way, and tumbled to the sharp rocks falling on rocks, had formed chasms, through which we were forced to pass at times, for a long distance, and surmounting one obstacle, seemed only to open to our view another, and a more dangerous one. At one place, we were obliged to climb along on a narrow ledge of rocks, between forty and fifty feet high, and not more than eight inches broad; those at our backs were perpendicular, and a little higher up, huge pieces that had been broken off from near the surface, and stopped on their way down by other fragments, seemed to totter, as if on a pivot, directly over our heads; while the least slip must have plunged us into the frightful abyss below, where the foaming surges would instantly have dashed us to pieces against the rocks. Our shoes were nearly all worn off; our feet were lacerated and bleeding; the rays of the sun beating on our emaciated bodies, heated them, we thought, nearly to dissolution; and under these towering cliffs, there was not a breath of air to fan our almost boiling blood I had, in crawling through one of the holes between the rocks, broke my bottle, and spilled the little water it contained, and my tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth, was as useless as a dry stick, until I was enabled to loosen it by a drops of my more than a dozen times distilled urine.

Thus passed this day with us, and when night came on, it brought with it new distresses. We had advanced along the coast not more than about four miles this day, with all the exertion we were capable of, without finding any change for the better in our local situation, whilst our strength was continually diminishing, and no circumstance occurred to revive our hopes. We had seen this day, however*, on the broken rocks, several locusts, which we tool?to be grasshoppers, and concluded, if we could once reach the surface, we should find herbage, at least, to feed on. These locusts were dead, and crumbled to dust on the slightest touch.

We found now a good place in the sand, about one hundred feet from the sea, under a high cliff, to sleep on; here we greased our mouths by eating a small piece of salt pork, and wet them as usual with a sip of urine. All hands, except myself, had a little fresh water left; my comrades knew I had not one drop, and two of them offered to let me taste of theirs, with which I just moistened my tongue, and after sending up our prayers to heaven for mercy and relief in our forlorn and desolate condition, we laid ourselves down to sleep.

I had, on setting out from home, received Horace Savage under my particular charge, from his widow-' ed mother: his father, when living, having been my intimate friend, I promised her to take care of him, as if he was my own son, and this promise I had endeavoured to fulfil. He was now in deep distress, and I determined within myself that I would adopt him as my son, for his mother was poor ; that I would watch over his ripening years, in case we both lived, and if fortune should favour me in future, that he should share it in common with my children. I now took him in my arms, and we all slept soundly till morning, though the change was so great in the night, from extreme heat to a damp cold air, that we awoke in the morning (September 9th) with benumbed and trembling limbs. Sleep, however, had refreshed us, and though our feet were torn, and our frames nearly exhausted, yet we chased away despair, and set forward on our journey.

We soon discovered, at no great distance ahead, a sand beach that appeared large, and from which the shore upward seemed more sloping, as if opening a way to the surface above it; we also thought we should be able, in case we could reach the beach, to get water that would be drinkable, by digging in the sand, down to a level with the water in the sea, and letting it filter into the hole: this I had done on the little keys of the Bahama bank, with success, and expected it would be the same here;—so we made our way slowly along, as we had done the day before, until we got within a short distance of this beach, where we met with a promontory of rocks, which rose in height even with the surface above us; jutting far into the sea, whose waves had worn in under its base to the distance of fifty or one hundred feet, and now dashed in a wild and frightful manner against the projecting points, which its washings for ages had formed underneath. To climb over this formidable obstruction, was impossible; to get around it through the water, appeared equally so, as there was not sufficient time, by the greatest exertion, to pass before the return of the surf, which would inevitably hurl the adventurer into the cavities under the cliff, among the sharp rocks, where he must immediately perish.

Thus far we had all got safe; to advance by what appeared to be the only possible way, seemed like seeking instant death; to remain in our present situation, was merely to die a lingering one, and to return, was still worse, by increasing our pains, without leading to any chance of relief. Before us was a prospect of getting water, and arriving at the summit of the land, if we could only get round the promontory alive; and fortunately, at this moment, we observed a rock about half-way across this point, that had tumbled down from above, and had been washed full of holes; it was covered by every surft and its top left bare as the wave receded. I imagined I could reach it before the wave came in; and after making known my intentions to my companions, I followed the surf out, and laid hold of the rock, just as the returning swell overwhelmed me. I clung to it for my life, the surf passing over me, and spending its fury among the crags: the instant it retired, I hurried on to the steep rocks beyond the point, where I again held on, while another surf swept over me, and then left me to clamber up as quick as I was able on the flat surface of the rock, beyond the reach of the waves. The tide was not yet entirely out, though I had judged it was; and as it continued to fall, my people following the same course, and embracing the same means, all got safe to the first rock, and from thence to the place where I lay prostrate to receive and assist them in getting up. Though our limbs and bodies were very much bruised in this severe encounter, yet we felt somewhat encouraged, and made for the sand beach as fast as we were able. We soon reached it, and began digging in the sand for water, at different distances from the sea, but found it to be as salt as the ocean.

After digging several holes farther off, and meeting with dry rock instead of water, I pitched upon a spot for our last effort, and while the others were digging,

I told them I would go and see if I could get up the bank, and if I succeeded that I would return in a short time with the news: the bank here rose abruptly, leaving, however, in some places sufficient slope for a man to ascend it by climbing., Through one of these slopes I made my way up, in the hope of finding some green thing that might help to allay our burning thirst, and some tree to shelter us from the scorching blaze of the sun; but what was my surprise when I came to the spot so long desired, and found it to be a barren plain, extending as far as the eye could reach each way, without a tree, shrub, or spear of grass, that might give the smallest relief to expiring nature? I had exerted myself to the utmost to get there; the dreary sight was more than I could bear; my spirits fainted within me, and I fell to the earth, deprived of every sensation. When I recovered, it was some time before I could recollect where I was : my intolerable thirst however at length convinced me, and I was enabled to administer the same wretched and disgusting relief to which I had so frequently before been compelled to resort.

Despair now seized on me, and I resolved to cast myself into the sea as soon as I could reach it, and put an end to my life and miseries together. But when I the next moment reflected that I had left ten of my fellow creatures on the shore, who looked up to me for an example of courage and fortitude, and for whom I still felt myself bound to continue my exertions, which might yet be blessed with success, and that at the moment when I supposed the hand of relief far from me, it might be very near; and when I next thought of my wife and children, I : felt a kind of conviction within me, that we should not all perish after such signal deliverances. I then made for the sea side about a mile eastward of my men, and finding a good place between some rocks, I bathed myself for half an hour in the sea water, which refreshed and revived me very much, and then returned to my men with a heart lighter than I expected. I was very much fatigued, and threw myself down on the sand. They huddled around me, to know what success I had met with; but to wave the subject of my sad discovery, I told them we could go along the beach for two miles before meeting again with the perpendicular cliffs, and would find great relief by bathing our bodies in the salt water; inquiring, at the same time, if they had found any fresh in the last place they had been digging. I thus diverted their minds, in some measure, from the object they wished to inquire after; and as I found they had dug down six or eight feet, and had found no water, having come to a rock which frustrated all their attempts; with heavy hearts and tottering limbs we staggered along the shore together.

It was about mid-day when we got to the end of the sand beach; my people thought it would be impossible for them to climb the craggy steep; so with common consent we laid ourselves down under the shade formed by a shelving rock, to rest, and to screen ourselves from the rays of the sun, which had heated the air to such a degree, that it was with the greatest difficulty we could fetch our breath. There was no wind or air stirring at this time, except the hot steam rising from the sandy beach, which had been wet by the sea at the last tide.

Having lain down in our exhausted state, neither thirst nor our reflections had power to keep our eyes open; we sunk into a lethargic sleep, which continued about two hours, during which time a light breeze from the sea had set in, and gently fanned and refreshed our debilitated bodies. We then ascended the steep bank, crawling frequently on our hands and knees. Though I had previously prepared all their minds for a barren prospect, yet the sight of it, when they reached its level, had such an effect on their senses, that they sunk to the earth involuntarily ; and as they surveyed the dry and dreary waste, stretching out to an immeasurable extent before them, they exclaimed, “ ’tis enough; here we must breathe our last; we have no hope before us of finding either water or provisions, or human beings, or even wild beasts ; nothing can live here.” The little moisture yet left in us overflowed at our eyes, but as the salt tears rolled down our woe-worn and haggard cheeks, we were fain to catch them with our fingers and carry them to our mouths, that they might not be lost, and serve to moisten our tongues, that were now nearly as dry as parched leather, and so stiff, that with difficulty we could articulate a sentence so as to be understood by each other.

I began now to exhort and press them to go forward; telling them that we still might find relief, and in this effort I was assisted by Hogan, who thought with me that it was time enough to lie down and die, when we could not walk. Mr. Williams and Mr. Savage were also willing, and we moved on slowly, with scarcely a hope however of meeting with the least relief. We continued along on the edge of the cliffs, which could not be less than from five to six hundred feet in perpendicular height: the surface of the ground was baked down almost as hard as flint; it was composed of small ragged stones, gravel, and reddish earth. We observed a small dry stalk of a plant, resembling that of a parsnip, though very low; and some dry remains of locusts were also scattered on the surface as we proceeded. Near night we saw some small holes dug on the surface, and on examination found they had been made in order to get at the root of the dry weed we had just before seen: this we conceived had been done by some wild beasts ; but finding no tracks of any kind near them, nor on the dirt dug up, I concluded it Was done by man, and declared my hopes to my desponding companions of soon meeting with human beings.

We procured, after great labour in digging with sticks we had brought from the boat, and the help of stones, a few small pieces of a root as large as a man’s finger; it was very dry, but in taste resembled smellage or celery. We could not get enough to be of any material service to us, owing to the scarcity of the plant, and the hardness of the ground; but about sunset we discovered, on a small spot of sand, the imperfect track of a camel, and thought we saw that of a man, which we took to be a very old track.

Believing from our present feelings that we could not possibly survive a day longer without drink, and no signs of finding any appearing, the last ray of hope faded away, and the gloom of despair, which had at length settled on our hearts, now became visible in every countenance. A little after sunset

We saw at a considerable distance in advance, say three or four miles, another sand beach, and I urged myself forward towards it as fast as I could, in hopes of getting some rest by sleeping on the sand for the night, as the* ground we were now on was as hard as rock, and covered with small sharp stones. I was encouraging the men to follow on, when Clark, being near me, begged me to look towards the beach, saying, “ I think I see a light!” it was the light of a fire !

Joy thrilled through my veins like the electric spark; hope again revived within me, and while I showed it to my sinking and despairing crew, I found it communicated to them the same feelings. . I told them we must approach the natives, who I could not doubt were encamped for the night, with the greatest caution, for fear of alarming them, and falling a sacrifice to their fury in the confusion we might occasion by our sudden approach in the dark. New life and spirits were diffused into all the crew, and we soon reached a broken place in the bank, through which we descended carefully over the broken rocks from three to four hundred feet to a sandy spot near its base, where we laid ourselves down for the night, after imploring the protection of Almighty God, and wetting our mouths with a few drops of water still remaining in the bottles.

The sand on which we lay was heated by the sun’s rays sufficiently to have roasted eggs, and as we were on the side of a sand hill, we scraped off the top of it for a foot or two deep; when finding the heat more supportable, and the cool breeze of the night setting in, all hands being excessively fatigued, soon forgot their sufferings in the arms of sleep, excepting myself; for my mind had become so excited by alternate hopes, and fears, and reflections, that I was kept awake through the whole of this long and dismal night. I had determined, as soon as daylight appeared, to show ourselves to the natives, and submit either to death or life from their hands. I had no doubt of their being Arabs, who would take and hold us as slaves, and though I did not expect myself to live but a short time in that condition, I presumed some of my fellow sufferers might, and that it was a decree of Providence which had set this alternative before us.

I no longer felt any fear of death, for that would put a period to my long sufferings: my thirst had become so insupportable, that I could with difficulty breathe, and thought I would be willing- to sell my life for one gill of fresh water. My distresses had been so excessive, and my cares and anxieties for. my shipmates so great, that all thoughts of my family had been driven almost entirely from my mind. I could not sleep—why was f denied what all around me w,ere enjoying!—I shut my eyes, and prayed to be permitted to sleep, if only for one hour, but all in vain. I imagined that the savages, who were near us, would not take our lives immediately, as it was contrary to the nature of man to slay his fellow - creatures, merely from a thirst for blood.

We had now no arms to defend ourselves, nor any property to excite their jealousy, revenge, or avarice—we were as miserable as human beings could he and I hoped we should excite pity, even in the breasts of the savage Arabs. I could hardly yet think, that we were to fall a sacrifice to these people, after the providential escapes we had already experienced: next the remembrance of my wife and children flitted across my mind, and I was forced to acknowledge, that however bad their situation might be, their real distress could in no wise equal mine, and that I had no right to repine at the dispensations of Providence, since every mortal has his circle wisely marked out by heaven; and nothing but blindness to the future, occasions us to complain of the ways of our Creator. If it was the will of the Supreme Being that I should again see and embrace my beloved family, it would certainly take place; if not, that power who ordered all things for the general good, would not forsake them.

Thus passed away the night, which had seemed to me an endless one. I was impatient to know my fate, and chid the slowness of the sun: my great anxiety and wakefulness, rendered my thirst doubly painful, and having expended all the urine I had so carefully saved, I had recourse before morning to robbery, and actually stole a sip of the cook’s water, which he had made and saved in a bottle; but the only taste it had for me, was a salt one, and it seemed (if possible) to increase my burning thirst. The day at last arrived that was to decide our fate. It was the 10th of September. I awakened my companions, and told them we must now go forward and show ourselves to the natives—that I expected they would seize upon us as slaves, but had strong hopes that some of us would escape with our lives. I also mentioned to them the name of the American Consul General at Tangier, and that if it ever was in their power, they must write to him, inform him of the fate of our vessel and her crew: to write, if possible, to any Christian merchant in Magadore, Gibraltar, or elsewhere, or to the Consul at Algiers, Tunis, or Tripoli, if they should hear those places mentioned, and exhorted all to submit to their fate like men, and be obedient, as policy required, to their future masters. I reminded them again of the former interpositions of Providence in our favour, and said all I could to encourage and persuade them, that mildness and submission might save our lives—that resistance and stubbornness would certainly tend to make them more miserable while alive, and probably prompt the natives to murder them out of resentment.

All agreed to go forward, and on rising the little sand hills near us, we discovered a very large drove of camels at about half a mile to the eastward of us, with a large company of people, in a kind of valley formed by a ridge of sand hills on the north next the sea, and by the high land to the south, rising from five to six hundred feet in upright and overhanging cliffs—through which a little farther on we saw a deep hollow that appeared to have been formed by some convulsive shock of the earth, which had thus made a sort of passage, through which camels were enabled to pass up and down, but with great difficulty. The Arabs seemed busied in giving water to their camels; they saw us, and in an instant one man and two women ran towards us with great speed. As they came forward, many others of them who saw us, also began to advance: so taking Mr. Williams and Mr. Savage with me, I went forward to meet them, bowed myself to the ground before them, and with signs implored their compassion.

The man was armed with a scimitar, which he held naked in his hand; he ran up to me as if to cut me to the earth: I bowed again in token of submission, and he began without further ceremony to strip off toy clothing, while the women were doing the same to Mr. Williams and Mr. Savage. Thirty or forty more were arriving—some running on foot, with muskets or naked scimitars in their hands; others riding on swift camels, came quickly up:—by the time they arrived, however, we were all stripped naked to the skin. Those Arabs near us threw up sand into the air, as the others approached; yelling loudly, which I now learned was a sign of hostility. The one who stript me had also taken the cook, and had put all the clothing he had stript from us into a blanket, which he had taken from off his own back for that purpose, leaving himself entirely naked. This bundle he laid on the negro’s shoulders, making me understand that myself and the black man belonged to him, and that we must not let the others take the clothes in the bundle under pain of death.

As soon as those on the camels were near, they made them lie down, and jumping off, ran to us with their scimitars naked and ready for action; those on foot now joined these, and a great noise and scuffle ensued. Six or eight of them were about me, one hauling me one way and one another—poor Dick, the black man, partook of the hauling, and each man seemed to insist most strenuously that we belonged of right to him. The one who stript us, stuck to us as his lawful property, signifying, “ you ■may have the others, these are mine,” They cut at each other over my head, and on every side of me with their bright weapons, which fairly whizzed through the air within an inch of my naked body, and on every side of me, now hacking each other’s arms apparently to the bone, then laying their fibs bare with gashes, while their 'heads, hands, and 'thighs, received a full share of cuts and wounds. The blood streaming from every gash, ran down their bodies, colouring and heightening the natural hideousness of their appearance. I had expected to be cut to pieces in this dreadful affray, but was not injured.

Those who were not actually engaged in combat, seized the occasion, and snatched away the clothing in Dick’s bundle, so that when the fight was over, he had nothing left but his master’s blanket. This battle and contest lasted for nearly an hour—brother cutting brother, friend slashing friend. Happily for them, their scimitars were not very sharp, so that; when they rubbed off the dried blood from their bodies afterwards with sand, their wounds were not so great or deep as I expected they would be, and they did not pay the least apparent attention to them. I had no time to see what they were doing with my shipmates; only myself and the cook were near each' other.

The battle over, I saw my distressed companions divided among the Arabs, and all going towards the drove of camels, though they were at some distance from me. We too were delivered into the hands of two old women, who urged us on with sticks towards the camels. Naked and barefoot I could not go very fast, and showed the women my mouth, which was parched white as frost, and without a sign of moisture. When we got near the well, one of the women called for another, who came to us with a wooden bowl, that held, I should guess, about a gallon of water, and setting it on the ground, made myself and Dick kneel down and put our heads into it like camels. I drank I suppose half a gallon, though I had been very particular in cautioning the men against drinking too much at a time, in case they ever came to water. I now experienced how much easier it was to preach than to practise aright. They then led us to the well, the water of which was nearly as black and disgusting as stale bilge water. A large bowl was now filled with it, and a little sour camel’s milk poured from a goat skin into it; this tasted to me delicious, and we all drank of it till our stomachs were literally filled. But this intemperance very soon produced a violent diarrhea; the consequences of which, however, were not very troublesome, and as our situation was similar to that of a beast, being totally divested of clothing, alt we cared about was to slake our unabating thirst, and Replenish our stomachs by repeated draughts of this washy and unwholesome swill.

We now begged for something to eat, but these Arabs had nothing for themselves, and seemed very sorry it was not in their power to give us some food. There were at and about the well I should reckon about 6ne hundred persons, men, women, and children, and from four to five hundred camels, large and small. The sun beat very fiercely upon us, and our skins seemed actually to fry like meat before the fire. These people continued to draw water for their camels, of which the animals drank enormous quantities. It was about 10 o’clock A. M. as I judged by the sun, when one company of the Arabs having finished watering, separated their camels from among the others, took Mr. Williams, Robbins, Porter, Hogan, Barrett, and Burns, mounted them on the bare backs of the camels behind the hump, by the hair of which they were obliged to steady themselves and hold on, without knowing whither they were going, or if I should ever see them again. I took an affectionate leave of them. This, their Arab masters permitted me to do without interruption, and could not help showing, at this scene, that the feelings of humanity were not totally extinguished in their bosoms. They then hurried them off and ascending through the hollow or crevice towards the face of the desart, they were all soon out of sight.

There remained with the party to which I belonged, Mr. Savage, Clark, Horace, and Dick the cook. Mr. Savage was permitted to retain an old Guernsey frock, and part of a pair of trowsers about his middle, which they had not pulled off: but the rest of us were entirely stripped. Mr. Savage, Clark, and Horace were forced to assist in drawing water for the camels, until all had drunk their fill: then having filled with water a considerable number of goat skins, which had been stripped off these animals over the neck, leaving them, otherwise, as whole as when on their backs, they slung them by the skin of their legs on each side of the camels, after tying up the neck to prevent the water escaping, by means of a small rope which they fastened to the fore legs of the skin to keep it up. They next put on their baskets for the women and children to ride in; these were made of camel’s skin, and fixed in such a manner with a wooden rim around them, over which the skin was sewed, that three or four could sit in them with perfect safety and ease, only taking care to preserve their balance. These baskets were fastened under the camels’ bellies with a strong rope. I was obliged to assist in putting them on, and was in hopes of being permitted to ride in one of them, but that was not the intention of my master. I, as well as those who were with me, had drunk a great deal of water, while we were at the well, which had passed off, as before observed, without doing us any injury. We had been furnished also with a little milk in our water two or three times, which gave some relief to our hunger. The men had saddles just large enough for their seat: the pads are made of flat pieces of wood: a piece of the same rises in front, being about the length, breadth, and thickness of a man’s hand; an iron rim, or a strong wooden one, goes round on each side, forming a circle; covered with a piece of skin stretched and sewed taut over it. The saddle is then placed on the camel’s back before the hump,and fastened tight by a rope under his belly. Thus prepared we began to mount the sand hills and to get up through the gulley. We were forced to walk and to drive the camels and keep them together, whilst the sand was so soft and yielding, that we sunk into it every step nearly to our knees. The blazing heat of the sun’s rays darting on our naked bodies, and reflected from the sand we waded through; the sharp pointed craggy rocks and stones that cut our feet and legs to the bone, in addition to our excessive weakness which the dysentery had increased, rendered our passage up through this chasm or hollow much more severe than any thing of the kind we had before undergone, and nearly deprived us of life. For my own part I thought I must have died before I could reach the summit, and was obliged to stop in the sand, until by an application of a stick to my sore back by our drivers, I was forced up to its level; and there they made the camels lie down and rest.


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