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UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL LITERATURE AND EDUCATION APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.
THE SHIPWRECK OF THE MEDUSE. The French possessions on the west coast of Africa, extending from Cape Blanco to the mouth of the Gambia, having been restored at the General Peace, in 1814, an expedition, consisting of a frigate and three other vessels, was sent, in the month of June 1816, to take possession of them. It was complete in all its parts, as the French expeditions usually are, including men of science, artisans, agriculturists, gardeners, miners, &c., amounting, with the troops, to nearly four hundred persons, exclusive of the crews. The naval part was intrusted to M. de Chaumareys, who had the command of the frigate., La Me'duse, of forty-four guns.
Owing to a very relaxed state of discipline, and ignorance of the common principles of navigation, this frigate was suffered to run aground on the bank of Arguin. Attempts were made to get her off, but it was soon discovered that all hopes of saving her must be abandoned, and that nothing remained but to concert measures for the escape of the passengers and crew. Some biscuit, wine, and fresh water, were accordingly got up and prepared for putting into the boats, and upon a Raft which had been hastily constructed; but, in the tumult of abandoning the wreck, it happened that the Raft, which was destined •o carry the greatest number of people, had the least share of the provisions; of wine, indeed, it had more than enough, but not a single barrel of biscuit.
There were five boats; in the first were the Governor of Senegal and his family, in all thirty-five; the second took forty-two persons; the third twentyeight; the fourth, the long-boat, eighty-eight; the fifth, twenty-five; and the jolly-boat, fifteen, among whom were four children, and some ladies. The military had, in the first instance, been placed upon the raft—the number embarked on this fatal machine was not less than one hundred and fifty; making, with those in the boats, a total of three hundred and ninety-seven.
On leaving the wreck, M. Correard, geographical engineer, attached to the expedition, who had volunteered to accompany his men on the Raft, wishing to be assured that proper instruments and charts for navigating it had been put on board, was told by the captain that every thmg necessary had been provided, and a naval officer appointed to take charge of it: this naval officer, however, jumped into one of the boats, and never joined them.
The boats pushed off in a line, towing the Raft, and assuring the people on board that they would conduct them safely to land. They had not proceeded, however, above two leagues from the wreck, when they, one by one, cast off the tow-lines. It was afterwards pretended that they broke; had this even been true, the boats might at any time have rejoined the Raft; instead of which, they all abandoned it to its fate, every one striving to make off with all possible speed.
At this time, the Raft had sunk below the water to the depth of three feet and a half, and the people were so squeezed one against another, that it was found impossible to move; fore and aft, they were up to the middle in water. In such a deplorable situation, it was with difficulty they could persuade themselves that they had been abandoned; nor would they believe it until the whole of the boats had disappeared from their sight. They now began to consider themselves as deliberately sacrificed, and swore, if ever they gained the shore, to be revenged of their unfeeling companions. The consternation soon became extreme. Every thing that was horrible took possession of their imaginations; all perceived
their destruction to be at hand, and announced by their waitings the dismal thoughts by which they were distracted. The officers, with great difficulty, and by putting on a show of confidence, succeeded in restoring the men to a certain degree of tranquillity, but were themselves overcome with alarm on finding that there was neither chart, nor compass, nor anchor on the Raft. One of the men had fortunately preserved a small pocket-compass, and this little instrument inspired them with so much confidence, that they conceived their safety to depend on it; but this treasure was soon lost to them; it fell from the man's hand, and disappeared between the openings of the Raft.
None of the party had taken any food before they left the ship, and hunger beginning to oppress them, they mixed the biscuit, of which they had about five-and-twenty pounds on board, with wine, and distributed it, in small portions, to each man. They succeeded in erecting a kind of mast, and hoisting one of the royals that had belonged to the frigate.
Night at length came on, the wind freshened, and the sea began to swell; the only consolation now was the belief that they should discover the boats the following morning. About midnight the weather became very stormy; and the waves broke over them in every direction.
During the whole of this night, said the survivors, we struggled against death, holding ourselves closely to the spars which were firmly bound together. Tossed by the waves from one end to the other, and sometimes precipitated into the sea; floating between, life and death; mourning over our misfortunes, certain of perishing, yet contending for the remains of existence with that cruel element which menaced to swallow us up; such was our situation till break of day—horrible situation! how shall we convey an idea of it which will not fall far short of the reality! In the morning the wind abated, and the sea subsided a little; but a dreadful spectacle presented itself—ten or twelve of the unhappy men, having their limbs jammed between the spars of the raft, unable to extricate themselves, had perished in that situation; several others had been swept off by the violence of the waves: in calling over the list it was found that twenty had disappeared.
All this, however, was nothing to the dreadful scene which took place the following night. The day had bpen beautiful, and no one seemed to doubt that the boats would appear in the course of it, to relieve them from their perilous state; but the evening approached, and none were seen. From that moment a spirit of sedition spread from man to man, and manifested itself by the most furious shouts. Night came on; the heavens were obscured with thick clouds; the wind rose, and with it the sea; the waves broke over them every moment; numbers were swept away, particularly near the extremities of the raft; and the crowding towards the centre of it was so great, that several poor wretches were smothered by the pressure of their comrades, who were unable to keep on their legs.
Firmly persuaded that they were all on the point of being swallowed up, both soldiers and sailors resolved to soothe their last moments by drinking till they lost their reason. They bored a hole in the head of a large cask, from which they continued to swill till the salt water, mixing with the wine, ren dercd it no longer drinkable. Excited by the fumes, acting on empty stomachs and heads already disordered by danger, they now became deaf to the voice of reason; boldly declared their intention to murder their officers, and then cut the ropes which bound the Raft together: one of them, seizing an axe, actually began the dreadful work. This was the signal for revolt j the officers rushed forward to quell the tumult, aud the man with the hatchet was the first that fell—the stroke of a sabre terminated his existence.
The passengers joined the officers, but the mutineers were still the greater number; luckily they were but badly armed, or the few bayonets and sabres of the opposite party could not have kept them at bay. One fellow was detected secretly cutting the ropes, and immediately flung overboard; others destroyed the shrouds and halyards, and the mast, deprived of support, fell on a captain of infantry, and broke his thigh; he was instantly seized by the soldiers and thrown into the sea, but was saved by the opposite party. A furious charge was now made upon the mutineers, many of whom were cut down: at length this fit of desperation subsided into egregious cowardice: they cried out for mercy, and asked forgiveness on their knees. It was now midnight, and order appeared to be restored; but after an hour of deceitful tranquillity, the insurrection burst forth anew: the mutineers ran upon the officers like desperate men, each having a knife or a sabre in his hand, and such was the fury of the assailants, that they tore their flesh and even their clothes w ith their teeth: there was no time for hesitation; a general slaughter took place, and the Raft was strewed with dead bodies.
Some palliation must be allowed on account of their miserable condition; the constant dread of dealh, want of rest and of food, had impaired their faculties; nor did the officers themselves entirely escape. A sort of half-waking dream, a wandering of the imagination, seized most of them: some fancied they saw around them a beautiful country, covered with the most delightful plantations; others became wild with horror, and threw themselves into the sea. Several, on casting themselves off, said calmly to their companions, 'I am going to seek for assistance, and you shall soon see me back again.'
On the return of day it was found, that in the course of the preceding night of horror, sixty-five of the mutineers had perished, and two of the small party attached to the officers. One cask of wine only remained. Before the allowance was served out they contrived to get up their mast afresh; but having no compass, and not knowing how to direct their course, they let the Raft drive before the wind, apparently indifferent whither they went. Enfeebled with hunger, they now tried to catch fish, but could not succeed, and abandoned the attempt.
'It was necessary, however,' said the suwivors, 'that some extreme measure should be adopted, to support our miserable existence; we shudder with horror on finding ourselves under the necessity of recording that which we put into practice; we feel the pen drop from our hands; a deadly coldness freezes all our limbs, and our hair stands on end. Readers, we entreat you not to entertain, for men already too unfortunate, a sentiment of indignation; but to grieve for them, and to 3hed a tear of pity over their unhappy lot.'
The ' extreme measure' was, indeed, horrible: the unhappy men whom death had spared in the course of the night, fell upon the carcasses of the dead, and began to devour them. Some tried to eat their sword-belts and cartridge-boxes; others devoured their linen, and others, the leathers of their hats; but all these expedients, and others of a still more loathsome nature, were of no avail.
A third night of horror now approached; but it
proved to be a night of tranquillity, disturbed only by the piercing cries of those whom hunger and thirst devoured. The water was up to their knees, and they could only attempt to get a little sleep by crowding closely together, so as to form an immoveable mass. The morning's sun showed them ten or a dozen unfortunate creatures stretched lifeless on the Raft; all of whom were committed to the deep, with the exception of one, destined for the support of those who, the evening before, had pressed his trembling hands in vowing eternal friendship. At this period, fortunately, a shoal of Flying-fish*, in passing the Raft, left nearly three hundred entangled between the spars. By means of a little gunpowder and linen, and by erecting an empty cask, they contrived to make a fire; and mixing with the fish the flesh of their deceased comrade, they all partook of a meal, which, by this means, was rendered- less revolting.
The fourth night was marked by another massacre. Some Spaniards, Italians, and negroes, who had taken no part with the former mutineers, now entered into a conspiracy to throw the rest into the sea. The negroes had persuaded the others that the land was close to them, and that once on shore, they would answer for their crossing Africa without the least danger. A Spauiard was the first to advance with a drawn knife; the sailors seized and threw him into the sea. An Italian, seeing this, jumped overboard; the rest were easily mastered, and order was once more restored.
Thirty persons only now remained, many of whom were in a most deplorable state, the salt-water having entirely removed the skin from their legs and thighs, which, with contusions and wounds, rendered them unable to support themselves. The remains of the fish and the wine were calculated to be just enough to support life for four days; but in these four they also calculated that ships might arrive from St. Louis to save them. At this moment, two soldiers were discovered behind the cask of wine, through which they had bored a hole, for the purpose of drinking it; they had, just before, all pledged themselves to punish with death whoever should be found guilty of such a proceeding, and the sentence was immediately carried into execution, by throwing the culprits into the sea.
Their numbers were thus reduced to twenty-eight, fifteen of whom only appeared to be able to exist for a few days; the other thirteen were so reduced, that they had nearly lost all sense of existence; as their case was hopeless, and as, while they lived, they would consume a part of the little that was left, a council was held, and after a deliberation, at which the most horrible despair is said to have prevailed, it was decided to throw them overboard. 'Three sailors and a soldier undertook the execution of this cruel sentence. We turned away our eyoe and shed tears of blood, on the fate of these unfortunate men; but this painful sacrifice saved the fifteen who remained; and who, after this dreadful catastrophe, had six days of suffering to undergo, before they were relieved from their dismal situation.' At the end of this period, a small vessel was descried at a distance; she proved to be the Argus brig, which had been despatched from Senegal to look out for them. All hearts on board were melted with pity at their deplorable condition.—' Let any one,' say our unfortunate narrators, ' figure to himself fifteen unhappy creatures, almost naked, their bodies shrivelled by the rays of the sun, ten of them scarcely able to move; our limbs stripped of the skin; a total change
• See Saturday Magatine, Vol. IV. p. 103.
in all our features; our eyes hollow and almost savage; and our long beards, which gave us an air almost hideous.'
Such is the history of these unfortunate men! Of the hundred and fifty embarked on the Raft, fifteen only were received on board the brig, and of these six died shortly after their arrival at St. Louis.
Of the boats, the whole of which, as we have already stated, deserted the Raft soon after leaving the wreck, two only (those in which the governor and the captain of the frigate had embarked) arrived at Senegal: the other four made the shore in different places, and landed their people. The whole party suffered extremely from hunger, thirst, and the effects of a burning sun reflected from a surface of naked sand; but with the exception of two or three, they all reached Senegal.
The governor, recollecting that the Me"duse had on board a very large sum of money, sent off a little vessel to visit the wreck; but as if, it should seem, that no one part of this wretched expedition should reflect disgrace upon another, with only eight days', provisions on board; so that she was compelled to return, without being able to approach it. She was again sent out with twenty-five days' provisions, but being ill found in stores and necessaries, and the weather being bad, she returned to port a second time. On the third attempt she reached the wreck, fifty-two days after it had been abandoned; but what were the horror and astonishment of those who ascended its decks, to discover on board three miserable wretches just on the point of expiring!
It now appeared that seventeen men had clung to the wreck when the boats and the Raft departed; their first object had been to collect a sufficient quantity of biscuit, wine, brandy, and pork, for the subsistence of a certain number of days. While this lasted, they were quiet; but forty-two days having passed without any succour appearing, twelve of the most determined, seeing themselves on the point of starving, resolved to make for the land; they therefore constructed a raft, or float, which they bound together with ropes, and on which they set off with a small quantity of provisions, without oars and without sails, and were drowned. Another, who had refused to embark with them, took it into his head, a few days afterwards, to try for the shore; he placed himself in a hen-coop, dropped from the wreck, and at the distance of about half a cable's length from it, sunk to rise no more. The remaining four resolved to die by the wreck; one of them had just expired when the vessel from Senegal arrived; the other three were so exhausted, that a few hours more would have put an end to their misery.
About the time when this dreadful event occurred, the Alceste frigate, which had been sent by the King of England with an ambassador on a special mission to the Emperor of China, was also wrecked*. But how different were the consequences in the case of the English ship to those which occurred in that of the Me'duse. The two frigates were wrecked nearly about the same time—the distance from the nearest friendly port pretty nearly the same—in the one case all the people were kept together, in a perfect state of discipline and subordination, and every one brought safely home from the opposite side of the globe;—in the other case, each seems to have been left to shift for himself, and the greater part perished in the horrible way we have just seen.
[Abridged from the Quarterly Review, 1817.]
• An account of the wreck of the Alceste will be given in the present volume.
THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORKS OF THE
CREATOR. It is extremely difficult to devise any means of conveying to the mind a correct idea of the magnitude of the scale on which the Universe is constructed; of the enormous proportion which the larger dimensions bear to the smaller; and of the amazing number of steps from large to smaller, or from small to larger, which the consideration of it offers. The following comparative representations may serve to give the reader, to whom the subject is new, some notion of these steps.
If we suppose the Earth to be represented by a globe a foot in diameter, the distance of the Sun from the earth would be about two miles, the diameter of a sphere representing the Sun, on the same supposition, would be something above one hundred feet, and consequently his bulk such as might be made up of two hemispheres, each about the size of the dome of St. Paul's. The Moon would be thirty feet from us, and her diameter three inches, about that of a cricket ball. Thus the Sun would much more than occupy all the space within the Moon's orbit. On the same scale, Jupiter would be above ten miles from the Sun, and Uranus (Herschel's planet) forty. We see, then, how thinly scattered through space are the heavenly bodies. The fixed stars will be at an unknown distance, but, probably, if all distances were thus diminished, no star would be nearer to such a one-foot Earth, than the Moon now is to us, which is 240,000 miles distant from us.
On such a terrestrial globe, the highest mountains would be about one eightieth part of an inch high, and, consequently, only just distinguishable. We may imagine, therefore, how imperceptible would be the largest animals. The whole organized covering of such an earth would be quite undiscoverable by the eye, except, perhaps, by colour, like the bloom on a plum.
In order to restore the earth and its inhabitants to their true dimensions, we must magnify the length, breadth, and thickness of every part of our supposed models forty millions of times; and to preserve the proportions, we must increase equally the distance of the sun and of the stars from us. They seem thus to pass off into infinity; yet each of them thus removed, has its system of mechanical, and, perhaps, organic processes going on upon its surface.
But the arrangements of organic life which we can see with the naked eye are few, compared with those which the microscope detects. We know that we may magnify objects thousands of times, and still discover fresh complexities of structure; if we suppose, therefore, that we thus magnify every member of the universe, and every particle of matter of which it consists; we may imagine that we make perceptible to our senses, the vast multitude of organized adaptations which lie hid on every side of us; and in this manner we approach towards an estimate of the extent through which we may trace the power and skill of the Creator, by scrutinizing his work with the utmost subtilty of our faculties.
Those magnitudes and proportions which leave our powers of conception far behind—that everexpanding view which is brought before us, of the scale and mechanism, the riches and magnificence, the population and activity of the universe—may reasonably serve to enlarge and elevate our conceptions of the Maker and Master of all; to feed an ever-growing admiration of his wonderful nature; and to excite a desire to be able to contemplate more steadily, and conceive less inadequately the scheme of bis government and the operation of his power.
These are three large obelisks, standing about half a mile south-west of Boroughbridge. They are irregular in form, and greatly worn by exposure to the weather, and are of very ancient origin. In the time of our famous antiquary Leland, who began his travels through England, in 1536, there were four of these stones, but one has since fallen, or been pulled down *. The three now remaining, stand nearly in a line from north to south. The northernmost obelisk is eighteen feet high, and is supposed to weigh thirty-six tons; the centre stone, twenty-two feet and a half high, is estimated at thirty tons; and the third, twenty-two feet four inches high, is also thought to weigh thirty tons.
These extraordinary monuments of antiquity did not escape the notice of the greatest of all English antiquaries, Camden, who visited Yorkshire in 1582, and who imagined that they were compositions of sand, lime, and small pebbles, cemented together. He was probably deceived by their vast bulk, not conceiving it possible for human art to bring such masses of stone, each being a single block, from any long distance. But it is now well known that they are natural stones, of a kind common in the north of England, called the coarse rag-stone, or mill-stone grit; and it is fair to conclude, that they were brought from a quarry at Plumpton, near Harrowgate. Hargrove, in his History of Knaresborough, in describing Plumpton, says, " One huge mass of rock, insulated by water, which measures near fifty feet in length, without a joint, shows the possibility of finding obelisks here, even higher than those at Boroughbridge, which are believed to have been carried from hence, as being of the same grit."
In the year 1709, the ground about the centre obelisk was opened to the width of nine feet. At first a good soil was found, and at about a foot deep was a quantity of rough stones and large pebbles; layers of these appeared, which were probably placed there, to keep it steady; beneath, was a strong and hard clay supporting the bottom of the obelisk, at above six feet below the surface of the earth. It has never been determined by what people or for what object these stones were erected, although the point has engaged the attention of many ingenious men. Stukeley's idea is, that they were fixed by the Britons, long before the time of the Romans;
* Camden state* that one was displaced in hopes of finding money.
he imagines, that in this place the Druids held a great yearly festival, like the famous Grecian games, and that these were the goals round which the chariots were turned at the races. Another author suggests, that they were set up by the early Britons to the honour of their gods. But the opinions of Leland, Camden, and Drake, seem to be better founded; namely, that they were the work of the Romans, and raised to commemorate some important victory. The last mentioned writer remarks, " the foundations of these stones being laid with the same clay and pebble as the walls of Aldburgh, the ancient Isurium of the Romans, is a convincing proof of their being Roman monuments.""
Aldburgh is not a mile and a half distant from Boroughbridge, and when, in addition to the fact stated by Drake, we consider the facilities possessed by the Romans, for conveyance on their great military roads, together with their fondness for raisins records to their own honour, we cannot hut consider them as belonging to the time of the Romans. It is true that they bear no marks of Roman elegance, nor the traces of any inscription: yet these, if any such existed, may probably, have been worn away by time and the weather. Dean Gale had a notion that they •were originally those Mercuries described by the .ancients, which were usually placed where four ways met (as they did here,) and that the head on the" top of the stones had been displaced. Amidst so many theories on the subject of the Arrows, or Boroughbridge Obelisks, we will leave those of our readers, who are curious in such matters, to consult the authorities quoted; and, notwithstanding the title by which these stones are commonly known in the country, (the devil's arrows,) we are sure that they will agree in rejecting one ancient opinion, quaintly enough adverted to by Camden in his Britannia. "As for the silly story of their being those bolts which the devil shot at some cities hereabouts, and so destroyed them, I think it not worth while to mention it."
At Rudston, about five miles from Bridlington, in the same county, is a similar obelisk, upwards of twenty-nine feet high. Its depth in the ground has been traced more than twelve feet without coming to the bottom. It stands forty miles from any quarry where this sort of stone is found, and neither history nor tradition has any record either of its date or of the cause of its erection.