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men, still clung to the poor remains of the gay Atalante, once so much admired !
An attempt was next made to construct a raft, as it was feared the three boats could not possibly carry all hands; but the violence of the waves prevented this, and it was resolved to trust to the boats alone, though they were already, to all appearance, quite full. It became now, however, absolutely necessary to take to them, as the wreck was disappearing rapidly; and in order to pack close, most of the men were removed to the pinnace, where they were laid flat in the bottom, like herrings in a barrel, while the small boats returned to pick off the rest. This proved no easy matter in any case, while in others it was found impossible ; so that many men had to swim for it; others were dragged through the waves by ropes, and some were forked off by oars and other small spars.
Amongst the crew there was one famous, merry fellow, a black fiddler, who was discovered at this critical juncture, clinging to the main chains, with his beloved Cremona squeezed tightly but delicately under his arm-a ludicrous picture of distress, and a subject of some joking amongst the men, even at this moment. It soon became indispensable that he should lose one of two things—his fiddle or his life. So, at last, after a painful struggle, the professor and his violin were obliged to part company !
The poor negro musician's tenacity of purpose arose from sheer love of his art ; but there was another laugh raised about the same time, at the expense of the captain's clerk, who, stimulated purely by a sense of duty, lost all recollection of himself, in his anxiety to save what was intrusted to his care, and thus both he and his charge had nearly gone to the bottom. This zealous person had general instructions that, whenever guns were fired, or
any other circumstance occurred likely to shake the chronometer, he was to hold it in his hand, to prevent the concussion deranging its works. As soon, therefore, as the poor ship dashed against the rocks, the clerk's thoughts naturally turned exclusively on the timepiece. He caught up the precious watch, and ran on deck; but being no swimmer, was obliged to cling to the mizenmast, where he stuck fast, careless of everything but his important trust. When the ship fell over, the mast became almost horizontal, and he managed to creep along till he reached the mizentop, where he seated himself, in some trepidation, grinning like a monkey who has run off with a cocoa-nut, till the spar gave way, and he was plunged, chronometer and all, right overboard. Every eye was now turned to the spot, to see whether this most public-spirited of scribes was ever to appear again, when, to the great joy of all hands, he emerged from the waves-watch still in hand ! but it was not without great difficulty that he was dragged into one of the boats, half drowned.
With the exception of this fortunate chronometer, and the admiral's dispatches, which the captain had secured when the ship first struck, everything on board
The pinnace now contained seventy-nine men and one woman, the cutter forty-two, and the gig eighteen, with which cargoes they barely floated. Captain Hickey, of course, was the last man who left the wreck; though such had become the respect and affection felt for him by his crew, that those who stood along with him on the last vestige of the ship, evinced great reluctance at leaving their commander even for a moment in such a perilous predicament. So speedy, indeed, was the work of destruction, that by the time the captain reached the boat, the
wreck had almost entirely melted into the yeast of waves. As she went down, the crew gave three hearty cheers, and then finally abandoned the scattered fragments of what had been their house and home for nearly seven years.
The fog still continued as thick as ever; and, as the binnacles had both been washed overboard, no compass could be procured. The wind also being still light, there was great difficulty in steering in a straight line. In this dilemma, a resource was hit upon, which for a time answered pretty well to guide them. It being known loosely before leaving the wreck in what direction the land was situated, the three boats were placed in a row pointing that way. The sternmost boat then quitted her station in the rear, and pulled ahead till she came in a line with the other two boats, but took care not to go so far as to be lost in the fog; the boat which was now furthest astern then rowed ahead, as the first had done; and so on, doubling along, one after the other. This tardy method of proceeding answered only for a time ; for at length they found themselves completely at a loss which way to steer. Precisely at this moment of greatest need, an old quarter-master, Samuel Shanks by name, recollected that at the end of his watch-chain there hung a small compass-seal. This precious discovery being announced to the other boats by a joyous shout from the pinnace, and the compass being speedily handed into the gig to the captain, it was placed on the top of the chronometer, so nobly saved by the clerk. As this instrument worked on jimbles, the little needle remained upon it sufficiently steady for steering the boats within a few points. The course now secured insured their hitting the land, from which they had been steering quite wide.
Before reaching the shore, they fell in with an old
fisherman who piloted them to a bight called Portuguese Cove, where they all landed in safety, at the distance of twenty miles from the town of Halifax. The fishermen lighted great fires to warm their shivering guests, most of whom being very lightly clad, and all, of course, dripping wet, were in a very sorry predicament; many of them, also, were miserably cramped by close packing in the boats. Some of the men, especially of those who entered the boats last, having been obliged to swim for their lives, had thrown off everything but their trousers, so that the only respectably-dressed person out of the whole party was old Shanks, the owner of the watch and compass-seal, a steady hard-a-weather sailor, who throughout took the whole affair as deliberately as if shipwreck had been an everyday occurrence. He did not even take off his hat, except, indeed, to give his good ship a cheer as she went to the bottom.
Their subsequent measures were soon decided upon. The captain carried the three boats round to the harbour, taking with him the men who had suffered most from fatigue, and those who were worst off for clothes. The officers then set out with the rest, to march across the country to Halifax, in three divisions, keeping together with as much regularity as if they had been proceeding upon some previously arranged piece of service. Very few of the party could boast of shoes, an inconvenience which was felt more severely than it would otherwise have been, from their having to trudge over a country but partially cleared of wood. Notwithstanding all this, there was not a single straggler ; and the whole ship's company, officer, man, and boy, assembled in the evening at Halifax, in as exact order as if their ship had met with no accident.
I have been more particular in describing this shipwreck, from its appearing to offer several uncommon and some useful details, well worthy, I think, of the notice of practical men, in every profession.
It is rather an unusual combination of disasters for a ship to be so totally wrecked, as to be actually obliterated from the face of the waters, in the course of a quarter of an hour, in fine weather, in the daytime, on well-known rocks, and close to a light-house, but without the loss of a single man, or the smallest accident to any person on board.
In the next place, it is highly important to observe, that the lives of the crew, in all probability, would not, and perhaps could not, have been saved, had the discipline been in the smallest degree less exactly maintained. Had any impatience been manifested by the people to rush into the boats, or had the captain not possessed sufficient authority to reduce the numbers which had crowded into the pinnace, when she was still resting on the booms, at least half of the crew must have lost their lives.
It was chiefly, therefore, if not entirely, to the personal influence which Captain Hickey possessed over the minds of all on board, that their safety was owing. Their habitual confidence in his fortitude, talents, and professional knowledge, had, from long experience, become so great, that every man in the ship, in this extremity of danger, instinctively turned to him for assistance; and seeing him so cheerfully and so completely master of himself, they relinquished to his well-known and often-tried sagacity the formidable task of extricating them from the impending peril. It is at such moments as these, indeed, that the grand distinction between man and man is developed, and the full ascendancy of a powerful and well-regulated mind makes itself felt.