« PreviousContinue »
remain to witness our fate. Only a few in comparison remained to watch and help us. Whether it was the sight he had just seen, or the hourly increasing violence of the gale, or any knowledge that he had of our own ship's precarious state, I know not, but in answer to my questions the Captain assured me that he could not answer for the Abercrombie holding together till night. Moreover, they had taken one of the two surf boats from us, and after no further chance remained of saving life on the scene of the Waterloo's destruction, they did not bring this boat back to our wreck, in spite of my earnest messages sent ashore by every boat that went off. I decided on sacrificing the men's knapsacks and the officers’ light baggage, and ordered that the arms alone should be sent down the ship's side. At eleven o’clock Mrs. Ward and her child left us with her husband. She had behaved remarkably well. At twelve the Adjutant came on board with an order from the Colonel on shore, ‘that I was not to attempt to send the men off by companies, but just as they came.’ I told the Adjutant that to that order I would pay no attention, nor would I suffer the interference of any officer of whatever rank who was not on board the wreck, sharing my responsibilities as well as my danger. Our disembarkation now went on regularly, and as fast as one boat could do the work. About twenty-four men were crowded into her, with their arms, at each trip. At a little before three in the afternoon I saw the last batch of the last company safely over the ship's side, and repaired for five minutes to my own cabin, where Cochrane and I had lived together for three months. My faithful servant had, with the assistance of another man, stowed away everything he could, so that in the event, which we did not expect, of the ship holding together, my property might yet be saved. I opened a drawer in my chest in which letters and papers and journals and other (to me) precious remembrances were kept, and looked at them, hesitating whether I might not make an effort to carry them ashore. In that drawer were two. Bibles. a One, the gift of my father years ago, when he presented each of us boys with one; the other the gift of one to whom it had belonged from girlhood, and by whom it had been given to me as the last solemn witness of as true a love as fate ever doomed to be unaccomplished. For some moments conflicting, painful thoughts made me hesitate. Thrice did I take her Bible and leave the other, and twice returned it, until at last the remembrance of who she now is and the thought of how our poor Richard's Bible was so strangely restored to his family, just seven years after his shipwreck and death, decided me on taking its fellow, and leaving all else for the destruction which we felt that night must bring upon our ship.
The Sergeant-Major and a corporal of my own company, who had both refused to leave the wreck until I did, and a few others, now alone remained. With these and Lieutenant Black, the agent, I at length went down the ship's side and, like the rest of us, made our passage through the surf safely to shore. There the General and the greater part of the officers were. Ducat took me up to Sir George Napier, a fine old soldier, who, shaking hands with me, said, ‘Captain Gordon, you have done well,” and then proceeded to say that Cochrane and I were to take up our quarters at Government House until we got into barracks, and that his sons would provide us with clothes. All that I brought on shore was my watch, money, and a few articles of linen in a bundle, a spyglass, prayer-book, and Bible.
The whole of the men had ere this reached the barracks, and much needed rest after this tiring and anxious day. As Cochrane and I walked up to the town, from which we were two miles off, the sense of the awful death which had overtaken so, many of our shipwrecked fellow-sufferers, and from which ourselves had but just escaped, made a deep and solemn impression on the mind. Every face we met shocked this sense; for it appeared to us, however really grave, to wear an expression of too much gaiety. Before repairing to our comfortable quarters at Government House we went to barracks, to satisfy ourselves that the company was as comfortably provided for as circumstances would admit. And there the poor fellows would not be restrained from hoisting me on their shoulders and carrying me with hurrahing and cheers through the barracks.
Your affectionate son,
There were seven hundred souls on board, nearly a hundred of them women and children, besides sick and dying, and about five hundred troops belonging to the reserve battalion of the 91st and other regiments.
Two or three days after the wreck (August 29), Lieut. Cannon, of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, writes from Cape Town :
During the Saturday night and Sunday morning we were awakened by heavy firing among the shipping, and at daylight perceived our unfortunate ship, with seven hundred souls on board, on a sandbank, and a heavy sea breaking over her, her cables having snapped during the gale. About a cable's length and a half from her, the convict ship Waterloo likewise was ashore, but beating heavily upon the rocks. She was so close to us that we could hear the cries of the poor creatures for help, but, alas ! they were beyond any chance of assistance, the two boats being for a time employed in saving our people. At last the mizzen and main masts went over the side; the ship immediately hove round with her broadside exposed to the tremendous sea. Several of us rode into the sea as far as we could to endeavour to pick up some that each successive wave washed from the weather rigging; but suddenly a sea came on, and in an instant the ship opened and split into ten thousand pieces. The scene, as you can imagine, was now horrible. Such a sight I pray I may never again witness. To conclude this melancholy description, I must tell you that only Mrs. Leigh and fourteen out of thirty of the 90th are alive. Of the convicts and ship's crew, it is supposed at present that more than two hundred perished. One hundred and seventy-five bodies have been picked up on the beach ; many were beaten to death amongst the rocks and fragments of the wreck. Our ship, being imbedded in the sand, remained steady, and by the assistance of the large shore boats, and the splendid conduct and example of Captain Bertie Gordon, of the 91st, who was in command of the troops on that awful night, the whole of the women and children and troops and sailors were safely landed on Sunday evening. I rejoice in having been so fortunate as to make the acquaintance of such an intrepid and excellent officer as Captain Gordon. Under his orders this young battalion fell in on the opening decks of the ship (with death in a most frightful form before them) as steadily as on ordinary occasions; and I am assured that during the night, while the ship was striking heavily and they were expecting she would go to pieces as the convict ship did, the men were as quiet and orderly as possible. It was quite frightful to see the boats filled with shrieking women and children, stretching out their arms to us on shore, in the furious sea that was boiling and surging over the ship and threatening to swamp the boats they were in. That noble fellow, Captain Gordon, after providing for the women and children, disembarked the lads (of the Cape Regiment), and then the detachment of the 27th, before he suffered one of his own men to put foot over the side. The companies of the 91st then drew lots, and disembarked regularly. He was himself almost the last to quit the poor old ship that had carried us so far.
It was not until August 1844 that the Commander-in-Chief knew any particulars of the wreck. The narrative was then forwarded to him by Sir George Napier (from the Cape), to whom Lord Fitzroy Somerset sent the following copy of the Duke's Minute, which had been written with his own hand on the narrative after perusing it. - - - - - -
VOL. XXV.-NO. 147, N.S. 22
Copy of THE DUKE's MINUTE.
Horse Guards: August 15, 1844.
‘I have never read anything so satisfactory as this Report.
“It is highly creditable not only to Captain Bertie Gordon and the officers and troops concerned, but to the Service in which such an instance has occurred of discretion and of firmness in an officer in command, and of confidence, good order, discipline, and obedience in all under his direction, even to the women and children. Captain Bertie Gordon and all concerned deserve the highest approbation, and I will not forget their good conduct.
“I wish I had received this statement after the misfortune occurred.
“The approbation of the Publick which must have been given to this remarkable instance of good conduct in all, and of the beneficial effects resulting from it, would have been satisfactory to the feelings of all, and to their friends.
“As it is, I will take an early opportunity of laying before her Majesty this most interesting narrative; and I will not fail as opportunities offer to draw her Majesty's gracious attention to those whose conduct is the subject of it.’
I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient humblé Servant, o (Signed) FITzRoy SoMERSET.
Major-General Sir George Napier, K.C.B.
The Duke may have been ‘The Iron Duke,’ but he always loved the children; and my mother happened to be an especial favourite. I suppose my grandmother had written to the Duke at this time about her grandson; for amongst my old letters is this one addressed to Lady Albinia Cumberland at Hampton Court Palace : London : October 29, 1844.
I assure you, my dear Lady Albinia, that I was delighted when I heard that Captain Bertie Gordon, of whose conduct I had so much reason to approve, was the son of my old friend, who, however, I am convinced, cannot recollect me, but whom I perfectly recollect but little more than an infant in her nurse’s arms, and who was at that time very partial to me; delighted as I was with her. I did not fail to lay before the Queen the reports of his conduct, which had made such an impression on my mind ; and her Majesty expressed her high approbation of it; and I will not fail to remind her Majesty of the same as opportunities of promoting Captain Gordon in the Service may offer.
I perfectly recollect having had the advantage of the assistance of your son as my Aide-de-camp during part of the time during which I commanded the Army in the Peninsula. I hope you are quite well. I beg you to believe me ever yours most faithfully, (Signed) WELLINGTON.
And then his brief word, appointing an interview, addressed to Mrs. Gordon, of Ellon, the baby-pet of forty years before : London: April 18, 1845. MY DEAR MADAM, I did not receive your note of the 16th till my return home last night, and am much flattered by your recollection of me. If your son will call upon me at my house in Piccadilly at twelve to-morrow I shall be happy to see him. Ever yours most faithfully, (Signed) WELLINGTON.
RECoRD of MY WISIT TO THE DUKE of WELLINGTON, BY
The exact words spoken by the Duke of Wellington to me when his Grace allowed me to wait upon him at Apsley House on the 19th of April, 1845. He came out to the vestibule and himself brought me into his library, shaking hands with me and making me sit in a large armchair; he drew a small one close in front of me, with my knees nearly touching his, and, with one hand to his ear, so he spoke : B. G.
Duke of Wellington. Well, I am glad to see you. Walk in ; sit down. Ah—when do you go to Manchester ? Myself. On the 1st of May. Duke. Ah—well, that was rough work you had at the Cape. Where are the 91st 7 I forget. At the Cape still ? Myself. Yes; the first battalion comes home this year. Duke. Ah—they behaved very well—very creditable. I reported their conduct to the Queen. There is another case, in the Bay of Bengal, where two ships were wrecked; the men behaved well. (Pointing to a table behind me.) I have laid their conduct before her Majesty. Do you go to the Levee ? You should go. Myself. Yes, on Wednesday. Duke. Quite right. Who presents you ? Myself. Lord Aberdeen. Duke. Ah—very proper. I remember your mother—quite a little girl (showing how high). Well, good morning; I am glad to have seen you. * Richard Cumberland, grandson of Richard Cumberland, the dramatist.