Page images
[blocks in formation]

THE following narrative was written in the year 1822 by a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. In the manuscript copy it is preceded by a dedication to Vice-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, G.C.B. "Compiled in truth," says the dedication, "my story is plain and unvarnished; no literary embellishments show it off." It is here somewhat abbreviated, and such necessary corrections of sentence and phrase have been made as fit it for publication. Moralising reflections and outcries against the iniquity of Napoleon have been omitted; but no incident of any real importance is lost, and no detail has been added. If errors as to proper names, dates, &c., occur, the writer, whose name-attached to the dedication-was never known to literature, is responsible for them. Had the manuscript containing the present narrative fallen into the hands of R. L. Stevenson, it might have provided him with material for a brilliant tale. Its ill fortune has placed it in the possession of an editor who has no gift of invention. EDWARD DOWDEN.


I shall commence this narrative at the time when I was a midshipman on board H.M. sloop Rambler, Thomas Innes,


Esq., commander, and was just turned fifteen years of age. Although so young, I was thought competent for any


[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

In August 1804 the Rambler was on her return from the blockading squadron off Rochefort to the fleet off Brest. Being close in with the land, we perceived a convoy of small vessels going along shore from the Ile d'Yeu to the main; they were about twenty in number, chiefly sloops and luggers, of little value; but the idea of a dash to cut them out was too delightful to be withstood. Two boats were despatched in chase of these vessels, which were pushing, with all the sail they could spread, for the port of St Gilles. I was with Lieutenant Walter Forman in Forman in a small cutter or jolly-boat. We followed the fugitives into the harbour, and succeeded in boarding a sloop of 70 tons laden with wine, while we saw our second boat board another. Although exposed to the fire of heavy batteries, we ran them out to sea without having a single man wounded. However contemptible the prize may be,

[blocks in formation]

got on. We were lying to; wishing to show good pilotage in giving me a close shave, he passed under our stern, and, in doing so, so, his main rigging caught the end of our main boom and carried it away in the crutch. This was a serious accident to a cutter with no carpenter on board, and a dark night and bad weather coming We fished the boom with a couple of handspikes, and managed to get on with two reefs in the mainsail. When sending our provisions on board I had made request for a logline and glass; but the squalls came on so thick that we lost


sight both of the Rambler and our companion prize, and never after saw either.

Here was I adrift in the Bay of Biscay, without the necessary implements of navigation; a gale of wind right in our teeth; the sloop herself a bad sailer, and furnished with rotten sails. After hard trials in endeavouring to get from the land during five days, we found ourselves no farther than Belle Ile, off which place we expected every hour to fall in with our companions; but when day dawned nothing appeared save a sky that threatened little short of a hurricane.


The incidents of that morning are too deeply engraven in my memory ever to be effaced. We had a calm during the latter part of the morning watch, with a heavy swell from the W. N. W. About eight o'clock the sea emitted a rank smell; the atmosphere seemed on fire; thunder rolled in long peals; gannet and sea - gulls flew screaming shorewards from the approaching storm; the petrels Mother Carey's chickens-alone kept us company or followed in the vessel's wake. About ten o'clock the gale broke on us in all its fury; the seas rose to an unusual height; but we were perfectly prepared: everything was secured above and below, and we showed a balanced reefed mainsail, and nothing more, to the gale. We knew that we were not far from the French coast,

and that we were driving bodily on a dangerous shoal which lies off the entrance of the river Loire. Owing to the smallness of the craft and the continual jerking motion, every man was sea-sick.

About one o'clock a heavy sea broke over us and put out all our fires; we tried every means—even friction-to procure another, but to no purpose.

The gale rather increased than diminished. The waves washed our deck with tremendous force. About five o'clock I found that we had no more than twelve miles' drift to the shoal, while, to add to our misfortune, our jib and foresail had been split as we were endeavouring to put some headsail on the vessel. I had with me five men and a boy. While I was on deck for a quarter of an hour, the boy hurried up to

tell that they had broken open the liquor-case, and that each man had drunk nearly the full contents of a quart-bottle, saying it was better to die drunk than be drowned cold. I went below and found them to all appearance suffocated: I untied the neck-cloths of the wretches, and left them lying on each other like pigs. And here were we, two boys, in a dangerous strait, with the prospect of a direful shipwreck momently drawing near.

The night had fallen, yet now to leeward we caught sight of the dreadful breakers. I endeavoured to awake the drunken scoundrels, but they were immovable. In one short halfhour our accounts for this life would be brought to a close. The night was dismal; but the breakers, striking against the edge of the shoal and rising to an incredible height, shone like silver. If we drove direct on the shoal, the first sea would take our vessel on the broadside, and roll her over like a jolly-boat. I, therefore, resolved

[blocks in formation]

ing can describe my terror at the moment of approaching the surf; over the stern came a huge rolling sea, which presently sent us flying aloft. From that moment I do not remember anything until I found myself on deck, my arm still fastened to the tiller, my stomach full of salt water, and a dreadful contusion on my head; but we were in smooth water. The poor boy was in as bad a condition as myself, and between us we had not strength sufficient to get the anchor over the side, or even to haul up a range of the cable. We soon drifted into the centre of the shoal, and struck on a cluster of rocks, where we lay beating until morning.

The land lay about two miles to leeward of us. We hoisted French colours, and in about

[blocks in formation]


The moment our boat touched shore all was confusion; everything, except what was on our backs, was plundered by the soldiers; my five years' gathering was divided in a few minutes among the ragged repub

licans; their treatment of us, their language to us, were what we might have expected from

a tribe of barbarous Moors; the hatred they bore to the English was not disguised in word or deed; we


were led in triumph through ing, which ever after kept them a small fishing village called Poulguen to to the prison narrow hole that swarmed with vermin.

[ocr errors]

a Next day we were marched to a small fortified town Guerrande-where some French officers took me out of prison to dine with them. It was a relief for the moment, but politics, served up with the dinner, made me very uncomfortable, and I was happy to quit their society for my prison and black bread. My watch, which remained with me, I sold for ten crowns one-sixth of its value

After the fatigue I had undergone I was soon fast asleep. A blow on the face, delivered by one of my drunken brutes, awoke me: he was happy, he declared, to have broken an ugly article of war, without the danger of a courtmartial. One of the crewluckily the smartest and ablest of the party-was determined to stand by me, and immediately knocked the fellow down; a general battle ensued, and, after a struggle, we succeeded in giving the others a thrash

and purchased four of my own shirts and a pair of trousers from a soldier: the rest of the money I made spin out, as best it could, in procuring provisions for us all.


Just as we were expecting to leave the prison, we were informed that another vessel had been wrecked not far from the scene of our disaster. It was our second prize, the crew of which, fortunately saved like ourselves, joined us in the afternoon. Next morning a large chasse-marée was prepared for our conveyance to Nantes; twelve garrison soldiers-old fogies escorted us, and we were put down in the hold. It was about twelve o'clock; wind and tide were in our favour. The soldiers had descended to the hold to dine on black bread, garlic, and sour wine. While they were thus engaged, we concerted a rising against them, in the hope of getting once more to sea. Their muskets, loaded with ball, were close to us, and

such a temptation was irresistible. I set the example-seizing the sentinel and throwing him with ease, for he was an old man, on his beam-ends. In less than a minute we each had a musket cocked, and upon our demand for their sabres, the guard offered no resistance. Our victory, however, was all but wrested from us by the three seamen on deck, who had nearly succeeded in securing the hatches over us, when a musket pointed at the fellow who was about it made him think of his own safety. Thus, without any bloodshed, we had a prize; we battened them down, and were in a fair way of being soon out of the river; the ebb-tide and wind abeam rattled us along; in two hours we were near the place we had

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »