A Shipwreck

This is from the journal of Sir Henry de la Beche, pioneer of geological surveys and heir to a plantation in Jamaica, as edited by Richard Morris, one of his descendants . Henry was about ten when he and his mother  were returning from a visit to their property in 1800, As it was war time, they had to sail in a convoy and avoided the usual route using the Gulf Stream.

“the fleet had weathered Hayti, and all was apparently going on well, when suddenly we  found ourselves among the breakers and the vessel hard and fast upon a coral reef. ..

This shipwreck is the earliest thing of which I have any vivid recollection. I hear the surf breaking over the vessel, the grinding of her bottom on the rocks, the cutting away of the masts, and the firm grasp of my mother with one arm, while she held on strongly upon a rope with the other, and as completely before me, as if all this happened a year ago.

The reef was separated from the island of Inagua, for such it was, by comparatively still water. In a first attempt to get a boat afloat on it, four men were lost and the boat swamped. The launch of the great boat on board such vessels was more successful, and by it the remainder of the crew and passengers … were safely conveyed to land, though my mother, from whom I learned the facts, stated that some of the men were much cut about the feet and legs in the coral reef, while getting us on board the boat. Not long after we quitted the Bushy Park, she went to pieces.

Our escape to land was compelled to be so sudden that little or nothing was saved from the wreck except a sail or two from which to construct tents, and some casks of biscuits, so that when landed there was little to support us. The want of water, of which no one knows the value until unable to obtain it, was soon felt beneath a tropical sun. Scouts were sent out in all direction, but none was discovered within the range of their search. Three day had passed and the men became impatient, the scanty moisture obtained from the dews, and the eating of the animals inhabiting the shells along the shore but little satisfying the want of water. Whether the fears of my mother, on the state of mind brought on by suffering, caused her to view objects indistinctly, she always believed that it was the intention of the men to have killed the little girl, Marsh, and myself for food, more especially for the sake of the blood in us.

At this time the firing of a pistol, for it appears that some arms were secured on leaving the vessel, announced good tidings were at hand. Water was supposed to have been found. Instead of this, however, the party had to report finding the Commodore of the fleet, Captain Plampin, afterwards the Admiral employed at St Helena during the captivity of Napoleon in that island, with his own crew, that of the Lowestoft frigate, and those of three other vessels, merchantmen, encamped 15 miles distant from where we were wrecked, the vessels still ashore, and so wrecked that provisions had been abundantly obtained from them.

Misery was now converted to joy, and the arrival of water sent from the Commodore’s encampment soon so far restored out party that with the aid of other parties sent to us, we were enabled to travel to join those who had been wrecked so much more fortunately.

After a few days, during which time preparations were making for building a small vessel from the materials furnished by the frigate and three merchantmen, to be despatched to Jamaica for succour, the Bonetta, Sloop of War, heaving in sight and making our signals out, we were all crammed into her in the best way that could be managed, and carried to Port Royal, Jamaica,”

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