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284.–MORTALITY AT SEA.
ANSON. (The narrative known as “ Lord Anson's Voyage round the world,” from which the following is an extract, was written by Mr. Benjamin Robins, from materials furnished by Lord Anson, digested under his own immediate inspection. This book may therefore be considered as an example of divided authorship. It is full of the most vigorous narrative, and will always be read with deep interest. George Anson, the son of a Staffordshire gentleman, had an early passion for the sea, and he rose by successive steps to the highest rank, having, during forty years of his professional life, performed the most eminent public services. He died in 1762.)
Soon after our passing Straits Le Maire the scurvy began to make its appearance amongst us; and our long continuance at sea, the fatigue we underwent, and the various disappointments we met with, had occasioned its spreading to such a degree, that at the latter end of April there were but few on board who were not in some degree afflicted with it, and in that month no less than forty-three died of it on board the Centurion. But though we thought that the distemper had then risen to an extraordinary height, and were willing to hope that as we advanced to the northward its malignity would abate; yet we found, to the contrary, that in the month of May we lost nearly double that number : and as we did not get to land till the middle of June, the mortality went on increasing, and the disease extended itself so prodigiously, that, after the loss of above two hundred men, we could not at last muster more than six fore-mast men in a watch capable of duty.
With this terrible disease we struggled the greatest part of the time of our beating round Cape Horn; and though it did not then rage with its utmost violence, yet we buried no less than forty-three men on board the Centurion in the month of April, as hath been already observed; however, we still entertained hopes that, when we should have once secured our passage round the Cape, we should put a period to this and all the other evils which had so constantly pursued us. But it was our misfortune to find that the Pacific Ocean was to us less hospitable than the turbulent neighborhood of Terra del Fuego and Cape Horn. For being arrived, on the 8th of May, off the Island of Socoro, which was the first rendezvous appointed for the squadron, and where we hoped to have met with some of our companions, we cruised for them in that station several days. But here we were not only disappointed in our expectations of being joined by our friends, and were thereby induced to favor the gloomy suggestions of their having all perished; but we were likewise perpetually alarmed with the fears of being driven on shore upon this coast, which appeared too craggy and irregular to give us the least prospect that in such a case any of us could possibly escape immediate destruction. For the land had indeed a most tremendous aspect : the most distant part of it, and which appeared far within the country, being the mountains usually called the Andes or Cordilleras, was extremely high, and covered with snow; and the coast itself seemed quite rocky and barren, and the water's edge skirted with precipices. In some places indeed we discerned several deep bays running into the land, but the entrance into them was generally blocked up by numbers of little islands; and though it was not improbable but there might be convenient shelter in some of those bays, and proper channels leading thereto, yet, as we were utterly ignorant of the coast, had we been driven ashore by western winds which blow almost constantly there, we did not expect to have avoided the loss of our ship, and of our lives.
This continued peril, which lasted for above a fortnight, was greatly aggravated by the difficulties we found in working the ship; as the scurvy had by this time destroyed so great a part of our hands, and had in some degree affected almost the whole crew. Nor did we, as we hoped, find the winds less violent as we advanced to the northward; for we had often prodigious squalls which split our sails, greatly damaged our rigging, and endangered our masts. Indeed, during the greatest part of the time we were upon this coast, the wind blew so hard, that in another situation, where we had sufficient sea-room, we should certainly have lain to; but in the present exigency we were necessitated to carry both our courses and top-sails, in order to keep clear of this lee-shore. In one of these squalls, which was attended by several violent claps of thunder, a sudden flash of fire darted along our decks, which, dividing, exploded with a report like that of several pistols, and wounded many of our men and officers as it passed, marking them in different parts of the body: this flame was attended with a strong sulphurous stench, and was doubtless of the same nature with the larger and more violent blasts of lightning which then filled the air.
And now, having cruised in vain for more than a fortnight in quest of the other ships of the squadron, it was resolved to take the advantage of the present favorable season, and the offing we had made from this terrible coast, and to make the best of our way for the Island of Juan Fernandez. For though our next rendezvous was appointed off the harbor of Baldivia, yet as we had hitherto seen none of our companions at this first rendezvous, it was not to be supposed that any of them would be found at the second : indeed we had the greatest reason to suspect that all but ourselves had perished. Besides, we were by this time reduced to so low a condition, that, instead of attempting to attack the places of the enemy, our utmost hopes could only sug. gest to us the possibility of saving the ship, and some part of the remaining enfeebled crew, by our speedy arrival at Juan Fernandez; for this was the only road in that part of the world where there was any probability of our recovering our sick, or refitting our vessel, and consequently our getting thither was the only chance we had left to avoid perishing at sea.
On the 30th of May we had a view of the Continent of Chili, distant about twelve or thirteen leagues ; the land made exceeding high, and uneven, and appeared quite white : what we saw being doubtless a part of the Cordilleras, which are always covered with snow. Though by this view of the land we ascertained our position, yet it gave us great uneasiness to find that we had so needlessly altered our course, when we were, in all probability, just upon the point of making the Island; for the mortality amongst us was now increased to a most dreadful degree, and those who remained alive were utterly dispirited by this new disappointment, and the prospect of their longer continuance at sea : our water toe began to grow scarce: so that a general dejection prevailed amongst us, which added much to the virulence of the disease, and destroyed numbers of our best men; and to all these calamities there was added this vexatious circumstance, that when, after having got a sight of the main, we tacked and stood to the westward in quest of the Island, we were so much delayed by calms and contrary winds, that it cost us nine days to regain the westing, which, when we stood to the eastward, we ran down in two. In this desponding condition, with a crazy ship, a great scarcity of fresh water, and a crew so universally diseased that there were not above ten foremast men in a watch capable of doing duty, and even some of these lame, and unable to go aloft: under these disheartening circumstances, we stood to the westward; and, on the 9th of June, at day-break, we at last discovered the long wished for Island of Juan Fernandez.
Though, on this first view, it appeared to be a very mountainous place, extremely rugged and irregular; yet as it was land, and the land we sought for, it was to us a most agreeable sight: because at this place only we could hope to put a period to those terrible calamities we had so long struggled with, which had already swept away above half our crew, and which, had we continued a few days longer at sea, would inevitably have completed our destruction. For we were by this time reduced to so helpless a condition, that, out of two hundred and odd men which remained alive, we could not, taking all our watches together, muster hands enough to work the ship on an emergency, though we included the officers, their servants, and the boys.
The wind being northerly when we first made the island, we kept plying all that day, and the next night, in order to get in with the land; and, wearing the ship in the middle watch, we had a melancholy instance of the almost incredible debility of our people; for the lieutenant could muster no more than two quarter-masters and six foremast men capable of working; so that without the assistance of the officers, servants, and the boys, it might have proved impossible for us to have reached the island after we had got sight of it; and even with this assistance they were two hours in trimming the sails: to so wretched a condition was a sixty-gun ship reduced, which had passed Straits Le Maire but three months before, with between four and five hundred men, almost all of them in health and vigor.
However, on the 10th, in the afternoon, we got under the lee of the island, and kept ranging along it, at about two miles' distance, in order to look out for the proper anchorage, which was described to be in a bay on the north side. Being now nearer in with the shore, we could discover that the broken craggy precipices, which had appeared so unpromising at a distance, were far from barren, being in most places covered with woods, and that between them there were everywhere interspersed the finest val. leys, clothed with a most beautiful verdure, and watered with numerous streams and cascades, no valley, of any extent, being unprovided of its proper rill. The water, too, as we afterwards found, was not inferior to any we had ever tasted, and was constantly clear. The aspect of this country, thus diversified, would at all times have been extremely delightful; but in our distressed situation, languishing as we were for the land and its vegetable productions (an inclination constantly attending every stage of the sea-scurvy), it is scarcely credible with what eagerness and transport we viewed the shore, and with how much impatience we longed for the greens and other refreshments which were then in sight; and particularly the water, for of this we had been confined to a very sparing allowance a considerable time, and had then but five tons remaining on board. Those only who have endured a long series of thirst, and who can readily recall the desire and agitation which the ideas alone of springs and brooks have at that time raised in them, can judge of the emotion with which we eyed a large cascade of the most transparent water, which poured itself from a rock near a hundred feet high into the sea, at a small distance from the ship. Even those amongst the diseased who were not in the very last stages of the distemper, though they had been long confined to their hammocks, exerted the small remains of strength that were left them, and crawled up to the deck to feast themselves with this reviving prospect. Thus we coasted the shore, fully employed in the contemplation of this enchanting landscape, which still improved upon us the