Item of the Day: An Account of the Pelew Islands (1783)
Full Title: An Account of the Pelew Islands, Situated in the Western Part of the Pacific Ocean. Composed From the Journals and Communications of Captain Henry Wilson, and Some of his Officers, Who, in August 1783, were there Shipwrecked in The Antelope, A Packet Belonging to the Honourable East India Company, By George Keate, Esq. F.R.S. and S.A. London: Printed for G. Nicol, Bookseller to His Majesty, Pall-Mall. MDCCLXXXVIII.
Loss of the Antelope, and the immediate Distresses arising from the Accident.
The wind having freshened after midnight, the sky became overcast, with much lightning, thunder, and rain. The chief mate having the watch upon deck, had lowered the top-sails, and was going to reef them with the people upon duty, not thinking it necessary to call the hands out or acquaint the Captain, who had only quitted the deck at twelve o'clock; Mr. Benger judging from the thunder that the weather would break and clear up, and only prove a slight squall. The people being upon the yards reefing the sails, the man who was on the look-out called Breakers!
yet so short was the notice, that the call of Breakers had scarce reached the officer upon deck before the ship struck. The horror and dismay this unhappy event threw every body into was dreadful; the Captain, and all those who were below in their beds, sprang upon deck in an instant, anxious to know the cause of this sudden shock to the ship, and the confusion above; a moment convinced them of their distressed situation, the breakers along-side, through which the rocks made their appearance, presented the most dreadful scene, and left no room for doubt. The ship taking a heel, in less than an hour filled with water as high as the lower deck hatchways; during this tremendous interval, the people thronged round the Captain, and earnestly requested to be directed what to do, beseeching him to give orders and they would immediately execute them. Orders were in consequence instantly given to secure the gunpowder, ammunition, and small arms, and that the bread, and such other provision as would spoil by wet, should be brought upon deck and secured by some covering from the rain; while others were directed to cut away the mizen-mast, the main and foretop-mast, and lower yards, to ease the ship and prevent her oversetting, of which they thought there was some hazard, and that every thing should be done to preserve her as long as possible (the sails having all be clewed up as soon as the ship struck). The boats were hoisted out, and filled with provision and water, together with a compass in each, some small arms, and ammunition; and two men were placed in each boat, with directions to keep them under the lee of the ship, and be careful they were not staved, and be ready to receive their ship-mates in case the vessel should break to pieces by the dashing of the waves and the violence of the wind, it was then blowing a storm. Every thing that could be thought expedient in so distressful and trying an occasion was executed with a readiness and obedience hardly ever exceeded. The people all now assembled aft, the quarter-deck laying highest out of the water, the quarter-board afforded some little shelter from the sea and rain; here, after contemplating a few moments their wretched situation, the Captain endeavoured to revive their drooping spirits, which began to sink through anxiety and fatigue, by reminding them that shipwreck was a misfortune to which those who navigate the ocean were always liable; that theirs indeed was more difficult, from happening in an unknown and unfrequented sea, but that this consideration should rouse their most active attention, as much, as much must depend on themselves to be extricated from their distress; that when these misfortunes happened, they were often rendered more dreadful than they otherwise would be by the despair and disagreement of the crew; to avoid which, it was strongly recommended to every individual not to drink any spiritous liquor. A ready consent was given to this advice; and, they being all wet and fatigued with excessive labour, it was thought advisable to take some refreshment, which to each person was a glass of wine and some biscuit; after eating, a second glass of wine was given them, and they now waited with the utmost anxiety the return of day, in hope of seeing land, for yet they had not discovered any; the third mate and one of the quarter-masters only, in the momentary interval of a dreadful flash of lightning, imagined they had seen the appearance of land ahead of the ship. During these anxious moments, they endeavoured to console and cheer one another, and each was advised to clothe and prepare himself to quit the ship when necessity should make that step inevitable; and herein the utmost good order and regularity was observed, not a man offering to take any thing but what truly belonged to himself, nor did any one of them either ask for, or attempt to take a dram, or complain of negligence or misconduct against the watch or any particular person. The dawn of day discovered to their view a small island to the southward, about three or four leagues distant, and soon after some other islands were seen to the eastward. They now felt apprehensive on account of the inhabitants, of whose dispositions they were strangers; however, after manning the boats, and loading them in the best manner they could for the general good, they departed from the ship under the care of Mr. Benger, who, together with the people in them, were earnestly requested to endeavour to obtain a friendly intercourse with the inhabitants if they found any, and carefully to avoid any disagreement unless reduced to the last necessity, as the fate of all might depend upon the first interview. As soon as the boats were gone, those who remained went immediately to work to get the booms overboard, in order to make a raft to secure themselves, as the Antelope was hourly expected to go to pieces, and the utmost disquietude was entertained for the safey of the boats, not only on account of the natives, but also of the weather it continuing to blow very hard.-- But in the afternoon, they perceived with inexpressible joy the boats coming off; a sight the more welcome, as they were fearful from their long stay, they might have met with some disaster, either from the inhabitants, or the storm; they were however happily relieved from this anxiety by their getting safe to the ship about four o'clock, having left the stores and five men on shore. They brought the welcome news that there was no appearance of inhabitants on the island where they had landed; that they had found a secure harbour well sheltered from the weather, and also some fresh water.