Shipwreck of the General Grant

On the 28th of November, 1865 the ship General Grant , Captain William H. Loughlin, sailed from Boston to Melbourne. A fine westerly breeze urged her cheerily along, and the crew, of which the narrator was one, began the voyage in good spirits. During the second night out a heavy gale struck us, and while shortening sail the third mate, Rufus S. Tyler, was lost overboard. This ill omen was followed by good weather, which took us in sixty-eight days to the Cape of Good Hope.

Bad weather vexed us thence to Melbourne, which we reached on the 13th of March, 1866.

We remained in Melbourne about eight weeks, loading for London. By one of those coincidences, which sailors dread, we took aboard part of a cargo that had been intended for the steamer London. This ill-fated vessel had sunk in the Bay of Biscay on her voyage out, and there were many gloomy prophecies that no freight of hers would reach London in any ship. The rats are also said to have left our vessel. Our cargo consisted chiefly of wool and hides, with about four thousand ounces of gold. We sailed on Friday the 4th of may, 1866, with sixty passengers, among whom were six women and about twenty children. The men were nearly all miners, returning home with their families and what property they had acquired at the diggings. The crew numbered twenty-three, four officers and nineteen men.

The Auckland Isles are a group of black basaltic rocks, lying about 1500 miles southeast of Melbourne, and 199 miles south of New Zealand. They are barren and uninhabited. Whalers and sealers occasionally visit them, and have left a stock of pigs and a few crazy huts. Many vessels have been cast away there, and an abundance of wreck-wood may be found on the shores. Captain Musgrave, of the schooner Grafton, was wrecked there in 1864, and remained eighteen months. He left a substantial hut, and at his instance the Government of New Zealand put goats, sheep, and domestic fowls ashore there, and planted English elms, oaks, and ash-trees. Nothing throve but the goats. Papers were also left giving the bearing of New Zealand and other useful information; but these seem never to have been found.

For five days the General Grant made good progress with a fair wind. The Captain had originally intended running to the northward of the Aucklands; but on the seventh day a south easterly breeze sprang up, obliging him to beat to windward.

Heavy fog closed in, and a sharp look-out was kept for land. The last observation was taken that morning. Throughout the next two days the weather was so thick that we could scarcely see the end of the jib-boom from the deck. At 10 1/2 o'clock at night of the ninth day the lookout forward cried, "Land on the port bow." This was Disappointment. When fairly clear of the land, which he supposed to be the most northerly of the Aucklands, instead of the most westerly, the wind shifted from southeast to northwest.

All danger seemed past. The yards were squared and the doomed ship put on the straight course for Cape Horn. An hour later the look-out reported, " Land dead ahead ", but after inspection with the glass the officers declared it only a fog-bank.

Not many minutes later the wind died completely away, leaving a heavy sea. At the same time dawned upon us the terrible danger we were in. The sea and the current were carrying us toward a rock-bound, precipitous coast. The main island of Auckland lay directly ahead, and every swash of the sea was pushing us toward destruction.

A breeze, through ever so slight , might save the ship and enable her to run between the two islands. All passengers were called aft, all the crew on deck. In vain was every sail set, every yard braced to meet a breath of air. The tide took us at one time so far to the south that it seemed we might go clear. Then an eddy carried us to the northward again, nearer and nearer to the overhanging rock.

The scene on deck and in the cabins struck terror to the strongest hearts. Miners were seen tying up their gold in blankets, women were wailing and children shrieking. All hands were pulling at the braces as long as a spark of hope remained.

Cruel fate urged us pitilessly on, yet so slowly that it was a relief when the end came, and that long agony of hopeless waiting ceased. As we neared the land the lead was heaved to find anchorage, but no bottom could be found.

At half past one at night the jib-boom struck the rock at the foot of a cliff many hundred feet high, and with the bowsprit was carried away. This shock caused the ship to spin around and strike her stern, carrying away the spanker-boom and rudder , and breaking the ribs of the man at the wheel. We now found ourselves drifting helplessly into a narrow cove enclosed by precipices of unknown height. The ship's sides were striking heavily against the rock, and there were thirty fathoms of water under her. All hope was gone; yet the captain stood nobly at his post, and the crew remained subordinate.

Lanterns were held over the side and carried up the rigging. Not a foothold for a bird could be discovered. The masts were not cut away, as they could not fall clear of the deck. There was too much water for anchoring.

So we drifted on, and the cove grew narrower. Suddenly the fore-royal mast struck the rock above and came tumbling down, followed by the other spars. As the main-royal mast and top-hamper succeeded we realized the appalling fact that we were being sucked into a cave of unknown depth.

The rock above was tearing the masts out of the ship and in detached masses, breaking holes through the deck and forward houses. After losing all the fore-mast, the sump of the main-mast caught against the solid roof, and stopped farther progress. But for this circumstance the General Grant would have sunk that night and none lived to tell the story.

The mizzen-mast remained unhurt outside the cavern, and all hands gathered on the after-cabin out of danger from the shower of stones and broken spars to await the dawn. It was useless to attempt launching the boats in the dark; and we prayed that the good craft might hold together till morning. The Captain all the while was encouraging the timid and exhorting the idle. Hour after hour passed in anxious suspense - the masts chaffing restlessly above, the seams opening below with every sea, and the hull gradually settling.

At last the first streaks of daylight warned us to set about launching the boats. A spar and tackle were rigged over the stern, and one of the quarter-boats launched with infinite care. A crew of three was put in her, and ordered to pull outside the cave and seek a landing-place on the coast. The heavy sea forbade this attempt, and the boat, by some misunderstanding , anchored with kedge a short distance outside of the cave. In about twenty minutes a second boat was got into the water with eight men, under charge of the mate.

It was intended to put the women and children aboard of her; but only one, the stewardess, could be induced to make the attempt. She was thrown overboard with a rope about her waist, and kept on the surface till the boat picked her up. This boat then joined the first outside.

Meanwhile the ship was sinking, and the long-boat was made ready to float off the deck. The scene at this moment was one of such utter misery as few men ever see, and fewer still survive to tell of. Every sea washed over the stern and swept the deck.

The long-boat was crammed with all who could gain a foothold. It was partly filled with water, and several poor creatures lying in the bilge were crowded down and drowned before she was clear of the ship. Women clinging to their children, and crazy men to their gold, were seen washing to and fro as the water invaded the upper deck.

One wretch saw his wife and two children driven by him in this way without making an effort to save them, while the last man who got aboard nearly lost his life trying to persuade the mother to be saved without her children.

At about seven o'clock the long-boat floated clear of the deck, and before we had got fifty yards away from her the General Grant sank. All left on board were lost. The last we saw was the Captain on the mizzen-topmast crosstrees waving his handkerchief. From the first moment of danger to the last of his life he had devoted himself to the task of saving his passengers and crew. He made no effort to leave the ship, and his last act, with death staring him in the face, was to make a sign of encouragement and adieu to those who seemed to have a chance for life.

Not more than five minutes after the long-boat suddenly capsized, and I found myself struggling in the water for my life. Diving underneath the struggling crowd I swam as far as I could under water, and on coming to the surface found myself free to make my way to the other boats. Only three out of forty odd were able to reach them. The rest struggled a few moments and all was over. We now found ourselves fifteen in number in two boats, three in one and twelve in the other.

We first equalized the crews. We then held a council as to our future course, and decided to pull under the lee of Disappointment Island, which lay about six miles off, and wait for the weather to moderate. Our provisions were a few tins of preserved meats and some salt beef and pork in the mate's boat.

But we had no water. We had a hard pull of it. The wind was ahead with heavy sea. We lost sight of each other many times, and it took us more than twelve hours to row the distance. We lay off Disappointment all night , and next morning in trying to land capsized the mate's boat; but all succeeded in reaching the shore. There we found water, and caught two albatross, which we could not cook or eat. We had lost all our provisions but one piece of pork and nine tins of meat. On opening the tins we found it impossible to retain the contents on our stomachs. We then decided to pull over to the main island again; but after several hours of useless labour had to put back and lie under the lee of Disappointment again all night.

Our sufferings from cold, hunger, and thirst during these two days and two nights were indescribable. McClellan's despair became so discouraging to his crew that he was shifted to the mate's boat. By pulling all the next day we succeeded in reaching a safe haven in a bay we afterward called North Harbour, on the main island of Auckland. We found no landing-place that night; but the next morning we pulled to the northeast part of the harbour and discovered one at a place called Sarah's Bosom.

Our first care was to build a fire. Tier had six matches. Brush-wood and fuel were gathered, and the result watched with anxious eyes. The first match ignited, but went out immediately. Of the next four the heads fell off useless. This was the most critical moment of our lives. If that last match failed starvation and perhaps cannibalism were to be our lot. The men were already talking of the probability of having to cast lots for a victim. Being the smallest of the party, I determined to keep out of the way until the question had been decided.

I stole unperceived away and hid among the rocks, with a trembling heart, until the welcome sight of smoke relieved me of anxiety. The last match had been nursed with the most desperate care, and the fire was started. This fire was never allowed to go out during the eighteen months of our stay.

Comparative comfort was now dawning. Clothes were dried, the two albatross cooked, and a few shellfish gathered. A long sleep on the grass, with feet to the fire, gave us long-needed rest. We afterward found that the wood of the island was so moistened by the wet climate that the Maoris of New Zealand who come here sealing always bring their own light-wood with them. The Indians process of rubbing two sticks together is of no avail. Thus on this one match depended the lives of the whole party.

Next day a party rowed along the coast and found an old whaler's hut about three miles off. Our fire was then carefully moved to the hut, and all hands went gathering food and fuel. Two seals were caught and baked. Seal meat was ever after our staple article of food.

The only thing of use in the hut was a jute bag, which one of the men appropriated for a coat. The example and encouragement of Tier during all this time had alone roused us from despair. We now settled down to the work of making ourselves as comfortable as possible, though without tools or proper material. There were only two knives among us. We viewed the wreck of the Grafton, but she had been stripped of every thing useful by Musgrave. A few fish were caught in her hold, and we luckily discovered before eating them that they were poisonous from the copper which they had got at in the schooner.

Most of us had heard of Musgrave's wreck, and we all knew that he had left a hut, and we believed a stock of provisions and implements. On the 23rd of May a picked crew of six was sent in search of this hut. They returned unsuccessful after ten days, and found us so emaciated by dysentery that they did not know us one from the other. They recommended eating the blubber as well as the flesh of the seal. This diet soon restored us.

While the party was gone we made search for food or utensils left by former visitors. We found a tree with the name of the steamer Victoria carved on it, and a bottle with paper in it stating that fowls, goats, and rabbits had been left on the island. No mention was made of the course to New Zealand.

Not long after a party of eight started anew, and after a month of wandering in snow and cold found Musgrave's hut. It contained, however, only a few rude articles of furniture, and a large iron boiler. The walls were lined with canvas. It was about twenty-five miles from the other hut. On our return we found that a great disappointment had been spared us. A vessel had been sighted and chase given in the boat. The boat got near enough to see the men aboard, but no device succeeded in attracting attention. Tier expressed a wish that she might " break her back ", which she actually did four days after on the coast of New Zealand.

In order to have two look-outs and sealing grounds we separated into two parties, one remaining in the whaler's, and the other going to Musgrave's hut. Seven of us went to the latter, barley existing on seal, which by this time we had learned to salt.

We remained here till October, and then made a visit to the other party, thinking they might be in want. We found that by the ingenuity of Tier they had been taught to make clothing, blankets, moccasins, needles, and salt, and had found plenty of bird's eggs. They had caught many rabbits, two goats, and two kids. The goats, which they had kept alive, were marked A.S. ( Acclimatization Society ) on the horns.

The project was now started of fitting up the best boat, and sending it in search of New Zealand.

We returned to Musgrave's and busied ourselves in rigging the boat, while the other party prepared provisions. We made the canvas lining of the hut into sails, tinder, and clothing. We picked the ropes which held the beams of the hut together into oakum, and remade it into smaller rope.

On the 26th of December, 1866, the two parties again united at the cove, and joined forces to put the finishing touches on the boat. At last , when all that our ingenuity and means could furnish was gathered, we called for volunteers. The mate, Bartholomew Brown, McNevin, Morrison, and Scott were the ones who offered for the perilous enterprise. The boat was twenty-two feet long by four feet six inches beam- a sound Whitehall boat. A jib and main-sail were her sails. The supply of water was about thirty gallons, in gullets of seals. For provisions, two live goats, a baked seal, some salted seal, seven tins of preserved meats, and thirty dozen boiled eggs were put aboard. It was calculated that this supply would last three weeks.

This devoted crew hoped, without chart or compass, to reach some part of New Zealand, whence a rescuing party might be sent. The nearest point lines about two hundred miles from the Aucklands. The question was to us in what direction. The islands were searched in vain for papers giving the true bearings. Those who read Musgrave's account racked their brains to recollect the course he steered when he escaped, and finally convinced themselves that it was east-northeast. Others were in favour of due north. The former unhappily prevailed.

On the 22nd of January, 1867, our ill-fated companions left us, and we never saw them more. It was a bright summer day, one of very few we had, and the wind was fair.

Both parties appreciated the danger and the mutual dependence of their fates. Tears trickled down the faces of all, and a silent handshaking was all their adieu. We rowed out to sea a few miles with them, and on our return climbed the highest peak to catch one more glimpse, but the fresh breeze had already carried them out of sight. That night blew a heavy northeast gale, but next day a southwest wind arose and continued eight days.

The anxious waiting which ensued told more severely on us than all the privation. The feverish excitement of hope caused a cessation of labour one day, and blank despair rendered us helpless the next. One man would accuse the unhappy crew of deserting us, and curse their selfishness. Another would, sobbing, deplore their cruel fate, and realise the noble men who ventured on a hopeless task.

Six weeks we watched and prayed for their return, and then we mourned them as dead. Not until after our rescue did we discover the appalling fact that the course they took must have carried them far to the eastward of New Zealand, with no prospect of sighting land for thousands of miles. Let us hope that some merciful storm spared them the pangs of starvation and its attendant crimes.

One circumstance that added greatly to our anxiety for the boat was the relation of a dream by Caughey. Some days before the boat started he had nearly given way to despair, and had prayed God for a dream which should show him whether he was ever to get off the island. That night in his sleep his mother appeared to him, bearing a branch of laurel and said: " My son, you shall get away from this island in January, and the vessel shall be sighted during your cooking week." She went on to state that the look-out should not discover her, but that Caughey should. She also pointed out the island from behind which the vessel should appear, and described her as being a brig with Maoris aboard. The month of January, 1867, passed by with no sign of rescue, and the dream was almost forgotten. It was, however, realized in the next year.

On the 8th of March, 1867, all but Jewell and his wife and McClellan moved over to Enderby Island, as it promised to be a better place for look-out and sealing ground. As soon as we had got comfortable quarters under way the others joined us. We built here rude huts of brush-wood thatched with grass, closed only on three sides, with a fire in front. These are called by the New Zealanders mai-mis. They kept the cold out very well, but caught fire very often.

We then passed many days collecting wood along the shore to build more substantial shelters with. We also got logs from the main island, and by good luck found some bricks and tiles for a chimney. These were relics of a Maori settlement which had been abandoned many years before. They had been overgrown with grass, but we accidentally built a fire over the spot, which disclosed the edge of the tiles.

We built one house twenty feet by eleven, with a chimney, in which lived the six of us. Another one, a little larger, was occupied by Jewell and wife and three others. We then established a systematic look-out, at which each man took his turn all day long. For this man's shelter we built another mai-mi on the highest summit of the island, and made enormous piles of wood for bonfires in case of need.

Tier was our leader in all plans for improving our condition. No scrap of iron ever escaped his eye, and he could always find a use for the most trifling article.

In 1840 a few pigs had been put ashore by an American whaler, and at out time had increased to droves of thousands. We had made many unsuccessful attempts at catching them. On the 19th of June, 1867, more than a year after our landing, while rowing along the Auckland beach, we espied a sow feeding close to the water. By careful stalking we succeeded in capturing her, at the expense of a sprained ankle to Allen. We carried her over to Enderby and kept her several months, feeding her on seal. She was then killed, but her flesh tasted exactly like seal's, to our bitter disappointment.

We determined to catch some more, and Tier's wonderful mechanical talent devised the means. He set us to digging pitfalls, but the pigs always got out. He then heated some old pieces of iron, fashioned them into hooks, and boiled them in oil to temper them. This created much amusement. We would not believe that pigs could be caught like fish with hooks. Tier kept steadily on. He took flax, which grew plentifully about us, boiled the plant in lye and water, and twisted the fibres into rope. The hooks were loosely attached to a pole about twelve feet long. A rope eighteen long was then bent onto the eye of the hook and made fast to the body of the hunter. Tier thus armed we started for the chase on Auckland. A large black sow with a litter of young was soon spied. Tier crept carefully up behind her and suddenly thrust the hook into her back, threw down the pole, and pulled lustily on the rope, shouting, joyfully, " I've hooked her ! I've hooked her ! "

The sow squealed, and we yelled and hauled, She, with one of her young, was soon carried over to Enderby. A ring was put in her nose, and the name "Nellie", with a comfortable pen, given her. She soon became very tame and could not bear to be left alone. The young one was called "Roger," and became a great pet . He followed us about like a dog, and would jump into the water rather than be left out of a boat-excursion.

We caught many more after this whose flesh was well flavoured. When rescued we left a colony of seventeen on Enderby, under charge of the disconsolate Roger. We had also tame rabbits, and a hawk which would never leave the hut, and stole every thing it could put its claws on.

At this time we were as comfortable as the resources of the island would allow. Our huts were tolerably weather-proof, and what with seal, albatross, pig, rabbit, and fish, fresh and salted, with good water , we were not badly off for food. Seal soup at every meal was monotonous, but bearable. Tier invented needles from the wing-bones of the albatross, thread from flax, and cloth from skin of the seal. After carefully paring, pounding, and stretching the skins they became soft as chamois, and were easily fashioned into garments. Shoes and hats were made in the same way; buttons of wood and bone, and mufflers of rabbit skins.

We had found two axes, and an Ames shovel. With a piece of file he had picked up Tier filed the shovel into six pieces, which served as knife-blades. Heating one end of each he drove a nail through. making a hole for the handle rivet, then tempered the whole by plunging into oil while red-hot. These knives were sharpened on a grindstone left by Captain Musgrave, and became as sharp as razors. Lamps were made of zinc, and wicks of flax. Our dishes were of wood, and forks of albatross bones. Our bed-clothes were of the skin of the fur-seal.

The life was monotonous enough. It consisted of a daily hunt for food and fire-wood. Parties of two would start with a knife and two clubs, searching for seal. Sometimes a whole day would pass without success; often a good bag was made in a few hours. The sport was dangerous and cruel. Others would fish, hook pigs, and trap rabbits. Sunday was always observed as a holiday, and no work was done. Each man roamed off with his favourite companion and talked of rescue, and discussed their prospects over the fire. We all had an intense longing for vegetables, coffee, and tobacco. Tier kept a diary on pieces of bleached seal-skin, on which he scratched with a nail or marked with charcoal.

Besides providing a look-out we planned many ways of sending information of our plight to others lands. We tied messages to the necks of Cape hens and let them loose. We inflated seal bladders inclosing manuscripts, tied to small floats which would fly before the wind faster than a boat could row. At first the birds ate them, but we applied tar, which saved them from further molestation.

Tier cut pieces of spar into the shape of boats, attached an iron kneel heavy enough to ballast them in all weather, put in an iron mast, and rigged a sail of zinc, on which was scratched "Ship General Grant wrecked on Auckland Isles 14 May, 1866; 10 survivors to date. Want relief."

Three of these were sent off, and one was ready to launch at the time of our rescue. We got along good-naturedly enough, though occasionally quarrels would break out. A difference of opinion as to the management of a boat caused a fight between two of the party, which was terminated in six rounds by a knock-down blow. One of the party, becoming unruly, was threatened with banishment to a small desert island adjoining, which brought him to his senses. Scott, who was lost in the boat , was allowed two weeks off duty to make a pack of cards, during which time we did his work. He took tin lining of a bread-locker. cut it into fifty-two pieces, and scratched the emblems of the cards on them with a nail. At first there was great competition for the use of these, and the sound of merriment was heard till midnight for many weeks. Afterwards dominos, checkers, tip-eat, and foot-ball were added to our list of amusements.

In July of 1867 we made two attempts to go overland on Auckland to the cave where the ship was lost, but discovered only high precipices to the water's edge.

During the fall we were sorely afflicted with scurvy, or, as whalers call it, "the cobbler". The entire party was attacked, and it was only later that we realized how severely our ankle and knee joints were stiffened, and the flesh so swollen that the imprint of a finger would remain for an hour or more. We had heard that the remedy for scurvy was to bury a man all but the head. This we tried in several cases, but it did no good. In closing our mouths our teeth would, on meeting, project straight out, flattened against each other. General weakness and despondency , with a longing for vegetables , was our torment. Severe exercise seemed to be the only remedy. This was our most trying time. The graves of many former shipwrecked men were about us, and on the 23d of September we added one to their number. McClellan was an old man of over 60. When we were first cast away he looked not more than 45, but gradually aged through anxiety. He cut his hand on a piece of copper . The wound mortified, and he gradually sank, dying easily. We formed a mournful procession for his funeral. All cripples, we bore him to his grave. Ashworth repeated the Lord's Prayer, and each one spoke of soon following him . All, even to the sickest who could scarcely drag himself along came. This blow, at our period of greatest despondency, was almost overwhelming. A feeling of gloom and dread of being the last survivor came over us all.

From this time forward we were never fairly rid of the scurvy, though at times all partially recovered. In October Tier proposed to take the last boat and make another attempt to reach New Zealand, provided two others would join him. Drew, Hayman and I agreed to go, but others objected, as it would leave them without a boat and confined to one island. This project was therefore abandoned.

On the 19th November, 1867, while Ferguson was on the look-out, and the boat away sealing, he came rushing down in delirious joy. shouting "Sail, ho !" All took fire-brands and started for the wood-piles prepared for bonfires. The wind unfortunately blew too hard for smoke to rise, though we set nearly the whole island on fire. The sail disappeared behind Auckland, and left us despondent. Tier proposed to pull the boat around to Musgrave's hut, thirty miles away, but we were hopeless to undertake the journey.

On the 21st November, two days after, while Ashworth was on look-out and each party at its hut, owing to a heavy hail-storm, Caughey went out to cut some wood. It was his cooking week, While plying the axe he looked up and espied a brig sailing close in to the coast. In a moment the good tidings spread, we rushed to the shore, manned the boat, and pulled with might and main for the brig. Three remained ashore to fire the island. The boat reached the strange vessel, and through our savage appearance at first alarmed the crew, they received us on board. Then were we made welcome to all they could spare. The Amherst, Captain Gilroy, of Invercarghill, manned by Maoris, and bound on a sealing voyage, was the means of our rescue. Captain Gilroy beat up between the islands and anchored off the huts. We were all taken aboard, and treated in the most hospitable manner. No Persian monarch ever enjoyed such a treat as we when tobacco and tea were set before us.

As it would have spoiled the voyage to return at once, we remained sealing for the brig nearly two months. Our long experience at this pursuit enabled us to make some requital for our kind treatment. On the 8th of January, 1868, we sailed for New Zealand, and landed at Invercarghill in five days. Here every kindness was shown us. A Court of Inquiry was held, and our testimony taken, The whole population crowded to welcome and aid us. Money, clothing, and sympathy were given us in abundance. The Amherst was sent by private subscription in search of the mate's boat. She had been gone from us more than a year, and is still missing.

To measure our gratitude is not for mere written words. Only those who have suffered as we did can know how deep are our feelings. On the 26th of January we reached Melbourne, and became the lions of the place.

From this time the ties by which common danger, sickness, hunger, and despair had united us were broken. We again became scattered among the great family of mankind. We may never meet again. Be that as it may, "Yankee Bill" will ever long to grasp the hands of Tier, Caughey, Heyman, Ashworth, and his other companions in misery.

W Sanguilly

1869