The Survivors of the Chancellor
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Title: The Survivors of the Chancellor
Author: Jules Verne
Posting Date: September 11, 2012 [EBook #1698]Release Date: April, 1999
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Produced by Judy Boss
WORKS of JULES VERNE
CHARLES F. HORNE
THE SURVIVORS OF THE CHANCELLOR was issued in 1875. Shipwrecks occur inother of Verne's tales; but this is his only story devoted wholly tosuch a disaster. In it the author has gathered all the tragedy, themystery, and the suffering possible to the sea. All the various formsof disaster, all the possibilities of horror, the depths of shame andagony, are heaped upon these unhappy voyagers. The accumulation ismathematically complete and emotionally unforgettable. The tale haswell been called the "imperishable epic of shipwreck."
The idea of the book is said to have originated in the celebratedFrench painting by Gericault, "the Wreck of the Medusa," now in theLouvre gallery. The Medusa was a French frigate wrecked off the coastof Africa in 1816. Some of the survivors, escaping on a raft, wererescued by a passing ship after many days of torture. Verne, however,seems also to have drawn upon the terrifying experiences of the Britishship Sarah Sands in 1857, her story being fresh in the public mind atthe time he wrote. The Sarah Sands caught fire off the African coastwhile on a voyage to India carrying British troops. There was gunpowderaboard liable to blow up at any moment. Some of it did indeed explode,tearing a huge hole in the vessel's side. A storm added to the terror,and the waters entering the breach caused by the explosion, combatedwith the fire. After ten days of desperate struggle, the charred andsinking vessel reached a port.
The extreme length of life which Verne allows his people in theirstarving, thirsting condition is proven possible by medical science andrecent "fasting"' experiments. The dramatic climax of the tale whereinthe castaways find fresh water in the ocean is based upon a fact, oneof those odd geographical facts of which the author made such frequent,skillful and instructive use.
"Michael Strogoff" which, through its use as a stage play, has becomeone of the best known books of all the world, was first published in1876. Its vivid, powerful story has made it a favorite with everyred-blooded reader. Its two well-drawn female characters, thecourageous heroine, and the stern, endurant, yearning mother, show howwell Verne could depict the tenderer sex when he so willed. Thoughusually the rapid movement and adventure of his stories leave women insubordinate parts.
As to the picture drawn in "Michael Strogoff" of Russia and Siberia, itis at once instructive and sympathetic. The horrors are not blinked at,yet neither is Russian patriotism ignored. The loyalty of some of theSiberian exiles to their mother country is a side of life there whichis too often ignored by writers who dwell only on the darker view.
The Czar, in our author's hands, becomes the hero figure to theerection of which French "hero worship" is ever prone. The sarcasmsthrown occasionally at the British newspaper correspondent of thestory, show the changing attitude of Verne toward England, and reflectthe French spirit of his day.
The Survivors of the Chancellor
by Jules Verne
CHARLESTON, September 27, 1898.—It is high tide, and three o'clock inthe afternoon when we leave the Battery quay; the ebb carries us offshore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, thenortherly breeze drives the Chancellor briskly across the bay. FortSumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland onour left are soon passed, and by four o'clock the rapid current of theebbing tide has carried us through the harbor mouth.
But as yet we have not reached the open sea we have still to thread ourway through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed outamongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a southwest course, roundingthe lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closelytrimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, atseven o'clock in the evening, we are out free upon the wide Atlantic.
The Chancellor is a fine square-rigged three-master, of 900 tonsburden, and belongs to the wealthy Liverpool firm of Laird Brothers.She is two years old, is sheathed and secured with copper, her decksbeing of teak, and the base of all her masts, except the mizzen, withall their fittings, being of iron. She is registered first class, A1,and is now on her third voyage between Charleston and Liverpool. As shewended her way through the channels of Charleston harbor, it was theBritish flag that was lowered from her mast-head; but without colors atall, no sailor could have hesitated for a moment in telling hernationality,—for English she was, and nothing but English from herwater-line upward to the truck of her masts.
I must now relate how it happens that I have taken my passage on boardthe Chancellor on her return voyage to England.
At present there is no direct steamship service between South Carolinaand Great Britain, and all who wish to cross must go either northwardto New York or southward to New Orleans. It is quite true that if I hadchosen a start from New York I might have found plenty of vesselsbelonging to English, French, or Hamburg lines, any of which would haveconveyed me by a rapid voyage to my destination; and it is equally truethat if I had selected New Orleans for my embarkation I could readilyhave reached Europe by one of the vessels of the National SteamNavigation Company, which join the French transatlantic line of Colonand Aspinwall. But it was fated to be otherwise.
One day, as I was loitering about the Charleston quays, my eye lightedon this vessel. There was something about the Chancellor that pleasedme, and a kind of involuntary impulse took me on board, where I foundthe internal arrangements perfectly comfortable. Yielding to the ideathat a voyage in a sailing vessel had certain charms beyond the transitin a steamer, and reckoning that with wind and wave in my favor therewould be little material difference in time; considering, moreover,that in these low latitudes the weather in early autumn is fine andunbroken, I came to my decision, and proceeded forthwith to secure mypassage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have reason to regret mydetermination is a problem to be solved in the future. However, I willbegin to record the incidents of our daily experience, dubious as Ifeel whether the lines of my chronicle will ever find a reader.
CREW AND PASSENGERS
SEPTEMBER 28.—John Silas Huntly, the captain of the Chancellor, hasthe reputation of being a most experienced navigator of the Atlantic.He is a Scotchman by birth, a native of Dundee, and is about fiftyyears of age. He is of the middle height and slight build, and has asmall head, which he has a habit of holding a little over his leftshoulder. I do not pretend to be much of a physiognomist, but I aminclined to believe that my few hours' acquaintance with our captainhas given me considerable insight into his character. That he is a goodseaman and thoroughly understands his duties I could not for a momentventure to deny; but that he is a man of resolute temperament, or thathe possesses the amount of courage that would render him, physically ormorally, capable of coping with any great emergency, I confess I cannotbelieve. I observed a certain heaviness and dejection about his wholecarriage. His wavering glances, the listless motion of his hands, andhis slow, unsteady gait, all seem to me to indicate a weak and sluggishdisposition. He does not appear as though he could be energetic enoughever to be stubborn; he never frowns, sets his teeth, or clenches hisfists. There is something enigmatical about him; however, I shall studyhim closely, and do what I can to understand the man who, as commanderof a vessel, should be to those around him "second only to God."
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is another man on board who, ifcircumstances should require it, would take the more prominentposition—I mean the mate. I have hitherto, however, had so littleopportunity of observing his character, that I must defer saying moreabout him at present.
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert Curtis, ourcrew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boatswain, and fourteensailors, all English or Scotch, making eighteen altogether, a numberquite sufficient for working a vessel of 900 tons burden. Up to thistime my sole experience of their capabilities is, that under thecommand of the mate, they brought us skillfully enough through thenarrow channels of Charleston; and I have no reason to doubt that theyare well up to their work.
My list of the ship's officials is incomplete unless I mention Hobartthe steward and Jynxstrop the negro cook.
In addition to these, the Chancellor carries eight passengers,including myself. Hitherto, the bustle of embarkation, the arrangementof cabins, and all the variety of preparations inseparable fromstarting on a voyage for at least twenty or five-and-twenty days haveprecluded the formation of any acquaintanceships; but the monotony ofthe voyage, the close proximity into which we must be thrown, and thenatural curiosity to know something of each other's affairs, willdoubtless lead us in due time to an exchange of ideas. Two days haveelapsed and I have not even seen all the passengers. Probablysea-sickness has prevented some of them from making an appearance atthe common table. One thing, however, I do know; namely, that there aretwo ladies occupying the stern cabin, the windows of which are in theaft-board of the vessel.
I have seen the ship's list, and subjoin a list of the passengers. Theyare as follows:
Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Americans, of Buffalo.
Miss Herbey, a young English lady, companion to Mrs. Kear.
M. Letourneur and his son Andre, Frenchmen, of Havre.
William Falsten, a Manchester engineer.
John Ruby, a Cardiff merchant; and myself, J. R. Kazallon, of London.
BILL OF LADING
SEPTEMBER 29.—Captain Huntly's bill of lading, that is to say, thedocument that describes the Chancellor's cargo and the conditions oftransport, is couched in the following terms:
Bronsfield and Co., Agents, Charleston:
I, John Silas Huntly, of Dundee, Scotland, commanderof the ship Chancellor, of about 900 tons burden, now at Charleston, dopurpose, by the blessing of God, at the earliest convenient season, andby the direct route, to sail for the port of Liverpool, where I shallobtain my discharge. I do hereby acknowledge that I have received fromyou, Messrs. Bronsfield and Co., Commission Agents, Charleston, andhave placed the same under the gun-deck of the aforesaid ship,seventeen hundred bales of cotton, of the estimated value of 26,000 L.,all in good condition, marked and numbered as in the margin; whichgoods I do undertake to transport to Liverpool, and there to deliver,free from injury (save only such injury as shall have been caused bythe chances of the sea), to Messrs. Laird Brothers, or to their order,or to their representatives, who shall on due delivery of the saidfreight pay me the sum of 2,000 L. inclusive, according to thecharter-party, and damages in addition, according to the usages andcustoms of the sea.
And for the fulfillment of the above covenant, I have pledged and dopledge my person, my property, and my interest in the vessel aforesaid,with all its appurtenances. In witness whereof, I have signed threeagreements all of the same purport, on the condition that when theterms of one are accomplished, the other two shall be absolutely nulland void.
Given at Charleston, September 13th, 1869.