The Wreck of the "Royal Charter" Compiled from Authentic Sources, with Some Original Matter
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Title: The Wreck of the "Royal Charter"
Compiled from Authentic Sources, with Some Original Matter
Author: Frank Fowler
Release Date: November 27, 2018 [eBook #58364]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WRECK OF THE "ROYAL CHARTER"***
E-text prepared by Sam W.
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
the National Library of Australia
|Note:||Images of the original pages are available through the National Library of Australia. See http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-395637356|
COMPILED FROM AUTHENTIC SOURCES, WITH
SOME ORIGINAL MATTER.
LATE OF HER MAJESTY’S CIVIL SERVICE, NEW SOUTH WALES.
AUTHOR OF “SOUTHERN LIGHTS AND SHADOWS,” “DOTTINGS OF A LOUNGER,” ETC.
SAMPSON LOW, SON, AND CO., 47 LUDGATE HILL.
LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET.
|THE WRECK OF THE “ROYAL CHARTER”||5|
|THE PRESS ON THE CATASTROPHE||43|
|LIST OF STEERAGE PASSENGERS||58|
|DR. SCORESBY ON THE ‘ROYAL CHARTER’||59|
|THE REV. CHARLES VERE HODGE||64|
|THE ADJOURNED INQUEST||65|
|LATEST DETAILS FROM MOLFRA||78|
This little book is prepared under the conditions ofsaving the Mail which leaves England on the 12th, andof being a complete narrative of the Wreck. The onecondition is adverse to the other; but I have endeavouredto meet them both.
London, November the Eighth, 1859.
The prints of Tuesday, the 25th of October, contained thisbrief telegram:—
‘Queenstown.—The “Royal Charter,” from Melbourne, fifty-eightdays out, is off this port. She expects to be at Liverpool tomorrownight.’
In the Times of Thursday, the 27th, appeared the following:—
‘A telegraphic despatch has reached us as we are going to press,announcing the loss, on her way from Queenstown to Liverpool, of the“Royal Charter,” with over four hundred passengers on board, ofwhich number only about twenty are saved.’
The last news was so overwhelming—so unexpected andimprobable after the early telegram—that at first it wasreceived with some amount of incredulity. No other paperof that morning but the Times contained the intelligence;and from behind this fact there came a gleam of hope. Atabout eleven o’clock, however, the journals issued as usualtheir second editions, and then it was the statement in theTimes was confirmed, and that the mournfullest piece of newsin connection with marine disaster which ever reached thiscountry was generally accepted. The ‘Royal Charter’ was[Pg 6]lost! Men passed the news from one to another in whispers,shook their heads, and moved on to the newspaper and telegraphoffices for later items bearing upon the calamity. Theannouncement in the first edition of the Times was sadenough. Such details, however, as that journal was enabledto give in its second edition far more than confirmed the earlytelegram. Instead of only four hundred persons being onboard, it appeared there were close upon five hundred, whilethe proportion of saved was not in the slightest increased.Some of the circumstances grouped around the wreck, too,were now supplied us. The vessel had, after a terrible battlewith the storm, in which masts were cut down and much noblelife was spent, struck upon the rocky coast of Wales, partedamidships, and gone down not twenty yards from shore, andscarcely four hours’ sail from Liverpool.
I was in Sydney when the ‘Dunbar’ was lost. I remember,with painful distinctness, the gloom cast upon the colony bythat catastrophe. The same cold sense of horror seemed onThursday last to take possession of the metropolis. AtLloyd’s, at the Jerusalem, at the Baltic, men moved silentlyabout with white faces and knitted brows. As each newtelegram arrived and was posted in the rooms, groups wouldcrowd anxiously around it, and amongst them—thrust forwardwith a most touching anxiousness—the face of many an oldcolonist could be seen. There was an element of uncertaintyin the disaster which added to its painful and prostratingeffect upon the public mind. The ship had brought elevendays’ later news; there was no list of its passengers to be hadin England; and who could tell but that his friends orkinsmen were on board? We all knew here the splendidqualities of the vessel: we all knew how high her coloursstood in the colony. I knew I had travelled the sixhundred miles of dangerous sea between Sydney and[Pg 7]Melbourne to make my journey home in her. Who then that hada relative or connection in the colony could—or can to thishour—help the bleak conviction that in this vessel, which thecruel rocks have battered, and the remorseless waves havebeaten to fragments, he or she was making a visit to themother country? There were many of course that Thursdaymorning at Lloyd’s, and the colonial coffee-houses, who bythe last mail had received letters from friends intimating theirintention of coming home by the ‘Charter.’ To them the intelligenceof the wreck had terrible interest. Hour after hourthey hung about the City, and when, just before closing, a ‘Listof the Saved’ was received at Lloyd’s, it was with difficulty theclerk was enabled to keep them from tearing the document fromhis hands and post it upon the walls. One gentleman, white-headedand bent with age, who, I subsequently found, had a sonon board, swooned the moment he saw the list. His boy wassaved.
I endeavour to be brief in these introductory remarks; butsomehow the atmosphere of dejection which has rested uponus all since the evil tidings first met us, reproduces itself as Iwrite, and I find myself calling up with mournful minutenessthe earlier passages in the History I have been requested toprepare. To that task let me now compel myself.
While the news of the wreck was still being bandied frommouth to mouth, I, who knew the ill-fated craft, and thought,without taking upon myself to suggest a reason for the disaster,I could yet set down many things which might enableothers to do so, wrote the following article for one of the newspapers:—
‘The finest ship that ever left the port of Liverpool hasgone down with five hundred lives on board. I knew the ship—unhappilyI knew some of those who have perished. Ipurpose to tell my impressions of the vessel, of the[Pg 8]captain—everything I know that is likely to be read with interest bythe dread light of the calamity.
‘Nearly this time two years I left Melbourne for Liverpoolin the vessel. She had—and, in most particulars, deserved it—thereputation of being the finest ship that ever came toHobson’s Bay. The “Great Britain,” belonging to the sameline, was of larger burden, and of much higher steam capacity;but among her splendid performances there was norecord of a passage from England to Australia in fifty-ninedays. This extraordinary run the “Royal Charter” hadmade, and a reputation had in consequence attached to herwhich always filled her cabins with home-bound colonistswithin ten days or a fortnight of her arrival at Melbourne.As I am writing this I am in utter ignorance of the detailsconnected with the loss of the vessel; and it would be a mereimpertinence were I to suggest a cause for the catastrophe.This I must say, however—I feel bound to say it, for thesake of all those who go down to the sea in ships—that if the“Royal Charter” had not made such rapid passages, liveslost on board before this final casualty would certainly nothave been sacrificed. Let me, before proceeding further, explainwhat I mean. It is a practice with more than onelarge shipping firm, like that to which the “Charter” belonged,to give very heavy rewards to those captains who areenabled to make “the voyage”—that is, the passage out andhome—within a specially limited time; let us say five months.Captain Taylor, of the “Royal Charter,” told me himself thathis owners had promised him five hundred pounds wheneverhe made the journey from Liverpool to Melbourne and backin one hundred and fifty days. The consequence of this arrangementwas, that speed rather than safety became the characteristicof Captain Taylor’s command. It would be cruelto make this statement if I were not prepared to prove it; but[Pg 9]when I add that the “Charter” never made a voyage withoutan accident of some kind or other occurring—that when Icame from Melbourne in her, her gear was so defective that ayard-arm fell, killing one man and wounding others, the veryday we left Hobson’s Bay, and that throughout the passageher rudder was so faulty that we had to slacken sail wheneverthe ship attained a speed of twelve knots,—the veracity (ortaste) of my assertion cannot be questioned. Everything wassacrificed to speed: a quick passage seemed to be the sole aimof the captain—was, in fact, the sole aim, as, to concludethese prefatory remarks, one little circumstance will show.When I came home in the ship, she happened, from a stressof foul winds, to make an extraordinarily long run. Well, amonth before we arrived in port, we were placed on shortallowance of food. Rapidity was so relied on that only sixtyor seventy days’ provisions (instead of, as the Shipping Actprovides, one hundred and twenty) had been put on boardwhen we left Melbourne!
‘But, with all, she was a noble vessel; and the captain wasa noble sailor. If he was a little reckless, the “LiverpoolSystem” is rather to blame than he. He had risen, I believe,from before the mast, and was a man of a certain rough amiability,of seafaring energy, and dogged determination. A slightanecdote fits in here as an illustration. Once he was commandinga ship which had sprung a leak, and a number of the sailors,for some reason or other, refused to work. Captain Taylorordered all the refractory men in irons, and then, fitting up awindmill, pumped out the vessel