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The Illustrated London News 1866

The sinking of the General Grant


The ship General Grant, belonging to Messrs. Boyes, Richardson and Co of Boston, United States, was wrecked on the Auckland Islands of the South Pacific Ocean, on May 14, 1866, a week after leaving Melbourne for London. Of the crew and passengers, who numbered altogether eighty-three persons, sixty-eight perished the rest got ashore in the boats, and managed to live in that dreary place, enduring the severest hardships, about a year and a half, till they were relieved by the brig Amherst, of Invercargill, New Zealand, on Nov. 21, 1867.

One man died on the Island, and four, including Mr. Bartholomew Brown, the chief officer, were lost in a boat, in attempting to sail to New Zealand without chart or compass. Four passengers, all men, and the stewardess, Mrs. Jewell, I were among those who survived, and were taken away by the Amherst. Many of the others were passengers from Australia, and mostly women and children,

This is the third instance within the last four years of a shipwrecked party being obliged to pass many months on the Auckland Isles, and being afterwards rescued. The first case was that of Captain Musrave and four sailors of the brig Grafton, who were cast ashore in that desolate archipelago in January, 1864, and escaped in July, 1865, by crossing the open sea in a small boat to Stewart Island, which lies south of New Zealand. The second instance was that of Captain Dalgarno and part of the crew of the Invercauld, who were living on the same island with those of the Grafton, but without knowing it, from May 10, 1864, to May 22, 1865.

A year after their departure, the wreck of the General Grant took place, in the manner described by Mr. James Teer, one of the passengers, as follows :—
“The land had the appearance of a fog-bank, and was on our lee beam, about three or four miles distant. The wind was fast falling away, and in a few minutes it was a dead calm, The land was Disappointment Island, one of the Auckland group. The captain thought he could pass between it and the main island, but, as the wind had fallen1 the ship was unmanageable. The captain did all in his power, with every flaw of wind from the flapping sails, but his attempts were useless. The yards were hauled in every possible direction that might enable the getting his ship off the shore; but all to no purpose, as the heavy swell was constantly setting her nearer and nearer to the fatal rocks.

About midnight the ship was close to the shore, and the current seemed to be setting her northward along the coast, until a rock stopped her progress. She touched it with her jibboom and carried it away. She then shot astern to another point, which she struck with her spanker boom and rudder, injuring the man at the wheel. It was just half-past one a.m. The two points struck formed the entrance to a cave. Her head fell off towards the cave and her side was rubbing against the perpendicular rocks. In the darkness we saw nothing save the dark mass above and around us. Lamps were held over the side, as the ship was lying very easily. We could then see the overhanging rocks, and no place where a bird could rest upon them. Soundings were taken, and I think it was twenty-five fathoms under her stern, and all the while she kept working into the cave. The boats were thought of, but the pieces of spars and rock coming down made it dangerous to attempt getting them out until daylight.

The ‘water being so smooth as we entered the cave, the captain thought it ‘was best to wait till daylight before he would be able to launch them. The ship continued to go farther into the cave. She caught the overhanging rocks with her foreroyal-mast and carried it away. The topmast and lowermast also fell. The stumps of the masts touching the top of the cave brought down large pieces of rock; one piece went through her forecastle deck, while another went through her starboard deckhouse. During this time all on board kept aft, as the after part of the ship still continued to be safe.

At daylight the mizen-topgallant-mast came down, and the captain gave orders to get the boats in readiness. There were three boats on board—two quarter-boats each 22 ft. over all and 5 ft. beam, and a long- boat, 30 foot keel and 6 ft. or 7 ft. beam. A quarter-boat was then launched over the stern by means of a spar rigged for the purpose. In this boat were three men—Peter M’Nevin, Andrew Morison, and David M.’Clelland. A line and some iron were placed in the boat to be used as an anchor, and dropped outside to haul out the other boats with. She was also to see if a landing could be made outside the cave. This boat was expected to return for more persons, but, owing to some misunderstanding of the orders given, she lay outside and did not return.

In the meantime the second boat was got ready. A quantity of beef and pork and about fifty tins of bouilli were placed on board her. This boat was intended by the captain to take the women and children to the first boat, and then to return to the ship. Mrs. Jewell, stewardess, was made fast to a rope, and jumped into the water, her husband following her, and with my assistance both were got in the boat. After her . H. Caughley and N. Allen, passengers, slid down the rope into the boat. These were all that could be taken into the boat, owing to the heavy sea which was getting up. This boat took five of her passengers to the other boat, leaving Mr. Bartholomew Brown, Mr. N. Scott, Corn, and Drew, sailors, and myself, who were to go back to the ship again for more. “By this time the long boat, then lying on the quarter-deck, was filled with passengers, and the ship was sinking rapidly, the main mast having been driven through her bottom by contact with the rocks above, till the boat, with its cargo, was floated off her deck. Owing to the small space in the cave, we were obliged to wait till the long boat was quite clear of the ship; but the sea, breaking over her, filled her with water, and she was swamped when about 100 yards from the ship. We then went as near the boat as it was safe to and saved three of the passengers, being all who were able to swim through the surf to us—L. Ashworth, passenger; William Sanguily and Aaron Hayman, two of the crew. Mr. Brown wished to go to the ship to save his wife, who was on board, and also the captain, who was seen in the mizen-topmast crosstrees. The hull of the ship was under water. The rest of us wished to save some of those in the water, but in a few minutes they were no more. One man was seen on the bottom of the boat, and we made signals to the outer boat to save him; but prudence forbade their rendering him any assistance, as the sea was so near the rocks, with the sea breaking heavi1y. When the mate wished again to return to the ship, we thought it useless as we were unable to render assistance, and placed ourselves in great danger owing to the heavy sea and the increase of Wind. While outside deliberating upon what was best to be done, had an opportunity of seeing the whole of the cave. The rocks around it, I think, were about 400 ft. high, and overhanging, The ship was in underneath these about two lengths of herself.

The coast, as far as we could see, was high perpendicular rocks and we saw no possibility of landing. We now consulted with each other and with those in the other boat upon what was best to be done. We thought it best to pull to Disappointment Island, about six miles distant in a westerly direction. We had much trouble to get there; our boat having such a quantity of beef, and pork, and bouilli tins in her, and seven men, it was only with incessant bailing we could keep out the water which from time to time she lifted. Once or twice she was all but full, and at last we gave up and intended to run our chance among the rocks to leeward, trying at the same time to get as far towards the north end of the island as possible, hoping to find a beach where some might get ashore; but as we proceeded to the northward we saw that the sea and wind were decreasing. We again pulled head to wind; and seeing a large rock about one mile and a half distant to the north-east of Disappointment Island, we pulled for it, and reached it just at dark. The other boat, which, like ourselves, had given up before it moderated, came to the island about twenty minutes after we did.” Our Illustration of the wreck of the General Grant is from a sketch by Mr. W. Tibbits, of Melbourne, made from the description given him by the survivors.

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