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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
Whilst compiling a wreck chart of this Coast I was surprised to find figuring among the wrecks so many vessels of war, regarding the loss of which but little seems to be known. It occurred to me that an investigation into the circumstances attending such losses, together with some interesting particulars, would form a subject worthy of the attention of this Society. To this end I have from various sources such as History, Public Records, Admiralty Reports, and the Press collected some scattered fragments which I have arranged according to their respective dates. The result of my research, or at least that portion of it relating to the 18th century, I beg leave to lay before you this evening.
Under the term "lost" I have included vessels however destroyed -- whether by burning, scuttling, stranding or foundering near the shore. Of course the details of wrecks are not always of a pleasing nature. But in a Society like this we have to deal with the dark as well as the bright side of history.
The first wreck of which history makes mention was one of the most terrible, involving great loss of life and property, and casting on the neighboring province of Quebec such a gloom as required several years to dispel. Unfortunately we have but very few details in connection with this wreck, as not one soul was left to tell the tale. The whole may be summed up as follows:--
Early in July, 1725, the line-of-battle ship La Chemeau, said to be the fastest and most thoroughly equipped ship of the French navy, left France for Quebec, having on board in addition to her full complement of men a large number of passengers, among whom were M. DeChazel, who was to succeed Begon as Intendant of Canada; de Louvigny, the Governor elect of Three Rivers; the Governor of Louisburg; several Colonial officers and ecclesiastics. On the 25th of August, while approaching the harbor of Louisburg for the purpose of landing the Governor, she was overtaken by a furious south-east gale, and during the night was totally lost on a reef near the entrance to that harbor, with all on board. In the morning the shore was strewn with the bodies of men and horses, and the debris of war material mingled with the sacred utensils and vestures of the Church.
In the year 1746 the French Government, on receiving intelligence of the fall of Louisburg, became exasperated at the loss of such a fortress, which had cost an enormous sum of money and twenty-five years of incessant labor to render it, as it was supposed, impregnable, and at once directed an armament to be prepared of greater force than had ever yet been sent to America. Accordingly, during the winter and spring of that year an expedition was fully equipped consisting of 70 vessels, among which were 11 ships of the line and 30 frigates, and 30 transports carrying 3000 soldiers, which sailed the following June under command of Duke D'Anville, whose instructions were to retake and dismantle Louisburg, capture Annapolis, destroy Boston, and ravage the New England coast. This fleet had barely got clear of the French coast when it encountered westerly gales, which so retarded its progress that it did not reach the longitude of Sable Island until early in September, when nearly all the ships were dispersed in a violent storm during which several were lost on that island. D'Anville, with only two ships of the line and a few transports, arrived at Chebucto after a passage of ninety days. In the harbor he found one of the fleet, and in the course of the next few days several transports arrived. But D'Anville was so agitated and distressed by the misfortune which had befallen the fleet that he fell suddenly ill and died, it is said, in a fit of apoplexy. In the afternoon of the same day the Vice-Admiral, D'Estournelle, arrived with three ships of the line and succeeded to the command of the expedtion, while Jonquière -- a naval officer who had come out in the flagship as Viceroy of Canada -- was made second in command. Finding the expedition so greatly reduced in strength by the dispersion of the ships and the sickness of the men, D'Estournelle held a council of war on board the Trident, and proposed to abandon the enterprise and return to France. Jonquière and nearly all the officers were of the opinion that Annapolis, at all events, should be reduced before they returned. After a long debate the council decided to attack Annapolis. Irritated at the opposition he met with the Vice-Admiral grew fevered and delirious in which he imagined himself a prisoner, ran himself through the body with his sword and expired a few hours afterwards. On the following day both the Admiral and Vice-Admiral were buried side by side on a small island near the entrance to the outer harbor, said to be Georges Island.
During the long voyage across the Atlantic a scourbatic fever had broken out and carried off more than 1200 men before the ships reached Chebucto. As the ships arrived the sick were landed and encamped on the south shore of Bedford Basin. But in spite of every care and attention over 1100 died during five weeks' encampment. The Indians also, who flocked thither for arms, ammunition and clothing, took the infection, which spread with such great rapidity among them that it destroyed more than one-third of the whole tribe of Mic-macs. At length, however, its ravages were stayed by the seasonable arrival of supplies of fresh meat and vegetables brought to them by the Acadians from the interior.
On the 11th of October several of the fleet arrived. The next day a cruiser came in with a vessel captured off the harbor carrying dispatches from Boston to Louisburg. Among the papers was a communication from Governor Shirley to Commodore Knowles, informing him that Admiral Lestock was on his way from England with a fleet of 18 vessels, and might be hourly expected. It is said these dispatches were allowed to fall purposely into the hands of the French to induce them to leave Chebucto. The intelligence of the nearness of Lestock so alarmed the French in their crippled condition, they determined on sailing immediately for Annapolis. The encampment was broken up; the crews hurried on board; those ships that had lost their crews were either scuttled or burnt, together with several prizes captured off the coast. And on the 13th of October, with five ships of the line and twenty transports -- five of which were used as hospital ships, Jonquière sailed from the inner harbor of Chebucto -- now Bedford Basin. They were, however, again doomed to disapointment. Off Cape Sable the fleet encountered a severe storm which once more dispersed the ships and compelled them to return to France in a sinking condition. The number destroyed in Bedford Basin is uncertain. The naval chronicle states the flagship was sunk and the Parfait -- 54 guns, and the Caribou -- 60 guns, were accidently burnt. Other accounts state that from circumstances attending the death of the Admiral, the crew who were encamped on shore refused from superstitious motives to embark in her again. For this reason, and also she being very much injured during the storm, Jonquière decided on scuttling her, while the prizes and several of the smaller ships were burnt. Those lost on Sable Island were -- three ships of the line, one transport, and a fire ship.
In 1755 the British settlements in North America, principally in Nova Scotia, being greatly disturbed by the encroachments of the French, it became necessary for the English Government to send out a fleet to check their proceedings. The departure of this fleet was no sooner known to the French than 43 ships of the line were fitted out and dispatched. On intelligence being received in England of the sailing of this powerful French fleet, Vice-Admiral Boscowen was ordered to the coast of North America; and immediately after Vice-Admiral Holbourne was dispatched with his fleet to reinforce Boscowen, and had the good fortune to fall in with him off the banks of Newfoundland. On the 21st of June they sighted three of the enemy's ships which had been delayed -- gave chase and captured one, on board of which were the Governor of Louisburg, £30,000 in French coin, and many valuables. Admiral Boscowen finding the remainder of the French fleet had arrived safe at Louisburg, bore up for Halifax. On entering the harbor the Mars struck on a sunken rock and was totally wrecked; the crew were, however, saved and landed at Camperdown. This ship mounted 64 guns and was one of the D'Anville expedition dispersed off Cape Sable Island and afterwards taken by the Nottingham off Cape Clear after two hours' close action. She was then added to the English navy.
Two years later, Lord Howe arrived at Halifax with a fleet and army on his way to attack Louisburg. But on intelligence being received of the arrival of a powerful French fleet and army at that place, and the season being so advanced, the attempt was deferred. Vice-Admiral Holburne, however, resolved to satisfy himself as to the enemy's force at Louisburg, and sailed with the fleet to reconnoitre. On the 24th of September, the squadron being 20 leagues to the southward of Louisburg, there sprang up a gale from the eastward which, during the night, veered round to the south and blew a perfect hurricane, and continued until 11 o'clock the next day, when suddenly it shifted to the north, thereby saving the whole fleet from destruction, which at the time was close in among the rocks on the Cape Breton shore. The Tilbury, however, struck a rock near Louisburg and was totally lost. The Grafton also struck but forged off again, while the Ferret -- a 14 gun brig, foundered during the night. After this the fleet returned to Halifax in a very shattered condition. The Tilbury was one of the finest of the fleet, mounted 60 guns, and commanded by Captain Barnaby, who perished together with the most of his crew.
On the 28th day of May, 1758, Admiral Boscowen again sailed for Louisburg with a powerful fleet and army for a final attack. This expedition, consisting of 22 ships of the line, 15 frigates, and 120 transports with 12,000 soldiers, arrived off that city five days later. Several days elapsed before the troops could be disembarked on account of the heavy surf which broke with terrible violence on the shore. On the 7th the troops were distributed in three divisions and ordered to effect a landing -- the right and centre under the command of General Whitmore and Governor Lawrence, which were to make a shew of landing to distract the attention of the enemy, while the real attempt was to be made by General Wolf in another quarter. Time will not permit me to follow those generals through their various exploits. Let us return to the fleet.
During the night the enemy sunk four of their ships across the entrance to the harbor. Those ships were fastened together by strong chains and their masts cut off just below the surface of the water. Three days after two more were sunk in like manner. On the 21st a shell set fire to the ship of the line Entreprenant -- 74 guns, and before it could be extinguished she blew up. The flames communicated with the Capricieux -- 64 guns, and the Célèbre -- 60 guns, totally destroying them. There remained only two other ships in the harbor, which Admiral Boscowen was determined to either sink or destroy. For this purpose he ordered 600 seamen to be sent in the boats of the fleet divided in two squadrons -- one commanded by Laforey, the other by Balfour -- the two senior officers, who started at midnight and, favored by a thick fog, entered the harbor in perfect silence, going close past the Island battery and within hail of the town without being perceived. Having discovered the position of the Prudent and the Bienfaisant, Laforey's division immediately rowed close alongside the former and Balfour's alongside the latter, giving three British cheers in answer to the fire of the sentinels. On the order being given the crews, seizing their arms, followed their brave leaders and boarded the ships on bow, quarter and gangway. Surprised and confused by such an unexpected attack, the enemy made little resistance, both ships were taken with the loss of only one officer and three or four seamen. The report of firearms and the well-known cheers of the British seamen soon let the garrison know that their ships were in danger. Regardless of the lives of friends as well as foes every gun that could be brought to bear from the town and the point batteries was discharged against the ships and the English boats. But nothing daunted the brave sailors.
Having secured the French crews below under guard, the next point was to tow off their prizes -- a work not easily accomplished in the face of the fire of the French batteries. Notwithstanding, the Bienfaisant was carried off in triumph to the head of the north-east harbor, out of reach of the enemy's guns. But the Prudent, being fast aground and also moored with a heavy chain, was set on fire -- a large schooner and her own boats being left alongside to give the crew the means of escaping to the town. All obstacles being now removed, the Admiral next day went on shore and informed General Wolf that he intended to send in six of his heaviest ships to bombard the town from the harbor. But this proved unnecessary, for while the two commanders were conferring together a messenger arrived with a letter from the Governor offering to capitulate, and on that evening terms were agreed upon.
Thus we have in this short siege the destruction of ten of the French fleet, as follows:--By fire: La Prudent, L'Entreprenant, Le Capricieux -- 74 guns each; Le Célèbre -- 64 guns.At Sable Island some years ago a tempest completely removed a sand hummock, exposing to view a number of small houses built from the timbers of a vessel. On examination, those houses were found to contain besides many articles of ship's furniture, stores put up in boxes, bales of blankets, quantities of military shoes, and, among other articles a brass dog collar on which was engraved the name of Major Elliot, 43rd Regiment. It was afterwards ascertained that the transport carrying this regiment to Halifax after the siege of Quebec, was wrecked here, but the name was not mentioned. I have sought for the name of this ship through every available channel and had the assistance of the librarians of the garrison, but so far it has eluded our search. The date of this wreck would be about the year 1760.
Sunk at the entrance to the harbor: L'Apolon -- 50 guns; Le Fidele -- 36 guns; La Diana -- 36 guns; La Chevre -- 16 guns; La Biche -- 16 guns; (unknown -- 32 guns.
In the year 1775, the armed sloop Savage, carring eight guns, was wrecked on the Cape Breton coast. Of this loss there are no particulars recorded.
On the 17th of November, 1780, the brig St. Lawrence, chartered by the British government, left Quebec with Lieutenant Prenties of the 84th Regiment, charged with important dispatches from General Haldimand, Commander-in-chief of Canada, to Sir Henry Clinton of New York. Off Gaspe they encountered head winds which delayed them several days. During this time the weather became intensely cold and the ice began to form to an alarming degree. The wind kept gradually increasing until the 1st of December when it blew a perfect gale, causing the ship to leak so badly that the pumps had to be kept constantly worked. During the 2nd and 3rd the ice formed so on the ship's sides as to impede her way, and the leak continued to gain on them. On the following day they fell in with a cutter which had sailed a few days after them with Ensign Drummond of the 44th Regiment, carrying duplicate dispatches of General Haldimand to New York. The cutter, far from being able to render them any assistance, was as leaky as the ship, having ran on a reef while coming down the river through the neglect of the pilot. A heavy snow storm set in, and in order not to part company a gun was fired every half hour. Through the night the cutter ceased to answer the guns from the ship, having foundered with all on board. On the 5th the gale increased, and the ship's crew being now overcome with cold and fatigue, seeing no prospect of gaining on the leak -- the water having reached four feet in the hold -- nor the prospect of making any port, abandoned the pumps and declared themselves quite indifferent as to their fate, prefering the alternation of going down with the ship to that of suffering such severe and incessant labor in so desperate a situation. The sea was now running very high and the heavy falling snow prevented them seeing twenty yards ahead of the vessel. The mate had judged from the distance run that they were not far from the Magdalen Isalnds. His conjecture was well founded, for in less than an hour the sea was heard breaking upon the rocks, and soon after Deadman's Island was discovered close under the lee. Having happily cleared the main island they were still far from being secure; for almost immediately they found themselves in the midst of the smaller islands, and there appeared little probability of their passing clear of all in like manner -- not being able to distinguish any one of them in time to avoid it. They were thus obliged to leave the vessel to the direction of Providence, and fortunately or rather miraculously ran through them all without damage.
The excitement and anxiety among the crew while in the midst of those rocks may be easily imagined. And now that the danger was over it proved a fortunate occurrence, for the sailors being ready to sink under exposure and fatigue, acquired fresh spirits from the danger through which they had just passed, agreed to continue their efforts a little longer, and again the pumps were manned. But all endeavours to prevent the ship from filling were now vain. The leak so increased that in a short time she was entirely full. Having no longer, as they thought, the smallest foundation for hope, they resigned themselves with as much fortitude as possible to their fate. Notwithstanding when the ship was quite full she was observed to have settled but very little deeper than before, which may be accounted for by the fact of her having but little cargo, and being so thoroughly iced up she was not in a condition to founder. This recalled hope; and, by keeping her directly before the wind she was prevented from overturning.
The captain reckoned from the course ran through the night that they were not far from the Island of St. John, (Prince Edward Island,) and labouring under great dread lest she should strike on the dangerous rocks that skirt its north-east side, proposed lying too (sic) to keep her off the land, which Lieutenant Prenties and the mate strongly opposed, as it amounted to almost a certainty that she would be overset in the attempt, and she was allowed to run helplessly before the gale.
Small as their expectations were now of saving their lives, the lieutenant thought it incumbent on him to take every precaution to save the important despatches with which he had been entrusted, especially as their duplicates had gone down in the cutter. So, taking them from his trunk he lashed them around his waist, at the same time offering his servant some money to the amount of about 200 guineas, requesting him to dispose of it as he thought proper, regarding it as an encumberance in the present emergency rather than a matter worthy of preservation. The servant, however, thought otherwise, and took care to put the money up as carefully as his master did the despatches. The weather continued thick as usual till about one o'clock, when suddenly clearing up land was discovered right ahead. Already they had entered the breakers of a reef, and it was expected that their fate would be determined there. But she went through without striking, and before her lay a bold shore and a sandy beach. Now was the time for every man to be on the alert, as she might be expected to go to pieces immediately on striking. At the first stroke the mainmast went by the board. At the same time the rudder was unshipped with such violence as to disable several of the crew. The seas swept her in every part, each roller lifting her nearer the shore. In a short time her stern was beaten in and all hands were clinging to the shrouds. In this awkward situation they remained till the vessel was swang (sic) broadside on, thus affording them shelter to the leeward. The boat was with great difficulty cleared for launching, although it seemed scarcely possible for her to live in such a sea for a single minute. From the intensity of the cold the surf as it broke over them encased their clothing in a mass of ice. At length the boat was got into the water, but few were found willing to attempt a landing. Lieutenant Prenties, the mate and a few sailors, however, jumped into her and cast off. The ship was lying about 40 yards from the shore. When about half way a wave broke over them and nearly filled the boat, while the next dashed them high on the beach. The cries for help from those left on board could be distinctly heard. But what help could be given them. The shattered boat was beat high upon the beach, while the sea was running to such a degree it was not in the power of man to afford them any assistance.
Night was now approaching. They were obliged to wade with extreme difficulty up to their waists in snow to the shelter of a thick wood about 300 yards from the shore. This furnished some relief from the piercing north-west wind; yet a fire was wanting to warm their frozen limbs, but they had not the wherewithal to kindle it. Freezing as they stood there was nothing to be done but to keep their blood in motion by exercise. In less than half an hour one of the party lay down to sleep in spite of all endeavours both by persuasion and force to rouse him, and soon was stiff. The death of this one could not deter the rest from giving away to this drowsy sensation, and three more lay down. Finding it impossible for to keep them on their legs, the lieutenant and the mate broke branches from the trees and beat those men continually through the night to prevent them from sleeping, and thus preserved the lives of the crew and their own as well.
At last the long-wished for day appeared. The vessel had by this time beat nearer the shore and those alive on board continued to swing themselves from the jibboom at low water to within a few yards of the shore. The captain had fortunately previous to coming on shore put into his pocket material for striking a fire, and soon they were warming their frozen limbs. On the morrow a small remnant of the provision was secured from the wreck, consisting of two barrels of pork, one barrel of onions, and about twelve pounds of tallow candles.
I shall not here recite the sickening details of the sufferings of this unfortunate crew after the store of provisions was exhausted. Suffice it to say that for over two long winter months one portion of them coasted the shores of Cape Breton in a leaky boat by day as opportunity occurred and their limited strength allowed them, in search of relief, living on kelp and the seed bulbs found on wild rose bushes in winter; until, by their snail pace progress, over one hundred miles had been accomplished, and, doubling Cape North, they were discovered by Indians when about laying down to die.
As soon as intelligence was received at the Indian encampment of the other portion of the crew being left behind, and their probable whereabouts, an expedition was at once set on foot to succour them, and, on the following day a band of Indians on snow shoes with provisions and sledges set out across the country. After being absent about three weeks they arrived with three men who were the only survivors, ten of their number having died from starvtion and cold and were afterwards eaten by their companions. The survivors remained at the camp until the following spring, while Lieutenant Prenties with Indian guides continued overland to Canso. Learning here that the coast was infested by American privateers, and fearing capture if he should take passage as intended, he procured fresh guides and proceeded inland and arrived at Halifax early in May, from which he took passage to New York with his dispatches in a very demoralized condition.
Three-and-a-half miles S. ½ E. from Seal Island light at the western extremity of this province, lies a sunken rock having an area of a quarter of a mile in length and several hundred feet in width. This is known as the Blonde Rock, and few places on our coast have been more prolific of wrecks. From the following circumstances it has derived its name:
In 1782 H. M. S. Blonde, a 32 gun frigate, commanded by Captain Thornborough, while on her way to Halifax, having in tow a large ship laden with masts which she had just captured, struck on a sunken rock and was totally lost. The prize escaped the danger and arrived at her destination. Captain Thornborough and crew constructed a raft by means of which they got to a small island where they continued for several days in the utmost distress. Providentially an American privateer came in sight and relieved them from their perilous position. For the generous and humane treatment Captain Thornborough had shown his prisoners, the Americans in return landed him and his crew at New York. In the same year the Gigg, an armed sloop employed by the government, was cast away at Port Matoon. The loss of which there are no particulars.
At the close of the American Revolution in 1783 a large number of Loyalists, among whom were many discharged soldiers and sailors, conceived the idea of removing to Nova Scotia. On the 27th of April of that year a fleet of 18 square rigged vessels, under convoy of two ships of war, arrived at Roseway -- afterwards called Shelburne. Among those vessels was the ship Martha, having on board a corps of the Maryland loyalists and a detachment of the second Delancey's, in all 174 men. This ship struck between Cape Sable and the Tuskets and 99 perished. The remainder were saved by fishing boats and carried to Shelburne.
We now come to the loss of a ship almost at our own doors, in sight of this meeting to-night, -- that of the Tribune. This vessel was a 44 gun frigate, lately captured from the French, commanded by Captain Barker, and on her way from Tor Bay to Quebec -- acting as a convoy to a fleet. But becoming detached from her charge she bore up for Halifax. As our worthy President, Dr. Hill2, remarks in his memoir of Sir Brenton Haliburton, "This story has been sometimes erroneously narrated." And as Sir Brenton was at the time of the disaster the officer in charge of York Redoubt, and an eye witness of what occurred, having aided in the attempt to save the ship, I have taken the liberty of adopting the report as contained in this memoir by Dr. Hill in a somewhat abridged form.
Early in the morning of November 23rd, 1797, Mr. Haliburton was standing on the top of the abrupt elevation on which the fort is built looking out toward the sea. It was a dark autumnal day and the rising wind blew freshly from the E.S.E. Above and beneath were signs of a coming storm. Beside him stood Sergt. McCormae (sic) who addressed Mr. Haliburton as they were both watching a ship approach: "If that ship does not alter her course, Sir, she will be ashore within a quarter of an hour." His prediction was truly fulfilled, within five minutes she was stranded upon Thrum Cap Shoals. It is generally supposed that the wind at this time was blowing violently and a heavy sea was raging. This, however, was not the case. The gale was but in its infancy. It was the self-satisfied opinion of the master that caused the stranding of the ship.
As early as 8 o'clock she had made the harbor, and running before a fair wind was rapidly nearing it. The captain had suggested to the sailing master the propriety of engaging a harbor pilot to conduct the vessel in. But that officer replied that they (sic) was no necessity as he knew the harbor well. The captain, fully confiding in the master's skill and knowledge, went below to arrange his papers to hand to Admiral Murray on his landing. Now it so occurred that there was on board a negro named John Cassey who had formerly belonged to Halifax, to this man the master looked for assistance in piloting the vessel to her anchorage. But he misplaced his trust. About 9 o'clock the ship approached so near Thrum Cap Shoals that the master himself became alarmed and sent for Mr. Galvin, an officer holding the rank of master's mate, who was simply a passenger on board the Tribune. This gentleman, who knew the harbor well, had offered to pilot the ship but his offer had been refused, and not being well he had retired to the cabin. On being summoned, however, he hastened to the deck, his opinion was asked, but before he could form it the noble ship was stranded on the shoals. Signals of distress were immediately made to the military posts and the ships in the harbor. Mr. Haliburton, whose station was nearest, proceeded at once on board, and presenting himself to the captain he enquired what aid he could render. The captain replied, the only thing you can do is to signal the Dockyard for help. Calling to his boats crew he at once proceeded to the station to see to the transmission of the message. The signal staff immediately repeated the facts and the danger, the message was acknowledged, and everything apparently put in fair train for meeting the emergency. Boats were manned both at the Dockyard and the Engineer's yard, while others proceeded from several of the military posts near at hand. Whilst these were making their way to the shoals, the crew of the Tribune threw overboard all the guns except one which was retained for making signals of distress. In the hurry and confusion which prevailed they took the easiest method of lightening the ship, and unfortunately threw their cannons over to leeward. As the wind grew stronger, and the tide arose, the ill-fated vessel surged and beat upon these iron breakers. The heavy boats sent from the Dockyard made slow progress against the storm. One of them reached her under the guidance of Mr. Rockmer, botswain of the yard. Several reached her from the Engineer's yard a little earlier, besides these, one or two, as already mentioned, put off from the military posts in sight of the disaster. In these were three officers, two of whom, Lieutenants North and Campbell, belonged to the 7th Royal Fusileers, one Lieutenant James, belonged to the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment. While these gentlemen were on board it grew dark.
Capt. Barker, fretting under the probable disgrace that awaited him for the stranding of the ship, grew imperious and dogmatical. It appears that a short time previous a brother officer in command of a ship had been cashiered for abandoning her when in a similar peril, though he saved the lives of his crew and passengers; and this it is supposed influenced Capt. Barker to refuse permission to any one on board to leave the Tribune. Whether he gave the tyrannical order that none should disembark, is now doubtful, but circumstances seem to bear out the tradition. He probably feared that all might take alarm if any were allowed to go, and that his ship and his prospects would be alike ruined. Between 5 and 6 o'clock, P. M., the rudder was unshipped and lost. At half-past eight the tide had so risen that the Tribune began to heave violently, and in half an hour she was afloat. But no sooner was she fairly free from the shoals than they discovered seven feet of water in the hold. She had been beaten in and shattered by her incessant rolling upon the guns which had been so injudiciously thrown to the leeward side.
Capt. Barker, who had been very indignant that no officer of higher naval rank had been sent to his assistance than the boatswain, now took his advice, and let go the best bow anchor. This failed, however, to bring up the drifting ship. Two sails were hoisted by which they endeavoured to steer, and the cable was cut. But the ship was unmanageable, and she drifted to the western shore, -- a fearful coast of precipitous rock against which the surf broke with terrific fury. As the last hope, they let go the small anchor in 13 fathoms of water. It held, and the mizzen was cut away. It was now 10 o'clock, and at this juncture Lieutenants North and Campbell left the ship in their own boats, one of them having jumped out of the port hole into the water. But Lieut. James unhappily could not be found at the moment. They had not gone half an hour when the ship gave a sudden roll, and then righting again, immediately sunk with her masts erect. Two hundred and forty men, women and children floated for a few seconds in the boiling waves. Some were dashed to pieces against the rocks. Forty reached the two remaining masts that still stood some feet above the water, and clung with the energy of despair to the yards and ropes. As the night advanced, the main top gave way, and all who were trusting to it were once more plunged into the sea. On the last topmast remained by morning light only eight of the large number who had clung to it. The cries of these were heard all through the night by the watchers on shore. But so fearful and terrific had the storm become, that they were eiter cowed or paralyzed, and made no effort to rescue the unhappy people. Nor was it until 11 o'clock the following morning, when a noble deed was performed by a mere child, which, had it been done in a country better known, would have ranked him among heroes. This boy, who had scarce attained his fourteenth year, put out alone in his little skiff from Herring Cove, at great peril of his own life succeeded in reaching the wreck, and with great skill backed his boat close to the fore-top, and took off two of the men. Upon this occasion there was a noble instance of magnanimity on the part of two seamen. Those men, whose names were Munro and Dunlap, had during the night preserved their strength and spirits, and done everything in their power to sustain their less forrtunate companions, refused to quit the wreck until two others who were so exhausted as to be unable to make any effort for their own safety, were taken on shore. They accordingly lifted them into the skiff, and the gallant boy rowed them in triumph to the shore, seen them safe in his father's cottage, and again put off in his skiff. But this time all his efforts were unavailing, his exhausted strength being unequal to the task, he was obliged to return. His example, however, had the effect of inducing others to make the attempt. Large boats were manned and they succeeded in bringing to shore the remaining six. This boy was afterwards brought to Halifax and placed as a midshipman on board the flag ship, but being so much out of his element in his new surroundings, he became unhappy and was allowed to return home.
In July, 1798, H. M. Sloop of War Rover, 14 guns, sailed from Halifax for Sydney, with Lieut.-Gen. Ogilvie and staff. On the evening of the third day, while sailing before a nine knot breeze, she struck on the outside reef off Scatari. Owing to the thorough discipline maintained in the emergency, all hands with the exception of one man were landed safely on the Island. A short time after the ship went to pieces.
The following account of a double wreck at the entrance to this harbor, taken from the Chronicle of Dec. 14th, 1799, will speak for itself:Eight days had scarcely elapsed when there occurred another most notable wreck, that of the Princess Amelia, or Francis, as I think we must in future call her, at Sable Island, and shortly after the loss of the Gun Brig Harriet, sent in search of her, at the same place. With the loss of the Francis are connected some affecting incidents. In the early part of the year 1799, Mr. Copeland, the surgeon of the Duke of Kent's favorite regiment, the 7th Fusileers, who was also on the personal staff of the Duke, obtained leave to visit England with the intention of taking his family out with him on his return to Halifax. He was directed also to superintend the embarkation of the Prince's property, consisting of furniture from his Royal Highness's home at Knight Bridge, several valuable horses, and a most extensive library. Mr. Copeland, in addition to his staff appointment, was also the Duke's librarian. With these valuable effects under his care Mr. Copeland declined the offer of a passage in the sloop of war sailing with the convoy; but resolved not to lose sight of his charges, he embarked on board the Francis. Having arrived within a few hours of his destination, he perished with the vessel and her crew. His wife and youngest child shared his melancholy fate.Last Sunday morning (11th) between one and two o'clock, H. M. Sloop of War the North (20) and the armed ship St. Helena, coming into the harbor from Spanish River (Sydney) during a heavy S. E. gale, were driven on shore about one mile from the light-house. By which accident both ships were unfortunately lost, and about 170 persons perished. Among the North's passengers were Capt. McLean of the 84th Regt., and Lieut. Butler of the Marines. Capt. Selby and the whole ship's company, with the exception of two seamen, were lost. On the St. Helena were Lieut. Robertson of the transport service, and three officers of the 74th Regt. Happily all were saved with the exception of one seaman.
[The year is incorrect; the wreck of the 'North,' Capt. Gerald Selby, occurred 11 December, 1779, at the mouth of Halifax harbour, "one league from the lighthouse." -RWH]
Lieut. Scrambler of H. M. Cutter Trepassey, on his passage from Halifax to Newfoundland, was directed to stop at Sable Island to obtain information if possible of the Francis, or any other unfortunate vessel that might have been wrecked there during the winter, and to land some valuable animals which His Excellency Sir James Wentworth had committed to his care. The Lieut. thus writes to Capt. Murray, the senior officer of the station.From the above official report we must infer this vessel must have been the Francis, and not the Princess Amelia as generally understood. Further, I find there was a Princess Amelia, an 80 gun ship, in the fleet off Lousiburg in 1758. The Francis being chartered for the use of Prince Edward, may have been known as the Prince's ship. In this way the names of Francis, Prince's, and Princess Amelia have been confounded. The Francis was about 280 tons burden, and reported an excellent sailer. Besides the valuable library, household effects, &c, of Prince Edward, there was a new military equipment on board, which was ordered by the Prince before leaving England, at a cost of £11,000. Strange to say this was the seventh equipment lost by Prince Edward. The rest being captured by French cruisers, except one which was lost while crossing Lake Champlain in the ice. This ship sailed on the 25th October from Portsmouth in company with the America, a mast ship, and a number of other vessels, under convoy of H. M. S. Bonetta. A succession of gales followed their departure. The America got back to Portsmouth, and the Bonetta with great difficulty reached Lisbon, a perfect wreck. The Francis, being more fortunate than the rest, had nearly reached her destination when her progress was arrested by those fatal quicksands. Among her passengers were Dr. and Mrs. Copeland and child and maid-servant; Capt. Stirling, 7th Fusileers; Lieut. Mercer, R. A.; Lieuts. Sutton, Roebuck and More, 16th Light Dragoons; household servant of Prince Edward; soldiers, &c., in all upwards of 200, of which not a soul was rescued. In the following May, (1800) on receipt of the intelligence forwarded by the Commander of the Trepassy, the government ordered the gun brig Harriet, Lieut. Torrens, to the Island to investigage matters, when she too was wrecked. The Lieut. and his crew barely escaped with their lives, and had a protracted stay at that place.Sir, -- Agreeable to your orders, I proceeded to Sable Island on Tuesday, May 13. I went on shore and landed stock sent by Sir James Wentworth. After staying there an hour without discovering any person on the island, and seeing a schooner at anchor near the N. W. end, some distance from the cutter, I immediately weighed anchor, made sail, and spoke to her. She proved to be the Dolphin of Barrington, laden with fish, seal skins, and seal oil. She had several trunks very much damanged on board, which appeard to have been washed ashore. One was directed to His Royal Highness Prince Edward. Another was directed to Capt. Stirling, 7th Regt. of Foot. Both empty. There was also one large trunk containing two great overcoats, the livery being that worn by servants of His Royal Highness. The master of the schooner informed me that he had two men on Sable Island during the winter connected with the sealing trade, who had built a hut on the east end of the island. One of the men being on board, I learned from him that about the 22nd of December last, after a very severe gale from the S. E., a woman was found washed on shore on the south side; also the trunks before mentioned, 12 horses, some farming stock, and a portion of three boats. Further information was gathered from the other man, whose story ran: That on the 22nd of Dec. they observed a large vessel at a little distance from the N. E. bar. She was endeavoring to beat off all day, but the wind was so extremely light and baffling that she made no great progress. As the day shut in the weather began to thicken, and was soon followed by a tremendous gale from the S. E., which continued with great violence through the night.H. M. Cutter "Trepassey,"
Sydney, May 17, 1800.
In this gale the Francis must have been driven on the sands, and in the course of time have gone to pieces, as neither the ship nor any part of her was to be seen in the morning. Soon after the storm abated, the corpse of the lady above mentioned was discovered. She had a ring on her finger, but being unable to get it off they buried it with her.
Thus the last years of the century were marked by several wrecks of unusual prominence. The Tribune in 1797, the Rover in 1798, the double wreck of the North and St. Helena in 1799, and the Francis in December of the same year, form a memorable yet melancholy close to a century of peculiar interest in the history of our country, as having witnessed the termination of the stubborn and long-continued struggle between the French and English for supremacy on this continent, to which are attributable many of the wrecks herein enumerated.
1. Read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society, at Halifax, Nova Scotia.2. Rev. George W. Hill, D.D., president of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, 1880-1881, and 1883-1885.
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