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Heroes of the Goodwin Sands
by Thomas Stanley Treanor
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All honour to the brave![1]



[1] The crew of the lifeboat on this occasion were—Richard Roberts (coxswain), Alf. Redsull, W. Staunton, H. Roberts, W. Adams, E. Hall, P. Sneller, W. Foster, W. Marsh, Thomas May, J. Marsh, T. Baker, R. Williams, G. Foster.



CHAPTER IV

THE GANGES

I've lived since then in calm and strife, Full fifty summers, a sailor's life; And Death whenever he come to me Shall come on the wide unbounded sea.

The rule that gales of wind prevail at the equinoxes is certainly proved by the exceptions, but October 14, 1881, was an instance of a gale so close to the autumnal equinox that it belonged rather to the rule than to the exception. It had been blowing from the west all that day, and the Downs was full of ships. Others were running back from down Channel under lower fore top-sails, all ready to let go their anchors.

Sometimes in stress of weather a ship bringing up will lose her anchors by not shortening sail sufficiently before she lets them go. She preserves too much 'way' through the water, and she snaps the great chain cable by the force of her momentum as if it had been a pack-thread.

The wind reached the force of a 'great gale,'—the entry I find in my diary of that date. The boatmen say to the present day that it was blowing a 'harricane,' and, according to the report of the coxswain of the lifeboat, 'it was blowing a very heavy gale of wind.' There was, therefore, no mere capful of wind, but a real, whole, tremendous gale. Old salts are always ready to pity landsmen, and to overwhelm them with 'Bless you's!' when they venture to talk of a 'storm'; but the harsh, steady roar of the wind on this day made it plainly and beyond doubt a storm.

Long lines of heavy dangerous rollers broke on Deal beach, and only the first-class luggers could launch or live in the Downs, so great was the sea. These splendid luggers being of five feet draught, and having therefore a deeper hold of the water, could do better than a lifeboat in the deep water of the Downs. They could fight to windward better, and would not be so liable to upset under sail as a lifeboat; but this only applies to the deep water.

Put the best Deal lugger that ever floated alongside the present Deal lifeboat, the Mary Somerville, in a furious sea of breakers on the Goodwin Sands, and the whole state of affairs is altered. The lugger would be swamped and overwhelmed in five minutes, while the lifeboat would empty herself and live through it successfully.

The fortunes of the vessels in the Downs on that day were varied. Some were manfully riding out the gale; others were holding on to their one remaining anchor, signalling for help, and as sorely in need of fresh anchors and chains as ever was King Richard of a horse. Some had lost both anchors and were drifting out to destruction; destruction meaning the Goodwin Sands, on which a fearful surf was raging about two miles under their lee.

One of those driving vessels was the Ganges. She had run back from the Channel to the Downs for shelter, and dropped her anchors running before a strong tide and a heavy gale; having thus too much 'way' on her, both the long chain cables parted, snapping close to the anchors, and trailed from her bows. Her head was thus kept up to the wind, while there was no sufficient check to her drift astern and outwards towards the Goodwins.

Efforts, but ineffectual efforts, were made to get rid of the trailing cables, and therefore the vessel's head could not be got before the wind, and she could not be steered, but drifted out faster and faster. It is supposed that there was another anchor on the forecastle head, which had somehow fouled, or, at any rate, could not be got loose from some cause or other.

In the confusion, the sails of the great vessel—for she was a full-rigged ship—having been either neglected or imperfectly furled, were torn adrift and blew to ribbons. These great strips of heavy canvas cracked like monstrous whips with deafening noise, thrashing the masts and rigging, and rendering any attempt to furl them or cut them away, perilous in the extreme.

The crew consisted of thirty-five hands 'all told,' of whom the captain, mates, petty officers, and apprentices were English, while the men before the mast were Lascars. Now I think my readers will agree with me in believing that 'Jack,' with all his faults, is a more reliable man to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with in time of danger than Ali Mahmood Seng, the Lascar. In cold and storm and peril most of us would prefer 'our ain folk' alongside of us.

Some years ago a Board of Trade report contained a quotation from the remarks of a firm of shipowners, to the effect that they largely employed foreign sailors on board their vessels, because they were (a) more sober, (b) more amenable to discipline, and (c) cheaper than British sailors; but they added, 'we always keep a few Englishmen among the crew to lead the way aloft on dark and stormy nights.'

What a heart-stirring comment on the character of the British sailor is there in the passage above quoted! Is there no remedy, and no physician for the frailties and degradations of poor Jack, who, whatever be his faults, 'leads the way aloft on dark and stormy nights?' 'If the constituents of London mud can be resolved, if the sand can be transformed into an opal,' to use the noble simile of a great living writer, 'and the water into a drop of dew or a star of snow, or a translucent crystal, and the soot into a diamond such as

On the forehead of a queen Trembles with dewy light,—

if such glorious transformations can be wrought by the laws of Nature on the commixture of common elements, shall we despair that transformations yet more glorious may be wrought in human souls now thwarted and blackened by the malice of the devil, when they are subjected to the far diviner and far more stupendous alchemy of the Holy Spirit of God?'

The moral to be drawn from these pages surely must be this—that there is splendid material to work upon, the most undaunted heroism and the noblest self-sacrifice, among the seafaring classes of our island.

On this dark, tempestuous night, be the cause what it may, preventible or otherwise, the Ganges drifted helplessly to her fate. A powerful tug-boat got hold of her, but the ship dragged the tug-boat astern with her, towards the Goodwins, until at last the tug-boat snapped her great 15-inch hawser, and then gave up the attempt and returned to land.

The Ganges now burned flares and blue lights for help. Noting her rapid approach to the Goodwins, on which an awful sea was running, and the helpless and dishevelled condition of the vessel, the Gull lightship fired guns and rockets at intervals of five minutes.

This is the proper and recognised summons to the lifeboats, but long before the lightship fired her signal, the Deal boatmen saw the peril of the vessel; and one of their number, Tom Adams, ran to the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat with the news: 'Tug's parted her, and she'll be on the Goodwins in five minutes!' 'Then we'll go,' said the coxswain, and he rang the bell and summoned a crew.

As it was one of the wildest nights on which the Deal lifeboat was ever launched, the very best men on Deal beach came forward to the struggle for a place in the lifeboat, and out of their number a crew of fifteen was got.

R. Roberts, at this time the second coxswain, was afloat in his lugger, putting an anchor and chain on board the Eurydice, and in his absence Tom Adams helped the coxswain to steer the lifeboat, which literally flew before the blast, to the rescue.

The squalls of this tempest were regular 'smokers,' a word which signifies that the crests of the waves were blown into the astonished air in smoking clouds of spray; and the lifeboat was stripped for the fight, reefed mizzen and double-reefed storm foresail. I should say that running out before the wind the mizzen was not set, and they frequently had to haul down the reefed foresail, and let her run under bare poles right away from the land into the hurricane.

No one can appraise the nature of this dangerous task who has not run before a gale off shore for five or six miles to leeward, and then tried to get back home dead to windwards. No one who has ever tried it, and got back, will ever forget it, if his voyage, or rather his escape from death, has been effected in an open boat.

Nor can any one realize how furious and terrible is the aspect of the sea in a gale off shore, and especially in the surf of the Goodwins, who has not been personally through such an experience.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution pay the men who form the lifeboat crew on each occasion generously and to the utmost limit their funds will admit. No one who knows the facts of the case and the management of this splendid Institution can have any doubt on this subject. Each man is paid L1 for a night service, and 10s. for service in the daytime. If he be engaged night and day, he is paid 30s. This single launch cost L18—that is, L15 to the fifteen men who formed the crew, and L3 to the forty helpers who were engaged in launching and heaving up the lifeboat on her return.

But no money payment could compensate the men for the risk to their lives—lives precious to women and children at home; and no money payment could supply the impulse which fired these men and supported them in their work of rescue.

One of the men in the lifeboat on this occasion, Henry Marsh, and his name will end this chapter, was the man referred to in Chapter II, who had on the day he was going to be married, many years before, rushed into a lugger bound to the rescue of a ship's crew on the Goodwins.

Notwithstanding the splendid services of the Deal lifeboatmen in many a heart-stirring rescue, they seem utterly unconscious of having done anything heroic. This is a remarkable and most interesting feature in their character. There is no boasting, no self-consciousness, and not the faintest word of self-praise ever crosses their lips. The noblest, the purest motives and impulses that can actuate man glow within their breasts, as they risk their lives for others, and they nevertheless are dumb respecting their deeds. They die, they dare, and they suffer in silence.

A lifeboat rescue killed poor Robert Wilds, the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat. The present second coxswain of the same lifeboat, E. Hanger, was struck down after a rescue by pneumonia. J. Mackins, the coxswain of the Walmer lifeboat, was also seized by pneumonia after a splendid service across the Goodwins, when his lifeboat was buried thirty times in raging seas; S. Pearson, once coxswain of the Walmer lifeboat, died of Bright's disease, the result of exposure; and on the occasion of the rescue of the Ganges, one of the crew, R. Betts, had his little finger torn off. The Lifeboat Institution gave him a generous donation. But the rescues by the Deal lifeboatmen are done at the risk, and sometimes at the cost, of their health, their limbs and their lives.

There is a Kentish proverb that 'there are more fools in Kent than in any other county of England,' because more men go to sea from Kent than from any other county in England, Devon coming next; but Kent on this wild night need not have blushed for the folly of her sailor sons, until it be proved folly to succour and to save.

The Ganges had by this time struck on the middle part of the Goodwins, and the sea was breaking mast-high over her. Her lights and flares had gone out, and the lifeboat had the greatest difficulty in finding her. Just when the lifeboatmen were in perplexity, she again burned blue lights, and these guided the advancing boat. When they came close to the wreck they found her head was lying about north, so that the great wind and sea were beating right on her broadside, and a strong tide was also running in the same direction right across the ship.

Just before the arrival of the lifeboat, in the bewilderment of terror, one of the boats of the wrecked vessel was lowered, and one English apprentice and four Lascars sprang into it. In the boiling surf which raged alongside, the boat was upset in an instant, and with the exception of one Lascar, who grasped a chain-plate, all were lost, their drowning shrieks being only faintly heard as they were swept into the caldron of the Goodwins to leeward. There can be no doubt that a merciful insensibility came soon to their relief. To swim was impossible in raging surf, and there would be little suffering in the speedy death of those poor fellows. I once heard a sailor say to another one moonlight night in the Mediterranean, 'Death is nothing, if you are ready for it;' and if there be a good clear view of the country beyond the river, and of the King of that land, as Shepherd, Saviour, Friend, the writer firmly holds with his sailor friend, long since lost at sea, and now with God, that 'Death is nothing, if you are ready for it.'

The position of the lifeboat had to be now chosen with reference to tide, wind and sea. Had the lifeboat anchored close outside the vessel, there would have been the fearful danger of falling masts; and, besides this, the tide would have swept her completely away from the wreck, and would have prevented her getting back, had she once been driven to leeward; hence, as shown in the diagram, they were driven to anchor to windward of the vessel, or right between her and the land.



They first tried to get to the stern of the vessel, but they found this position unsuitable, and being baffled, they hauled up to their anchor with great trouble, and approached the bows of the wreck, having veered out their cable again.

There was, be it remembered, an enormous sea, which during all the struggles of the men broke with fury over the lifeboat, and kept her full to her thwarts all the night, bursting in clouds of spray, and of course drenching the lifeboatmen.

They now got to the bows of the wreck, where the strong off-tide drifted them right under the jib-boom and bowsprit. Looking up, they could just dimly see the jib-boom and bowsprit covered with men, who had, in their terror, swarmed out there to drop into the lifeboat.

As they were hoisted up on the crest of a great breaker, which also filled them, the great iron martingale or dolphin striker of the vessel, pointed like an arrow, came so near the lifeboat that the men saw that a little heavier sea would have driven the spear head of the martingale through the lifeboat. One of the crew had a very narrow escape of being impaled. This novel danger drove them back again therefore to their anchor, to which they had with great difficulty again to haul the lifeboat; and in reply to the imploring cries and shouts of those on the jib-boom, they shouted back, 'We're not going to leave you!'

The lifeboat now lay to windward of the vessel, in the full blast of the tempest, and exposed to the full sweep of the breakers. The official report of the coxswain was: 'We succeeded in getting alongside after a long time and with great difficulty, through a very heavy sea and at great risk of life, as the sea was breaking over the ship.'

As the lifeboat rode to windward of the wreck, the shouts of those on board were inaudible, and their gestures and signs in the dim lantern light could not be understood by the lifeboatmen. Having thrown their line to the vessel, a weightier line was now passed and made fast on board the Ganges, and in order to remedy the confusion and give the necessary directions to save the lives of the distressed sailors, one of the lifeboatmen, Henry Marsh, volunteered to jump into the sea with a line round his waist, to be dragged through the breakers on board the wreck. Heavy seas were bursting on the broadside and breaking over the vessel, so that it was a marvel he escaped with his life.

He fastened a jamming hitch round his waist and then with a shout of 'Haul away!' sprang into the midnight surf. Some said, 'He's mad!' others said, 'He's gone!' and then, 'Haul away, hard!' He fought through the sea, he struggled, he worked up the ship's side, against which he was once heavily dashed, and he gained the deck, giving confidence to all on board: the brave fellow being sixty-five years of age at the time.

The vessel was during this event thumping and beating out over the Goodwins, and was at last, when finally wrecked and stuck fast, not more than one hundred yards from safety and deep water, having thumped for miles across the Sands. The lifeboat had to follow her on her awful journey and almost to the outer edge of the Goodwins.

Her masts had stood up to this time, and she had been listing over to the east, or away from the wind and the sea, but now all over and within the ship were heard loud noises of cracking beams and the sharp harsh snap of timbers breaking. The crew of the wreck, in dread of instant death, now again burned blue lights. Just before the lifeboat approached, as if in a death-throe, the ship reeled inwards, and her tottering masts leaned to port, or towards the lifeboat and against the wind—thus adding great peril to the work of rescue.

By the directions of the coxswain and the lifeboatmen the exhausted crew were at last got down life-lines into the lifeboat, seventeen in number, including the captain, mates and apprentices; while twelve Lascars got into the Ramsgate lifeboat, which had about this time arrived to help in the work of rescue.

One of the features of this terrible night which perhaps impressed the memories of the lifeboat crew most of all, was the noise of the torn sails above their heads as they fought the sea below. Just before shoving off with the rescued crew, the words of the lifeboatmen were, 'We'll all go mad with that awful noise.'

At last all were on board, thirty-two souls in all, and at two o'clock a.m. the lifeboat got up sail for home, which lay seven miles off dead to windward.

The canvas they set will give some idea of the nature of the struggle—a reefed mizzen and two reefs in the storm foresail. Thus reefed down, they struggled to get hold of the land, which they finally did at four o'clock on that dark wintry morning, landing the rescued men on Deal beach, when boatmen generously took them to their houses[1].

Not the faintest publicity has ever before been given to the details of this gallant achievement, which I now rescue from obscurity and oblivion.

I cannot refrain from recording a previous gallant deed of Henry Marsh, before mentioned. On February 13, 1870, there was a furious tempest blowing, with the wind from E.N.E. All the vessels at anchor in the Downs had been, with one exception, blown ashore and shattered into fragments.

A Dutch brig, sugar-laden, went ashore in the afternoon opposite Deal Castle, and was broken up and vanished in ten minutes; others went ashore at Kingsdown, and late in the evening, opposite Walmer Castle, another brig came ashore, also sugar-laden—a French vessel with an English pilot on board.

The gale was accompanied with snow squalls, and Marsh, hearing of the wrecks along Deal and Walmer beach, determined to go and see for himself. His wife, as is the manner of wives, repressed his rash and impulsive intentions, and said, 'Don't you go up near them!' But Marsh said, 'I'll just take a bit of bread and cheese in my pocket, and I'll take my short pipe with me, and I'll be back soon.' He laid great stress and emphasis on having 'his short pipe' with him, probably reserving a regular long-shanked 'churchwarden' for home use.

He found the beach crowded with spectators, and the sea breaking blue water over the French brig. Her rigging was thick with ice, and the snow froze as it fell. She was rocking wildly in and out, exposing her deck as she swung outwards to the full sweep of the tremendous easterly sea. Between her and the beach there were about ten feet deep of water, which with each giant recoil swept round her in fury.

Marsh asked, 'Are all the people out of that there brig?' 'All but two,' said the bystanders, 'and we can't get no answer from them. They're gone, they are!'

Said Marsh, 'Won't nobody go to save them?'

'Which way are you going to save them?' said one; and all said the same. 'I'm a-going,' said Marsh. 'Harry, don't go!' cried many an old sailor on the beach. 'Here, hold my jacket!' said Marsh. And I verily believe he was thinking chiefly of the preservation of his short pipe. 'Don't you hold me back! I'm a-going to try! Let go of me!' and seizing the line which led from the rocking brig to the shore, Marsh rushed neck deep in a moment into the surf. Swept the next instant off his feet, on, hand over hand, he went; swayed out under her counter, back towards the shore, still he lives! Dashed against the ship's side, while some shout 'He's killed,' up he clambers still, hand over hand; and as the vessel reels inwards, down, down the rope Marsh slips into the water and the awful recoil. 'He is gone!' they cry. No! up again! with true bull-dog tenacity, Marsh struggles. And at last, nearly exhausted, he wins the deck amid such shouting as seldom rings on Deal beach.

Taking breath, he first fastens a line round his waist and to a belaying pin; and then he discovers a senseless form, Holbrooke, the pilot, a friend of his own, who, fast dying with the cold and drenching freezing spray, was muttering, 'The poor boy! the poor boy!'

'William!' said Marsh. 'Who are you?' was the reply. 'I'm Henry Marsh, and I'm come to save you.' 'No, I'll be lost; I'll be lost!' 'No you won't,' said Marsh, 'I'll send you ashore on the rope.' 'No, you'll drown me! you'll drown me!'

And then finding the poor French boy was indeed lost and swept overboard, alone he passed the rope round the nearly insensible man, protecting and holding him as the seas came; and finally watching when the vessel listed in, alone he got him on the toprail of the bulwarks, with an exertion of superhuman strength, and then, with shouts to the people ashore, 'Are you ready?' and 'I'm a-coming!' threw Holbrooke, in spite of himself, into the sea; and both were safely drawn ashore.

The people nearly smothered Marsh when he got ashore, but he ran home, his clothes frozen stiff when he got in; and I have no doubt that the 'short pipe' played no insignificant part in his recovery.

Eleven years afterwards, this same Henry Marsh was dragged by a rope from the lifeboat to the Ganges, as described in the beginning of this chapter, through the breakers on the Goodwin Sands at midnight; and he is now (1892), my readers will be glad to hear, alive and hearty, at the age of seventy-five, and I rejoice to say 'looking for and hasting unto that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.'

There can be few, I think, of my readers who will not find their hearts beat faster as they read this story, and few will hesitate to say, 'Bravely done!'



[1] The names of the crew of the lifeboat on this occasion were—R. Wilds (coxswain), Thomas Adams, Henry Marsh, T. Holbourn, Henry Roberts, James Snoswell, T. Cribben, J. May, T. May, George Marsh, H. Marsh, R. Betts, and Frank Roberts.



CHAPTER V

THE EDINA

The oak strikes deeper as its boughs By furious blasts are driven.

The Edina was one of a great fleet of ships at anchor in the Downs on January 16, 1884. Hundreds of vessels were there straining at their anchors—vessels of many nations, and of various rigs. There were picturesque red-sailed barges anchored close in shore, while even there the sea flew over them. Farther out were Italians, Norwegians and Yankees, all unmistakable to the practised eye; French chasse-marees, Germans, Russians and Greeks were there; and each vessel was characterised by some nautical peculiarity. Of course the greater number were our own English vessels, as plainly to be pronounced British as ever was John Bull in the midst of Frenchmen or Spaniards.

It was blowing a heavy gale from the W.S.W., and towards night, accompanied by furious rain-squalls and thunder, the gale increased to a storm. The most powerful luggers along the beach tried to launch, but as the tide was high they had not run enough to get sufficient impetus, and were therefore beaten back on the beach by the surf.



Some vessels were blown clean out of the Downs, and away from their anchors. Indeed, when the weather cleared between the squalls, a pitiable number of blue light signals of distress were seen in the distance beyond the North Foreland. And it is probable that vessels were lost that night on the Goodwins of which no one has ever heard.

When the tide fell, about 8.45, flares and rockets were seen coming from the Brake, a very dangerous and partially rocky 'Sand' lying close to the Goodwin Sands. Then the Gull lightship also fired guns and rockets. There being obviously a vessel in danger on or near either the Goodwins or the Brake Sand, the Deal lifeboat bell was rung; and a crew was obtained out of the hundred men who rushed to get a place. The beach was smoothed to give the lifeboat a run, she was let go, and, in contrast with the failure of other boats, launched successfully.

In receiving the report of the coxswain next day, I asked him what time precisely he launched. Now that evening, about 9 p.m., I was sitting in my own house listening to the long-protracted roar of the wind, and just when I thought the strong walls could bear no more, there came a blinding flash of lightning which paled the lamps, almost simultaneously with a peal of thunder that made the foundations of the house tremble. When I asked the coxswain next day what time exactly he launched, his reply was, 'Just in that clap of thunder.'

This may help my readers to depict the scene in its appalling grandeur, and to realise the meaning of the words, 'A vessel in distress,' and the launch of the lifeboat on its sacred errand.

The flares which had been burning now suddenly stopped. This, however, was owing to the distressed vessel having exhausted her stock of rockets and torches.

Passing under the stern of a schooner which they hailed, the gallant lifeboat crew were pointed out the vessel that had been burning them, riding with a red light in her rigging to attract notice. Making for her, they anchored as usual ahead, and veered down eighty fathoms. In the gale and heavy sea they found the anchor would not hold, and they had to bend on another cable, and pay out a hundred fathoms, and at last they got alongside.

The captain cried out, 'Come on board and save the vessel! My crew are all gone!' And indeed she was in a sore plight.

That evening after dark, about 6 p.m., this brig, the Edina, had been riding out the gale in the Downs. In a furious blast a heavy sea broke her adrift from her anchor, and she came into helpless collision with a ship right astern of her. Grinding fiercely into this other very large vessel, the Edina tore herself free with loss of bowsprit and jib-boom, all her fore-rigging being in dire ruin and confusion.

In the collision, six of the crew of the Edina jumped from her rigging to the other ship with which they were in collision, leaving only three men, the captain, mate, and boy, on board the Edina. By great efforts they, however, were able to let go another anchor, but that did not bite, and the Edina kept dragging with the wreckage and wild tangle of bowsprit and jib-boom hanging over her bows and beating against her side.

One of the six men who had jumped from the Edina in the panic of the collision had, alas! jumped too short, and had fallen between the two vessels. The next day his body was found by the lifeboatmen entangled in the wreckage, and under the bows of the Edina.

The Edina in her wrecked and crippled condition had dragged till she got to the very edge of the Brake Sand. She had dragged for two miles, and at last her anchor held fast when within twenty fathoms or forty yards of the Brake Sand. She was stopped just short of destruction as the sea was breaking heavily under her stern, and had she drifted a few more yards she would have struck the deadly Brake, and have perished with those on board before the lifeboat could have reached her.

In setting off his rockets, the unfortunate captain had blown away a piece of his hand, and was in much suffering, when the advent of the lifeboat proclaimed that he was not to be abandoned to destruction. The vessel was riding in only three fathoms of water, and as a furious sea was running, she was plunging bows under. Six of the lifeboatmen sprang on board and turned to clearing the wreck—the remainder of the men remaining in the lifeboat, as they feared every moment the ship would break adrift and strike.

They worked with the energy of men working for life, but they took three hours to clear away the wreck; this being absolutely necessary in order to get at the windlass and raise the anchor.

At morning dawn they found the body of the poor sailor who had failed to spring to the other vessel; they got up anchor, they set the sails, and they brought the vessel out of her dangerous position into Ramsgate Harbour.

That day four weeks the Edina came out of Ramsgate refitted and ready for sea. I went on board the vessel on my daily task as Missions to Seamen Chaplain in the Downs, and talked with the captain over the events of the night as here described, and the merciful Providence which prevented him striking on the Brake Sand. 'What brought you up,' I asked him, 'when you had already dragged for miles?'

The captain pointed me to a roll of large-printed Scripture texts, a leaf for each day, for four weeks. 'Why,' said he, 'that's the very leaf that was turned the night of the 26th of last month'—and going close to the 'Seaman's Roll,' as this Eastbourne publication is called—'There,' said he, 'is the very text.'

It ran thus: 'Wherefore, also, He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.'

'And that,' said the captain, 'was the anchor that held my ship that awful night.'

It is hard to doubt that He who once stilled the tempest, and granted to this humble sailor the mighty gift of Faith, on that stormy night 'delivered His servant that trusted in Him.'

The Edina went on her way to Pernambuco.



CHAPTER VI

THE FREDRIK CARL

There is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet.

On October 30, 1885, the small Danish schooner, the Fredrik Carl, ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. She struck on the outer part of the North Sand Head, about eight miles from the nearest land, and two miles from the well-known Whistle Buoy, which ever and always sends forth its mournful note of warning—too often unavailing.

Summoned by the lightship's guns and rockets to the rescue—for the red three-masted North Sand Head lightship was only two miles from the wreck—the Ramsgate lifeboat, towed by the steam-tug Aid, came to the spot, and, after a long trial, failed to get the schooner afloat, and, having taken her crew out of her, returned to the shore.

At low water the next day, October 31, the vessel lay high and dry on the Goodwin Sands. She was tolerably upright, having bedded herself slightly in the sand, and all her sails were swinging loose as the wind chose to sway them. There was no rent in her side that could be seen, and to all appearance she was safe and sound—only she was stranded on the Goodwins, from which vestigia nulla retrorsum. As in the Cave of Cacus, once there, you are there for ever, and few are the cases in which vessels fast aground on the Goodwins ever again get away from the great ship-swallower.



The schooner had a cargo of oats, and if she could be got off would be a very valuable prize to her salvors. But 'if'—and we all know that 'there's much virtue in your "if".'

However, when morning broke on October 31, many of the Deal boatmen, whose keen eyes saw a possibility of a 'hovel,' came in their powerful 'galley punts' to see about this 'if,' and try if they could not convert it into a reality. Accordingly, two of the Deal boats, taking different directions, the Wanderer and the Gipsy King, approached the Goodwin Sands near the north-west buoy.

On this day there was just enough sea curling and tumbling on the edge of the sands to make landing on them difficult even for the skilled Deal boatmen. For the inexperienced it would have been dangerous in the extreme.

There were four Deal men in each boat, and they only got ashore with difficulty, one of the boats' cables having parted; and they had all to jump out and wade waist-deep in the surf, as they dared not let their weighty boats touch the bottom.

Two boatmen remained in each boat, for neglect of this precaution has caused accidents frightful to think of, on the Goodwins; and the remaining four boatmen, daring fellows of the sea-dog and amphibious type, walked across the sands, dripping with the brine. As a matter of fact, two of them were not only Deal boatmen, but were sailors who had been round and round the world, and one was an old and first-rate man-o'-war's man.

Sometimes they met a deep gully with six feet of water in it, which they had to make a circuit round, or to swim; and farther on a shallow pond, in the midst of which would be a deep-blue 'fox-fall,' perhaps twenty feet deep of sea-water. Then, having avoided this, more dry, hard sand, rippled by the ebbing tide, and then a dry, deep cleft—for the Goodwins are full of surprises—and then came more wading.

Wading on the Goodwins conveys a very peculiar sensation to the naked feet. The sand, so dense when dry, at once becomes friable and quick—indeed, it is hard to believe there is not a living creature under the feet—and if you stand still you slowly sink, feet and ankles, and gradually downwards. As long as you keep moving, it is hard enough, but less so when under water.

The surroundings are deeply impressive. The waves plash at your feet, and the seagull, strangely tame, screams close overhead; but glorious as is the unbroken view of sky and ocean, the loneliness of the place, and the unutterable mystery of the sea, and the deep sullen roar, and the memories of the long sad history of the sands, oppress your soul. Tragedies of the most fearful description have been enacted on the very spot whereon you stand. Terror, frozen into despair, blighted hope, faith victorious even in death, have thrilled the hearts of thousands hard by the place where you stand, and which in a few hours will be ten feet under water. Here you can see the long line of a ship's ribs swaddling down into the sands, and there is the stump of the mast to which the seamen clung last year till the lifeboat snatched them from a watery grave.

Buried deep in the sands are the cargoes of richly-laden ships, and their 'merchandise of gold and silver, and precious stones, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet.' 'To dig there' (if that could be done, say the Deal boatmen), 'would be all as one as going to Californy;' and who should know the Goodwins or the secret of the sea better than they do? 'Only those who brave its dangers comprehend its mystery.'

Keenly intent on getting to the wreck, the four men hastened on, and they perceived that other boatmen had landed at similar risk, at other points of the sands, and were also making for the wreck.

The four boatmen reached the vessel, found ropes hanging over her side, all sails set, and a part of the Ramsgate lifeboat's cable chopped off short, telling the tale of her unsuccessful efforts the night before to get the vessel off. They clambered up, and found others there before them, and soon more came, and eventually there were twelve boatmen on board.

All eagerly discussed the chances of getting her off. To the unpractised eye she seemed sound enough; but, after a thorough overhaul, some saying she could be kept afloat, and others the reverse, it was found that the water had got into her up to the level of her cabin-seats, and that a bag of flour in one of her cabin-lockers was sodden with salt-water. Judging by these signs that the water would again come into her when the tide rose, and that she was broken up, the four men whose journey across the sands has been described, decided with sound judgment to leave her to her fate, and with them sided four other men, who also came to the conclusion that it was beyond the power of their resources to save her.

George Marsh and George Philpot with six others took this view. Looking overboard, they found the rising tide just beginning to lap round her.

'Best for us to bolt,' said Marsh; and seeing there was no time to lose, the eight men came down the ropes and made for their boats, more than a mile off; leaving the four others, who took a different view, on board. The eight men ran, and ran the harder when they found the wind and sea had increased, and having run and waded as before half the distance, they made a halt and called a council of war. There were now serious doubts whether they would be able to reach their boats, which they could see a long way off heaving on the swell, which was becoming heavier every minute.

Some said, 'Best go back to the ship—we'll never reach the boats.' And indeed it was very doubtful if they could do either; for the flood-tide was now coming like a racehorse over the sands, and hiding its fox-falls and gullies. Others said, 'You'll never get back to the ship now; there's deep water round her bows by this time! Come on!'

But some of the men had left brothers on the vessel, and this attracted three of the company back to the wreck, and Marsh was persuaded to join the returning band. And so they parted, there being danger either way: Marsh with three others back to the ship, and Philpot with three others to the boats; and both parties now ran for their lives.

Looking back, they saw Marsh standing in uncertainty, and they waved to him. But he finally decided—little knowing at the time how momentous was his decision—for the ship. He and his party reached it with great difficulty, finding deep water around it, and they were at the last minute pulled on board through the water by lines slung to them from their friends.

Of the others, each man for himself, as best he could, 'pursues his way,'—

And swims or sinks or wades or creeps,

till they all come as close as the rough sea permits them to their boats, and stand breathless on a narrow and rapidly contracting patch of sand.

'Upon this bank and shoal' clustered the four men. The sea was so heavy that the weighty Deal boats did not dare to back into it. The men at first thought of trying to swim to them; but a strong tide running right across their course rendered that out of the question.

Fortunately a tug-boat hove in sight, bound to the wrecked schooner, and seeing the men waving and their dangerous plight, eased her engines. Deal boats were towing astern, and Deal boatmen were on board, and out of their number Finnis and Watts bravely volunteered to go to the rescue in the tug-boat's punt.

This boat being light and without ballast, they at considerable risk brought off the four men to their own boats, when they forthwith, forgetting past hardship and perils, got up sail for the wrecked schooner, to see how their comrades who had returned, and those who remained on board, were faring.

They found the tug-boat close to the wreck—say half a mile off—and also many other Deal boats; but none ventured nearer than that distance, and none could get nearer.

The wind, which had been blowing from south-west freshly, was dropping into a calm, while great rollers from an entirely opposite quarter were tumbling in on the Goodwins. In fact, a great north-easterly sea was breaking in thunder on the sands, and around and over the vessel. The eight men on board her were therefore beset as if in a beleaguered city, and as nothing but a lifeboat could live for a moment in that tremendous surf, the crews of the Deal boats, astounded at the sight, were simply helpless spectators of their comrades' danger, and torn with distress and sympathy, as they saw them take to the rigging of the vessel.

An hour before this pitch of distress had been reached, a galley punt had gone to Deal for the lifeboat, and in the afternoon, about 3 p. m., the boat reached Deal beach with one hand on board. He jumped out, and staggered up the beach to tell the coxswain of the lifeboat that eight boatmen were on board the wreck, and that nothing but a lifeboat could reach the vessel, as there was a dreadful sea all round her, and that his own brother was among the number on board.

The Deal boatmen are not slow to render help when help is needed, and indifference to the cry of distress is not one of their failings; but when they heard of their own friends and neighbours, their comrades in storm and in rescue and lifeboat work, thus beset and in imminent peril, their eagerness was beyond the power of words to describe. From the time the bell rang to 'man the lifeboat' to the moment she struck the water only seven minutes passed!

A fresh south-west breeze brought her to the North Sand Head, and round and outside it to the melancholy spot where, in the waning autumnal light, they could just discern the wreck. They passed through the crowd of Deal boats, and close to the tug-boat; but no one spoke or hailed the other, as all knew what had to be done, and the nature of the coming struggle.

The south-west breeze had now dropped completely, and they encountered, as explained before, the strange phenomenon of a great windless swell from the north-east, rolling in before the wind, which was evidently behind it, and which indeed blew a gale next day, though it was now an absolute calm. Great tumbling billows came in from different quarters, and met and crossed each other in the most furious collision. There was tossing about in the sea at the time an empty cask, which was caught in the clash together of two such waves, and was shot clean out of the water as high as the wrecked schooner's mast, or thirty feet into the air, by the force of the blow. The water-logged wreck was now nearly submerged, or just awash, her bulwark-top-rail being now and then exposed and covered again with the advance and recoil of each wave.

Aft there were a raised quarter-deck and a wheel-house, behind the remains of which three of the boatmen took refuge, while the five others climbed into the rigging, but over them even there the sea broke in clouds.

As there was no tide and no wind, it was impossible to sheer the lifeboat, and, whatever position was taken by anchoring, in that only the lifeboat would ride after veering down before the sea. The coxswains, therefore, had to try again and again before they got the proper position to veer down from.

At last, however, they succeeded, and anchoring the lifeboat by the stern, they veered down bows first towards the wreck into the midst of this breezeless but awful sea—bows first, lest the rudder should be injured.

The cable was passed round the bollard or powerful samson-post, and then a turn was taken round a thwart; and the end was held by Roberts, the second coxswain, with his face towards the stern, and his back to the wreck, watching the billows as they charged in line, and easing his cable or getting it in when the strain had passed.

The heavy rollers drove the lifeboat before them like a feather, and end on towards the wreck, till her cable brought her up with a jerk. The strain of these jerks was so great, that, even though Roberts eased his cable, each wave seemed to all hands as if it would tear the after air-box out of the lifeboat, or drag the lifeboat itself in two pieces.

They veered down to about five fathoms of the wreck; closer they dared not go, lest a sea should by an extra strain dash their bows into the wreck, when not one of all the company would have been saved, and the lifeboat herself would have perhaps been broken up.

Then they saw their friends and comrades and heard them cry, 'Try to save us if you can!' And the men said afterwards, 'We got in such a flurry to save them, that what we did in a minute we thought took us an hour.'

At last the cane and lead were thrown from the lifeboat by a stalwart boatman standing in the bows. A heavier line was then drawn on board by the light cane line, and the boatmen came down from the rigging, and, having made themselves fast to pins and staunchions, sheltered behind the bulwark and the wheel-house, seeing the approach of rescue.

Enough of the slack of the weightier line was kept on board the wreck—the end being there made fast—to permit the middle of the rope being fastened round a man and of his being dragged away from the wreck through the sea into the lifeboat. A clove-hitch was put by George Marsh over the shoulders of the first man, who watched his chance for 'a smooth,' jumped into the waves, and, after a long struggle—for the line fouled—was hauled safe into the lifeboat. Marsh on the wreck saw after this that the line was clear, and that no kink or knot stopped its running freely.

Reading these lines in our quiet homes, and in a comfortable arm-chair by the fireside, it is hard to realise the position of those eight boatmen. They were drenched and buried in each wallowing sea, which strove to tear them from the pin to which each man was belayed by the line round his waist; and their ears were stunned with the bellow of each bursting wave. But, on the other hand, their eyes beheld the grand and cheering spectacle of their brethren in the lifeboat struggling manfully with death for their sakes, and they heard their undaunted shouts.

If for a moment they cast off or lengthened their lifelines, they were washed all over the slippery deck; and brave George Marsh, who was specially active, was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, having been dashed against a corner of the wheel-house.

The wheel-house up to this time had afforded some shelter to the men who ventured on the deck of the wreck, lashed as just explained, of course, to some pin or bollard; and even they had now and then to rush up the rigging when a weighter [Transcriber's note: weightier?] wave was seen coming. But just at this time a great mass of water advanced and wallowed clean over the wreck, carrying the wheelhouse away with it, and bursting, where it struck the masts and booms, into a cloud: it was too solid to burst much, but it just 'wallowed' over the wreck.

Successive seas are, of course, unlike in height, volume, and demeanour. One comes on board and falls with a solid, heavy lop—there may be twenty tons of blue water in it—the next rushes along with wild speed and fury.

Roberts in the lifeboat now saw a great roller of the latter description advancing; ready to ease his cable, he cried, 'Look out! Look out! Hold on, my lads!'

But before Wilds, the coxswain, who was not a young man, could turn round and grasp a thwart, the sea was on him, and drove him with great force against the samson-post, breaking over and covering the lifeboat fore and aft in fury. This sea would have washed every man off the wreck if they had not had ropes round their waists, and fastened themselves to something; and it most certainly stupefied them and half-drowned them, fastened as they were.

The blow which Wilds in the lifeboat received would have killed him but that he was wearing his thick cork life-belt. His health was so much affected that he never came afloat again, and he never recovered the strain, the shock, and the exposure of this day. He was a brave man, and a stout, honest Englishman.

Faithful below he did his duty, And now he's gone aloft.

And the writer has good reason for sure and certain hope that this is so. His post as coxswain has since been filled, and nobly filled, by R. Roberts, for many years second coxswain.

In meeting this sea, which struck down poor Wilds with such force, the lifeboat stood straight up on her stern and reared, as the men expressed it, 'like a vicious horse'; and so much did the cable spring, that the lifeboat was driven to within a fathom, or six feet, of the wreck, and was withdrawn the next instant to fifteen fathoms distance by the recoil of the cable.

One by one the men were dragged through the breakers into the lifeboat, until at last only two remained on the wreck, George Marsh and another man. It was Marsh, it will be remembered, who in the earlier part of the day had been persuaded to return to the wreck across the sand, and it was Marsh now who in each case had passed the clove-hitch round his comrades, sending them before himself. He was a very smart sailor and a brave man, and with wise forethought he had also passed the end of the veering line, on which the men were dragged through the surf, over the main boom of the wreck, to let it run out clear of anything which might have caught it, and, in fact, was the leader of the men in peril on the wreck.

The last two men intended to come together, when another great billow, notice of its advance being given by Tom Adams, came towering and seething, filled the lifeboat, as usual, and covered the ship—indeed, breaking right into her fore-top-sail! That is, thirty feet above her deck!

When the sea passed, the two remaining men, who had been tied together, were not to be seen.

The men in the lifeboat pulled at the line, but it was somehow and somewhere fast to something. And then they shouted, and minutes went by, hours as it seemed to them. At last one of the men—but not Marsh—slowly raised his head and seemed to move about in a dazed condition.

'Where's Marsh?' cried the lifeboatmen.

'Can't find him!' he replied.

'Is he drowned?'

'Is he washed away?'

And the reply was, 'I can't find him.'

And then this man was pulled into the water, and was the last man saved—and that with great difficulty, for the line fouled and jammed—from the wreck of the Fredrik Carl, which had proved a death-trap to poor Marsh, and so nearly to the seven others who were saved.

Still the lifeboat waited in the gathering darkness, and hailed the wreck, hoping against hope to see Marsh appear; but he was never seen again alive. Short as was the distance between the lifeboat and the wreck, it was impossible to swim to her, lying broadside as she was to the swell. Anyone attempting it would either have been dashed to pieces against her, or lifted bodily over her, brained very possibly, and certainly washed away to leeward, return from which would have been, even for an uninjured man, impossible.

And still the lifeboatmen waited and called; but there was no answer. Poor Marsh had been suddenly summoned to meet his God. The oldest man of the number, and for some years a staunch total abstainer, he had manfully stuck to his post, he had sent the others before himself, and had shown throughout a fine spirit of self-sacrifice worthy of the best traditions of the Deal boatmen.

Slowly and sadly the lifeboat got her anchor up, and never perhaps did the celebrated Deal lifeboat return with a more mournful crew; for they had seen, in spite of their best efforts, one of their comrades perish before their eyes.

The next day it blew a gale of wind from the north-east, and it was not till several days afterwards that Marsh's body was recovered, entangled in the wreckage, to leeward of the vessel, and sorely mangled. Wrapped in a sail, and with the rope still round him which ought to have drawn him into safety, lay the poor 'body of humiliation' in which had once dwelt a gallant spirit; but a good hope burned within me as the triumphant lines rang in my ears—

Deathless principle, arise! Soar, thou native of the skies. Pearl of price, by Jesus bought, To His glorious likeness wrought!

In telling the story of this gallant struggle to save their comrades, made by the Deal lifeboatmen, I lay this tribute of hope and regard on the grave of brave George Marsh.



CHAPTER VII

THE GOLDEN ISLAND

Nor toil nor hazard nor distress appear To sink the seamen with unmanly fear; Though their firm hearts no pageant-honour boast, They scorn the wretch that trembles in his post.

The smart and trim three-masted schooner, the Golden Island, was bound from Antwerp to Liverpool, with a cargo of glass-sand, and was running before a favouring gale to the southward. At midnight, on May 14, 1887, or the early morning of May 15, with a heavy sea rolling from the N.E., suddenly, no notice being given and no alarm felt, she struck with tremendous force the outer edge of the Goodwin Sands.

The timbers of the Golden Island opened with the crash, and she filled, and never lifted or thumped, but lay swept by each billow, like a rock at half-tide, immovable by reason of her heavy cargo. Her crew consisted of seven all told, including a lad, the captain's son, and they managed to light a large flare, which was seen a long way, and was visible even in Deal, eight miles distant.

With what sinking of heart, as the waters raged round and over them, they watched the flame of their torch burning lower and lower. How intense the darkness when it was extinguished! How terrible the thunderous roar of the breakers!

The nearest lightship was about four miles from them, and her look-out man noticed the flare and fired the signal guns of distress, and sent up the usual rockets.

At 2 a.m. the coastguard on Deal beach called the coxswain of the lifeboat, R. Roberts. Hastily dressing himself he went up the beach, and seeing the flash of the distant guns, he rang the lifeboat bell. Men sprang out of their warm beds, and, half-dressed, rushed to the lifeboat. Their wives or mothers or daughters followed with the remainder of their clothes, their sea boots, or jackets or mufflers. Then came the struggle to gain a place in the lifeboat, and then the bustle and hurry of preparation to get her ready for the launch.

Deal beach at such a time is full of boatmen, some in the lifeboat loosing sails and setting the mizzen, some easing her down to the top of the slope, some seeing to the haul-off warp, a matter of life or death in such a heavy sea dead on shore; others laying down the well-greased 'skids' for the lifeboat to run on, and others clearing away the shingle which successive tides had gathered in front of her bows.

Mingling among the workers are the wives and mothers, putting a piece of bread and cheese in Tom's pocket or helping on 'father' with his oilskin jacket or his sou'wester. And now 'All hands in the lifeboat!' and twenty minutes after the bell is rung she rushes down the steep and plunges into the surf. The loving, lingering watchers on the beach just see her foresail hoisted, and she vanishes into the night, as the green rocket shoots one hundred yards into the sky to tell the distressed sailors 'The lifeboat is launched and on her way.'

The vessel's flare had now burned out, and the guns and rockets from the lightships had ceased, and in front of the lifeboat was only the chill night, 'black as a wolf's throat.' As they worked away from the shore there came in, borne landwards and towards them by the gale, the dull deep roar of the surf on the Goodwins.

It is marvellous how far the sound of the sea on the Goodwins travels. Previously, on a fine calm day, with light breeze, I was standing across the Goodwins, bound to the East Goodwin lightship, and we could hear the roar of the ripple on the Goodwins—not breakers, but ripple—at a distance of two miles. We were sucked into that ugly-looking ripple by an irresistible current, and after an anxious half-hour we got through safely.

In front of the lifeboat on this night was no mere ripple, but breakers; and the deep hollow roar foretold a tremendous sea.

As the dawn came faintly, the breakers were seen by the oncoming lifeboat; she was already stripped for the fight, and her canvas was shortened to reefed mizzen and reefed storm-foresail. Even then she was pressed down by the blast and leaned over as the spray flew mast-high over her. There was a mile of this surf to go through, and with her red sails flat as a board the lifeboat plunged into it.

She thrashed her way nobly through, now up and down on short wicked-looking chopping seas, now on some giant wave hoisted up to the sky; and still up as if she was about to take flight into the air—as we once before experienced in a gale on the Brake Sand—then buried and smothered; and then over the next wave like a seabird. On to the rescue flew the lifeboat, steered by the coxswain himself, beating to windward splendidly, as if conscious of and proud of the sacred task before her. On triumphantly through and over the breakers, onwards to the Golden Island the lifeboat beat out against the sea and the storm. She stood on till quite across the Goodwins, and fetched the East Buoy, which lies in deep water well outside the breakers. In that deep water of fifteen fathoms there were of course no breakers, only a long roll and heavy sea; but the moment this heavy sea touched the Goodwin Sands it broke with the utmost fury, and was sweeping over the Golden Island, now not more than half-a-mile from the lifeboat. At the East Buoy the lifeboat put about on the other tack, and stood in towards the Goodwins and again right into the breakers, from which she had just emerged.

The wreck was lying with her head to the N.W., and was leaning to port, so that her starboard quarter was exposed to the full fetch of the easterly sea that was breaking 'solid' in tons on her decks. 'Why, she was just smothered in it sometimes, and every big sea was just a-flying all over her.' Her masts they saw were still standing, and her crew of seven were cowering for refuge between the main and mizzen masts under the weak shelter of the weather bulwarks, and also under the lee of the long boat, which still held its place, being firmly fastened to the deck. The fierce breakers burst rather over her quarter; had they swept quite broadside over her, the boat would have been torn from its fastenings long before.

As the Deal lifeboat stood in towards the Goodwins, they saw that their noble rivals the Ramsgate tug and lifeboat in tow had arrived on the scene a few minutes before them, and were close to the wreck.

The Ramsgate tug Aid now cast off the lifeboat, which got up sail and made in through the breakers with the wind right aft impelling her forwards at speed. The tug of course waited outside the surf, in deep water. The Deal men, separated from the Ramsgate lifeboat by about four hundred yards, were breathless spectators of the event. They watched her plunging and lifting into and over each sea and on towards the wreck.

The Ramsgate men could not lie or ride alongside the vessel to windward; there was too terrible a sea on that side, and therefore, in spite of the danger of the masts falling, they were obliged to go to leeward, or to the sheltered side of the vessel.

Just as the Ramsgate lifeboat was coming under the stern of the wreck and about to haul down foresail and shoot up alongside her, she was struck by a terrific sea. The Deal men saw this and shouted 'She's capsized!' The Ramsgate lifeboat was indeed almost, but not quite capsized, and she was also shot forwards and caught under the cat-head and anchor of the wreck. The captain of the wrecked vessel told me afterwards that he thought she was lost, but it was happily not so, and the Ramsgate lifeboatmen anchored, after recovering themselves, ahead of the vessel and veered down to her.

But the tidal current which runs over the Goodwins varies in a very irregular manner according to the wind that is blowing, and, contrary to their calculations, swept the Ramsgate lifeboat to the full length of her cable away from the vessel.

They naturally expected to find the usual off-tide from the land before and at high-water, which would have carried them towards the vessel when they anchored under her lee; but instead of that there was running a strong 'in-tide,' which swept them helplessly away from the vessel, and rendered them absolutely unable to reach her, though anchored only two hundred yards off.

The seamen on the wreck, in order to reach by some means the lifeboat which had thus been borne away from them so mysteriously, threw a fender, with line attached, overboard, hoping that it too would follow the current which carried away the lifeboat, and that thus communications would be established between them; but the currents round the ship held the fender close to the wreck, and kept it eddying under her lee.

All eyes were now turned to the advancing Deal lifeboat battling in the thickest of the surf. Both the Ramsgate men with warm sympathy and the shipwrecked crew with keen anxiety watched the Deal men's attempt, as they raced into the wild breakers.

The poor fellows clinging to the masts feared lest the Deal lifeboat too might miss them, and that they might all be lost before either lifeboat could reach them again, and they beckoned the Deal men on.

The very crisis of their fate was at hand, but there were no applauding multitudes or shouts of encouragement, only the cold wastes and solitudes of wild tumbling breakers around the lifeboatmen on that grey dawn, and only the appealing helpless crew in a little cluster on the wreck.

It was now 4 a.m., and the Deal coxswain, cool and sturdy as his native Kentish oak, knowing that the combination of an easterly gale with neap tides sometimes produces an 'in-tide' at high-water, and seeing the Ramsgate lifeboat carried to leeward, gave the order to 'down foresail!' when well outside the wreck, and anchored E. by S. of her. Thus the same 'in-tide' which swept the Ramsgate lifeboat away from the wreck, carried the Deal lifeboat right down to her.



It will be remembered that the head of the Golden Island lay N.W., and the accompanying diagram will enable the reader to understand that as the lifeboat anchored in nearly the opposite quarter, viz. about S.E., her head, as she ranged alongside the wreck, lay in precisely the opposite direction to the head of the shipwrecked schooner.

The Deal lifeboat coxswain now hoisted a bit of his foresail to sheer her in towards the wreck, but from the position of his anchor he could not get closer than ten fathoms, or twenty yards.

To bridge this gulf of boiling surf, the cane loaded with lead, to which a light line was attached, had to be hurled by a stalwart arm, and John May succeeded in throwing the 'lead line' on board the wreck.

As the half-drowned and perishing crew of the wreck saw the Deal lifeboat winning her way towards them, and inch by inch conquering the opposing elements, their hearts revived.

They saw within hailing distance of them—for their cries could be heard plainly enough coming down the wind by the Deal men—the brave, determined faces of their rescuers, and they felt that God had not forsaken them, but had wrought for them a great deliverance.

Having gone through all that surf, and having got within reach as it were of the wreck, the crew of the Deal lifeboat were now eager for the final rescue. They never speak of, or even allude to the feeling on such occasions within them, yet we know their hearts were on fire for the rescue, and men in that mood are not easily to be baulked or to be beaten.

As the wearied seamen grasped the meaning of the Deal coxswain's shouts, or rather signs, for shouts against the wind were almost inaudible, they aided in rigging up veering and hauling lines, by which they would have to be dragged through the belt of surf which lay between them and the lifeboat.

A clove-hitch, which my readers can practise for themselves, was passed round the waist of the captain's son, a boy of thirteen, who was first to leave the wreck.



The lad naturally enough shrank from facing the boiling caldron which raged between him and the lifeboat, and with loud cries clung to his father. Waiting was impossible, and he had to be separated partly by persuasion and partly by main force from his father's arms and dragged through the sea. When once he was in the water the boatmen pulled at him with all their might, and when alongside, two strong men reached over the side and hoisted him like a feather into the lifeboat.

The men said 'he cried dreadful,' and the coxswain found a moment to tell him, 'Don't cry, my little fellow! we'll soon have your father into the lifeboat.' But with the words came a sea 'that smothered us all up, and it wanted good holding to keep ourselves from being carried overboard.' Some kind-hearted fellows, till the sea passed, held the boy, but still he kept crying, 'Come, father! Come, father!'

Three more of the crew then got the 'clove-hitch' over their shoulders and jumped into the sea; some of them helped themselves by swimming and kept their heads up; others merely gripped the rope and fared much worse, being pulled head under, but all three were quickly dragged through the water into the lifeboat.

I have said dragged through the 'water'; but surf is not the same as water—it is water lashed into froth or seething bubbles in mountainous masses. You can swim in water; but the best swimmer sinks in 'froth,' and can only manage and spare himself till the genuine water gives him a heave up and enables him to continue the struggle on the surface.

Now water that breaks into surf is not merely motionless 'froth,' that is half air and half water, but it runs at speed, and being partly composed of solid water strikes any obstacle with enormous force and smashes like a hammer. These then were the characteristics of the sea which beat all round the wreck, and through which the half-dazed and storm-beaten sailors had to be dragged.

Besides the veering and hauling line by which the sailors in distress came, there was another line passed round the mast of the tossing lifeboat, to hold her in spite of her plunging as close as possible to the ship; and this line had to be eased with each sea and then the slack hauled in again. Some better idea will be given of the nature of this deadly wrestle, when I mention that this line cut so deeply into the mast as to render it unsafe, and it was never again used after that day.

The sails of the wrecked vessel were clattering and blowing about, 'like kites'—indeed, they were in ribbons; and the wind in the rigging was like the harsh roar of an approaching train, so that in the midst of this wild hurly-burly even the men in the lifeboat could hardly hear each other's shouts.

Roberts now saw that it was necessary to shift the cable as it lay on the bow of the lifeboat, and he shouted to his comrades forward to have this done; but 'the wind was a blowin' and the sea a 'owling that dreadful' that not a man could hear what he said, and he sprang forward to shift the cable himself. That very moment round the stern of the wreck there swept the huge green curl of a gigantic sea, which, just as it reached the lifeboat, broke with a roar a ton of water into her.

It took Roberts off his feet, so that he must have gone overboard, but for the foremast against which it dashed him, and to which he clung desperately, as the great wave melted away hissing, to leeward. Shaking off the spray, the drenched lifeboatmen again turned to the work of rescue; the coxswain having been preserved by his thick cork lifebelt from what might otherwise have been a fatal crush.

This weighty sea tore away the lines and all means of communication between the wreck and the lifeboat, and drove the three remaining sailors on the vessel away from the shelter of the long boat to the bows of the wreck. Indeed, as they grasped for dear life the belaying pins on the foremast, the sea covered them up to their shoulders, and they were all but carried away.

Again the loaded cane had to be thrown; again the task was entrusted to John May, who sent it flying through the air, and again the veering and hauling line was rigged, and the remaining seamen were got into the lifeboat.

The last man has to see to it for his life that the veering line is clear, and that it is absolutely free from anything that could catch or jam it or prevent it running out freely.

Just as coming down a steep ice slope where steps have to be cut by men roped together, the best man should come last, so the last man rescued from a wreck should have a good clear head and the stoutest heart of all; and last man came bravely the captain, to the great joy of his little son.

Then the lifeboatmen turned to preparations for home. They dared not get in their cable and heave their anchor on board, lest they should be carried back and dashed against the wreck, the danger of which, a glance at the sketch will show. So they got a spring on the cable, to cant the lifeboat's head to starboard or landsward, and with a parting 'Hurrah!' they slipped their cable, of course thus sacrificing it and their anchor. They hoisted their foresail, and with a gale of wind behind them raced into and through the surf on the Goodwins, which lay between them and home.

The Goodwins are four miles wide, and the land was eight miles distant, but a splendid success had crowned the brave and steadfast Deal coxswain's efforts. Not a man was lost, and they had with them in the lifeboat the shipwrecked vessel's crew—all saved.

It was a noble sight to see the lifeboat nearing the land that morning at 7 a.m. The British red ensign was flying proudly from her peak, in token of 'rescued crew on board'; and as the men jumped out, I grasped the brave coxswain's hand and said, 'Well done, Roberts!' And as I saw the rescued crew and their gallant deliverers, 'God bless you, my lads, well done!' The words will be echoed in many a heart, but could my readers have seen the faces of the lifeboatmen, weather-beaten and incrusted with salt, or watched them, as they staggered wearied but rejoicing up the beach—could they have knelt in the thanksgiving service which I held that morning with the rescued crew, and have heard their graphic version of the grim reality—and how that the living God had in His mercy stretched out His arm and saved them from death on the Goodwins, they would better understand,—better, far, than words of mine can bring it home—how splendid a deed of mercy and of daring was that day done by the coxswain and the crew of the North Deal lifeboat[1].



[1] The names of the crew of the lifeboat on this occasion (being one man short, which was not observed in the darkness of the launch) were—Richd. Roberts (coxswain), G. Marlowe, John May, Henry May, Wm. Hanger, Ed. Pain, R. Betts, G. Brown, David Foster, Wm. Nicholas, Henry Roberts, R. Ashington, John Adams, John Marsh.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SORRENTO, S.S.

And the clamorous bell spake out right well To the hamlet under the hill, And it roused the slumb'ring fishers, nor its warning task gave o'er, Till a hundred fleet and eager feet were hurrying to the shore.

That Norse and Viking blood is to be found in the E. and S.E. coasts of England is tolerably certain. Tradition, as well as the physical characteristics of the people, go to support the belief that the inhabitants of the little picturesque village of Kingsdown, midway on the coast line between Deal and the South Foreland, are genuine 'Sons of the Vikings.'

Kingsdown looks seaward, just facing the southern end of the Goodwin Sands, and at the back of the pretty village, which is built on the shingle of the beach, rise the chalk cliffs which culminate in the South Foreland, a few miles farther on. Here in days gone by the samphire gatherer plied his 'dreadful trade,' and, still from the wooded cliff 'the fishermen that walk upon the beach appear like mice.'

Like their Deal brethren, the hardy boatmen of Kingsdown live by piloting and fishing, and, like the Deal men, have much to do with the Goodwin Sands. The same may be said of the more numerous Walmer boatmen; and all three are usually summed up in the general and honourable appellation of Deal boatmen.



The Kingsdown villagers are believed to be Jutes, and the names prevalent amongst them add probability to the idea. Certainly there is a Norse flavour about the name of Jarvist Arnold, for many years coxswain of the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabrina. This brave, fine old seaman still survives, and still his eye kindles, and his voice still rings, as with outstretched hand and fire unquenched by age he tells of grapples with death on the Goodwin Sands. He is no longer, alas! equal to the arduous post which he nobly held for twenty years, a post now well filled by James Laming, Jarvist's comrade in many a risky job; but still he is regarded with reverence and affection, and the rescue of the crew of the Sorrento and the story of the 'old cork fender' will always be honourably associated with his name. Round him the incidents of this chapter will group themselves, for, though brave men were his crew on each occasion, he was the guiding spirit.



The mode of manning the Kingsdown lifeboat is somewhat different from the practice of Deal and Walmer, as will be seen, but in all three cases the same rush of eager men is made to gain the honourable post of a place in the lifeboat.

Sometimes the launch is utterly unavailing, as was the case on a December night in 1867, when with Jarvist Arnold at the helm, the lifeboat sped into and through the tossing surf and 'fearful sea' (the coxswain's words), across the south end of the Goodwins, and found a barque from Sunderland on fire and drifting on to the sands. So hot it was from the flames that they could not if they would go to leeward of her, and they kept to windward, witnessing the spectacle of a ship on fire in a midnight 'hurricane from the west.' There was no one on board of the burning ship, and no one knows the fate of her crew. Sadly the lifeboatmen returned to the land.

Again Jarvist Arnold is summoned to the rescue, and this time with a different result. On February 12, 1870, all the vessels in the Downs were driven ashore, with the exception of one, which the skill and pluck of E. Hanger, second coxswain of the Deal lifeboat, safely piloted away to safety, through the tremendous sea.

There was a great gale from E.S.E. with bitter cold and snow. Vessel after vessel came ashore, and some were torn into matchwood along the beach. One large vessel, the ship Glendura, having parted her anchors in the great sea that was running, was driving landwards. The captain, foreseeing the inevitable, and determined, if he could not save his vessel, to save precious lives—his wife and child being on board—boldly set his lower foretopsail, to force his vessel stem on as far ashore on the mainland as possible; and about 9 p.m., in this dark freezing snowstorm, the stem of his large vessel, drawing about twenty-three feet of water, struck the land.



The engraving shows this ship in the act of striking. Facing the picture, the Glendura lies farthest from the spectator. Between her and the land would be about 100 fathoms, or 200 yards of water; but that water was one furious mass of advancing billows hurled landwards by this great tempest.

Fortunately, as I have said, the Glendura struck the beach unlike the other vessels in the engraving, not broadside on, but stem on. They were broken up very soon; but the Glendura held together, burning flares and sending up appealing rockets. Still more fortunately—but in truth providentially is the word to use—she struck right opposite Kingsdown lifeboat house, where lay head to storm-blast, the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabrina, and where, grouped round her, Jarvist Arnold and the lifeboat crew stood ready.

Had the wrecked ship come ashore at any distance from the spot where the lifeboat lay, either to the right or left, that is, either west or east of where she did strike, the probability is that all on board would have perished. With a heavy gale dead on shore, if the lifeboat had succeeded in launching, she would not have fetched the wreck, had she lain any distance either side, but would have been helplessly beaten back again.

The Kingsdown men were keenly watching the approaching catastrophe as the Glendura came landwards. Long before she struck, the little fishing village echoed to the cry of 'Man the lifeboat,' and clad in their sou'-westers and lifebelts the brave crew waited for the crash of the doomed vessel, which, by God's mercy, took place right in front of them. The sea they had to face was terrific, and so bitter was the night that the sea spray froze as it was borne landwards by the blast, and each rope in the ship's rigging was thick with ice.

Just as the men were all in the lifeboat, and were about to man their haul-off warp to pull the lifeboat out into deep water thereby, a service of the greatest danger on such a night, some one on the beach—it was James Laming, the present able Kingsdown coxswain, but then a very young man—even in that black night discovered a great fender floating in the recoil. It was pulled ashore, and it was then found that a line was attached to it, and to that line a weightier one; and to that a four and a half-inch hawser, or strong cable, leading from the wrecked ship to the land.

Perceiving the object of those on board, Jarvist Arnold gave the order to 'Let the lifeboat go,' and she plunged down the steep beach into the black billows of that easterly snowstorm and right into the very teeth of it. No sooner had they touched the water than they hauled upon the cable which had been sent ashore from the vessel; and so, bit by bit, one moment submerged and the next swung on the crest of some stormy wave, they gradually hauled themselves out to the vessel, and found the crew with the captain and his wife and child gathered in a forlorn little cluster out on the jib-boom.

Right under the martingale with its sharp spear-like head the lifeboat had to lie. When a monstrous sea came roaring round the stern of the vessel, the lifeboat had to let go and come astern, lest she should be impaled on the sharp point, as she was hoisted up with great force.

Back again the crew hauled her, and when the furious sea had passed, in answer to shouts of 'Come on!' 'Now's your time!' down a rope into the lifeboat came the second mate with the captain's child in his arms. Up the stiff half-frozen rope again he climbed and brought down the captain's wife; and some more of the crew rapidly came the same way. Then the lifeboat having their full complement of people on board, some of whom were perishing with the cold of that awful night, made for the land; still holding the cable from the ship they drifted, or rather were hurled ashore, in the darkness, pelted by hail and snow and drenched by the seas, which broke with force clean over them.

The task of landing the enfeebled crew and the poor lady and child in such a great sea was dangerous, but it was accomplished safely. Indeed, such was the sympathy and enthusiasm of the Kingsdown villagers and fisherfolk that, if need were, they could and would have carried the lifeboat with its human freight right up the beach.

An attempt was now made to use the rocket apparatus, and a rocket was fired, which went clean through the fore-topsail and to the poop of the vessel behind. Another whizzing rocket, carrying its line with it, went hurtling through or close to the crowd clustered on the top-gallant forecastle, where they cowered before creeping out on to the bowsprit. No harm was done by the erratic flight of the rockets, but the wrecked sailors naturally preferred to go ashore in the lifeboat to being dragged through the breakers in the cradle of the rocket-apparatus, and declining to use it, they again summoned the lifeboat.

The first crew of the lifeboat were worn out with their exertions, and the blows and buffetings of the freezing sea-spray. A fresh crew was therefore obtained, all but the coxswain, Jarvist Arnold, who stuck to his post. Back again to the ship the lifeboatmen hauled themselves, through such a sea that words which would truly describe it must seem exaggerated. Remember the bows of the ship lay nearly two hundred yards from the land in a veritable cauldron of waters.

Again the lifeboat returned with her living freight of rescued seamen, and again worn out as before with the struggle, a fresh crew was obtained; but again Jarvist Arnold for the third time went back to the wreck. And yet again with a fourth fresh crew the brave man returned for the fourth and last time to the vessel; and finally came safe to the shore with the remainder of the crew, twenty-nine of whom were thus rescued, but only rescued by the most determined and repeated efforts, through what the coxswain's report describes as 'a fearful sea with snowstorm and freezing hard all the time.'

When, long after midnight, the lifeboatmen staggered home, Jarvist found that his oilskin coat was frozen so hard that it stood upright and rigid on his cottage floor when he took it off his own half-frozen self. But he had a soft pillow that night; he had bravely done his duty, and had saved twenty-nine of his fellow human beings from death in the sea.

Many a stormy struggle after this rescue was gone through by Jarvist Arnold and his Kingsdown lifeboat crew on the Goodwin Sands during the years 1870-1873. Holding the honourable but arduous post of coxswain of the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabrina, he also manfully earned his living as Channel pilot, being a most trustworthy and skilful seaman. He did well that which came to his hand; he did his best and his duty. I speak after the manner of men, and as between man and man. More than that no man can do.

On the night of December 17, 1872, about 2.30 a.m., it was blowing a gale from the south-west. Out of the gale was borne landwards the boom of guns; far away on the horizon, or where the horizon ought to be, was seen the flash of their fire; and upwards into the winter midnight shot the distant rockets, appealing not in vain for help.

Almost simultaneously the coxswains at Walmer and Kingsdown were roused, William Bushell and Jarvist Arnold. At Walmer the lifeboat-bell rang out its summons, but at Kingsdown a fast runner was sent round the village, crying as he ran, 'Man the lifeboat!' 'Ship on the Goodwins!' Up sprang the men—that is, all the grown-up men in the village; and while the tempest shook their lowly cottage roofs, out they poured into the night, followed by lads, boys, wives, mothers, sweethearts and sisters.

Jarvist Arnold's wife said, 'Ladies can sometimes keep their husbands, but poor women like us must let them go;' and once more Jarvist Arnold steered his lifeboat—shall I not say to victory? for 'Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War;' and this sentence might well be emblazoned on every lifeboat in the kingdom.

At 3 a.m. on this midwinter night they launched at their respective stations, distant about two miles from each other, the lifeboats of Walmer and Kingsdown, and faced the sea and the storm. Think of the deed, and its hardships, and its heroism; of the brave hearts who 'darkling faced the billows,' and the anxious women left behind, ye who live to kill time in graceless self-indulgence, and ere it be too late, learn to sacrifice and to dare.

The two lifeboats got together before they reached the edge of the Goodwins, and held such consultation as was possible in the pitchy darkness and in the roar of the sea. It was agreed between them that there would be much difficulty in finding the vessel in distress, as her signals and blue lights had ceased and the night was very dark. They decided that the Kingsdown lifeboat should go first, and if they hit the vessel they were to burn a red light in token of success, and a white light if they could not find her; but that, in any case, Walmer was to come shortly after them and search through the breakers, whether Kingsdown succeeded or not.

In the dark the Kingsdown coxswain put his lifeboat into the surf on the Goodwins; it was heavy, but they got through it safely, and found on the off-part of the Goodwins, towards its southern end—known as the South Calliper—a large steamship aground. She proved to be the Sorrento, bound from the Mediterranean to Lynn.

Close outside where she lay on the treacherous sands were thirteen and fourteen fathoms of deep water, that is, from seventy to eighty feet, while she lay in about six feet of white surf, which flew in clouds over her as each sea struck her quarters and stern.

The Sorrento had struck the Goodwins at midnight, or a little after, in about twenty-one feet of water, but when the lifeboat got alongside the tide had fallen, and there was only six feet of broken water around her. As the sands were nearly dry to the southward of her, the sea was by no means so formidable as it afterwards became with the rising tide and increasing gale and greater depth of water.

The Kingsdown lifeboat sent up her red light, and then came through the surf the Walmer lifeboat, guided by the red signal of success from Jarvist Arnold. Both lifeboats got alongside the great steamer, and the greater part of the crews of both lifeboats clambered on board her, leaving eight men in each lifeboat.

The head of the wrecked steamer lay about E.N.E., and the seas were hammering at and breaking against her starboard quarter, which rose high in the air quite twenty feet out of the water at the time the lifeboats got alongside. All the lifeboatmen now turned to pumping the vessel, which was very full of water, with a view to saving the ship and her valuable cargo of barley.

The Walmer lifeboat lay alongside the Sorrento, under her port bow, and the head of the Walmer lifeboat pointed towards the stern of the wrecked steamer, and was firmly fastened to her by a stout hawser.

About this time—say, five o'clock in the morning—while it was dark, the Ramsgate lifeboat also arrived, and seeing the other two lifeboats alongside they anchored outside the sands. And the Kingsdown lifeboat, manned only by her coxswain and seven of her crew, was sheered off about two hundred fathoms, to lay out a kedge anchor, with a view to preventing the vessel drifting farther, as the tide rose, into the shallower parts of the sands, and in the hope of warping her into deeper water.

Naturally the presence of the lifeboats and a company of seventeen or eighteen stalwart lifeboatmen, all thoroughly up to their work, infused fresh courage into the captain and crew of the Sorrento. They felt that all was not lost, and dividing themselves into different gangs of men, all hands worked with a will, throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the vessel, and pumping with all their energies—their shouts ringing out bravely as they worked to get out the water. The donkey engine too was set at work, and steam fought storm and sea, but this time in vain. After several hours' hard work, the engineer came to the captain and lifeboatmen and said, 'It's all up; the water's coming in as fast as we pump it out. Come down and see for yourselves!'

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