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ESCAPE OF THE
LOSS OF THE “LONDON” STEAMER.
JOHN WILLIAMS.” The winter of 1865-6 will long be remembered as an awful season of calamities at sea. Far more than the average number of vessels have been wrecked on our coasts, involving great loss of life and property; and it is much to be regretted that not a few courageous men were drowned when making generous attempts to save the crews of the stranded vessels.
Two remarkable cases have excited great interest—one the loss of an Australian steamer called the London, and the other the escape of the missionary ship called the John Williams.
The London was probably one of the finest ships for strength that ever left the river Thames. She was built at Blackwall by her owners, Messrs. Wigram & Son. She was of nearly 3,000 tons burden, 1,752 tons register, and was fitted with an auxiliary screw and engines of two hundred horse power. The length of her main deck was 272 feet; beam 35 feet; depth of hold 24 feet. She was about a year old, and was classed on Lloyd's Register of shipping as a first-class steamer for ten years, A. I. She had made two voyages to Melbourne and back, and had realized by her performances the great expectations which were entertained respecting her. She was constructed specially for steaming to Australia round the Southern Capes, and she had five water-tight bulkheads. On the 30th of December she sailed from Gravesend and ran to Plymouth, encountering bad weather by the way. On the 4th of January she embarked passengers at Plymouth, and on the 6th she sailed on her third and her last voyage. She was commanded by Captain J. Bohun Martin, a gentleman in the prime of life, and of ripe experience, who had gained respect not only from those in contact with him by his courtesy, but the repute of being one of the smartest and most trustworthy officers running in the fleets on that line. He was senior captain of Messrs. Wigram's Australian fleet; and he was highly esteemed by the passengers. He was scrupulous in his care for their comfort and safety. The London sailed from Plymouth having on board two hundred and thirty-nine souls ; fifty-four of these were first-class passengers, ninety-nine ordinary passengers, and eighty-six officers and crew. On the day after she sailed (the 7th) the London encountered very heavy weather with rain. The next day was nearly as boisterous and unsettled, but on the 9th the wind increased to a gale, the power of which
LOSS OF THE “LONDON" STEAMER.
wrought much damage. Her jib-boom, foretopmast, topgallantmast, and royalmast, were carried away, and the port lifeboat was washed overboard and lost: This was in the morning, and the storm giving no signs of abatement, she was at three o'clock next morning put about, Captain Martin intending to run back for Plymouth to refit. About this time a tremendous sea, which terrified even the most hardened seamen, broke on board, doing great damage; the starboard lifeboat was carried away by the wave, and the cutter stove in. At noon this day an observation was taken, the ship being then in the Bay of Biscay, about two hundred miles south-west of Land's End. The violent weather continued, and at half.past ten on Wednesday night the ship rolled and pitched fearfully, shipping such quantities of water on deck as to carry away the engine-room hatch. The water soon found its way into the engine-room, putting out the fires, and thus stopping the engines. The pumps were kept incessantly going the whole night, all the passengers who were capable of rendering any help working with the utmost energy to assist the crew in keeping the ship afloat by baling with buckets, in addition to the pumps. During that frightful night-the night, it will be remembered, when thirty vessels were driven on shore in Torbay, and so many other wrecks occurred--the gale increased, if possible, in violence every hour, until it blew a hurricane, and a fearful cross-sea incessantly made clean breaches over the hapless vessel. The utmost efforts were made, but without avail, to secure the engine-room hatch. About four a.m. the stern ports were stove in by the sea, and the exertions made to close them up again were wholly useless. The passengers and crew all this time behaved exceedingly well, and worked with an orderly energy which showed it was for their lives they strove. But the water continued to increase, and all command of the ship was lost. It then became evident that further effort was hopeless. At ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday, Captain Martin had the terrible task of making known to all those in his charge on board that the ship was sinking, and that they must prepare for the worst. She was then as low in the water as the main chains. An effort was now made to lower the boats, and the starboard iron pinnace was got down, with five men in her. In the terrific sea she was quickly swamped and went down, but the five men were got on board the ship again. This catastrophe had the effect of intimidating the crew from attempting to launch the
LOSS OF THE “LONDON" STEAMER.
three remaining boats, and all on board began to realise the dreadful fate which impended. The whole of the passengers and crew gathered as with one consent in the chief saloon, and having been calmly told by Captain Martin that there was no hope left, a remarkable and unanimous spirit of resignation seemed to come over them at once. There were neither cries nor shrieking by women or men, no rushing on deck or frantic behaviour. Ali calmly resorted to the saloon, where the Rev. Mr. Draper, one of the passengers, prayed aloud, and exhorted the unhappy creatures by whom he was surrounded. Mothers were weeping sadly over the little ones about with them to be engulphed, and the children, ignorant of their coming death, were pitifully inquiring the cause of so much woe. Friends were taking leave of friends, as if preparing for a long journey; others were crouched down with Bibles in their hands, endeavouring to snatch consolation from passages long known or long neglected. Incredible, say the survivors, was the composure which, under such circumstances, reigned around. Captain Martin stationed himself in the poop, going occasionally forward or into the saloon, but to none could he offer a word of comfort. He joined now and then for a few moments in the public devotions, but his place to the last was on the deck. About two o'clock in the afternoon, the water gaining fast on the ship, and no signs being apparent of the storm subsiding, a small band of men determined to trust themselves to the
mercy of the waves in a boat rather than go down without a struggle. Leaving the saloon, therefore, they got out and lowered away the port cutter, in which sixteen of the crew and three of the passengers succeeded in getting, and they launched her clear of the ship. These nineteen men shouted to the captain to come with them, but with heroic courage he declined to go with them, saying, “ No, I will go down with the passengers; but I wish you God speed and safe to land." The boat then pulled away, tossing about helplessly on the crests of the gigantic waves. Scarcely had they gone eighty yards, or been five minutes off the deck, when the fine steamer went down stern foremost with her crowd of human beings, from whom one confused cry of helpless terror arose, and all was silent for ever!
After the boat had got away from the London, and in the brief interval before she foundered, a rush was seen to be made to the two remaining boats, but the efforts to launch them were ineffec. tual, and the suddenness of the foundering at last-the London
ESCAPE OF THE “JOHN WILLIAMS.”
being an iron ship-prevented what might have been a successful second attempt to save a few more lives. The nineteen survivors, in their little light boat, were driven before the gale in the Bay of Biscay all that Thursday afternoon, and evening, aud night, tossed on the back of tremendous seas, and when daylight on Friday morning came there was still no rescue, nor much hope of living out the gale. About 11 a.m. on Friday,.the 12th, however, a vessel hove in sight, and the attention of its crew being attracted to the boat they were picked up, afcer twenty-four hours' exposure to the pitiless winds and water. The vessel proved to be an Italian barque, on board which the survivors received the utmost attention and kindness, and from wbich they were put ashore at Falmouth on Tuesday afternoon.
Some hair-breadth escapes in connection with this disaster are already known. A lady who was desirous of proceeding from Plymouth with her family to Melbourne by the London, had made repeated pressing applications to the owners' agent at Plymouth, and the captain had been consulted, but, fortunately for the applicant, had declared that his cabins were so full that he could not possibly accommodate her, a result that, at that time, caused her much disappointment. A second-class male passenger was so alarmed at the rough weather which the London encountered on her way down to Plymouth, that immediately on her arrival at that port he came ashore, resigned his passage, and went back to his home, thus unwittingly saving his life. A young man, as the result of some family quarrel, left his home, and took a passage by the London. He was advertised for in the Times, and importuned to return, his friends being unaware of his whereabouts. Messengers were sent down to Plymouth, and an influential shipbroker in the town was employed to intercept him should he attempt to sail thence. Fortunately he was detected amongst the passengers of the London, and his family communicated with the broker, the result of which was that a brother of the young man came down to Plymouth, and persuaded the would-be emigrant to forego his voyage.
The missionary ship John Williams, commanded by a captain of the same name, having on board five missionaries, named Alexander Mickie, S. H. Davis, A. T. Saville, J. Chalmers, and J. Watson, and their wives, put into Portland Roads on Friday morning, Jan. 19, owing to injuries received in the late gale.
ESCAPE OF THE “JOHN WILLIAMS."
She left London on Thursday the 11th, bound for Adelaide, and other parts of Australia, Van Dieman's Land, and from thence to the islands of the South Pacific. She was laden principally with articles required for the various mission stations, such as books, stationery, &c., and also with articles for bartering in such places where money was not much valued. The day after the good ship left London was very fine, but soon after the weather became threatening, and dispelled the hope that the first Sunday at sea would be a joyful one, the weather on that and the following day being very rough. On Sunday night there appeared to be every indication of a storm, as the barometer fell more than Captain Williams had ever known it before. He did all in his power to put the ship in proper order, and although the weather was very rough for two or three days, it was not until nine o'clock on Thursday morning, when the full force of the gale which has caused so much destruction amongst shipping on the west part of the coast caught her, striking the ship on her side, tearing away the whale-boat from the davits, à circumstance much regretted by the captain, as it was specially built to stem the heavy surf which surrounds the islands of the South Pacific. The gale also blew away the fore topsail, causing one of the spars to break. The fury of the gale was such that every stitch of canvass was compelled to be taken off, with the exception of her fore-mast staysail and close-reefed mizen. The ship then drove before the wind for several hours, it was feared to the leeward, which would bring her on the French coast, or somewhere near the Caskets. The ship, however, answered her helm so beautifully that this dire calamity was averted, making better way than was anticipated, reaching two knots an hour, causing her to keep to windward more than was expected. At one time the ship was in such a dangerous position that the captain and passengers gave themselves
for lost, such was the violence of the sea, and every probability of drifting on a rugged coast. Under these trying circumstances, prayer and praise were offered up, when, as if in response to it, towards the afternoon the fury of the elements was abated, and the hearts of the passengers and crew made glad by sighting the English coast, St. Alban's Head. After much trouble the John Williams succeeded in reaching Portland Roads, and anchored in safety beneath the protection afforded by the magnificent harbour of refuge, with the breakwater there constructed. One of the lady passengers, Mrs. Mickie, was thrown