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Wreck Of The Brig Richard Dart


(From the Cape of Good Hope Shipping Gazette, 16th November, [1849].

This lamentable event has excited such great and painful interest that we have taken pains to procure as full and accurate an account of it as possible. The following particulars have been furnished to us, and their correctness may, we believe, he relied upon.

The brig sailed from Gravesend on the 5th April, bound to Auckland, New Zealand, having on board as passengers, Lieutenant Liddell, R.E, twenty-eight sappers and miners, four women, and nine children ; Dr. and Mrs. Fitton and child, Dr. Gale, and Mr. Kelly. It appears by the statement of the commander, that at half-past 3 p.m., on the 19th June, land was reported right ahead, about a mile distant (which turned out to be on the north side of Prince Edward's Island.) The vessel was immediately brought to the wind and an attempt made to put her about ; but having missed stays they endeavoured to wear short round. Just as she was before the wind, she struck heavily on a sunken rock, and beat over it : the roller having stove in the stern windows, filled all the boats, and tore them away from the quarter and booms, and swept into eternity forty-seven unfortunates, who a few minutes previously had been in good health and spirits, looking forward with hope, anticipating no evil. Mrs. Fitton had fallen on the deck, and as the booms rose the lower part of her person was jammed underneath the spars. Lieutenant Liddell held her hand, and supported himself with his other band on the rail ; the Captain and survivors flew to the main rigging (except the mate, who saved himself from the bowsprit end), when a second roller broke over the vessel and swept away the gallant young officer and the suffering lady, whom he had vainly endeavoured to rescue from her awful position. In all probability had he taken refuge in the main rigging he would have been saved to the service of which he promised to be an ornament, and his parents and friends would have been spared a loss which only time and resignation to the Divine will, can alleviate. The brig was driven broadside to the shore, the mainmast fell shoreward the survivors escaped on it (with the exception of the mate as above mentioned), and in a few minutes the hull separated to fragments.

The rocks being precipitous, they had great difficulty in reaching the cliffs, several seas breaking over them before they reached a place of safety. It was then dark and they all huddled close together for the sake of warmth, and passed a wretched night. The next morning they found a few blankets on the rocks and some clothing, but no provisions except a single piece of beef. They then constructed a hut with pieces of the wreck, and allayed their hunger by eating the raw flesh of young albatrosses, which they found in their nests.

After seven days' rest they exerted themselves in exploring the island, undergoing the most dreadful suffering from cold and snow storms (one of the soldiers dying from bruises and the effects of frost) ; and, on the forty-second day after the wreck they fell in with a party of men in the employment of Mr. Jearey, of Cape Town (who are left there for a time to kill sea elephants, and prepare the oil) who generously shared their stock of food equally with the sufferers for thirty two days, when the schooner Courier, of Cape Town, touched at the island with a supply of provisions, and the wrecked party embarked in her. Having touched at Crozette Islands they arrived in good health in Table Bay, on Saturday morning last, the 10th of November.

The names of the survivors areas follows :-

Samuel Potter, master;
John Mills, chief mate;
Edward Piruie,
Richard Collins.
John Campbell.
Thomas Jenkins, and
William Jones, seamen ;
James Road,
Thomas Inglis, and
Owen Deviney, sappers and miners.

Lieutenant Liddell was the son of a naval officer. Well known in this city for his urbane and amiable manners. He commanded the Wellington for many years, in the trade between London and Madras, and never passed the Cape either outward or homeward bound, without paying his friends here a visit. They all most cordially sympathise with him and his family under such distressing circumstances.

The Richard Dart was steering E.S.E. in a strong northerly gale, with thick and rainy weather. For five or six days previous to the wreck, no observations had been obtained ; by dead reckoning she was supposed to be in lat. 44 50' S , long. 36 40' E. We believe Prince Edward's Island is not correctly laid down on the charts, for the masters of several vessels is the employment of Mr. Jearey make the north side of Prince Edward's Island to be in lat. 46 S., and long. 377' E. We cannot vouch for the correctness of this position - but there can he no doubt that it is much safer and better to keep on the parallel recommended by Captain Erskine, R.N., say 38 or 39, than further to the southward - and to avoid so high a latitude as 45 or 46, for the reasons given by that officer.


The following letter from one of the survivors of the wreck of this unfortunate vessel contains a deeply interesting account of that awful calamity, and the sufferings of those who were saved :

Letter from a soldier of H.M Royal Sappers and Miners to his father in Scotland.

Castle Barracks, Cape Town,
12th November, 1849.

Dear Father,

You will see by the above date that I have not yet reached New Zealand. I have got a tale to tell, and scarcely know how to begin. You are already aware that we embarked at Woolwich on the 3rd of April, in the Richard Dart (brig) bound to Auckland, New Zealand. We sailed from Gravesend on the 5th April, and had a pleasant and prosperous voyage until the 19th June, on which day, about half-past three p.m., I heard a cry of " Breakers ahead." We had had thick, foggy weather for six days previous, and on looking forward, I saw breakers close under the bow.

We could see no land, it was so thick ; and we were running stem on the shore. We immediately tried to put the ship about, but she would not stay. We tried to back her off ; but all was of no avail. Slowly she drifted on. One sea struck her on the stern, when she touched the bottom. The cry was then " cut away the boats " but it was too late. Another sea struck her, when I was washed off the quarter deck and picked myself up underneath the windlass. I thought I was gone. I looked up and saw the land towering high above my head - a regular high perpendicular cliff. I could see no one but the steward beside me, so I went out on the flying jib-boom to be clear of the heavy breakers which were sweeping her decks. The life-boat on the quarter was full of our men, trying to cut her away, and the quarter-deck crowded with women and children, when another sea struck her in the stern, swept the deck of all that was, on it, and carried the boat away. Down it went with its living cargo, and we never saw more of any of them. At this time I was lying with one leg thrown over the boom ; the second mate, carpenter, steward, and one of our men, were underneath on the back-ropes, when the jib-boom carried away and we were all precipitated into the boiling surf. When I regained my senses I found myself grasping some sea weeds attached to a rock, and the back wash of the sea drawing my body underneath ; but I held on for half a minute, when another tremendous sea struck me and rolled me up like a ball behind a large fallen rock. Well, I could see no means of getting out, when the vessel turned broadside on the rocks, and the mainmast went, and I could see some men walking on the top. They waved to me to come to them, so I watched the rollers coming in, and jammed myself in behind a rock when I saw the waves coming in, which then broke over me, and by that means I got along to where they were, when we all managed to get on the top. How we got up God only knows, because next day, nor at any time afterwards, could any of us go down the same place.

We mustered eleven souls out of sixty-three, so that fifty-two met a watery grave. By the time we reached the top it was dark - so we laid down on the top of the rocks, all of a lump. It was bitter cold, and came on to sleet. One man was naked ; the mate had only on a shirt and one stocking. I had on drawers, two pairs of trousers, and my jacket. I gave the mate one pair of my trousers. The names of those who were saved are:

Samuel Potter, the captain of the brig;
John Mills the mate;

Edward Plenie,
John Campbell,
Richard Collins, and
Thomas Jenkins, seamen ;

one apprentice named
William Jones ;

and four of us sappers -
Owen Deviney,
William Goldsmith,
Thomas Inglis, and
James Read.

It was a bitter night - however, it had an end. In the morning, eight were barefoot. Now commenced our sufferings. The captain told us that he thought it was one of Prince Edward's Islands. He was right. The island was desolate. We looked around and could see no signs of vegetation - nothing but black rocks thrown up by volcanic eruptions. Of course, the first thing we did was to look and see if others were cast up : but we could see no vestige of the wreck, and only two dead bodies, which we could not reach. We then proceeded to look for fresh water, and found a small green plat (sic), with some water near it. We fixed upon this place as a temporary residence: then went down to the beach, farther to the southward than where we went ashore, and picked up a few blankets and bits of wood of the wreck, with which and sods we built a small hut, which sheltered us from the bitter cold wind.

We remained at this place for seven days, to see what we could pick up from the beach, but all we got was a few sperm candles and some more blankets. No provisions of any kind could we get, but some young albatross birds which we killed ; but we could not eat them till forced by hunger. On the third day, we eat some of them ; the candles also were relished very much. We had no fire nor means of procuring any. The seventh day we determined to go round the island to see what could he seen. Two of our men were unable to walk with their feet, which were frost-bitten and cut ; so the other nine of us started, after laying in a stock of raw meat for the two sick ; and after travelling all that day over sometimes high hills covered with burnt hard cinder stuff, sometimes on marshy ground, where every step yon would take yon would go up to the middle in bog, we stopped for the night by the side of a rock. It came on to rain, and poured the whole night, and we could find no shelter ; but after lying down or sitting with a blanket over our heads, and allowing the rain to run off. In the morning we travelled on and came about twelve o'clock to a beach - the only thing like a beach which we had seen since coming on shore There were four large monsters lying basking in the sun. We were frightened to go near them : however, we did have a try at them, and found they were sea elephants. We killed two of them, but made no use of them. We resolved to wait at this place for a few days, until we got round a bit: so we set about trying to build.

We were on a place called "Double Beach" now, but I we could find no means of shelter from the night air but simply rolling ourselves up in our blankets going to sleep. There was plenty of these young albatrosses round about. So after stopping two or three days there the captain, mate, two of the sailors and I started to go back to the wreck to see the other two. One of them. Goldsmith. ws much worse ; his toes were beginning to rot off ; the other one, Deviney was getting round, but not able to walk much. We remained with them three days, and started on the first of July to our old place on Double Bench, after leaving them six birds - a good week's provision. When we reached Double Beach, that night it came on a snow storm. and lasted all that night, and all day on the 2nd, while we were so weak and benumbed by the exposure to the frost and snow that we were all but dead. The night of the second July was worse ; it came on to rain, and rained all night, while we had just to lie and let it pour on us. The morning of the third was a beautiful morning the sun shining splendid. Tom Inglis went to fetch in a bird for our breakfast : he had been gone about fifteen minutes when we saw him coming back without a bird, so be said he had discovered a cave that would hold us all ; we went and looked, and sure enough there was a nice large cave, close down on the shore, fit to hold us all : so we resolved to go there and live for the present. The day being fine, we got all our blankets dried, and killed about eighteen birds, and turned into the cave : and out of that we could not walk for about a week, our feet were dead, and our fingers had no feeling in them for a long time.

We remained there until the 26th July, on which day Edward Pirnie and Thomas Inglis discovered as small hut, about three miles from this cave, with a number of men's names cut out in wood, that had been there at different times ; the latest was four names, and at the bottom was carved (on a journey round the island) " 27th May ; " - they reported this news to us ; so it was decided that the captain, Pirnie, Inglis and I should travel right round the island until we came back to the same place, to see whether any one was on the island. We started on the morning of the 27th July, and reached the hut early ; we there decided, as it was blowing and snowing hard, that we should wait a day or two for it to moderate before starting, as there were some awful mountains to go over. In the mean time we had a good rest and consulted a bit, when we decided that one should stop at this place is case the men should come there when we were away. I volunteered to remain by myself till I got relieved some way or another. On the morning of the 30th, the Captain, Pirnie, and Inglis, started from the hut full of hope. I remained alone : it was a beautiful sunshiny day ; so I took out what blankets there were, aired them, and had an excellent wash in a stream. I also found half a stick of tobacco when clearing the hut out ; and in the evening committed myself to the care of that gracious God who had preserved us all amidst so many dangers and trials, and slept comfortably, more so than I had done for many a long night. Next day, about mid-day, the mate (John Mills) and Jones, the apprentice, came to where I was ; so that at this time, on the 31st July, there were three on the search, three at the hut, two at the cave, and two of the sailors along with Goldsmith at the wreck.

On the morning of the 1st of August, just as Mills and I were going to jump up to have breakfast, a knock comes to the door. " Open the door," says a rough voice. Says I, "jump up Mills, we are saved at last." He opened the door, and there stood two strangers, with a small bag on their backs ; one a Scotchman, the other an Englishman. They immediately struck a light with a tinder-box, and made a fire ; gave us a pipe and tobacco, and commenced cooking some farina. From them we learned that the captain and the other two had been seen the night previous by them, and taken to their cave : that there were twelve men on the island belonging to Mr. John Jearey, of Cape Town. Cape of Good Hope, employed by him in killing sea-elephants and frying the oil out of them ; that they had been four months out of bread, coffee, &c. had filled all their casks with oil, and had nothing to live on but some farina which had been on the island for years. Of coarse, they invited us, and told us, as long as it lasted we were welcome.

I must hasten to a conclusion. Goldsmith died on the 24th August; we buried him on the 25th. On the 2nd September we embarked on board the Courier, schooner, Captain Wingfield, bound to the Cape of Good Hope, after being seventy-two days on the island. We arrived here on the 10th November, and were kindly received by a party of sappers stationed here.

James Read, R.S.& M.

SG & SGTL p 50, 16 Feb 1850

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