|Naval history of Great Britain
||Sir John Duckworth at the Dardanells
men on the upper deck could only distinguish each other by speaking or feeling : all attempts, therefore, to hoist out the boats, except the jollyboat, were ineffectual. The flames then burst up the main hatchway, thereby dividing the fore from the after part of the ship ; and with the greatest difficulty, the captain, and about 381 of the officers, seamen, and marines of the ship, effected their escape, chiefly by jumping overboard from the bowsprit, or dropping into the few boats that were enabled to approach in time to be useful. Captain Blackwood leaped from the spritsail yard, and, after being about half an hour in the water, was picked up much exhausted, by one of the boats of the Canopus.
The Ajax burnt during the whole night, and, the wind blowing fresh from the north-east, drifted on the island of Tenedos ; where, at 5 A.M. on the following day, the 15th, the ship blew up with an awful explosion. Her net complement of men and boys was about 633 ; therefore, admitting all to have been on board at the commencement of the disaster, 250 souls must have perished. Among the sufferers were two merchants of Constantinople, and two women : a third saved herself by following her husband with a child in his arms down a rope from the jib-boom end.
A court-martial sat on Captain Blackwood and his surviving officers and crew for the loss of their ship, and pronounced upon them a sentence of honourable acquittal. Nothing of a decisive nature appears to have transpired relative to the origin of the accident but rumour attributed it to a light falling among some hay which had been incautiously stowed away in the after cock-pit or bread-room. Mr. Parke, the chemist, seems, however, to think it highly probable, that the fire which destroyed the Ajax was occasioned by the spontaneous combustion of some coals having a quantity of martial pyrites mixed with them. *
At length the wind shifted to south-south-west, and on the 19th, at 7 A.M., the squadron weighed, and steered for the entrance of the Dardanells. Sir Sidney Smith of the Pompée had previously been directed to take under his orders the Thunderer, Standard, and Active, and, in case any opposition should be offered by the Turkish squadron, to destroy it. The British ships then formed themselves in line of battle in the following order : Canopus, Repulse, Royal-George, Windsor-Castle, Standard, having in tow the Meteor, Pompée, Thunderer, having in tow the Lucifer, Endymion, Active. At 8 A.M., the Canopus arrived abreast of the outer castles, both of which opened a fire upon her, and, in succession upon the ships in her wake ; but, at the suggestion of Mr. Arbuthnot none of the British ships returned the fire, except the two bomb-vessels, who threw a few shell. This appears to have been rather an inconsistent
* See Parke's Chemical Catechism, p. 265, note.
^ back to top ^