Cannibalism at Sea! is a 25-part series covering the ultimate denial of civilization… the act of eating another human being.
Class of Ship: Sloop
Excerpted from Interesting and Authentic Narratives of the Most Remarkable Shipwrecks, by R. Thomas, A.M. (1837)
Loss of the Nautilus Sloop of War, On a Rock in the Archipelago
A misunderstanding having originated between the court of Great Britain and the Ottoman Porte, a powerful squadron as ordered to proceed to Constantinople, for the purpose of enforcing compliance with rational propositions. The object, however, proved abortive; and the expedition terminated in a way which did not enhance the reputation of these islands in the eyes of the Turks.
Sir Thomas Louis, commander of the squadron sent to Dardanelles, having charged Captain Palmer with dispatches of the utmost importance for England, the Nautilus got underway at daylight on the third of January, 1807. A fresh breeze from northeast carried her rapidly out of the Hellespont, passing the celebrated castles in the Dardanelles, which severely galled the British. Soon afterwards she passed the island of Tenedos, off the north end of which, two vessels of war were seen at anchor; they hoisted Turkish colors, and in return the Nautilus showed those of Britain. In the course of this day, many of the other islands abounding in the Greek Archipelago came in sight, and in the evening, the ship approached the island of Negroponte, lying in 38 30 north latitude and 24 8 east longitude; but now the navigation became more intricate, from the increasing number of islands, and from the narrow entrance between Negroponte and the island of Andros.
The wind still continued to blow fresh, and as night was approaching, with the appearance of being dark and squally, the pilot, who was a Greek, wished to lie until morning, which was done accordingly; and at daylight the vessel again proceeded. His course was shaped for the island Falconera, in a track which has been so elegantly described by a Falconer, in a poem as far surpassing the uncouth productions of modern times, as the Ionian temples surpassed those flimsy structures contributed to render the fame of the originals eternal. This island, and that of Anti Milo, were made in the evening, the latter distant fourteen or sixteen miles from the more extensive island of Milo, which could not then be seen, from the thickness and haziness of the weather.
The pilot never having been beyond the present position of the Nautilus, and declaring his ignorance of the further bearings, now relinquished his charge, which was resumed by the captain. All possible attention as paid to the navigation; and Captain Palmer, after seeing Falconera so plainly, and anxious to fulfill his mission with the greatest expedition, resolved to stand on during the night. He was confident of clearing the Archipelago by morning, and himself picked the course from the chart which was to be steered by the vessel. This he pointed out to his coxswain, George Smith, of whose ability he entertained a high opinion. Then he ordered his bed to be prepared, hot having had his clothes off for the three proceeding nights, and having scarce had any sleep from the time of leaving the Dardanelles.
A night of extreme darkness followed, with vivid lightning constantly flashing in the horizon; but this circumstance served to inspire the captain with a greater degree of confidence; for being enabled by it to see so much further at intervals, he thought, that should the ship approach any land, the danger would be discovered in sufficient time to be avoided.
The wind continued still increasing; and though the ship carried but little sail, she went at the rate of nine miles an hour, being assisted by a lofty following sea, which with the brightness of the lightning, made the night particularly awful. At half past two in the morning, high land was distinguished, which those who saw it supposed to be the island of Cerigotto, and thence thought all safe, and that every danger had been left behind. The ship’s course was altered to pass the island, and she continued on her course until half past four, at the changing of the watch, when the man on the lookout exclaimed, “breakers ahead!” and immediately the vessel struck with the most tremendous crash. Such was the violence of the shock, that people were thrown from their beds, and, on coming upon deck, were obligated to cling to the cordage. All was now confusion and alarm; the crew hurried on deck, which they had scarce time to do when the ladders below gave way, and indeed left many persons struggling in the water, which already rushed into the under part of the ship. The captain it appeared had not gone to bed, and immediately came on deck when the Nautilus struck; there having examined her situation, he immediately went round, accompanied by his second lieutenant, Mr. Nesbit, and endeavored to quiet the apprehensions of the people. He then returned to his cabin, and burnt his papers and private signals. Meantime every sea lifted up the ship, and then dashed her with irresistible force on the rocks; and in a short time, the crew were obliged to resort to the rigging, where they remained an hour, exposed to the surges incessantly breaking over them. There they broke out into the most lamentable exclamations, for their parents, children, and kindred, and the distress they themselves endured. The weather was so dark and hazy, that the rocks could be seen only at a very small distance, and in two minutes afterwards the ship had struck.
At this time the lightning had ceased, but the darkness of the night was such, that the people could not see the length of the ship from them; their only hope rested in the falling of the mainmast, which they trusted would reach a small rock, which was discovered very near them. Accordingly, about half an hour before daybreak, the mainmast gave way, providentially falling towards the rock, and by means of it they were enabled to gain the land.
The struggles and confusion to which this incident gave birth, can better be conceived than described; some of the crew were drowned, one man had his arm broke, and many were cruelly lacerated; but Captain Palmer refused to quit his station, while any individuals remained on board; and not until the whole of his people had gained the rock, did he endeavor to save himself. At that time, in consequences of remaining by the wreck, he had received considerable personal injury, and must infallibly have perished, had not some of the seamen ventured though a tremendous sea to his assistance. The boats were staved in pieces; several of the people endeavored to haul in the jolly-boat, which they were incapable of accomplishing.
The hull of the vessel being interposed, sheltered the shipwrecked crew a long time from the beating of the surf; but as she broke up, their situation became more perilous every moment, and they soon found that they should be obliged to abandon the small portion of the rock, which they had reached, and wad to another, apparently somewhat larger. The first lieutenant, by watching the breaking of the seas, had got safely thither, and it was resolved by the rest to follow his example. Scarce was this resolution formed, and attempted to be put into execution, when the people encountered an immense quantity of loose spars, which were immediately washed into the channel which they had to pass; but necessity would admit no alternative. Many in crossings between the two rocks were severely wounded; and they suffered more in this undertaking than in gaining the first rock from the ship. The loss of their shoes was now felt in particular, for the sharp rocks tore their feet in a dreadful manner, and the legs of some were covered in blood.
Daylight beginning to appear, disclosed the horrors by which those unfortunate men were surrounded. The sea was covered with the wreck of their ill-fated ship; many of their unhappy comrades were seen floating away on spars and timbers; and the dead and dying were mingled together without a possibility of the survivors affording assistance to any that might be rescued. Two short hours had been productive of all this misery, the ship destroyed and her crew reduced to a situation of despair. Their wild and affrighted looks indicated, but the sensations by which they were agitated; but on being recalled to a sense of their real condition, they saw they had nothing left but resignation to the will of Heaven.
The shipwrecked mariners now discovered that they were cast away on a coral rock almost level with the water, about three or four hundred yards long, and two hundred broad. They were at least twelve miles from the nearest islands, which were afterwards found to be those of Cerigotto and Pera, at the north end of Candia, about thirty miles distant. At this time it was reported that a small boat, with several men, had escaped; and although the fact was true, the uncertainty of her fate induced those on the rock to confide in being relieved by any vessel accidentally passing in sight of a signal of distress they had hoisted on a long pole; the neighboring islands being too distant.
The weather had been extremely cold, and the day preceding the shipwreck, ice had lain on the deck; now, to resist its inclemency, a fire was made, by means of a knife and a flint preserved in the pocket of one of the sailors; and with much difficulty, some damp powder, from a small barrel washed on shore was kindled. A kind of tent was made, with pieces of old canvass, boards, and such things as could be got about the wreck, and the people were thus enabled to dry the few clothes they had saved. But they passed a long and comfortless night, through partly consoled with the hope of their fire being descried in the dark, and taken for a signal of distress. Nor was this hope altogether disappointed.
When the ship first struck, a small whaleboat was hanging over the quarter, into which, an officer, George Smith, the coxswain, and nine men, immediately got, and lowering themselves into the water, happily escaped. After rowing three or four leagues against a very high sea, and the wind blowing hard, they reached the small island of Pera. This proved to be scare a mile in circuit, and containing nothing but a few sheep and goats, belonging to the inhabitants of Carigo, who come in the summer months to carry away their young.
They could find no fresh water, except a small residue from rain in the whole of a rock, and that was barely sufficient though most sparingly used. During the night, having observed the fire above-mentioned, the party began to conjecture that some of their shipmates might have been saved, for until then, they had deemed their destruction inevitable. The coxswain, impressed with this option, proposed again hazarding themselves in the boat for their relief, and, although some feeble objections were offered against it, he continued resolute to his purpose, and persuaded four others to accompany him.
About nine in the morning of Tuesday, the second day of the shipwreck, the approach in the little whaleboat was decried by those on the rock; all uttered an exclamation of joy, and in return, the surprise of the coxswain and his crew to find so many of their shipmates still surviving is not to be described. But the surf ran so high as to endanger the safety of the boat, and several of the people imprudently endeavored to get into it. The coxswain tried to persuade Captain Palmer to come to him, but he steadily refused, saying, “No, Smith, save your unfortunate shipmates, never mind me.” After some little consultation, he desired him to take the Greek pilot on board, and make the best of his way to Cerigotto, where the pilot said there were some families of fishermen, who doubtlessly would relieve their necessities.
But it appeared as if Heaven had ordered the destruction of this unfortunate crew, for, soon after the boat departed, the wind began to increase, and dark clouds gathering about, excited among those remaining behind, all their apprehensions for a frightful storm. In about two hours it commenced with the greatest fury; the waves rose considerably, and soon destroyed the fire. They nearly covered the rock, and compelled the men to fly to the highest part for refuge, which was the only one that could afford any shelter. There, nearly ninety people passed a night in the greatest horror; and the only means of preventing themselves from being swept away by the surf, which every moment broke over them, was by a small rope fastened round the summit of the rock, and with difficulty holding on by each other.
The fatigues which the people had previously undergone, adding to what they now endured, proved too overpowering to many of their numbers; several became delirious; their strength was exhausted, and they could hold on no longer. Their afflictions were still further aggravated by an apprehension that the wind, veering more to the north, would raise the sea to their present situation, in which case a single wave would have swept them all into oblivion.
The hardships which the crew had already suffered were sufficient to terminate existence, and many had met with deplorable accidents. One in particular, while crossing the channel between the rocks at an unsuitable time, was dashed against them so as to be nearly scalped, and exhibited a dreadful spectacle to his companions. He lingered out the night; and next morning, expired. The more fortunate survivors were but ill prepared to meet the terrible effects of the famine; their strength enfeebled, their bodies unsheltered, and abandoned by hope. Nor were they less alarmed for the fate of their boat. The storm came on before she could have reached the intended island, and on her safety, their own depended. But the scene which daylight presented was still more deplorable. The survivors beheld the corpses of their departed shipmates, and some still in the agonies of death. They were themselves altogether exhausted, from the sea’s all night breaking over them, and the inclemency of the weather, which was such, that many, among whom was the carpenter, perished from excessive cold.
But this unfortunate crew had now to suffer a mortician, and to witness an instance of inhumanity, which leave an eternal stain of infamy on those who merit the reproach. Soon after day broke, they observed a vessel with all sail set, coming down before the wind, steering directly for the rock. They made every possible signal of distress which their feeble condition admitted, nor without effect, for they were at last seen by the vessel, which bore to and hoisted out her boat. The joy which this occasioned may be easily conceived, for nothing short of immediate relief was anticipated; and they hastily made preparations for rafts to carry them though the surf, confident that the boat was provided with whatever might administer to their necessities. Approaching still nearer, she came within pistol-shot, full of men dressed to the European fashion, who after having gazed at them a few minutes, the person who steered, waved his hat to them and then rowed off to his ship. The pain of the shipwrecked people at this barbarous proceedings was accurate, and heightened even more, by beholding the stranger vessel employed the whole day in taking up the floating remains of that less fortunate one which had so lately borne them.
Perhaps the abandoned wretches guilty of so unfeeling an act may one day be disclosed, and it would surely excite little compassion to learn that they suffered that retribution which such unhuman conduct merits. That people dressed in the habit of Englishmen, through belonging to a different nation, could take advantage of misery instead of relieving it, will scarce seem credible at the present day, were not some instances of a similar nature related elsewhere than in these volumes.
After this cruel disappointment, and bestowing an anathema which the barbarity of the strangers deserved, the thoughts of the people were, during the remainder of the day, directed towards the return of the boat; and being disappointed there also, their dread and she had been lost was only further confirmed. They began to yield to despondency, and had the gloomy prospect of certain death before them. Thirst then became intolerable; and in spite of being warned against it by instances of the terrific effects ensuing, some in desperation resorted to salt water. Their companions had soon the grief of learning what they would experience by following their example; in a few hours, raging madness followed, and nature could struggle no longer.
Another awful night was to be passed, yet the weather being considerably more moderate, the sufferers entertained hopes that it would be less disastrous than the one preceding; and to preserve themselves from the cold, they crowded close together and covered themselves with their few remaining rags. But the ravings of their comrades who had drank salt water, were truly horrible; all endeavors to quiet them, were ineffectual, and the power of sleep lost its influence. In the middle of the night they were unexpectedly hailed by a crew of the whaleboat; but the only object of the people on the rock was water; they cried out to their shipmates for it, though in vain. Earthen vessels only could have been procured, and these would not bear being conveyed through the surf. The coxswain then said they should be taken off the rock by a fishing-vessel in the morning, and with this assurance they were forced to be content. It was some consolation to know that they boat was safe, and that relief had so far been obtained.
All the people anxiously expected morning, and, for the first time since being on the rock, the sun cheered them with its rays. Still the fourth morning came and no tidings either of the boat or vessel. The anxiety of the people increased, for inevitable death from famine, was staring them in the face. What were they to do for self-preservation? The misery and hunger which they endured, were extreme; they were not ignorant of the means whereby other unfortunate mariners in the like situation had protracted life, yet they viewed them with disgust. Still when they had no alternative, they considered their urgent necessities and found them affording some excuse. Offering prayers to heaven for forgiveness of the sinful act, they selected a young man who had died the preceding night, and ventured to appease their hunger with human flesh.
Whether the people were relieved is uncertain; for towards the evening, death had made hasty strides among them, and many brave men drooped under their hardships. Among these were the captain and first lieutenant, two meritorious officers; and the sullen silence now preserved by the survivors, showed the state of their internal feelings. Captain Palmer was in the twenty-sixth year of his age; amidst his endeavors to comfort those under his command, his companions in misfortunate, his personal injuries were borne with patience and resignation, and no murmurs escaped his lips; his virtuous life was prematurely closed by the overwhelming severities of the lamentable catastrophe he had shared.
During the course of another tedious night, many suggested the possibility of constructing a raft which might carry the survivors to Cerigotto; and the wind being favorable, might enable them to reach that island. At all events, attempting this seemed preferable to remaining on the rock to expire of hunger and thirst. Accordingly, at daylight they prepared to put their plan in execution. A number of the larger spars were lashed together, and sanguine hopes of success entertained. At length the moment of launching the raft arrived, but it was only to distress the people with new disappointment, for a few moments sufficed for the destruction of a work on which the strongest of the party had been occupied hours. Several from this unexpected failure became still more desperate, and five resolved to trust themselves on a few small spars slightly lashed together, and on which they had scarce room to stand. Bidding their companions adieu, they launched out into the sea, where they were speedily carried away by unknown currents, and vanished forever from sight.
Towards the same afternoon, the people were again rejoiced by the sight of the whaleboat, and the coxswain told them that he had experienced great difficulty in prevailing on the Greek fishermen of Cerigotto to venture in their boats, from dread of the weather. Neither would they permit him to take them unaccompanied by themselves; he regressed what his comrades had endured, and his grief at not being able yet to relieve them, but encouraged them with hopes, if the weather remained fine, that next day the boats might come. While the coxswain spoke this, twelve or fourteen men imprudently plunged from rock into the sea, and very nearly reached the boat. Two, indeed, got so far as to be taken in; one was drowned, and the rest providentially recovered their former station. Those who thus escaped could not be envied by the companions, while they reproached the indiscretion of the others, who, had they reached the boat, would without all doubt have sunk her, and thus unwittingly consigned the whole to irremediable destruction.
The people were wholly occupied in reflections on the passing incidents; but their weakness increased as the day elapsed; one of the survivors described himself as feeling the approach of annihilation, that his sight failed, and his senses became confused; that his strength was exhausted, and his eyes turned towards the setting sun, under the conviction that he should never see it rise again. Yet on the morning he survived, and he was surprised that Providence willed it should still be so, as several strong men had fallen in the course of their night. While the remainder were contemplating their forlorn condition, and judging this the last day of their lives, the approach of the boats was unexpectedly announced. From the lowest ebb of despair, they were now elated with the most extravagant joy; and copious draughts of water, quickly landed, refreshed their languid bodies. Never before did they know the blessings which the single possession of water could afford; it tasted more delicious than the finest wines.
Anxious preparations were made for immediate departure from a place, which had been fatal to so many unhappy sufferers. Of one hundred and twenty-two persons on board the Nautilus when she struck, fifty eight had perished. Eighteen were drowned, it was supposed, at the moment of the catastrophe, and one in attempting to reach the boat; five were lost on the small raft, and thirty-four died of famine. About fifty now embarked in our fishing vessels, and landed the same evening at the island of Cerigotto, making altogether sixty-four individuals, including those who escaped in the whaleboat. Six days had been passed on the rock, nor had the people, during that time, received any assistance, excepting from the human flesh of which they had participated.
The survivors landed at a small creek in the island of Cerigotto, after which they had to go to a considerable distance before reaching the dwellings of their friends. Their first care was to send for the master’s mate, who had escaped to the island of Pori, and had been left behind when the whaleboat came down to the rock. He and his companions had exhausted all the fresh water, but lived on the sheep and goats, which they caught among the rocks, and had drank their blood. There they had remained in a state of great uncertainty concerning the fate of those who had left them in the boat.
Though the Greeks could not aid the seamen in the care of their wounds, they treated them with great care and hospitality; but medical assistance being important, from the pain the sufferers endured, and having nothing to bind up their wounds but shirts which they tore into bandages, they were eager to reach Cerigo. The island of Cerigotto, where they had landed, was a dependency on the other, about fifteen miles long, ten broad, and of a barren and unproductive soil, with little cultivation. Twelve or fourteen families of Greek fishermen dwelt upon it, as the pilot had said, who were in a state of extreme poverty. Their houses, or rather huts, consisting of one or two rooms on the same floor, were, in general, built against the side of a rock; the walls composed of clay and straw, and the roof supported by a tree in the center of the dwelling. Their food was a course kind of bread, formed of boiled peas and flour, which was made into a kind of paste for the strangers, with once or twice a bit of kid; and that was all which they could expect from their deliverers. But they made a liquor from corn, which having an agreeable flavor, and being a strong spirit, was drank with avidity by the sailors.
Cerigo was about twenty-five miles distant, and there, it was also said, an English consul resided. Eleven days elapsed, however, before the crew could leave Cerigotto, from the difficulty of persuading the Greeks to adventure to sea, in their frail barks, during temptuous weather. The wind at last proving fair, with a smooth sea, they bad a grateful adieu to the families of their deliverers, who were tenderly affected by their distresses, and shed tears of regret when they departed. In six or eight hours, they reached Cerigo, where they were received with open arms. Immediately on arrival, they were met by the English vise-consul, Signor Manuel Caluci, a native of the island, who devoted his house, bed, credit, and whole attention to their services; and the survivors unite in declaring their inability to express the obligations under which he laid them. The governor, commandant, bishop, and principal people, all showed equal hospitality care, and friendship, and exerted themselves to render the time agreeable; insomuch that it was with little or no regret that these shipwrecked mariners thought of forsaking the island.
After the people had remained three weeks at Cerigo, they learnt that a Russian ship-of-war lay at anchor off the Morea, about twelve leagues distant, being driven in by bad weather, and immediately sent letters to her commanding officer, narrating their misfortunes, and soliciting a passage to Corfu. The master of the Nautilus determined to make the most of the opportunity, took at boat to reach the Russian vessel; but he was at first so unfortunate as to be blown on the rocks in a heavy gale of wind, where he nearly perished, and the boat was staved in pieces. However, he luckily got to the ship, and after some difficulty, succeeded in procuring the desired passage for himself and his companions to Corfu. Her commander, to accommodate them, came down to Cerigo, and anchored at a small port called St. Nicholas, at the eastern extremity of the island. The English embarked on the 5th, but, owing to contrary winds, did not sail until the 15th of February, when they bad farewell to their friends. They next touched at Zaute, another small island, abounding in currants and olives; the oil from the latter of which constitutes the chief riches of the people. After remaining there four days, they sailed for Corfu, where they arrived on the 2nd of March, 1807, nearly two months after the date of their shipwreck.