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Defeat Of The Spanish Fleet In The Faro Off Messina
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The Story Of Santa Cruz
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The Loss Of Hms Centaur






BY CAPTAIN INGLEFIELD.


The storm which proved fatal to the Ramilies was responsible for the
loss of many other ships in the same convoy, among which was the
Centaur of seventy-four guns, whose commander, Captain Inglefield,
with the master and ten of the crew, providentially escaped the general
fate. The captain's narrative affords the best explanation of the manner
and means by which this signal deliverance was effected.

"The Centaur" (says Captain Inglefield) "left Jamaica in rather a
leaky condition, keeping two hand pumps going, and, when it blew fresh,
sometimes a spell with a chain pump was necessary. But I had no
apprehension that the ship was not able to encounter a common gale of
wind.

"In the evening of September 16th, when the fatal gale came on, the ship
was prepared for the worst weather usually met in those latitudes, the
main sail was reefed and set, the top-gallant masts struck, and the
mizen yard lowered down, though at that time it did not blow very
strong. Towards midnight it blew a gale of wind, and the ship made so
much water that I was obliged to turn all hands up to spell the pumps.
The leak still increasing, I had thoughts to try the ship before the
sea. Happy I should have been, perhaps, had I in this been determined.
The impropriety of leaving the convoy, except in the last extremity, and
the hopes of the weather growing moderate, weighed against the opinion
that it was right.

"About two in the morning the wind lulled, and we flattered ourselves
the gale was breaking. Soon after we had much thunder and lightning from
the south-east, with rain, when it began to blow strong in gusts of
wind, which obliged me to haul the main sail up, the ship being then
under bare poles. This was scarcely done, when a gust of wind, exceeding
in violence anything of the kind I had ever seen or had any conception
of, laid the ship on her beam ends. The water forsook the hold and
appeared between decks, so as to fill the men's hammocks to leeward: the
ship lay motionless, and to all appearance irrecoverably overset. The
water increasing fast, forced through the cells of the ports, and
scuttled in the ports from the pressure of the ship. I gave immediate
directions to cut away the main and mizen mast, hoping when the ship
righted to wear her. The main mast went first, upon cutting one or two
of the lanyards, without the smallest effect on the ship; the mizen mast
followed, upon cutting the lanyard of one shroud; and I had the
disappointment to see the foremast and bowsprit follow. The ship upon
this immediately righted, but with great violence; and the motion was so
quick, that it was difficult for the people to work the pumps. Three
guns broke loose upon the main deck, and it was some time before they
were secured. Several men being maimed in this attempt, everything
movable was destroyed, either from the shot thrown loose from the
lockers, or the wreck of the deck. The officers, who had left their beds
naked, when the ship overset in the morning, had not an article of
clothes to put on, nor could their friends supply them.

"The masts had not been over the sides ten minutes before I was informed
the tiller was broken short in the rudder head; and before the chocks
could be placed the rudder itself was gone. Thus we were as much
disastered as it was possible, lying at the mercy of the wind and sea;
yet I had one comfort, that the pumps, if anything, reduced the water in
the hold; and as the morning came on (the 17th) the weather grew more
moderate, the wind having shifted in the gale to north-west.

"At daylight I saw two line-of-battle ships to leeward; one had lost
her fore mast and bowsprit, the other her main mast. It was the general
opinion on board the Centaur that the former was the Canada, the
other the Glorieux. The Ramilies was not in sight, nor more than
fifteen sail of merchant ships.

"About seven in the morning I saw another line-of-battle ship ahead of
us, which I soon distinguished to be the Ville de Paris, with all her
masts standing. I immediately gave orders to make the signal of
distress, hoisting the ensign on the stump of the mizen mast, union
downwards, and firing one of the forecastle guns. The ensign blew away
soon after it was hoisted, and it was the only one we had; but I had the
satisfaction to see the Ville de Paris wear and stand towards us.
Several of the merchant ships also approached us, and those that could
hailed, and offered their assistance; but depending upon the king's
ship, I only thanked them, desiring, if they joined Admiral Graves, to
acquaint him of our condition. I had not the smallest doubt but the
Ville de Paris was coming to us, as she appeared to us to have
suffered the least by the storm, and having seen her wear, we knew she
was under government of her helm; at this time, also, it was so moderate
that the merchantmen set their top-sails; but approaching within two
miles she passed us to windward: this being observed by one of the
merchant ships she wore and came under our stern, offering to carry any
message to her. I desired the master would acquaint Captain Wilkinson
that the Centaur had lost her rudder as well as her masts, that she
made a great deal of water, and that I desired he would remain with her
until the weather grew moderate. I saw this merchantman approach
afterwards near enough to speak to the Ville de Paris, but am afraid
that her condition was much worse than it appeared to be, as she
continued upon the tack. In the meantime all the quarter-deck guns were
thrown overboard, and all but six which had overset on the main deck.
The ship, lying in the trough of the sea, laboured prodigiously. I got
over one of the small anchors, with a boom and several gun carriages,
veering out from the head door by a large hawser, to keep the ship's bow
to the sea; but this, with a top-gallant sail upon the stump of the
mizen mast, had not the desired effect.

"As the evening came on it grew hazy, and blew strong in squalls. We
lost sight of the Ville de Paris, but I thought it a certainty that we
should see her the next morning. The night was passed in constant labour
at the pumps. Sometimes the wind lulled, the water diminished; when it
blew strong again, the sea rising, the water again increased.

"Towards the morning of the 18th I was informed there was seven feet
water upon the kelson; that one of the winches was broken, that the two
spare ones would not fit, and that the hand pumps were choked. These
circumstances were sufficiently alarming; but upon opening the after
hold, to get some rum up for the people, we found our condition much
more so.

"It will be necessary to mention that the Centaur's after hold was
inclosed by a bulk head at the after part of the well: here all the dry
provisions and the ship's rum were stowed upon twenty chaldron of coals,
which unfortunately had been started on this part of the ship, and by
them the pumps were continually choked. The chain pumps were so much
worn as to be of little use; and the leathers, which, had the well been
clear, would have lasted twenty days or more, were all consumed in
eight. At this time it was observed that the water had not a passage to
the well, for here there was so much that it washed against the orlop
deck. All the rum--twenty-six puncheons--all the provisions, of which
there was sufficient for two months, in casks, were staved, having
floated with violence from side to side until there was not a whole cask
remaining; even the staves that were found upon clearing the hold were
most of them broken in two or three pieces. In the fore hold we had a
prospect of perishing; should the ship swim, we had no water but what
remained in the ground tier, and over this all the wet provisions and
butts filled with salt water were floating, and with so much motion that
no man could with safety go into the hold. There was nothing left for us
to try but baling with buckets at the fore hatchway and fish-room; and
twelve large canvas buckets were immediately employed at each. On
opening the fish-room, we were so fortunate as to discover that two
puncheons of rum, which belonged to me, had escaped. They were
immediately got up and served out at times in drams; and had it not been
for this relief, and some lime juice, the people would have dropped.

"We soon found our account in baling; the spare pump had been put down
the fore hatchway, and a pump shifted to the fish-room; but the motion
of the ship had washed the coals so small that they reached every part
of the ship, and the pumps were soon choked. However, the water by noon
had considerably diminished by working the buckets; but there appeared
no prospect of saving the ship if the gale continued. The labour was too
great to hold out without water: yet the people worked without a murmur,
and indeed with cheerfulness.

"At this time the weather was more moderate, and a couple of spars were
got ready for shears to set up a jury fore mast; but as the evening came
on the gale again increased. We had seen nothing this day but the ship
that had lost her main mast, and she appeared to be as much in want of
assistance as ourselves, having fired guns of distress; and before night
I was told her fore mast was gone.

"The Centaur laboured so much that I had scarcely a hope she could
swim till morning. However, by great exertion with the chain pumps and
baling, we held our own; but our sufferings for want of water were very
great, and many of the people could not be restrained from drinking salt
water.

"At daylight (the 11th) there was no vessel in sight; and flashes from
guns having been seen in the night, we feared the ship we had seen the
preceding day had foundered. Towards ten o'clock in the forenoon the
weather grew more moderate, the water diminished in the hold, and the
people were encouraged to redouble their efforts to get the water low
enough to break a cask of fresh water out of the ground tier; and some
of the most resolute of the seamen were employed in the attempt. At
noon we succeeded with one cask, which, though little, was a seasonable
relief. All the officers, passengers, and boys, who were not of the
profession of seamen, had been employed in thrumming a sail, which was
passed under the ship's bottom, and I thought had some effect. The
shears were raised for the fore mast; the weather looked promising, the
sea fell, and at night we were able to relieve at the pumps and baling
every two hours. By the morning of the 20th the fore hold was cleared of
the water, and we had the comfortable promise of a fine day. It proved
so, and I was determined to make use of it with all possible exertion. I
divided the ship's company, with officers attending them, into parties,
to raise the jury fore-mast; to heave over the lower-deck guns; to clear
the wreck of the fore and after holds; to prepare the machine for
steering the ship, and to work the pumps. By night the after hold was as
clear as when the ship was launched; for, to our astonishment, there was
not a shovel of coals remaining, twenty chaldrons having been pumped out
since the commencement of the gale. What I have called the wreck of the
hold was the bulkheads of the after hold, fish-room, and spirit-rooms.
The standards of the cockpit, an immense quantity of staves and wood,
and part of the lining of the ship were thrown overboard, that if the
water should again appear in the hold we might have no impediment in
baling. All the guns were overboard, the fore mast secured, and the
machine, which was to be similar to that with which the Ipswich was
steered, was in great forwardness; so that I was in hopes, the moderate
weather continuing, that I should be able to steer the ship by noon the
following day, and at least save the people on some of the western
islands. Had we had any other ship in company with us, I should have
thought it my duty to have quitted the Centaur this day.

"This night the people got some rest by relieving the watches; but in
the morning of the 21st we had the mortification to find that the
weather again threatened, and by noon it blew a storm. The ship laboured
greatly and the water appeared in the fore and after hold, and
increased. The carpenter also informed me that the leathers were nearly
consumed; and likewise, that the chains of the pumps, by constant
exertion and the friction of the coals, were considered as nearly
useless.

"As we had now no other resource but baling, I gave orders that scuttles
should be cut through the deck to introduce more buckets into the hold,
and all the sail-makers were employed, night and day, in making canvas
buckets; and the orlop deck having fallen in on the larboard side, I
ordered the sheet cable to be tossed overboard. The wind at this time
was at west, and being on the larboard tack, many schemes had been
practised to wear the ship, that we might drive into a less boisterous
latitude, as well as approach the western islands; but none succeeded;
and having a weak carpenter's crew they were hardly sufficient to attend
the pumps, so that we could not make any progress with the steering
machine. Another sail had been thrummed and got over, but we did not
find its use; indeed, there was no prospect but in a change of weather.
A large leak had been discovered and stopped in the fore hold, but the
ship appeared so weak from her labouring that it was clear she could not
last long. The after cockpit had fallen in, the fore cockpit the same,
with all the store-rooms down: the stern post was so loose that, as the
ship rolled, the water rushed in on either side in great streams, which
we could not stop.

"Night came on, with the same dreary prospect as that of the preceding
day, and was passed in continual labour. Morning came (the 22nd) without
our seeing anything, or any change of weather, and the day was spent
with the same struggles to keep the ship above water, pumping and baling
at the hatchways and scuttles. Towards night another of the chain pumps
was rendered quite useless, by one of the rollers being displaced at the
bottom of the pump, and this was without remedy, there being too much
water in the well to get to it; we also had but six leathers remaining,
so that the fate of the ship was not far off. Still the labour went on
without any apparent despair, every officer taking his share of it, and
the people always cheerful and obedient.

"During the night the water increased, but about seven in the morning of
the 23rd I was informed that an unusual quantity of water appeared, all
at once, in the fire hold, which, upon my going forward to be convinced,
I found but too true; the stowage of the hold ground tier was all in
motion, so that in a short time there was not a whole cask to be seen.
We were convinced the ship had sprung a fresh leak. Another sail had
been thrumming all night, and I was giving directions to place it over
the bows, when I perceived the ship settling by the head, the lower-deck
bow ports being even with the water.

"At this period the carpenter acquainted me the well was staved in,
destroyed by the wreck of the hold, and the chain pumps displaced and
totally useless. There was nothing left but to redouble our efforts in
baling, but it became difficult to fill the buckets, from the quantity
of staves, planks, anchor stocks, and yard-arm pieces which were now
washed from the wings and floating from side to side with the motion of
the ship. The people, till this period, had laboured, as if determined
to conquer their difficulties, without a murmur or without a tear; but
now, seeing their efforts useless, many of them burst into tears, and
wept like children.

"I gave orders for the anchors, of which we had two remaining, to be
thrown overboard, one of which (the spare anchor) had been most
surprisingly hove in upon the forecastle and midships when the ship had
been upon her beam-ends, and gone through the deck.

"Every time that I visited the hatchway I observed the water increased,
and at noon washed even with the orlop deck; the carpenter assured me
the ship could not swim long, and proposed making rafts to float the
ship's company, whom it was not in my power to encourage any longer with
a prospect of their safety. Some appeared perfectly resigned, went to
their hammocks, and desired their messmates to lash them in; others were
lashing themselves to gratings and small rafts: but the most
predominant idea was that of putting on their best and cleanest clothes.

"The weather, about noon, had been something moderate, and as rafts had
been mentioned by the carpenter, I thought it right to make the attempt,
though I knew our booms could not float half the ship's company in fine
weather; but we were in a situation to catch at a straw. I therefore
called the ship's company together, told them my intention, recommending
them to remain regular and obedient to their officers. Preparations were
immediately made for this purpose; the booms were cleared; the boats, of
which we had three, viz., cutter, pinnace, and five-oared yawl, were got
over the side; a bag of bread was ordered to be put in each, and any
liquors that could be got at, for the purpose of supplying the rafts. I
had intended myself to go in the five-oared yawl, and the coxswain was
desired to get anything from my steward that might be useful. Two men,
captains of the tops of the forecastle, or quarter-masters, were placed
in each of them, to prevent any person from forcing the boats or getting
into them till an arrangement was made. While these preparations were
making, the ship was gradually sinking, the orlop decks having been
blown up by the water in the hold, and the cables floated to the
gun-deck. The men had for some time quitted their employment of baling,
and the ship was left to her fate.

"In the afternoon the weather again threatened, and blew strong in
squalls, the sea ran high, and one of the boats (the yawl) was staved
alongside and sunk. As the evening approached the ship appeared little
more than suspended in water. There was no certainty that she would swim
from one minute to another; and the love of life began now to level all
distinctions. It was impossible, indeed, for any man to deceive himself
with a hope of being saved upon a raft in such a sea; besides that, the
ship in sinking, it was probable, would carry everything down with her
in a vortex, to a certain destruction.

"It was near five o'clock, when, coming from my cabin, I observed a
number of people looking very anxiously over the side, and looking
myself, I saw that several men had forced the pinnace and that more were
attempting to get in. I had immediate thoughts of securing this boat
before she might be sunk by numbers. There appeared not more than a
moment for consideration; to remain and perish with the ship's company,
to whom I could not be of use any longer, or seize the opportunity,
which was the only way of escaping, and leave the people, with whom I
had been so well satisfied on a variety of occasions that I thought I
could give my life to preserve them--this, indeed, was a painful
conflict, such as, I believe, no man can describe, nor any have a just
idea of who have not been in a similar situation.

"The love of life prevailed. I called to Mr. Rainy, the master, the only
officer upon deck, desired him to follow me, and immediately descended
into the boat, at the after-part of the chains; but not without great
difficulty got the boat clear of the ship, twice the number that the
boat would carry pushing to get in, and many jumping into the water. Mr.
Baylis, a young gentleman fifteen years of age, leaped from the chains
after the boat had got off, and was taken in. The boat falling astern,
became exposed to the sea, and we endeavoured to pull her bow round to
keep her to the break of the sea, and to pass to windward of the ship;
but in the attempts she was nearly filled, the sea ran too high, and the
only probability of living was keeping her before the wind.

"It was then that I became sensible how little, if any, better our
condition was than that of those who remained in the ship; at best, it
appeared to be only a prolongation of a miserable existence. We were,
all together, twelve in number, in a leaky boat, with one of the
gunwales staved, in nearly the middle of the Western Ocean, without a
compass, without quadrant, without sail, without great-coat or cloak,
all very thinly clothed, in a gale of wind, with a great sea running! It
was now five o'clock in the evening, and in half an hour we lost sight
of the ship. Before it was dark a blanket was discovered in the boat.
This was immediately bent to one of the stretchers, and under it, as a
sail, we scudded all night, in expectation of being swallowed up by
every wave, it being with great difficulty that we could sometimes clear
the boat of the water before the return of the next great sea; all of us
half drowned, and sitting, except those who baled, at the bottom of the
boat; and without having really perished, I am sure no people ever
endured more. In the morning the weather grew moderate, the wind having
shifted to the southward, as we discovered by the sun. Having survived
the night, we began to recollect ourselves, and to think of our future
preservation.

"When we quitted the ship the wind was at north-west or
north-north-west. Fayal had borne east-south-east two hundred and fifty
or two hundred and sixty leagues. Had the wind continued for five or six
days, there was a probability that running before the sea we might have
fallen in with some of the Western Islands. The change of wind was death
to these hopes; for, should it come to blow, we knew there would be no
preserving life but by running before the sea, which would carry us
again to the northward, where we must soon afterwards perish.

"Upon examining what we had to subsist on, I found a bag of bread, a
small ham, a single piece of pork, two quart bottles of water, and a few
of French cordials. The wind continued to be southward for eight or nine
days, and providentially never blew so strong but that we could keep the
side of the boat to the sea; but we were always most miserably wet and
cold. We kept a sort of reckoning, but the sun and stars being somewhat
hidden from us, for twenty-four hours we had no very correct idea of our
navigation. We judged, at this period, that we had made nearly an
east-north-east course since the first night's run, which had carried us
to the southeast, and expected to see the island of Corvo. In this,
however, we were disappointed, and we feared that the southerly wind had
driven us far to the northward. Our prayers were now for a northerly
wind. Our condition began to be truly miserable, both from hunger and
cold; for on the fifth we had discovered that our bread was nearly all
spoiled by salt water, and it was necessary to go on allowance. One
biscuit divided into twelve morsels for breakfast, and the same for
dinner; the neck of a bottle broken off, with the cork in, served for a
glass, and this filled with water was the allowance of twenty-four hours
for each man. This was done without any sort of partiality or
distinction; but we must have perished ere this, had we not caught six
quarts of rain water; and this we could not have been blessed with, had
we not found in the boat a pair of sheets, which by accident had been
put there. These were spread when it rained, and when thoroughly wet
wrung into the kid with which we baled the boat. With this short
allowance, which was rather tantalising than sustaining in our
comfortless condition, we began to grow very feeble, and our clothes
being continually wet, our bodies were in many places chafed into sores.

"On the 13th day it fell calm, and soon after a breeze of wind sprang up
from the south-south-west and blew to a gale, so that we ran before the
sea at the rate of five or six miles an hour under our blanket, till we
judged we were to the south ward of Fayal and to the westward sixty
leagues; but the wind blowing strong we could not attempt to steer for
it. Our wishes were now for the wind to shift to the westward. This was
the fifteenth day we had been in the boat, and we had only one day's
bread and one bottle of water remaining of a second supply of rain. Our
sufferings were now as great as human strength could bear, but we were
convinced that good spirits were a better support than any great bodily
strength; for on this day Thomas Matthews, quarter-master, the stoutest
man in the boat, perished from hunger and cold; on the day before he
complained of want of strength in his throat, as he expressed it, to
swallow his morsel, and in the night drank salt water, grew delirious
and died without a groan. As it became next to a certainty that we
should all perish in the same manner in a day or two, it was somewhat
comfortable to reflect that dying of hunger was not so dreadful as our
imagination had represented. Others had complained of these symptoms in
their throats; some had drunk their own urine; and all but myself had
drunk salt water.

"As yet despair and gloom had been successfully prohibited; and as the
evenings closed in, the men had been encouraged by turns to sing a song,
or relate a story, instead of supper; but this evening I found it
impossible to raise either. As the night came on it fell calm, and about
midnight a breeze of wind sprang up, we guessed from the westward by the
swell, but there not being a star to be seen, we were afraid of running
out of the way, and waited impatiently for the rising sun to be our
compass.

"As soon as the dawn appeared we found the wind to be exactly as we had
wished, at west-south-west, and immediately spread our sail, running
before the sea at the rate of four miles an hour. Our last breakfast had
been served with the bread and water remaining, when John Gregory,
quarter-master, declared with much confidence that he saw land in the
south-east. We had so often seen fogbanks, which had the appearance of
land, that I did not trust myself to believe it, and cautioned the
people (who were extravagantly elated) that they might not feel the
effects of disappointment, till at length one of them broke out into a
most immoderate fit of joy, which I could not restrain, and declared he
had never seen land in his life if what he now saw was not land.

"We immediately shaped our course for it, though on my part with very
little faith. The wind freshened, and the boat went through the water at
the rate of five or six miles an hour; and in two hours' time the land
was plainly seen by every man in the boat, at a very great distance, so
that we did not reach it till ten at night. It was at least twenty
leagues from us when first discovered; and I cannot help remarking, with
much thankfulness, the providential favour shown to us in this instance.

"In every part of the horizon, except where the land was discovered,
there was so thick a haze that we could not have seen anything for more
than three or four leagues. Fayal, by our reckoning, bore east by north,
which course we were steering, and in a few hours, had not the sky
opened for our preservation, we should have increased our distance from
the land, got to the eastward, and of course missed all the island. As
we approached the land our belief was strengthened that it was Fayal.
The island of Pico, which might have revealed it to us, had the weather
been perfectly clear, was at this time capped with clouds, and it was
some time before we were quite satisfied, having traversed for two hours
a great part of the island, where the steep and rocky shore refused us a
landing. This circumstance was borne with much impatience, for we had
flattered ourselves that we should meet with fresh water at the first
part of the land we might approach; and being disappointed, the thirst
of some had increased anxiety almost to a degree of madness, so that we
were near making the attempt to land in some places where the boat must
have been dashed to pieces by the surf. At length we discovered a
fishing canoe, which conducted us into the road of Fayal about midnight,
but where the regulation of the port did not permit us to land till
examined by the health officers; however, I did not think much of
sleeping this night in the boat, our pilot having brought us some
refreshments of bread, wine, and water. In the morning we were visited
by Mr. Graham, the English consul, whose humane attention made very
ample amends for the formality of the Portuguese. Indeed, I can never
sufficiently express the sense I have of his kindness and humanity both
to myself and people; for I believe it was the whole of his employment
for several days to contrive the best means of restoring us to health
and strength. It is true, I believe, there never were more pitiable
objects. Some of the stoutest men belonging to the Centaur were
obliged to be supported through the streets of Fayal. Mr. Rainy, the
master, and myself, were, I think, in better health than the rest; but I
could not walk without being supported; and for several days, with the
best and most comfortable provisions of diet and lodgings, we grew
rather worse than better."





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Previous: The Loss Of The Ramilies



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