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The Loss Of Hms Pembroke


The melancholy fate of the Namur, which was lost at the same time and
place as the Pembroke, has already been related. The calamity which
befell the latter was, if possible, still more deplorable. Out of her
whole crew, only twelve persons were saved; her commander, Captain
Fincher, and about three hundred and thirty men were drowned, among whom
were all the officers excepting a captain of marines. The following
particulars of this disaster are given by an eye-witness, Mr. Cambridge,
the master.

"About ten o'clock in the morning of April 13th, 1749, it blew fresh,
the wind at north-east by east and a great sea began to come in: we
having then a cable out the captain ordered half a cable more to be
veered away. At one in the afternoon it blew very hard, the wind at
north-east. His Majesty's ship Namur, lying about a cable's length
within us and abaft our beam, I went to the captain, as did likewise the
lieutenants, and desired him to go to sea. He replied, he could not
answer to go to sea unless the Namur did (on board which Rear-admiral
Boscawen's flag was flying), but ordered all our ports to be barred in
and well secured.

"At three o'clock I went to the captain, who was sick and in his cabin,
and again desired him to go to sea. He seemed angry, and said he could
not, giving the same reason as before, nor would he suffer any more
cable to be veered away. At the same time the ship rode hard, strained
much, and made water.

"At five, the sea increasing, our cable parted, and we cast our head off
to the sea; otherwise we should have fallen on board the Namur. We
immediately set the fore and mizen sails, got on board the main-tack,
and set our main sail, fore and mizen stay-sails; at the same time some
of our people were employed in heaving in the cable, for the captain
would not have it cut. This took up some time; it blew so very hard that
the ship would not bear any more sail.

"At six, there being a great head sea, we made very little way, and were
obliged to set both pumps to work. At half-past six our main sail split
in pieces; we got down the yard in order to bend a new sail; but it
blowing hard, the ship lay down so much that we could not get the sail
to the yard. At eight the carpenter sent word to the captain that the
ship gained upon them much, and had four feet of water in her hold.

"At half-past eight our tiller broke short off at the rudder-head, and
we likewise found one of the rudder chains broken: the sails we had now
set were our fore sail, mizen, and fore-stay sails. The sea made a free
passage over us, and the ship being water logged, we hauled up our fore
sail to ease her, but expected to go down every minute. In hauling down
our fore-stay sail it split; and as I looked aft from the forecastle, I
saw the main and mizen masts had gone, though I never heard them go. By
this time the ship righted much, and in about seven minutes the fore
mast went by the board, but the bowsprit held fast. Our pumps were kept
continually working. The third lieutenant being on the quarter-deck,
sent forward to me to clear and let go the small bower anchor, which was
immediately done. We found the ship drove to shore very fast.

"At half-past ten, we had eight feet of water in the hold, and kept all
the pumps working. About eleven we found the ship settle; the depth of
water twelve or fourteen fathoms. The anchor then brought the ship up,
but the cable parted in a few minutes: then we let go the sheet anchor,
which was all we had. The sea now making a free passage over us again,
broke and tore away our boats and booms. The sheet cable tore out with
such violence that no person could venture near it till the clench
brought up the ship: but the sea came with such force and was so very
high that in the hollow of the sea the ship struck, and the cable
immediately parted.

"It was now near twelve o'clock; the ship struck fore and aft, but abaft
very hard. The third lieutenant was near me when the ship first struck,
but I saw no more of him afterwards. I kept the forecastle accompanied
by the boatswain, cook, and about eight more men. I got myself lashed to
the bitts before the ship took heel, but shifted myself over to windward
when she began to heel, and lashed myself as before: the sea continually
beating over us. About two I saw the captain's cabin washed away, and
the ship almost on her broadside.

"When daylight came, we were sixteen men on the forecastle and four
hanging abaft to the timber heads; but three of the latter got upon a
piece of the wreck which was loose, and drove away; the other was
drowned. All this time the sea came over us in a dreadful manner, so
that we could scarcely take breath.

"About eight o'clock nine men were washed off the forecastle. We could
not now see the trees on shore between the seas. At nine, the boatswain
and cook were washed away from each side of me, on which I removed to
the cat-head, as did likewise another man. About ten all our men were
washed away, excepting those who were lashed to the cat-head. We judged
that we were about two miles off the shore: we continued there all the
day; the sea beating over us incessantly, so that we had little time to
fetch breath or speak to one another. At noon we found the sea to come
every way upon us, and could perceive that the wind having shifted was
the cause of it. This part of the wreck kept together, but night coming
on, we had a dismal prospect before us, without any hopes of relief.
About midnight the sea abated, so that we could speak to one another for
the space of two or three minutes together; but I found myself so weak,
having been sick ever since we arrived in the country, that when the
sea washed me on one side in my lashing, I was not able to help myself
up, but was obliged to get my companion to assist me.

"At daylight I found myself much weaker and very thirsty. The sea at
this time came over us once in a quarter of an hour. We found the wreck
much nearer the shore than yesterday. About noon we found the sea much
abated, so that it seldom came over us, and the weather began to be
fine, but I felt extremely faint. About two or three o'clock we saw two
paddy boats coming along shore, about a mile away from us. We spread out
a handkerchief, which I had about my neck, that the boats might see us.
One of them seemed to edge towards us for some minutes, but hauled off
again. We then saw several catamarans near the shore, which we judged to
be fishing. We spread abroad the handkerchief again, but none of them
approached us. Soon afterwards we saw several people gather together on
shore; the sun began to grow low, so that we judged it to be about five
o'clock. At last we saw two of the catamarans above mentioned coming
towards us, with three black men on each, who took us off the wreck and
carried us on shore.

"As soon as we were landed, we found ourselves surrounded by about three
hundred armed men. My companion told me we had fallen into the hands of
the Mahrattas, who were at this time at war with the English. They
ordered us to come off the catamarans. I strove to rise, but I found
myself so weak and my legs so terribly bruised that I could not get up;
on which some of them came and lifted me off, and laid me on the sand,
for I was unable to stand. I made a signal to them that I wanted some
water to drink, but they gave me none, and only laughed at our
condition. Their commander ordered them to strip us, which they did
quite naked.

"As I was not able to walk, they led us part of the way to Cavecotta, a
fort belonging to them, and there put us into a canoe, and carried us up
a river to the walls of the fort. About ten that night they put us
within the walls and laid us on the ground, where we had nothing to
cover us but the heavens, and about eleven brought us a little rice with
some water. Great numbers of people gathered round us, laughing at us
and expressing great contempt and derision.

"The country people flocked daily to the fort to see us, but none of
them showed us the least pity; on the contrary, they laughed and
threatened us with death. We slept very little the first night on
account of the cold and the risk we ran of our lives, these barbarians
having signified that they would cut us in pieces with their sabres.
When daylight appeared and the gates were opened, I was very ill. I had
dysentery, and my legs were so much swelled that I concluded I had not
long to live, at least if I did not receive some relief. I acquainted my
comrade with my situation, and begged him, if he ever should be so
fortunate as to return to England, to inform my friends in what manner I
had terminated my career. Some days we received rice and others we had
none. On the seventh day they gave me some lamp oil, with which I
fomented my legs, and this simple application afforded me considerable

"Our lodging place was between the gate-ways; and when we had been there
fourteen days they carried us into the country. Though my legs were much
better, yet still I could not walk; and my companion was extremely weak,
which I believe was owing to the want of more victuals. So they put us
into dooleys or cradles, fastened together with ropes, which they got
from the wreck.

"About four o'clock on the fifteenth day they carried us about twelve
miles to their king, who was encamped against our company's troops. That
prince examined us a long time, and inquired whether we were officers: I
replied in the negative, conceiving that an acknowledgment of that kind
would render our escape much more difficult. He was desirous that we
should enter into his service, but we told him by means of the
interpreters, who were three Dutchmen, that we could not consent to it.
He promised we should want for nothing if we would accept his offers;
but we persisted in replying that we were too ill to be capable of
serving. He ordered refreshment to be given to us, of which we stood in
great need, having scarcely taken any nourishment since the day we fell
into the hands of his subjects. The interpreters asked us whether we
chose to enter into the king's service or to go to prison; to which we
answered that we could not resolve to fight against our countrymen.

"At sunset we departed. Our conductors having halted till three o'clock
in the morning, we again set out and continued our march till noon, when
they again stopped two hours to take some refreshment, and afterwards
directed their course to the south-west. We arrived that night at a fort
and were immediately put into a dungeon. There we found two other
prisoners, one of them our ship-mate and the other a deserter from the
company's troops.

"The next morning they opened the gates and made signs to us to come
out. My companions complied, but I chose rather to stay where I was as I
found myself extremely weak and my legs were covered with ulcers. I
begged them to give me a little lamp oil to foment them, which they did.
Our only nourishment was water and a quart of rice a day, though there
were four of us, and a small pot of grease instead of butter. I rubbed
my legs with oil and grease, and on the fourth day found myself much
better, which gave me fresh spirits. We were permitted to walk morning
and evening before the dungeon.

"In about three weeks my legs were almost well, so that I was able to
walk. We began to entertain some hopes of making our escape, and taking
an opportunity, I, with some difficulty, got high enough upon the wall
to look over it, and found it was very lofty and surrounded with a wide
moat or ditch; but there was a path between the wall and the ditch, so
that we might choose our place to swim over, if it proved deep. We got,
several times, some strands of rope off the dooleys which they had
carried us in, as they happened to be left within the bounds of our
liberty; and in a few days collected so many pieces that when knotted
together they made several fathoms.

"After some consultation, we resolved to undermine the foundation of
the dungeon at the farthest part from the guards, and on May 27th began
to work. On June 1st we came to the foundation, being six feet deep, and
the wall thirty inches through. In two days' time we had worked upwards,
on the other side, so far that the light began to appear through the
surface, so that we let everything remain till night. At seven it
beginning to grow dark they put us into the dungeon as usual, and soon
afterwards we worked ourselves quite out. Without being discovered we
got over the wall by the help of our rope, and in less than half an hour
had crossed the moat, though very wide and deep. We travelled all night,
we judged about sixteen miles, and in the day hid ourselves among the
bushes. The second night we travelled as before, to the south-east, and
day coming on, we concealed ourselves among some rushes. About three in
the afternoon we were discovered, which obliged us to go on; but we were
not molested. We proceeded till about midnight, and then lay down till
daybreak. I had a fever and was extremely weak for want of food. This
day, which was the third, we resolved to travel till noon, and to
plunder the first house we might chance to meet with. But Providence was
more favourable to us than we could have expected; for about ten o'clock
we met a cooley who told us he would show us to Caracal. About noon we
arrived there, and were received with great humanity; but my fever was
no better.

"The next morning the governor sent to Mr. Boscawen to let him know we
were there, and by the return of the messenger the admiral desired we
might be furnished with what money we wanted. In about twelve days we
found ourselves well recovered, and went to Tranquebar, a place
belonging to the Danes, where we stayed three days, and got a passage
for Fort St. David where we arrived on June 23rd."

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