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 exc
pting 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."