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THE COSPATRICK TRAGEDY., Otago Witness, Issue 2820, 1 April 1908
THE COSPATRICK TRAGEDY.
A TALE OF THE SEVENTIES RETOLD At the end of 1874 England was startle* by a ghastly calamity which had befallen an emigrant ship, the- like of -which '-htis ' not many parallels in eea history. " ■ Oa " the eve of the new year two men airt , a boy were landed at Plymouth, the sole survivors of the ship Cospatrick, which" had sailed four months previously with a company of 478 boulb — men, womenchildren, infants dn arm* — for New Zealand. The story, which i 6 told in tba Melbourne Argus, is of interest at the pre^ sent, when our people are recalling the incident connected with their voyage out. The Cospatrick was a teak-built ship ,of 1200 tons register, owned by Messrs Shaw,Savill, and Co., and contracted to the' New Zealand Government to cany emigrants. The new colonists were rounded up at the depot established at Blackball by the Agent-general for New Zealand, Dr Featherston, and on September 11' they sailed from Gravesend for Auckland. During the evening of November 17, -whett the Cospatrick was about 400 miles southeast of the Cape of Good Hope, there was an incident — a child was born on board. A couple of hours later there was another incident. The one was the beginning of life, the other the begining of death-* death in its most hideous form. It was midnight. The wind was light—* so light that the ship had barely steerage, way, — and the 6ea, like the emigrants^ .siumbered peacefully. The watch droned: to each other about the decks in the dipj light of swinging lanterns, or dozed in tne shadows on the hatches. Forw&rdJ in the darkness, the red and green side-lights flashed on the staysails as they swisied to and. fro with the rolling of the vessel. Overhead the canvas flapped and banged! against the masts when the breeze '.ack-d strength to keep the eails filled. Suddenly, in the middle of a lull in the noise, there was a confused shouting. There w%>» no mistaking the purport ; it was the dread alarm of "Fire!" The ship became ?', scene of wild excitement, as the emigrants rushed on deck. Smoke was issuing 'com somewhere forward — either the fo'cSle ar the hold jno one ever bold which. Tim capiain appeared in his shirt at the door of has cabin under the bieak of the -oop and shouted orders to ihe officers and men. The foresail was hauled up, tho crew got to york on the pumps, and a. stream of water was sent down the fo cste scuttle. Backets were given to the emigrants ; others got pans, dishes, tubs, anything that would carry water, and, forming lines to the bulwarks, they commenced a fight for dear life. To add extra torturs to minds overweighted with dread, thawind freshened. "Up helm!" yelled tl.ft, captain, running towards the wheel, andl> braces -were manned in an endeavour ta put the ship before the wind. But, ala^L the breeze was sufficient only enough to assure her doom. She would not anewra the helm, and slowly came up head ta wind, denee smoke enveloping the -decks as it was blown aft. Soon the fire appeared at the scuttle, and the light wood around it crackled and collapsed. The water was turned into the forehald, butt nothing could stop the fury of the VazOj. aided as it *vas by the draught. NaiU i', shot up out of the fore-hatch with aiEfi-s ing, venemous tongues, casting a glare over; the decks that sent the women wild withi terror. The whole of the forepart of tha ship was now a volcano — white-hot, unapproachable. Streaks of flame licked! the fore-rigging, and it flared like so many torches (wire shrouds and backstays baiJl not come into use on every vessel in tho-sat days). The tarred coir burnt as if Mi had been prepared for the purpose Up.
■up, the flames ran ! The brailcd foresail took them, passed them on to the topsails. and away they went aloft to the royais The forward deckhouse soon caught alight, and the panic-stricken emigrants screamed in"the agony of fear as they were beaten aft. ' They < ro\v<led into the waist and up on the poop. The fire 6pat at them, belched at .them through the smoke with remorseless savagery, and forced them back. The pumps were abandoned, for no human being could stay at them, and the hapless people only too well realised that they were lost, for out of the six boats the ship had sailed with, two, which had lain one on each side of the forehatch, were gone in the flames. Think of it ! Fout hundred and seventysit living souls in a vessel 190 ft long already half burnt. They ran in frenzy about the deck — screaming, fainting. Women with children clasped to them dropped unheeded, trampled on, maimed by falling spars, burnt by fiery cordage and canvas. They rushed to the starboard quarter-boat hanging in the davits over the side. About 80 crowded into it, and tne davits bent with their weight. The boat's stern went down and capped into the water, causing the craft- to fill and turn keel up, throwing the helpless wretches into the ©ea. No assistance could be rendered by those on the decks beyond the throwing overboard of a few hencoops and other movables, and all perished. The officers tried to get the port boat off the skids and launch it, but tbe fire burst from the after-hatch, and they were driven away from the hellish pit that was beneath 1 their feet. Down came the flaring foremast with a crash, sending up showers of sparks. The captain's gig was thrown clumsily overboard, and it sank before anyone could get hold of it. Meanwhile the officers had placed men to guard the other boat — the only one left! It was lowered. Before it touched the water theTe was a wild rush of human beings fighting to get to it. Some jumped into tbe sea and got hold of the gunwales; others — women too — slid down the falls, landing with the flesh torn off their hands. The men shoved out from the vessel's Bide just as the mainmast fell, killing many on the deck. The chief officer swam to them, and -the emigrants lifted him in. The boat could hold no more, for its. side was only about 6in clear of the water, as there were already 30 in it. But an Irish girl came swimming, and they helped her aboard over the stern, at the ride of being swamped. Th© ship -was now afire from "stem to stern, and around her in the eea was .a death struggle of drowning men and women. Those in the boat could do nothing but look on with blanched faces. The captain was 6een with his wife on the poop. He took her in hia arms, threw her into the sea, and stepped over after her. The ship's doctor lifted up the captain's little son, and both went over the taffrail together. They cast one death benrml\them for another — nothing more was seen of them. Others did the same as they were forced off the ship. Not long, and the watchers knew the finish was at 'hand. About an houi and a-half had elapsed since the outbreak, whep the ■mizzen-mast fell, and an explosion, caused by, spirits in the hold, blew out the poop. They saw the last foothold on the ship give way, and the hull became one white, hot, seething hell, the reflection spreading over the ocean for mides around. There were fen left of the 476. Voices were heard from a heap of floating wreckage, aod here were about 30 rrkvre in the starboard boat which the sailors had swum to and- righted. Then all cries died away, and nothing was . heard out the roaring of th© fire. All the following day they kept beside the spars, and throughout the- next weary night. Morning broke, and the horizon was eagerly scanned. Nothins? in sight. Still they stayed on, until, at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when, the fire having relentlessly eaten its way down to the copper, with a hissing and a belching of steam the sea poured into the shell. The last heavy mass of thick smoke detached itself from the surface of the ocean, hung in a majestic funeral pall ■over the- spot where the Cospatrick vanished into her grave, slowly dispersed in the breeze, and the castaways were left in their desolation. Their beacon was gone — their last hope. For what hope could remain to them? The two boatloads were divided as equally as possible. The chief officer took charge of one, with the quartermaster, three sailors, and 23 emigrants, including a- baby. The second officer's boat oontaircd"3o persons. In the division of oars — nearly all lost — the chief officer took two, in- additioD to which he had a rudder. The other had one oar, the blade of one, and no rudder. The Irish girl, Mary XD'Shea, who'" was picked up, took off a petticoat and gave it to the second officer, ■who rigged it up as a sail on a piece of board. Neither boat possessed a compass, and in this miserable plight a course was steered, a* nearly as could be guessed at, for the coast of South Africa. The rest of the tale is of starvation and delirium— death picking off the unfortunates one by one, day after day. But it ac of one boat only that any record remains, for after keeping in company for about 48 hours they lost sight of each other in the darkness of the ni<rht, and .■what happened to th© chief officer's boat can only be guessed at. It was on the evening of the 19th that the Coepatrick ca/ught fire. During the «csuiiig d»je tb© Reaper cam© for ths tortured souls one by one. As they died ifche others in desperation cut the livere out of the bodies and ate them. On the 27th the barque British Sceptre •was in lat. 28deg S., long. 12deg E., making for the south-east trades, after weary (battling with the icy gales from the Anjtarctic, when the boat came in sight. Of the 30 who had been on her there retrained fiveythe second mate, Macdonald, « Welsh eailor, a cabin boy, and two of Ifche emigrants. Of the la6t mentioned. one, a coloured man, was barely alive ; Abe other was a lunatic and at his last jgaep. They relapsed into a lethargy that
betokened the end — all except the poor crazy emigrant, who chattered feebly. Macdonald lay in the stern. He was "in better condition than any of them, having been a spare-built man, and having partaken cautiously of the salt water. He was awakened after some time by tin madman gnawing at his foot, and as his eyes opened they fell on a sail quite close at hand. The sight for a moment hardly interested him. It was only another dream, said his dazed brain. There was nothing on the wide ocean but a ship's boat with five men and a corpse in her. "Don't let them take me ; I'll jump overboard rather than bs taken," said the madman in a hoaTse whisper, as he clasped MacdonaJd's knees, and pointed to the vessel. Macdonald raised all the voice he could muster, and called the sailors. The men could not respond, but the lad struggled to a 6ittmg position. They cou.vi do nothing, however ; they could only watch the birque moving "towards where they lay. For there was no doubt about it ; rescue was at hand. The barque went up in the wind, and slowly drifted m their direction until they were undeT her quarter. A line dropped into the boat. They managed to make it fast, and presently a couple of sailors slid down it. And the rest was peace — peace for all ; for the three sailormen were nursed back to life, while the two emigrants reached their journeys end at the bourne whence no emigrant ever returns.
THE COSPATRICK TRAGEDY., Otago Witness, Issue 2820, 1 April 1908
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