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Author(s): William Gilly
Date Published: 2008/01
Page Count: 340
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-401-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-402-7

Those in peril on the waves

Few purchasers of this book will find themselves disappointed by its contents. It concerns naval disasters and, appalling as many of them are, they make compulsive reading. Shipwreck was no rare occurrence during the great age of sail and it came in many terrible forms exacerbated-during the long wars with France-by the intervention of an enemy. Britannia ruled the waves, so these incidents unfold in the freezing waters of the North Sea to the ice locked Polar regions and the steaming tropics of the Malay Peninsula. Brave ships came to grief in squalls, in fires, run aground on sands, dashed on rocks, crushed in ice and in compound accidents which will have the reader groaning with exasperation and sympathy for the crews who had to endure them. Here are tales of the Ajax, the Amphion, the Queen Charlotte, the Hindostan, the Venerable and many more. Every story is told in fascinating detail and includes first hand accounts by the survivors. Here are revealed feats of endurance, suffering and bravery by the sailors of the Royal Navy. Their ordeals include cannibalism, pirates, shark attack, treks across ice, imprisonment and every force Nature could contrive to hurl against them. This book is a must-particularly for those who are fascinated by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

At six, a.m., December 30th, all was in readiness for the Grappler to leave the harbour. The anchor was up, and the vessel was riding between wind and tide, with a hawser made fast to the rocks. Unfortunately, the hawser either broke or slipped while they were in the act of close reefing the topsails, and the brig cast to port. She drifted about three or four hundred yards, and struck at last on a half-tide rock, from which all their efforts were unavailing to haul her off again, and at low water she bilged, and parted in two abreast the chess tree.<br>
Lieutenant Thomas, foreseeing the inevitable loss of the brig, had ordered the master to proceed with the cutter and eight men to Jersey for assistance; and he was directing the crew in their endeavours to mount some guns upon a small rocky islet, to which they had already carried the greater part of the provisions, small arms, and ammunition, when the look-out man, who had been stationed on the summit of the rock, reported that several small craft were steering towards them. Upon receiving this intelligence, the commander and pilot repaired to the high ground, and after carefully examining the appearance of the vessels, agreed that they were merely fishing boats, and considered that it would be imprudent to let them depart before assistance had been procured from Jersey, as, in case there were no ships of war at that place, these boats might possibly be hired to carry the men and stores to Jersey. With this object in view, Lieutenant Thomas pushed off in the jolly boat, accompanied by the French fishermen’s small boat which had come to the assistance of the Grappler’s crew.<br>
In order to approach the supposed fishing boats, it was necessary to double a point of the Maitre Isle; and this they had no sooner accomplished, than they came in sight of three chasse marées, which had been concealed behind the point. On the sudden appearance of the English boat, the men on board the chasse marées were thrown into some confusion, and Lieutenant Thomas determined to attack them before they had time to recover themselves. On communicating his intention to his boat’s crew, they dashed forwards at once with a loud cheer, but had scarcely pulled a dozen strokes when a body of soldiers, who had been concealed behind some rocks on the Maitre Isle, poured in so severe a fire that Lieutenant Thomas, seeing the superiority of the French in point of numbers, thought it prudent to retreat. No sooner had he given orders to do so, than a shot struck him on the lower jaw and passed through his tongue, rendering him incapable of further exertion. A second volley of musketry riddled the boat, so that she began to fill with water, and finding that they had no alternative but to surrender, the English made a signal to that effect, which was either unobserved, or purposely disregarded, as the firing did not cease till the arrival of the officer in command of the French, when the little party were all made prisoners. Upon Lieutenant Thomas being carried on shore, he found that he had fallen into the hands of a Capitaine de Frigate, who commanded a detachment of fourteen boats and a hundred and sixty men. As soon as the captives were landed, a party of the French troops proceeded to the wreck of the Grappler, and made prisoners of the men who were on the adjacent rock, and after seizing all the stores and provisions, they blew up the remains of the brig.