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barometers were suspended, to mark their varying indications during the gale in my journal; and it was on one of those occasions, after having
read to Mrs. , at her request, the twelfth
chapter of St Luke, which so beautifully declares and illustrates the minute and tender providence of God, and so solemnly urges on all the necessity of continual watchfulness and readiness for the "coming of the Son of Man," that I received from Captain Spence, the captain of the day, the alarming information that the ship was on fire in the after-hold; on hastening to the hatchway, whence smoke was slowly ascending, I found Captain Cobb and other officers already giving orders, which seemed to be promptly obeyed by the seamen and troops, who were using every exertion, by means of the pumps, buckets of water, wet sails, hammocks, &c. to extinguish the flames.
With a view to excite amongst the ladies as little alarm as possible, in conveying this intelligence to Colonel Fearon, the commanding officer of the troops,! knocked gently at his cabin door, and expressed a wish to speak with him; but whether my countenance betrayed the state of my feelings, or the increasing noise and confusion upon deck created apprehensions amongst them that the storm was assuming a more serious aspect, I found it difficult to pacify some of the ladies by repeated assurances that no danger whatever was to be apprehended from the gale. As long as the devouring element appeared to be confined to the spot where the fire originated, and which we were assured was surrounded oil all sides by the water-casks, we ventured to cherish hopes that it might be subdued; but no sooner was the light blue vapour, that first arose, succeeded by volumes of thick dingy smoke, which speedily ascending through all the four hatchways, rolled over every part of the ship, than all farther concealment became impossible, and almost all hope of preserving the vessel was abandoned. "The flames have reached thecable tier," was exclaimed by some individuals, and the strong pitchy smell that pervaded the deck confirmed the truth of the exclamation.
In these awful circumstances, Captain Cobb, with an ability and decision of character that seemed to increase with the imminence of the danger, resorted to the only alternative now left him, of ordering the lower decks to be scuttled, the combings of the hatches to be cut, and the lower ports to be opened, for the free admission of the waves.
These instructions were speedily executed by the united efforts of the troops and seamen; but not before some of the sick soldiers, one woman, and several children, unable to gain the upper deck, had perished. On descending to the gun deck with Colonel Fearon, Captain Bray, and one or two other officers of the thirty-first regiment, to assist in opening the ports, I met, staggering towards the hatchway, in an exhausted and nearly senseless state, one of the mates, who informed us that he had just stumbled over the dead bodies of some individuals who must have died from suffocation, to which it was evident that he himself had almost fallen a victim. So dense and oppressive was the smoke, that it was with the utmost difficulty we could remain long enough below to fulfil Captain Cobb's wishes; which were no sooner accomplished, than the sea rushing in with extraordinary force, carrying away, in its resistless progress to the hold, the largest chests, bulk-heads, &c.
Such a sight, under any other conceivable circumstances, was well calculated to have filled us with horror; but in our natural solicitude to avoid the more immediate peril of explosion, we endeavoured to cheer each other, as we stood up to our knees in water, with a faint hope that by these violent means we might be speedily restored to safety. The immense quantity of water that was thus introduced into the hold, had indeed the effect, for a time, of checking the fury of the flames; but the danger of sinking having increased as the risk of explosion was diminished, the ship became water-logged, and presented other indications of settling, previous to her going down.
Death, in two of its most awful forms, now encompassed us, and we seemed left to choose the terrible alternative. But always preferring the more remote, though equally certain crisis, we tried to shut the ports again, to close the hatches, and to exclude the external air, in order if possible to prolong our existence, the near and certain termination of which appeared inevitable.
The scene of horror that now presented itself baffles all description—
Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell;
The upper deck was covered with between six and seven hundred human beings, many of whom, from previous sea-sickness, were forced on the first alarm to flee from below in a state of absolute nakedness, and were now running about in quest of husbands, children, or parents. While some were standing in silent resignation, or in stupid insensibility to their impending fate, others were yielding themselves up to the most frantic despair. Some on their knees were earnestly imploring with significant gesticulations and in noisy supplications, the mercy of Him, whose arm, they exclaimed, was at length outstretched to smite them; others were to be seen hastily crossing themselves, and performing the various external acts required by their peculiar persuasion, while a number of the older and more stouthearted soldiers and sailors sullenly took their seats directly over the magazine, hoping, as they stated, that, by means of the explosion, which they every instant expected, a speedier termination might thereby be put to their sufferings.
TRANSFER OF PASSENGERS FROM THE KENT TO THE CAMBRIA.
It was at this appalling instant, when " all hope that we should be saved was now taken away," and when the letter referred to was about being committed to the waves, that it occurred to Mr. Thomson, the fourth mate, to send a man to the foretop, rather with the ardent wish, than the expectation, that some friendly sail might be discovered on the face of the waters. The sailor, on mounting, threw his eyes round the horizon for a moment,—a moment of unutterable suspense,—and, waving his hat, exclaimed, "a sail on the lee bow!"—The joyful announcement was received with deep-felt thanksgivings, and with three cheers upon deck. Our flags of distress were instantly hoisted, and our minute guns fired; and we endeavoured to bear down under our three topsails and foresail upon the stranger, which afterwards proved to be the Cambria, a small brig of two hundred tons burden—Cook— bound to Vera Cruz, having on board twenty or thirty Cornish miners, and other agents of the Anglo-Mexican Company.
For ten or fifteen minutes we were left in doubt whether the brig perceived our signals, or, perceiving them, was either disposed or able to lend us any assistance. From the violence of the gale, it seems that the report of our guns was not heard; but the ascending volumes of smoke from the ship sufficiently announced the dreadful nature of our distress; and we had the satisfaction, after a short period of dark suspense, to see the brig hoist British colours, and crowd all sail to hasten to our relief.
Although it was impossible, and would have been improper to repress the rising hopes that were pretty generally diffused amongst us by the unexpected sight of the Cambria, yet I confess, that when I reflected on the long period our ship had been already burning—on the tremendous sea that was running—on the extreme smallness of the brig, and the immense number of human
VOL. III. II