The "Blue Jacket"
- By Pascal Kainic -
The Antonio Vinent (M. auliffe, master) arrived here on April 3, bound from Swansea for Valparaiso, having on board a boat with a crew of eight men (three having died) of the ship Bluejacket, from Lyttleton, New Zealand, to London, which vessel was burnt at sea on March 9.
About £10,000 in gold was in the boat, and will be forwarded by her Majesty's ship Megoera."
The following letter from one of the survivors of this vessel appeared in the
news of July 8 :
Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, April 29. I869.
"My dear Mother,-With many, many thanks to the Almighty God, I write the welcome news that I am still snared to live a few days longer in this world. You will, no doubt, before you receive this letter, have heard of the sad fate of the poor old Blue Jacket I will tell you what had transpired on board the Blue Jacket since she left Lyttleton up to the time she was burnt.
We left that port February 13. We had seven saloon passengers grown up, twelve second cabin, and seven children all young, and a stewardess of the saloon.
Of the passengers there were six women; two of the children were at the breast. Ship's company all told, 42. Total number of people on board, 62 and 7 children.
There was a little sea-sickness at starting; that soon passed away. We made a very good passage to the Horn in 20 days.
On March 7 we passed these islands in sight, little dreaming at that time that this place would be our refuge before long,. But on the Tuesday following there was a scene that I never wish to view again.
About half past one in the afternoon smoke was seen issuing out of the fore hatchway. We well knew what was the matter, and in about ten minutes time there was a good supply of water being played upon it.
There were no flames, but very dense smoke arising.
As soon as the captain saw that it was likely to prove serious, he told Mr. Williams to get the yacht slung and provisioned, and ready for going over the side; then the two lifeboats were got ready for lowering and provisioned.
In the meantime I had a few hands shortening sail, While all this was proceeding the pumps were still kept going, every one working for his life.
It happened to be a very fine afternoon, everything was being done to extinguish the fire, and about six o'clock we thought we would get the upper baud of it.
Half an hour afterwards it broke out ten times worse than ever, We still kept hard at it until a little after nine that night, at which time the coals that were in the forepart had caught fire, and in ten minutes after the whole of the forecastle was in a blaze.
Then our fate appeared sealed. The order was given to get the yacht over the side, which was done with great risk of limbs, as there was a nasty sea running, but she was got over all safe.
Before lowering her into the water we got the women and children into her all safe, then lowered her; after which the remaining passengers got in, the fire in the meantime working aft very rapidly...
...About an hour after we left , the foremast fell over the Bide: half an hour afterwards the main and mizen followed its example with a heavy crash.
The vessel was then in one mass of flames; it was a splendid but fearful sight to witness. We kept as near the ship as possible, thinking a vessel might see the fire and bear down to her; but there was no such luck.
Next day there was a dead calm, and Mr. Williams came on board the yacht; sO we straightened up the boat a little, and made things more comfortable.
There were fifteen of us in our boat, there were twenty-seven adults and seven children in the yacht, and the rest with Mr. Bell, second mate.
I have no doubt father would recollect the brown dog Mr.-? had. It was in our boat. Six days after we left the ship we killed it, drank the blood, and ate the flesh.
Six days after that was the commencement of the horrors of a castaway crew. One of the boys out of two died through drinking salt water, We managed to keep it from him during the daytime, but at night he would get it. He was out of his mind about eleven hours before he died.
We buried the poor lad as well as we could under the circumstances. We read the burial service for the dead at sea, but we had nothing to sink him with. It was a painful task, but it was the will of God. We prayed to the Almighty in that boat with more earnestness than any of us had ever done before. We could see death staring us in the face.
Day after day, no land, no vessel.
Five days after the boy died we lost the carpenter and a seaman. The latter poor fellow died from utter debility and old age. The carpenter, who was a fine tall man, over six leet, died from drinking salt water. The carpenter has left a wife with four or five children to mourn his loss.
Two days after another man died raving mad, through salt water; he was the healthiest-looking man in the boat. " There were two others (the sailmaker and one seaman) out of their mind. We expected they would be going off at any moment.
Next day, nothing in sight; we thought the Almighty had brought us there to breathe our last; we had breakfast, which was one sardine, some biscuit that we had to squeeze to get the salt water out, and about two tablespoon full of water.
I forgot to tell you that, about ten days after leaving the ship, our feet became so painful with frostbite that we had to cut our boots off, the pain was so excruciating. For my part, I was inclined to drink salt water to put an end to my life, for what with the hunger, the thirst, and the pain in my feet I nearly went mad; in fact, one afternoon for a few hours I was out of my mind, they all said they thought I should go off.
After we had breakfast, all the provisions we had left was a small box of sardines, plenty of spoilt bread, with about one gallon of water. There was a light breeze, and a little after twelve o'clock one of the men shouted out ' Sail ho!' We all for the moment forgot our weakness and pain, and jumped up, and there was a barque bearing down upon us; we were soon alongside of her, and were hauled up the side, for we were as helpless as children. I forgot to tell you that we had saved three boxes of gold from the ship, value £ 10,000. When the captain found we had got gold he got into a frightful rage...
He put the boatswain in irons and two seamen also, and chained them down-men that were not able to lift a pound weight; and several times be threatened to take the boatswain's life.
We just got sufficient food to keep us alive, and that was all.
Well, these islands were the nearest place. The Almighty blest us with a fair wind. We arrived here on the Sunday. The captain and a passenger he had with him went on shore and reported that he had picked up some wrecked sailors, and from what he could make out we had murdered every one on board,
and then set fire to the ship and taken the gold and left her.
When the doctor came on board he ordered the irons to be taken off and to
give us plenty of wine.
Next day (Monday) we were all brought on shore and put into houses. Before I go further I must tell you that three more died on board the barque, leaving eight of us to tell the tale, live of the men's feet had got nearly well; but the engineer, the boy, and myself were the worst cases.
We three are in a house by ourselves, the engineer chiefly from bad sores and weakness, the boy suffers with frostbite in his feet, he has lost each of his little toes.
I am suffering from one foot, but I am sorry to say that all my toes have rotted off. Had we not had a clever doctor I should have lost my foot altogether...
..." Nothing has been heard of the other boats. Poor things i hope and trust they are picked up. I think I would commit suicide before I would go through the same again. But, please God, in seven or eight weeks' time I will be with you to tell the tale. I expect I shall limp a little at first with my foot, but I am only too thankful to have any feet at all...
...I may add that amongst those saved are Samuel Mattocks (apprentice), R. Nelson, Thomas King, George Small, James Cox, Arthur Webber, James rotham, and William Jones."
the "Blue Jacket" was a First class Australian clipper ship of 1442 tons, Captain White, from Queenstown (Australia) to London with a cargo of 4646 bales of wool, 51 bales cotton, plus 16.000 ounces of gold in specie and gold bullion shipped by the Bank of New Zealand.
4000 £ sterling of specie has been saved by the master and the missing boat contains the same amount each.
Only 84 persons in all have been landed here; 31 seamen are in the missing boats.
The vessel was burnt and lost on 9th of September 1869, and abandoned by 50 degrees south, 47 degrees west.
From State Library of Victoria