The New York Times, September 13, 1885, p.6:|
WRECKED WITH OKOJUMBOMR. KER'S THRILLING ADVENTURE NARRATED BY HIMSELF.
HIS SHIP STRIKES A ROCK ON THE GUINEA COAST,
AND HER PASSENGERS ESCAPE IN SMALL BOATS—
THEIR LIFE ASHORE.
WRECK OF THE CORISCO, OFF THE MOUTH OF THE CESS RIVER [Cestos River, Liberia], West Africa, July 23.—As soon as we get ashore—if ever we do—I shall reduce my notes to plain writing, at least as much of them as the pouring rain and the waves that keep breaking over us are good enough to spare.
Only last night, in telling some of my adventures to the other passengers, I was saying that I had never been properly shipwrecked, and now, as if on purpose to make good the deficiency without loss of time, I am enjoying that salutary experience in full measure. Yonder staggers our poor old ship, thrashing and bumping on a sunken reef, her stern tilting gradually up in the air as she goes slowly down by the head. Here are we, packed happy-go-lucky into the four boats which are left us, some bareheaded, some barefooted, and nearly all in coats, or shawls, or dressing gowns huddled on over their night clothes.
How the other boats are provided it is as yet impossible to tell in the darkness and confusion. Our boat has a small cask of water in her, but not a morsel of food of any kind. To make matters better, it turns out that the tiller has been carried away and the rudder is useless. So, in the utter darkness and the drenching rain, we drift helplessly hither and thither, our oarsmen working their hardest to keep the boat well clear of the doomed vessel, but every now and then missing their stroke and carrying us back under her stern, quite near enough to be sucked down by the vortex in which we are every moment expecting her to disappear...
Just at 4:20 A. M. a violent shock and a deafening crash awoke every soul in the saloon. The ship stopped short—struck again—and then came down a third time, with that horrible grinding crash that every old sailor knows to his cost, hard and fast upon the rock. Simultaneously with the final shock there was a tremendous smash and jingle, as all the glass and crockery in the saloon went to pieces at once, while a hoarse shout was heard from the deck: "All out! All out!" Then we all understood what we had to expect.
The confusion on deck when the rush from the saloon began was beyond the power of words to convey. The trampling of feet, the shouts of passengers calling to each other, the cracking and grinding of the broken timbers, the hiss and gurgle of the water as it flowed in, the battering of the waves against the reeling ship, the roar of the escaping steam, the crash and rattle of chairs, boxes, and benches dashed hither and thither with every plunge of the sinking vessel made a maddening uproar, which, in the midst of the pitchy darkness that the fitful gleam of a stray lantern or two only made all the blacker, might well have made any man lose his head for the moment.
But high and through all the infernal din rose the stentorian voice of brave Capt. Porter, giving his orders as coolly and cheerfully as if he were just going into dock at Liverpool, instead of standing on the deck of a sinking ship, with the prospect of having his whole professional life ruined, even should he escape. The officers bestirred themselves, and little by little order evolved itself out of the chaos. The first boat lowered, let go at the wrong time by some mischance, bilged against the ship's side, and floated helplessly away by itself. But the blue jackets, not a whit discouraged, went to work again, and two more boats were lowered in a trice.
Mrs. Ker and I had come on deck loaded with whatever we could snatch up, and, in addition to this, I had whipped up my portmanteau and dragged it up on the poop deck, where I took out of it my Persian belt, with $400 in gold and notes, and then left the portmanteau to its fate...
The vessel had heeled over to port by this time so much that it was no easy matter even to stand, much less walk, on the drenched and slippery deck. Three or four of us, however, stuck together by the quarter rail on the starboard side of the poop deck, keeping in our midst Mrs. Ker and the other lady passenger, the wife of a missionary bound for Fernando Po.
Major Vetch, our Congo friend, as cool and brave in this crisis as when the Zulus come howling around his square at Ulundi, came picking his way over the wet, sloping planking to join us, with his arms full of various necessaries which, with the forethought and composure of an old soldier, he had hastily got together. But I had barely time to shout his name when the sinking ship gave another terrible plunge, and the poor Major and all his commodities vanished into the darkness to leeward as if fired out of a gun.
At the same moment the Captain's shout came rolling aft, hoarsely echoed by three or four deep voices in succession:
"Get the ladies into the boats! Drop down into that first boat, one of you, and help 'em down..."
Both ladies... descended without the slightest hesitation, and after them the men "dropped in casually," one by one... When we were all in, just as the first gray dimness of early morning began to show us each other's faces where we sat, we shoved off from the vessel's side. It was then about 5:30 in the morning...
Meanwhile, the terrible African rain which prevails along the whole line of the west coast from May to September keeps pouring down upon us without mercy, drenching the half-dressed ladies to the skin. Only last night I was condoling with Major Vetch upon his not having followed my example by bringing his wife along with him; but I must confess that I envied him now. It is not pleasant to think what these delicate women may have to suffer...
In this piratical place everybody's difficulty is the Krooman's [Krumen, Kroumen] opportunity, and the first glimpse of a ship in distress suffices to bring off the natives to her in their light canoes by hundreds and by thousands, not to help her, but to help themselves to everything that she contains, from a boat down to a buttonhook...
6:35 A. M.—We shall soon know our fate now, for here comes a light canoe out toward us from the shore, paddled by a single negro, and if the Kroomen of the coast mean mischief, this man will be followed by hundreds more. Anyhow, we shall hail him as soon as he comes within reach and see what happens, for it is our only chance.
DUTCH FACTORY, RIVER CESS, July 25.—We have added one more to our list of escapes, and may fairly count ourselves among the fortunate individuals who are not born to be drowned, and too without any fear of the proverbial alternative, as I happen to have been hanged once already.
But I think that men have seldom seen a nearer and uglier vision of death and have yet escaped to tell of it. I may fairly say that of all of my 158 voyages not one has come closer to the boundary that separates (as the philosophical Lord Lytton [Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton] would have phrased it) "the here from the hereafter." As it is, we are wrecked on an out-of-the-way part of the African coast, and here we must stay until some good Samaritan comes to our assistance in the way of a passing steamer...
The little plank house in which we have been housed with true Dutch hospitality by Mynheer Everts and his partner, Mynheer van Beusekom, is a mere oasis in the great mass of jungle that shuts it in on every side, through which the only road is a path, barely a foot broad, hacked out by the Kroomen with their huge machetes (heavy chopping knives) and in many places almost hidden by the projecting boughs that interlace themselves overhead. Black and painted savages stroll about complacently under our windows with nothing on but a straw hat and a fetich, the latter usually consisting of two palm kernels strung upon a rope yarn.
A negro missionary from a neighboring "town" composed of four native huts has just called to bring us a fowl for the ladies, and to invite us to a Kroo service to-morrow morning. The "tidying up" of Mrs. Ker's bedroom—formerly occupied by Mynheer Everts himself, who gave it up to her with ready courtesy the moment we landed—is done by a little wooly-headed Kroo boy whose entire toilet consists of three inches of cloth around the loins.
This morning a colored lady bearing the title of "head woman of the district," and probably to be regarded as a leader of fashion in her own circle, inasmuch as she actually wore a blue skirt nearly a foot broad, honored us with a visit, and coming into the veranda where we were sitting shook hands with us all round—a very gratifying compliment, although her extreme likeness to one of those little chocolate figures that one sees in the windows of French confectioners is naturally rather tantalizing to men who are so far beyond the reach of any such beatific vision as chocolat Menier.
My letter of the 23rd broke off just at the point where four of our boats, keeping as close together as the sea would permit, were lying out in the offing to await the return of the fifth, which the Captain had sent to look for a landing place. Meanwhile several of the passengers, including Mrs. Ker and myself, with the other lady passenger and her husband, were transferred to one of the other boats, where the first man we saw was the missing Major Vetch, whom I had seen flying backward into the darkness two hours before, when the ship made her final plunge.
He had saved himself by clinging to the quarter rail of the poop deck, and, as if not content with this wonderful escape, had actually ventured down into the flooded saloon and brought off Mrs. Ker's handbag, containing several small articles which afterward proved invaluable in our desolate condition.
Along with the bag the veteran campaigner had saved his own brandy flask, a sip from which put new life into more than one poor fellow who was shivering almost unclothed under the cold rain that still poured down in torrents. With the brandy half a biscuit apiece was served round, and having thus breakfasted, we felt ready to face anything that might come...
Just about 6:35, as I mentioned at the close of my last letter, a canoe was seen coming off to us from the shore, paddled by a single Krooman, who gave a friendly answer to our hail, and informed us, in the most extraordinary jargon which I ever heard, that there were two white men living on the inner shore of the bay in which our boats were lying. This was welcome news, and the Captain instantly broke off a piece of the boat's woodwork, upon which, with the help of a pencil fortunately saved by one of the passengers, the following note was hastily scribbled:
S. S. Corsico wrecked. Are there any white men here, and is it safe to land? If so, write to us at once and give to Kroo boy. |
Two ladies in the boats.
Off goes the noble savage in a canoe not much broader than the blade of a jackknife, which skims like a duck through billows in which any ordinary boat would be overwhelmed at once. In a wonderfully short time this strange postal delvery brings back a reply which, blotted and creased by sea water like the paper on which I write, now lies in the inner pocket of my Persian belt to be preserved so long as I am above ground:
River Cess, 23 July, 1885.|
To the Captain of the Corsico.
I am very sorry about the bad news I learned. There are two white men here from the Dutch house of Hendrik Muller & Co., Rotterdam. You can come safe on shore, and trust the man called Louis as pilot for the bar.
Yours, G. Everts, B. Van Beusekom.
load map above: Monrovia - River Cess Town|
See also: Sierra Leone News - Guinea News
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