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Vessel Dashed to Pieces by a Whale

The Mirror, Saturday, May 17, 1823

(From the Annual Register of 1821.)

On the 19th of Nov. 1821, the Essex, a Russian vessel, of 250 tons which was employed in the whale fishery was in lat. 47 deg. S. and long. 118 deg. W. from Greenwich, and consequently about 500 geographical miles to the west of the Patagonian coast, when it was surrounded by whales; and one of them of the largest size gave it so violent a blow with his tail, that the keel of the vessel was partly laid bare. The monster stopped some time near the ship, endeavouring to strike it again with his tail: not being able to succeed, he swam before the vessel to the distance of about half a werst, (one-third of an English mile) then at once he swam back, and struck the prow with such violence, that notwithstanding the rapidity of her course, under full sail, the vessel receded, and this retrograde movement was almost as rapid as her advance forwards. The damage which was occasioned by this gigantic shock is not to be described. The waves broke into the ship through the cabin windows, all the persons who happened to be on deck, were thrown down, the vessel filled with water, was laid on the side, and did not right herself till the masts were cut away.

It was immediately evident that there were no hopes of saving her. The crew, thinking only of their own safety, got into the two boats, in which they embarked some provisions which they had with great difficulty taken out of the sinking vessel. A month after, that is on the 20th of December, these unfortunate people arrived at the Isle of Ducie, where they stopped eight days: but not finding any provisions there, they endeavoured to reach the continent of South America, leaving, however, three of their companions on the island. A short time after this the two boats separated; and one of them, which had only three men in her, met, sixty days after their shipwreck, an American vessel, which took them on board. It was not till ninety six days after their departure from the island of Ducie, that the other boat bad the good fortune to meet with a vessel: but there were only two persons on board, the Captain and the cabin boy. Famine had reduced them to the horrible necessity of eating each other! Eight times they drew lots, and eight victims were sacrificed to the hunger of their surviving companions. The lot had been already drawn which condemned the boy to the same fate, when he and the Captain discovered the vessel which saved them. An English vessel, on her way to Port Jackson, in New Holland, touched at the Island of Ducie. A gun having been fired, the crew soon afterwards saw the three men who had been left there come out of a wood. A boat was sent to bring them on board the ship.


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