Search This Blog

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Volcano! Exciting times for the Friendship

For several days in succession [after leaving Norfolk Island], we were favoured with the finest weather. 

On the morning of the 24th of May [1800], the boy at the mast-head called out, “Land a-head!” It proved to be a small elevated rock, with a few stunted trees; many tropical birds were about it. As it was not marked in any of our charts, the captain called it Ephraims’ Island, after the boy who first saw it. To encourage vigilance, it was a standing rule on board, that the first discoverer of any new island, rock, or shoal, should have his name given to it. The latitude of this rock was found to be, 22° 40’ south, and longitude 172° 30’ east. We were now but a short distance from the Friendly and Feju Islands, so celebrated in Capt. Cook’s Voyages.

Next day the officers had good sights of the distance of the sun and moon, which made our longitude, at 12 o’clock …. 173° 54’ east
Adding the longitude of Dublin …….}                                                    6          6 west
Shews we are at the present moment …….}                                            180      0
the antipodes of that city

Several jokes were interchanged about this circumstance. The carpenter, who was from the metropolis of Ireland, doing some little jobs upon the quarter deck, having listened to the conversation, quickly asked, “Where did they say Dublin was?” 

He was told, in reply, “Directly under the ship’s bottom.” 

Then said he, “I will send a token to my old sister,” and fetching up a curious marked sixpence, he threw it over the side of the ship, exclaiming, “If old Judith sees this, she will know that Pat is not far off!” 

He was then apprised, that, although it was just noon with us, it was at the same instant exactly 12 o’clock at night in Dublin. He answered, “It matters not, for the sixpence, when it falls, will jingle upon the stones, and as the lamps shew a good light in Dublin, they can see to pick it up.” 

We were amused by his apparent simplicity, while we gave him credit for knowing better.

Soon after this we came in sight of the island, called the Hebrides, in the vicinity of New Caledonia.  In passing Annotam, Enomango, and Aurora, we saw much smoke from fires; but had no intercourse with the inhabitants of those islands, the weather being very bad, with heavy squalls of wind and rain. 

Advancing on our passage to the 11th degree of south latitude, my husband was anxious to observe an island before dark, which had been discovered upon his former voyage in the Cornwallis, and named after that ship; but the exact situation could not then be ascertained. From the distance the ship had gone, it was supposed we had passed it soon after sun-set. The wind being fierce, the sea rough, and the night intensely dark, the ship was reduced under a low sail, and a good look-out kept, to give, if possible, timely notice of danger. 

The navigation of this unknown sea was so uncertain, that the ship proceeded only when it cleared up a little; as often as the squalls were seen coming, she was hove-to. This was alternately done through the slow hours of this trying night.

About four o’clock in the morning, just as an obscure squall cleared away, rocks and breakers were discovered close under the lee of the ship.  All now was consternation; but, by the kind interposition of Providence, we were, at a moment of apparent destruction, preserved from collision with the rock. My husband is naturally gifted with presence of mind and coolness in the hour of danger. In this critical situation the helm and sails were properly managed, and, by the Almighty’s goodness, we were saved from shipwreck. 

I never can forget that night, when, looking out of the quarter gallery, I saw the furious waves dashing against the rocks with an awful noise, making all white with foam. The ship appeared to be nearly amongst the breakers; my feelings at the moment cannot be described. Meanwhile a great clamour and bustle continued upon deck; but as I saw the vessel gradually leave the white water at a distance, my mind felt a great relief, and my melting heart was impressed with gratitude to God for our preservation. 

When daylight appeared, it was discovered that this was a dangerous reef of rocks lying off the same island which they had been looking out for during the night. The captain had every confidence in the mates; they were steady, sober, and good seamen; but as neither of them had been the voyage before, his anxiety was doubled whenever the ship was by contrary winds and counter currents driven out of the known track.

This afternoon we passed the island Edgecombe, about four leagues on our right; and saw, on the left, another large mountainous island, called Egmont or St. Cruz.

Continuing our course, about two in the morning, the mate of the watch reported that he saw, at a great distance, indications of an explosion, the same as if a ship had been blown up with gunpowder. As there are some low small islands in this track, the captain judged it proper to lay the ship to until day-light. 

On changing watch, at four in the morning, another vast illumination took place, a great distance to the west of us, tingeing the clouds in that quarter. It was not known what could cause these phenomina, until the captain, in looking over his old journal, observed there was an island called the Volcano, which he formerly passed without seeing any smoke or signs of eruption. He now conjectured that the subterranean fire had again burst out. 

At day-light the black dense smoke was seen towering on high from the top of the island; as we approached all eyes were employed in observing this wonder in nature. The wind being light and favourable, it was decided that we should pass near it; and accordingly, at 10 at night, the ship, by computation, was about one league distant. 

Explosions took place as we approached, with discharges of burning fragments into the air. The last eruption was followed by a longer interval than usual, and vivid admiration had began to be succeeded by a feeling of tranquillity, when, about 11 o’clock, the greatest horror and consternation seized every person on board. On a sudden the vessel laboured as if she had been amongst surf created by rocks, shaking in every part; and almost at the same instant, a tremendous eruption, accompanied with a correspondent noise, filled the air with fire, which cast such a light around, that all, looking to the moment when the ascending combustibles must fall, conceived our destruction was at hand. Most providentially for us, the wind blew the fiery fragments in the opposite direction; had it been otherwise, our vessel might have been consumed.

After this awful explosion, the streams of liquid fire descended the sides of the hill, and as they came in contact with the water, produced a hissing noise and a dense smoke, which curled from the bottom of the mountain. When our consternation had ceased, no time was lost in getting away from this scene of horror. The past had such an effect on all on board, as to banish sleep from every eye; the seamen stood continually gazing at the scene, when not called off to their duty. By two in the morning we were at a respectful distance. 

Meanwhile many small eruptions intervened. None occurred comparably to that which we had witnessed when nearest, until four in the morning, when another great explosion appeared, if possible, more terrible. The ship shook all over in the most violent manner, as if the land at the bottom of the ocean had been heaved by an earthquake; then followed the tremendous explosion, with the rush of liquid flames down the sides of the mountain as before. But our senses were now more collected, and being four leagues off, time and space allowed us to observe it.

At day-light  we had still the island Egmont in sight. As the volcanic isle lies only about 10 or 12 leagues to the north of the above, in latitude 10 degrees south, and 166 degrees east longitude, it was supposed that it could not be above 10 or 12 miles in circumference; but from the great quantities of lava thrown out, it may be expected to increase in size. It appeared broad at the base, tapering upward like an inverted funnel, ragged at the top or edge of the crater.

No comments: