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Loss of an Emigrant Ship, and Two Hundred and Forty Passengers

The following is from the Illustrated London News of May 8, 1847.

We are sorry to have to record the loss of the ship Exmouth, under very painful circumstances, the loss of life being very great.

According to the statement of three sailors, the sole survivors of the wreck, and who arrived in Glasgow on Saturday evening, the Exmouth, of 320 tons, Isaac Booth, of Sunderland, master, sailed from Londonderry for Quebec between three and four o'clock on the morning of Sunday, the 25th ult., with a light south west breeze. She had a crew of 11 men (inclusive of the captain), and about 240 emigrants, consisting principally of small farmers and tradesmen, with their families. Many were females and children going out to join their fathers and protectors, who had already settled in Canada. There were also three cabin passengers, young unmarried ladies of the middle classes, two of them being sisters, on their way to join their relatives at St. John, New Brunswick. The vessel was registered for 165 passengers; but, as two children count as one adult, and as a very large proportion were under age-there being only about 60 men amongst the passengers-the survivors of the wreck think that the total number of these ill-fated emigrants must have amounted to 240.

The ship lost sight of land about four o'clock on Sunday afternoon. The breeze, which had been light in the morning, increased to a gale during the day, and about eleven p.m. it came in terrific squalls, accompanied by heavy torrents of rain. They then furled the fore and main sails. The wind, which had been to the westward at first, veered northerly, and the storm increased in violence, which blew the two top-sails from the bolt-ropes. The crew then commenced to bend other topsails, which they furled; but about three in the morning they were blown from the gaskets. The ship was now driving to the southward and eastward. The reason of the master not standing to the westward, where he would have ample sea room, was for the purpose of attaining some harbour of refuge, where he might repair damages, and replace the sails.

On Monday forenoon the long-boat was unslipped by the force of the seas, which broke over the vessel, and in the course of the same forenoon the bulwarks were stove in, and the life boat washed away. The gale continued with the same violence during the whole of Monday night and Tuesday.

About eleven o'clock on Tuesday night (the 27th ult.), land, and a light, were seen on the starboard quarter, which Captain Booth, at first, took to be the light on the Island of Tory, off the north west coast of Ireland, and, in the belief that he thus had ample sea-room in the course he was steering, he bore along. As he drifted near the land, however, and observed that the light was a flashing, instead of a stationary one, he became conscious of his error and dangerous position, and made every effort to repair it, by bringing the ship farther to the northward and westward; and, with the view of "clawing" her off the land, the maintopsail and the foretopmast stay sail were set, and the jib half hoisted. The effort, however, was an ineffectual one; the ship soon got amongst the broken water, and, at half-past twelve on Wednesday morning, was dashed amongst the rocks. If the above be a correct version of the impression on the captain's mind as to his position-and it is distinctly spoken to by two of the survivors-the result shows that he must have been fully a hundred miles out of his reckoning; but, perhaps, it could not well be otherwise. The sun was obscured all the time by black clouds; the moon was only seen through a heavy haze at intervals, and from these causes it was impossible that any observation could be taken. The light seen was in reality that of Oransa or Oversay, on the point of the Rhinns or Runs of Islay, to the north-west of the entrance of Lochindaul; and the land seen, and on which the brig eventually struck, was the western part of the iron-bound coast of the island. She went ashore, and after striking once was dashed broadside on alongside the rocks, which rose to the height of the mast-head. She struck violently against the rocks three times, and at the fourth stroke the mainmast went by the board, and fell into a chasm of the rock. Captain Booth had previously taken his station in the maintop, that he might personally keep a look out; and, as soon as the brig struck, John Cleat, the mate, and all the seamen, eight in number, joined the captain in the maintop, leaving the captain's son, a youth of about fifteen yers of age, asleep in his cot below. After remaining in the maintop about three minutes, five of the crew went down for the purpose of ascending the foretop, thinking that they would have a better chance of gaining the shore from that part of the ship. At the same time, on of the crew, named John Scott, went out upon the mainyard with a life-buoy on his person; thus leaving in the maintop the captain and three seamen, whose names are John Stevens, William Coulthard, and George Lightford, all belonging to South Shields. When the maintop, along with the wreck of the mast, was thrown into a rift of the rock, Coulthard, then Lightford, and finally Stevens, scrambled up the rigging, and obtained a footing on the crags. The captain was about to follow the men, when a wave dashed over their heads as they clung to the rock, but they were enabled to maintain their position; and when they looked round after the sea had retired, they found that the captain and all were gone. The mainmast had been broken into splinters by the fourth collision with the rocks, and this recoiling wave had not only dragged the ship, but the fragments of the mast, which adhered to her by the rigging, further into the sea, and thus cut off from the dense mass of human beings on board every chance of escape. Had the wreck remained in the chasm where it was originally thrown, and from which the three survivors escaped, it might have been used as a bridge by the others; but, unhappily, this last possibility of relief was taken away. The same wave which effected this fearful havoc must also have prevented the five seamen from reaching the foretop, from which they might have had a chance of escaping. A quarter of an hour elapsed from the time of the brig first striking until the three survivors got upon the rock.

There was no cry from the multitude cooped up within the hull of the ill-fated brig; or at least it was unheard, for the commotion of the elements was so furious that the men on the top could scarcely hear each other at the top of their voices. The emigrants, therefore, must have perished in their births, as the rocks rapidly thumped the bottom out of the vessel.

The three men who had escaped to the rock, so soon as the ship entirely disappeared, searched anxiously for some outlet by which they might reach the mainland; but none such could be found, and they finally took shelter in a crevice, which, however, did not shield them from the rain, which fell heavily all night, and here remained till grey daylight. They then discovered an opening, through which they scrambled to the summit, and after day had fairly broken, they observed a farm house about half a mile distant, Thither they proceeded, and were most hospitably nourished and put to bed. They were thoroughly worn out by exhaustion, not one of the crew having been in bed from the moment the ship left Derry. They were at the same time nearly naked, from having divested themselves of their heavy clothing when the Exmouth struck, and lost part of that which remained when scrambling on the rigging and amongst the rocks. The hospitable farmer and others apprised by him, went to the scene of the catastrophe, but of course too late to help, and only to gaze on the desolation. Mr. Chiene, Islay's factor, soon heard of the event, and kindly furnished the men with a passage to Glasgow by the Modern Athens steamer, where they arrived on Saturday last. Here they were consigned to the care of Mr. Fildes, of the Naval Rendezvous, and assistant to Lieutenant Forrest, agent for the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, and by him they have been clothed and comfortably boarded in the meantime.

At the latest date of our advices from Islay, about 20 of the bodies had come ashore. They were principally females, with one little boy amongst them; and as many of them were in their night clothes, the probability is that they were those who had rushed upon deck at the first alarm caused by the striking of the ship.

TheShipsList | 1847

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