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Spanish infantry, till then invincible. As strong and as closely united as the celebrated ancient phalanx, it opened itself with an agility which the phalanx had not, and thus suddenly made way for the discharge of eighteen pieces of cannon that were placed in the midst of it. The Prince of Condé surrounded and attacked it three times; and at length victory decided in his favour.
In the attack on the camp of Merci at Fribourg, the following year, which was renewed three successive days, the prince threw his staff of command into the enemy's trenches, and marched, sword in hand, to regain it, at the head of the regiment of Conti. This bold action inspired the troops with redoubled ardour, and the battle of Fribourg was gained.
The French possessions on the west coast of Africa, extending from Cape Blanco to the mouth of the Gambia, having been restored at the general peace, an expedition, consisting of a frigate and three other vessels, was sent, in the month of June, 1816, to take possession of them. It was complete in all its parts, as the French expeditions usually are, including men of science, artisans, agriculturists, gardeners, miners, &c. amounting, with the troops, to nearly two hundred persons, exclusive of the crews. The naval part was entrusted to M. de Chaumareys, who had the command of the frigate, La Méduse, of forty-four guns.
Owing to a very relaxed state of discipline, and an ignorance of the common principles of navigation which would have disgraced a private merchant ship, this frigate was suffered to run aground on the bank of Arguin. Attempts were made to get her off, attempts, however, which, according to the narrative before us, were as inefficient and discreditable to the naval VOL. I.
officers, as the gross ignorance which had carried the ship into that situation; and it was soon discovered that all hopes of saving her must be abandoned, and that nothing remained but to concert measures for the escape of the passengers and crew. Some biscuit, wine, and fresh water were accordingly got up, and prepared for putting into the boats, and upon a raft which had been hastily constructed; but, in the tumult of abandoning the wreck, it happened that the raft, which was destined to carry the greatest number of people, had the least share of provisions ; of wine, indeed, it had more than enough, but not a single barrel of biscuit. No embarkation list had been made out—no disposition of any kind for the distribution of those on board.
There were five boats ; in the first were the governor of Senegal and his family, in all thirty-five; it might (say our authors) have carried twice as many; the second took forty-two ; the third twenty-eight; the fourth, the long boat, eighty-eight : the fifth twenty-five; and the jolly-boat, fifteen, among whom were M. Picard, his wife, four children, and three young ladies. The military had, in the first instance, been placed upon the raft--the number embarked on this fatal machine was not less than one hundred and fifty ; making, with those in the boats, a total of three hundred and ninety-seven.
On leaving the wreck, M. Corréard, geographical engineer, one of the writers of the narrative, who had volunteered to accompany his men on the raft, wishing to be assured that proper instruments and charts for navigating it had been put on board, was told by the captain that every thing necessary had been provided, and a naval officer appointed to take charge of them : this naval officer, however, jumped into one of the boats, and never joined them.
The boats pushed off in a line, towing the raft, and assuring the people on board that they would conduct them safely to land. They had not proceeded, however, above two leagues from the wreck when they, one by one, cast off the tow-lines. It was afterwards pretended that they broke : had this even been true, the boats might at any time have rejoined the raft; instead of which they all abandoned it to its fate, every one striving to make off with all possible speed.
At the time, the raft had sunk below the surface to the depth of three feet and a half, and the people were so squeezed, one against the other, that it was found impossible to move; fore and aft, they were up to the middle in water. In such a deplorable situation, it was with difficulty they could persuade themselves that they had been abandoned ; nor would they believe it until the whole of the boats had disappeared from their view. They now began to consider themselves as deliberately sacrificed, and swore to be revenged on their unfeeling companions, if ever they gained the shore. Their consternation soon became extreme. Every thing that was horrible took possession of their minds ; all conceived their destruction to be at hand, and announced by their wailing the dismal thoughts by which they were distracted. The officers, with great difficulty, and by putting on a show of confidence, succeeded at length in restoring them to a certain degree of tranquillity ; but they were themselves overcome with alarm on finding that they had neither chart por compass, nor anchor on the raft. One of the men belonging to M. Corréard had fortunately preserved a small pocket-compass, and this little instrument inspired them with so much confidence, that they conceived their safety to depend on it; but this treasure, above all price, was speedily snatched from them for ever: it fell from the man's hand, and disappeared between the openings of the raft.
None of the party had taken food before they left the ship, and hunger beginning to opp ess them, they mixed the biscuit, of which they had about five and twenty pounds on board, with wine, and distributed it, in small portions, to each man. "Such,' say the narrators, was our first repast, and the best we made during our whole abode upon the raft.' They thought themselves, however, not quite lost: and the hope of speedy vengeance on those who had so basely deserted them, tended to revive their courage. They succeeded in erecting a kind of mast, and hoisting one of the royals that had belonged to the frigate.
Night at length came on, the wind freshened, and the sea began to swell ; the only consolation now was the belief that they should discover the boats the following morning. About midnight the weather became very stormy; and the waves broke over them in every direction.
• During the whole of this night,' say the narrators, we struggled against death, holding ourselves closely to spars which were bound firmly together. Tossed by the waves from one end to the other, and sometimes precipitated into the sea; floating between life and death; mourning over our own misfortunes, certain of perishing, yet contending for the remains of existence with that cruel element, which menaced to swallow us up; such was our situation till break of day-horrible situation ! how shall we convey an idea of it which will not fall short of the reality.'
In the morning the wind abated, and the sea subsided a little ; but a dreadful spectacle presented itself-ten or twelve of the unhappy men, having their lower extremities jammed between the spars of the raft, unable to extricate themselves, had perished in that situation ; several others had been swept away by the violence of the waves. In calling over the list it was found that twenty had disappeared. Already,' says the narrator, with exquisite simplicity, already was the moral character of the people greatly changed ! Two young men threw themselves into the sea, after deliberately taking leave of their comrades ; some fancied that they saw the land; and others, ships approaching to rescue them.
All this, however, was nothing to the dreadful scene which took place the following night. The day had been beautiful, and no one seemed to doubt that the boats would appear in the course of it, to relieve them from their perilous situation ; but the evening approached, and none were seen : from that moment a spirit of sedition spread from man to man, and manifested itself by the most furious shouts : night came on; the heavens were obscured with thick clouds; the wind rose, and with it the sea ; the waves broke over them every moment; numbers were swept away, particularly near the extremities of the raft; and the crowding towards the centre of it was so great, that several poor wretches were smothered by the pressure of their comrades, who were unable to keep upon their legs.
Firmly persuaded that they were all on the point of being swallowed up, both soldiers and sailors resolved to soothe their last moments by drinking till they had lost their reason.' They bored a hole in the head of the cask, from which they continued to swill till the salt water, mixing with the wine, rendered it no longer potable. Excited by the fumes, acting on empty stomachs, and heads already disordered by danger, they now became deaf to the voice of reason ; boldly declared their intention of murdering their officers, and then cutting the ropes which held the rafts together : one of them, seizing an axe, actually began the dreadful work—this was the signal for revolt; the officers rushed forward to quell the tumult, and the man with the hatchet was the first that fell—the stroke of a sabre terminated his existence.
The passengers joined the officers, but the mutineers were still the greater number; luckily they were but badly armed, or the few bayonets and sabres of the opposite party could not have kept them at bay. One fellow was detected secretly cutting the ropes, and immediately fung overboard; others destroyed the shrouds and halyards, and the mast destitute of support immediately fell on a captain of infantry, and broke his thigh; he was instantly seized by the soldiers and thrown into the sea, but was saved by the opposite party. A furious charge was now made upon the mutineers, many of whom were cut down : at length this fit of desperation subsided into egregious cowardice ; they cried out for mercy, and asked forgiveness on their kness. It was now midnight, and order appeared to be restored; but after an hour of deceitful tranquillity, the insurrection burst forth anew: they rushed upon the officers like desperate men, each having a knife or a sabre in his hand, and such was the fury of the assailants, that they tore their flesh and even their clothes with their teeth: there was no time for hesitation ; a general slaughter took place, and the raft was strewed with dead bodies.
Some palliation must be allowed on account of their miserable condition ; the constant dread of death, and want of rest and food had impaired their faculties—nor did the officers themselves entirely escape. A sort of halfwaking dream, a wandering of the imagination, seized most of them: some fancied they saw around them a beautiful country, covered with the most delightful plantations; others became wild with horrors, and threw themselves into the sea.
Several, on casting themselves otf, said calmly to their companions, • I am going to seek for assistance, and you shall soon see me return.'
• In the midst of this general madness,' says the narrative, one saw these unhappy men rushing upon their companions, sword in hand, and demanding from them the wing of a chicken to appease the hunger that was preying upon them; others asked for their hammocks, that they might go between decks and get a little sleep; many imagined themselves to be still on board the Méduse. Even after this fatal night many imagined themselves, in the morning, awakened from a frightful dream, in which battles and slaughter had disturbed their rest.'
On the return of day it was found, that in the course of the preceding night of horror, sixty-five of the mutineers had perished, and two of the small party attached to the officers. Before the allowance was served out they contrived to get up their mast afresh; but having no compass, and not knowing how to direct their course, they let the raft drive before the wind, apparently indifferent whither they went. Enfeebled with hunger, they now tried to catch fish, but could not succeed, and abandoned the attempt.
• It was necessary, however, that some extreme measure should be adopted to support our miserable existence; we shudder with horror on finding ourselves under the necessity of retracing what we put in practice; we feel the pen drop from our hands; a deadly coldness freezes all our limbs, and our hair stands on end-Reader, we entreat you not to entertain, for men already too unfortunate, a sentiment of indignation ; but to grieve for them, and to shed a tear of pity over their unhappy lot.'
The extreme measur e,' was, indeed, horrible: the unhappy men, whom death had spared in the course of the night, fell upon the carcases of the dead and began to devour them; some tried to eat their sword-belts and cartridge-boxes; others devoured their linen, and others the leathers of their hats; but all these expedients, and others of a still more loathsome nature, were of no avail.
A third night of horror now approached; but it proved to be a night of tranquillity, disturbed only by the piercing cries of those whom hunger and thirst devoured. The water was up to their knees, and they could only attempt to get a little sleep by crowding together, so as to form an immoveable
The morning's sun shewed them ten or a dozen unfortunate creatures, stretched lifeless on the raft; all of who were committed the deep, with the exception of one, destined for the support of those who the evening before had pressed his trembling hands in vowing eternal friendship. At this period, fortunately, a shoal of flying fish, in passing the raft, left nearly three hundred entangled between the spars. By means of a little gunpowder and linen, and by erecting an empty cask, they contrived to make a fire; and mixing with the fish the flesh of their deceased comrade, they all partook of a meal, which, by this means, was rendered less revolting.
The fourth night was marked by another massacre. Some Spaniards, Italians, and negroes, who had taken no part with the former mutineers, now entered into a conspiracy to throw the rest into the sea. The
had persuaded the others that the land was close to them, and that once on shore, they would answer for their crossing Africa without the least danger. A Spaniard was the first to advance with a drawn knife; the sailors seized him, and threw him into the sea. An Italian, seeing this, jumped overboard ; the rest were easily mastered, and order was once more restored.
Thirty persons only now remained, many of whom were in the most deplorable statē, the salt-water having entirely removed the epidermis of their lower extremities, which, with contusions and bruises, rendered them unable to support themselves. The remains of the fish and wine were calculated to be just enough to support life for four days; but in these four they also cal culated that ships might arrive from St. Louis to save them. At this moment two soldiers were discovered behind the cask of wine, through which they had bored a hole, for the purpose of drinking it through a reed; they had just before pledged themselves to punish with death whoever should be found guilty of the like proceeding, and the sentence was immediately carried into execution by throwing the culprits into the sea.
Their number was thus reduced to twenty-eight, only fifteen of whom appeared able to exist for a few days; the other thirteen were so reduced, that they had nearly lost all sense of existence; as their case was hopeless, and as while they lived they would consume a part of the little that was left, a council was held, and, after a deliberation at which the most horrible despair is said to have presided, it was decided to throw them overboard. · Three sailors and a soldier undertook the execution of this cruel sentence: we turned away our eyes and shed tears of blood at the fate of these unfortunate men ; but this painful sacrifice saved the fifteen that remained; and who, after this dreadful catastrophe, had six days of sufferings to undergo before they were relieved from their dismal situation. At the end of this period, a small vessel was descried at a distance ; she proved to be the Argus brig, which had been despatched from Senegal to look out for them. All hearts on board were melted with pity at their deplorable condition.- Let any one,' say our unfortunate narrators, figure to himself fifteen unhappy creatures almost naked, their bodies shrivelled by the rays of the sun, ten of them scarcely able to move : our limbs stripped of their skin; a total change in all our features; our eyes hollow and almost savage; our long beards which gave us an air almost hideous--we were in fact but the shadow of ourselves.'
Such is the history of these unfortunate men! Of the hundred and fifty who