Few shipwrecks have occurred of late years attended with circumstances more distressing than that of the Oswego, which was stranded on the coast of Barbary
, about two hundred miles to the southward of Santa Cruz
. The master, Judah Paddock, a Quaker
, has written an interesting narrative of the sufferings of the crew, which realizes literally the poet's pictures
'Of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field;
Of being taken by the insolent foe,
And sold to slavery; of their redemption thence,
And with it all their travail's history
Of antres vast, and deserts idle.'
The Oswego, with a crew of thirteen persons, including two Swedes, two Danes, two negroes, two boys, and a worthless Irishman named Pat, sailed from Cork on the 22nd of March, 1800, for the Cape Verd Islands, but by an error in reckoning, missed the Island of Madeira. On the 2nd of April, when between the latitudes of Madeira and Teneriffe, the vessel struck, and she filled rapidly with water. Surrounded with foaming billows, every surge threatened the crew with destruction. It was now about midnight, when the crew, contrary to the wishes of the master determined on going ashore, though cautioned that they were wrecked on the Coast of Barbary. They took the long boat, and such was their haste to quit the ship, that they neither took water nor provisions with them. With some difficulty they reached the rocks, and crawled over some of them which were from ten to twelve feet high, to a sand bed, a little beyond which appeared a sand hill above a hundred feet in height.
The crew soon became sensible of their error in quitting the ship; and their first object was to get back to it for a supply of provisions and water, and materials for repairing the long boat, which had been much shattered on the rocks. Several of the crew attempted to swim to the wreck, but failed; and Sam, one of the negroes, was so much exhausted, that he was with difficulty saved by the exertions of two of the men, who swam after him. A raft was now constructed, by lashing together some pieces of small spars, and the lower yard of a ship which they found lying on shore. But failing to gain the wreck by these means, the mate, at Mr. Paddock's suggestion, determined on trying to reach it, by following the receding water as low as possible, and then darting through the breakers, which alone prevented the sailors from reaching it. He accordingly stripped, and in less than five minutes was at the ship.
A quantity of provisions, consisting of forty pounds of bread, a small quantity of potatoes and onions, a bag of Indian corn, with clothes, bedding, &c., were safely landed. A quantity of water in kegs, and unfortunately as it afterwards proved, a case of spirits, and a hamper of port wine and porter, were also brought on shore. Having erected a tent, and made a good supper, at eight o'clock they set the watch, who were to be relieved every two hours, intending to begin early the next morning, and land everything necessary for repairing the boat, so as to render it fit for their departure, which they hoped to do in two days.
Anxious to know whether there were any inhabitants in the neighbourhood, they despatched one man to the eastward, and another to the west, along the coast, to endeavour to discover, if possible, whereabouts, and in what sort of country, they were. In the evening, the man who had been sent to the west returned with most fearful tidings that he had seen about twelve miles off a heap of human bones near a fire, which did not appear to have been extinguished above a few days; and he was convinced that they were in a land of cannibals. Luckily he told this adventure first to the master, who had gone to meet him and who prevailed on him not to mention it to the others, for fear it might dishearten them. The man sent towards the east lost his way in the mountains, and did not get back till the following day, when they were all in great uneasiness about him. He had walked a distance of fifty miles without seeing any human being, except a man with a camel travelling westward. In the meantime, an incident took place which led to an entire change of purpose. Pat, and one of the Danes, who was as much addicted to tippling as himself, being unfortunately together upon watch, they made free with the spirits, and fell asleep through drunkenness. This neglect of duty was discovered when their companions awoke in the morning; and what was much more afflicting, it was found by the traces and footmarks left, that during their insensibility, two natives (accompanied by a dog) had walked round, and reconnoitred the party. Dreading the appearance of the natives in force, the idea of finishing the repairs of the boat was now abandoned, and the crew resolved on marching along shore, in the hope of reaching Santa Cruz, which they supposed to be about a hundred and eighty miles distant. Each man then took five bottles of water and twenty biscuits; and thus slenderly provided, began their sorrowful route. The master had an umbrella; a spy-glass, about the value of six hundred dollars in gold; and a copper teakettle full of water, to be first used. His pockets were stored with chocolate and sugar. Pat and the Dane contrived to smuggle a bottle of gin, and pass it for water, which was afterwards the cause of much evil. Mr. Paddock put on a new suit, and the rest of the clothing was divided among the crew. The negro Jack, seeing two pieces of tabinet which Mr. P. had bought in Ireland for his wife about to be left, seized hold of them, saying 'Master, my mistress shall wear these gowns yet: she shall, master, depend upon it; they are too pretty to leave here; and singular as it must appear, Jack's declarations were realised.
Having buried all their arms, and hoisted an ensign on the hill, that they might depart 'under flying colours,' they set forward agreeing, in case of separation or capture, to call themselves Englishmen. They travelled south-east, over mountains of sand, exposed to the burning sun, and the reflection of its rays from the burning sands. Towards evening they reached a cave by the sea-side, into which they all entered, and passed the night. On the next day they resumed their toilsome progress, and met with one of those illusions so frequent in torrid climates: at the distance of two miles they thought there was a pond; two men were immediately dispatched forward, when they found it to be a formation of pure salt. The disappointed wanderers went on; and not long after a town appeared before them, at a distance of not more than a quarter of a mile. The master caused the men to stop, and advanced alone. He reached a cluster of houses, from twenty to thirty in number, and from ten to twenty feet square, without roofs, each having a door-way on the south side, indifferently well built without mortar. On a signal, the men came up. They walked about the building, conjecturing what they were; when they discovered, on the north side of the northernmost house, several casks, of about one hundred gallons, with one head out. From their appearance they took them to have been French brandy casks. The wooden hoops were mostly left on them, but the iron ones were all gone. In one of them there was a large quantity of human hair. Upon looking into that cask, one of the men exclaimed, 'O my God! we are in a savage inhospitable land; these poor fellows, who were lately here, have been murdered.' Their lot was however cast, and they had only to submit. They agreed in opinion that these cabins had been erected by a shipwrecked company for their preservation; but that they had been destroyed by the natives. This conjecture was rendered more probable, by a pile of human bones, which were found about fifty yards from the place. At night, they bivouacked at the foot of a rock, surrounded by wild beasts, which they supposed to be hyenas, and they did not dare to resort to the usual expedient to keep them off, that of lighting fires, lest it should betray them to the more savage human inhabitants.
Discontent again appeared among the crew, who had now got about fifty-five miles from the vessel, and they came to the insane and fatal determination, to measure back their steps. Remonstrance was in vain; and it was at length agreed, that they should all go back, and use every exertion to prepare the boat for sailing, except Mr. Paddock, who would go forward, and if he found the inhabitants friendly, would hire camels and send for them. The two negroes would not quit their master, and Pat also accompanied him. The provisions and the water were divided; those who were going forward being allowed the largest share, namely, twenty bottles of water and a full share of bread
All things being thus arranged, they separated. 'The expressions of every man on this trying occasion,' says Mr. Paddock in his narrative 'can never be erased from my memory, as long as my senses shall remain. Tears gushed from every eye; some of us could scarcely articulate the word Farewell. We shook hands with each other, and all moved in a silent procession at the same signal, which was go on.
Mr. Paddock and his little band had not proceeded far, when they encountered seven Arabs, whom he advanced to meet, and held out his right hand in token of friendship. Of this the barbarians took no notice; but passing him as quickly as possible, they rushed upon their prey with drawn daggers, threw them down, and began to cut away their knapsacks, and rifle them of everything about their persons.
The captain was the last exposed to this inhospitable treatment; his spy-glass being mistaken for arms, which rendered the savages more cautious. At length, however, they sprung upon him like tigers, and soon stripped him of his watch, gold, and other property. This done, and the spoil almost fought for in the struggle of appropriation, these religious robbers faced eastward, fell on their knees, and took up sand in their hands as if it were water, and washed themselves with it - hands, arms, face, neck, &c. They next fell prostrate, with their faces on the ground; then rose upon their knees, and said over many words, which, from their looks and gestures, appeared to be prayers, or a sort of te deum for their booty.
The banditti now re-primed their guns, and made their poor prisoners kneel down with their faces towards them. This done, they enquired for the remainder of the crew their number, where the ship was, &c.; and after obtaining this information, though with some difficulty, they gave each of them a load to carry, when they gave the word bomar, go on, accompanying it by a blow, and a push forward.
Eager to get to the vessel, the Arabs drove them along with continued blows, and the threat of shooting them. On the ninth, they overtook six more of the crew on their way back to the vessel, the remaining four having lain down to sleep on the road; as soon as these six saw the Arabs approaching, they finished their remaining water, to the great regret of Mr. Paddock and his companions, who hoped on meeting with them, to have quenched their burning thirst. These men were soon stripped with the same brutality as had been practiced on the first party, and added to the band of prisoners. In describing the number of his companions, Mr. Paddock had designated ten, meaning ten besides himself, the negroes, and Pat; but the Arabs understood him ten in all, and were now satisfied that they had captured the whole. They thereupon thought of dividing their prisoners, a difficult task, since ten were to be allotted among seven. With much contention, the chief and his son (a youth of seventeen or eighteen) obtained three; Mr. Paddock, and Jack the black, fell to the share of the worst Arab of the gang, and the rest had each one. Thus disposed of, they travelled, suffering every misery, till they arrived at the shore on which the vessel lay. Here about two hundred and fifty of the natives had collected, men, women, and children, and nothing but furious contests for plunder and confusion prevailed. The four mariners who had slept on the road, made their appearance in the midst of this scramble, in which some blood was shed, and were immediately seized and stripped by the multitude. Their destiny was thus separated from that of the ten who had been divided among the seven Arabs and after only half an hour's mournful communion, the latter were once more put upon their march, leaving their messmates in the hands of the crowd, who were breaking up the Oswego.
They first shaped their course south-west; and having procured a camel to carry their baggage, they turned eastward, and marched over the old ground on the 9th and 10th of April. One of the Arabs now left them, but soon returned with about half a bushel of sweet berries, and an animal about the size of a half-grown goat. Its head, skin, and legs they took off immediately, opened and quartered it, laid it on the sand, and covered it over with hot sand, and a fire of dried sticks to cook it. The entrails in their raw state were thrown to the poor prisoners, who were suffering more from thirst than hunger, having been long without water. This nauseous food being warm and moist, these unhappy men were fain to chew it after picking off the fat, It was destined to be their meal for five days. After finishing their own repast, the Arabs threw the bones to the Christian dogs, but there was not an ounce of meat on the whole.
From the 11th to the 14th, was only a repetition and aggravation of miseries. Almost without water during the burning heat of day, without covering (except sometimes drifting sand) during the inclemency of the night, forced onward at the rate of from thirty to thirty-five miles daily, and nearly destitute of food, nothing could exceed the wretchedness of their condition. A pond of putrid water, as thick as common gruel, was a luxury beyond estimation: and the twigs of a shrub, like dwarf thorn, and a patch of barley which they came to on the 13th, were gratefully acknowledged as blessings from heaven. With the raw grain, the Arabs, for the first time showing them any kindness, assisted them to fill their stomachs. Patches of wild oats were also seen here and there in these desert places, as their journey lengthened. On the 14th, after their long and never forgotten morning prayers, the Arabs discharged the camel and its owner, and loaded their captives with the luggage; but they now were too faint and exhausted for the labour, and neither threats nor blows had power to urge them on. Parched with thirst, life itself seemed worth no more than a tumbler of water; and their cruel taskmasters were compelled to relieve them from their burthens, the greater part of which they buried in the sand. Two or three miles further they arrived at an encampment of several hundred natives, with their wives and families. Here they found in slavery an Englishman, about nineteen, named George, and two boys, Jack, and Laura, a Mulatto, all belonging to he ship the Marlinfall, of London, cast away on that coast more than a year before. The meeting was of the most affecting kind.
After proceeding onward for some days, and suffering under the accumulated miseries of hunger, thirst, and fatigue, the wretched prisoners were all sold to an Arab chief of the name of Ahomed, except the two negroes, whom the mountaineers would not part with at any price. Ahomed having bought the men on speculation, sent them to Mogadore, where they were received with every kindness by Mr. Gwin, the British Consul, and ransomed by Messrs. Court, Jackson, and Foxcroft, for the sum of 1700 dollars. One incident only remains to be told; while Mr. Paddock was with Mr. Foxcroft, a wild Arab came with the pieces of tabinet, which the poor negro had vowed his mistress should wear. They were immediately purchased, and Mr. Paddock had the pleasure of presenting to his wife a dress which must have been doubly prized on account of its singular adventures.
From The Percy Anecdotes, published 1823