THE CASE OF THE VERY STRANGE SHIPWRECK In the records of Lloyd’s of London is the case of the schooner Mermaid and her twenty-two men. Lloyd’s has man
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THE CASE OF THE VERY STRANGE SHIPWRECK
In the records of Lloyd’s of London is the case of the schooner Mermaid and her twenty-two men. Lloyd’s has many strange stories in its huge files, but nothing quite like this one.
It all began pleasantly enough on the morning of 16 October 1829, when the Mermaid slipped out of the bay at Sydney bound for Collier Bay, on the west coast of Australia. Aboard the ship were eighteen able seamen, three passengers, and Captain Samuel Nolbrow, at the wheel. Without realising it, they were all starting a voyage that is probably unmatched in the history of the sea.
On the fourth day out of Sydney, the captain turned the wheel over to the first mate. The crew lolled about the deck, for they had little to do now. The barometer gave no hint of what was to come. It looked like fair weather and smooth sailing, until shortly before two o’clock in the afternoon. Then the ship found herself becalmed. Thick grey clouds scudded over the face of the sun.
Captain Nolbrow came on deck again — to find the barometer falling rapidly. Shortly before dark the calm ended with great gusts of wind that soon turned into a raging gale. The Mermaid fought for her life; for she was in the notorious Straits of Torres, a narrow channel that had claimed many a ship and many a crew.
All hands were on deck when a great wave flung the Mermaid atop a reef that cut her open like a ripe melon. Moments later the twenty-two people were floundering in the howling darkness.
In all that boiling sea there was but one hope for them, a rocky peak that rose from the waters about a hundred yards from the sinking ship. And miracle of miracles, when daylight came — there were twenty-two people clinging to the rock. Not a life had been lost!
For three cold, wet days they were there — then the bark Swiftsure came through the straits, sighted them, and took them aboard.
All went well for the next five days, until the Swiftsure neared the coast of New Guinea. Then she too fell victim to the jinx that rode her refugee
passengers. Without warning, the Swiftsure found herself caught up in a powerful current that was not marked on the maps. She was swept broadside into the rocks along the barren coast, and everyone had to leave the ship. And once again, all lives were saved.
Less than eight hours after they had crawled out on the beach they were rescued — this time by the schooner Governor Ready. It carried thirty-two people itself but it managed to make room for the survivors of both the Mermaid and the Swiftsure before it went on its way down the coast to face disaster. Only three hours after the rescue the Governor Ready caught fire.
Loaded with lumber, the fire spread rapidly and the order to abandon ship was given. All aboard piled into the frail longboats with little preparation. Around them lay hundreds of miles of open water off the regular shipping lanes. Prospects were poor but they were lucky for the Australian Government cutter Comet came along and picked them up again without loss of life!
Aboard the Comet there was grumbling, for the crew of the rescue ship regarded the shipwrecked crowd as bearers of a jinx in spite of their remarkable good fortune which had saved them from death time after time. For exactly one week all went well and then the Comet ran into a sudden squall that snapped off her mast, ripped away her rails and left her rudderless. The crew of the Comet got into the only longboat that remained and pulled away from the doomed ship leaving their unwelcome guests on board.
For eighteen hours they clung to the wreckage and fought off the sharks; until the packet Jupiter came along and once again snatched them from the jaws of the sea. The Captains called the roll and for the fourth time they discovered that throughout the four shipwrecks not a single life had been lost among the entire company!
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