The British Presence
in Southern Patagonia

++  Double shipwreck on Tierra del Fuego (1874)  ++
as remembered by William Greenwood

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I had a little cutter when Reynard [Henry Leonard Reynard, Ed.] first arrived in the Colony. He had a great wish to visit Tierra del Fuego, so one day I lent him and Dunsmure [sometimes written Dunsmuir, Ed.] the little craft and they started for an exploring tour, to shoot, get seals, or anything else that turned up. They got caught in a gale of wind and the little craft was blown ashore on the rocks, and stuck there with a big hole in her bottom. The boat was fortunately not smashed, so they managed to get ashore with some stores and provisions, peas, beans, biscuits, etc. also two cases of gin which I had sent to trade with the Indians, if they met any.

As there was no earthly chance of attracting the attention of passing vessels or steamers, Reynard and Dunsmure, on a very calm morning about a week after their mishap, sent the boat over to tell me what had happened, remaining themselves and sending Hansen the Skipper and the two hands Kelly and Johnson, to pull across. They arrived all right, and I immediately borrowed the steam launch belonging to the Coal Co., and started off to pick up Reynard and Dunsmure. We got there all right, and picked them up, with a few valuables, not forgetting the gin and some provisions, ammunition, etc. The cutter we left to her fate.

Hardly had we started when the beastly launch got aground, and we could not move her for some time - at last Reynard jumped overboard and by superhuman efforts managed to shove her afloat. It was bitterly cold and he was half frozen, but we applied gin liberally, and coarse blankets externally to his skin, and soon got him warm again. Then we steamed off for the Colony. We only just got as far as Quartermaster Island, when the confounded engine bust up, and we were stranded in the middle of the Straits, with no sail and only one very small oar, and a tremendous sea on, blowing half a gale which rapidly became a regular hurricane.

We were towing a small hide or canvas boat astern, which rapidly filled and went upside down. This saved all our lives, as it broke the seas which were rolling after us mountains high. The launch kept shipping seas, and was more than half full of water - luckily she had watertight compartments, which kept her afloat, but we never left off baling out with everything we could lay our hands on, or we must have come to grief.

All that night, the next day and the next night, we drifted about from one side to the other, never knowing when the final collapse would come - we were drenched to the skin and half sitting in water, and baling water out incessantly to keep the old launch afloat. Had it not been for a ration of gin and condensed milk every hour or so, we could not have kept alive; the water tanks being both carried away we had no water, and all suffered terribly from thirst.

At last I said to Reynard "I'm d---d if I can stand this any longer - I'm going to jump for it and try to swim ashore next time we are within a hundred yards or so of the shore". He replied "don't be a fool, no man could swim in such a sea - I am going to stick it out; we can't be in a worse plight than we are now." At the same time, seeing that the skipper and mate had donned cork life-belts, he inquired indifferently "you don't happen to have another belt to spare, have you?".

Well, towards evening the vessel steadily drifted out to sea towards Admiralty Sound, and finally went aground on the last point of the entrance, about 20 or 30 yards from the beach. Everyone jumped overboard immediately except myself - I was sitting right astern of the launch, and could not jump, but a big sea came and washed me right ashore, and would have washed me back again, had not Reynard and Dunsmure rushed in and pulled me up high and dry by the legs.

When we found we were on dry land again, we all performed a kind of rejoicing War Dance, except old Brown, who had injured his leg in the rough and tumble. We might just as well have waited, an half an hour later the launch was high and dry on the beach with most of our gear floating about on the bottom, but we were all fearfully thirsty, and could not find a drop of water anywhere near.

Then we built a huge fire - luckily one of us had some matches wrapped in oil-cloth, - and started to condense water with a big ship's kettle and a gin barrel; a long process, but we managed to condense enough to fill a kettle from the bucket and were looking forward to a speedy cup of coffee, when Dunsmure, who was stoking the fire, managed to overturn the kettle and spill every drop, so we had to wait a couple of hours to condense enough to fill it again. Then we had a splendid cup of tea and ate a lot of biscuits and salt pork, and were generally happy. We kept the condenser going, and did not run short of water again.

The next morning Reynard and Dunsmure started along the coast to get to the wreck of my cutter, as we knew they would send out to look for us there when the steam launch did not return. The rest of us followed slowly, helping our injured comrade to travel, and after a long weary tramp, arrived at the wreck almost at the very time the schooner "Anita" hove in sight, having been sent by the Governor to look for us. An hour afterwards we were all safely aboard, and reached the Colony the same evening.

Source: Reynard family papers
Thanks: Robert Lemaire
Page created: 2-XII-2013
Last updated: 8-VI-2014