Rescue


Days passed. Voller records the returning despair: 'Our hopes grew fainter and weaker hour by hour, and we were almost despairing, when suddenly we perceived a boat, well-manned, coming round close under the island. It appeared that the ship had made the inland at another point, and the captain, having determined to preserve us, had sent a boat round the island to us.' They were about to face a new challenge.

The ship was an American whaler, the Monmouth, in the charge of Captain Ludlow. Not only did he know the deserted island but he was determined to rescue everyone who was stranded there – at a considerable financial sacrifice to himself and to his crew since he would be suspending normal operations at the height of the whaling season. The signals from the boat encouraged the bedraggled company to strike out across the island so that a rescue could be effected. However, they totally underestimated the difficulty of the trek ahead of them. It proved particularly arduous for those, like the Vollers, with young children: 'I had … three children, and only two people to carry them. I had one slung to my back, and my wife had one to hers; and I asked one of the sailors, a strong able-bodied man, to carry my third for me, but he refused, saying that those who had children must carry them themselves. We had, therefore, to drag the child after us as we best could.'

They struggled on for two days and nights in miserable conditions with just a little herring and milk for the children. The terrain was difficult and progress was slow and their spirits low. Even so, meeting other stragglers 'we joined with them in singing Praise God, from whom all blessings flow - for even then we felt we had much to be thankful for to Him. We then journeyed onward again, and the day wore away, the night came on, and we were just preparing to halt for the night, when we were startled by the sight of a man coming toward us.'

He had been sent from the whaler to encourage the stragglers to keep going. By this point the Vollers were also looking after Captains Hernaman's young daughter who in the darkness fell down a 20 foot chasm. She was retrieved unharmed and they stopped for another night: 'Although the night was dreadfully wet, we still slept soundly, and we had to rise next morning early, intending to start without any refreshment at all, our stock being indeed well night spent. I had, however, left about half a pint of nuts, a few almonds and raisins, and about half a red herring. Our bread was all gone. With this provision we had to go through a long day's march, but I soon found that if we were to proceed at all we must halt, and take our last bit of food. Nothing now was left to us but water and a little fine grass which we found growing, which was sweet, and the moisture from which was refreshing.'

Despite getting lost they recovered their bearing and as the sun set they spotted the smoke of fires lit by the parties ahead of them. They feasted that night on raw cabbage – growing on the island due to the generosity of earlier castaways. However, they were seriously weak. You can hear the despair in Voller's tone: 'On the Monday morning, however, we were all worn out, and if assistance had not come, if there had been 10,000 cabbages left we should not have had strength to have plucked them. Our water, of which we had at first a plentiful supply, was now failing, as there was no spring, and for the day past we had drunk what was in reality, mud to relieve the unquenchable thirst.'

Suddenly, he tone changes: 'Then in our last extremity the ship appeared. She came upon the island with a favourable wind, and the sea calm as glass. The speck approached, the white sails expanded, the boat was lowered, and in a short time the captain himself appeared in our camp. Oh, what a scene ensued, women, children, in the very agony of unexpected succour, sunk on their knees to clasp his hands and legs, while he, good man, with a soul as large as any that have in an American body, with tears rolling down his cheeks and outstretched hands to us, bade us to be of good cheer and welcome to all he had.'

Speed was now of the essence. Whilst the winds were favourable the rescue must be effected without further delay – but they were short of two passengers. But Captain Ludlow had determined to save all, and when asked what he intended to do,' Do,' replied he, ' while there is a pound of bread on board my ship I will not leave this island till I have all on board. Why, to leave one behind would be to spoil the whole affair.'

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