Stranded


It was a broken mast provided the means of escape, forming a perilous bridge to the narrow and rocky beach. Mrs Voller was washed off the mast three times as she crossed – and many others had a similar experience – yet, everyone got ashore to face another trial.

Amsterdam Island is a rocky outcrop. On one side is a natural harbour but the Meridian had foundered on other side – the west, where a cliff drops sheer into the sea. The people were poorly clad – many in just their night clothes and barefoot. They were drenched and bitterly cold and in severe peril of their lives through exposure as they perched on the rocks beneath a sheer cliff. Voller records: 'The moon, which had just made its appearance, gave sufficient light to expose the dangers and terror of the place. Before us the cliffs rose like a perpendicular wall, to the height of at least two hundred feet while at their base, the margin between the rocks and the sea was very narrow, and it was my thought and that of others that, if the weather did not subside,we must soon be washed away.'

He and he half-naked family spent the first night on a rock their only shelter an umbrella that had been washed off the ship! Soon other goods were washed ashore (remember the ship carried considerable cargo). Both Voller and Lutwyche record this as a literal life-saver – particularly the discovery among the first salvage of bales of woollen clothing. Some were soon wearing as many as six woollen shirts! Some food was also recovered together with barrels of drink. Referring to the later drunkenness of the sailors Voller says: 'We had a little port wine, and much, far too much gin, brandy, and rum, as the sequel proved.'

And this was not the only problem experienced with some of the crew who, as daylight came, returned to the wreck to ransack the goods of the passengers left on the wreck. By and large, the passengers were forced to fend for themselves and spent two desperate days clinging to the rocks and sheltered by makeshift tents. Clearly, they could not survive long in this condition. Their escape was due to the initiative of a London whitesmith who discovered a way up the cliff. With help from the crew who literally 'knew their ropes' everyone, including the weakest, were moved to higher and safer ground. According to Voller this took a day and a half. He records their first meal – provided by an odd circumstance. The sailors who made the first ascent (and then moved off leaving others to fend for themselves) had burnt the long grass, possibly to make walking easier. As a result birds had suffocated and were soon turned into soup: 'It was but a poor refreshment: we had no salt to season it with, … we had no spoons or knives and forks to assist us at our meal, but still we found it very delicious. It was the first meal, if meal it could be called, we had had for days. At night we had again to lie down on the grass, cold and exposed to rain and tempests.'

And so they remained for several days not knowing what to do for best. By the Monday the mood of desperation seems to have been shared by Voller himself: 'Famine was fast settling down upon us, and a mute despair had seemingly taken possession of us.' And then an amazing turn of events: ' … a wild cry was raised - 'a ship, a ship' and again a woman's scream shrieked out the words 'a ship!' The effect produced is entirely indescribable. She who raised the cry, with wild and eager gestures, seemed to be absolutely fanatic, and for a moment all seemed to believe she was so. There she stood, surrounded by five or six children, her hands extended towards the coming vessel, her eyes glaring eagerly on it, and repeating her cries.'

The red flannel shirts – lifesavers in one sense – were now used as lifesavers in another. Frantic waving and shouting broke out. Voller readily conveys the excitement: 'Gradually the ship came down upon us, and at length we saw her answering our signals and sending up her own colours, as the Monmouth, whaler. The feelings which then prevailed no lips could utter, but the hope thus implanted was doomed to a long deferment. The ship suddenly put off from the island, and gradually, as she had come up, she faded out of sight.'

tipton history painting